Saturday, 15 August 2020
‘Bloody biased’: Farmers fume over firie compensation

Many farmers and graziers will not be eligible to claim the Government’s Volunteer Firefighters Compensation Package as they cannot prove loss of income.

“While I was out there fighting fires, I wasn’t looking after my cattle. I lost four of my breeders. What do I do? I can’t use a dead carcass on a form to show loss,” says Burnett’s Creek grazier, Glenn Fearby.

Yesterday, the Fassifern Guardian reported that the eligibility criteria attached to the compensation package on offer to volunteer rural firefighters would be impossible to meet for many who spent the more than required 10 days on the fire line.

“The real problem is that even in a good season, and we’re in the worst season this area has ever experienced, we don’t have a regular workday income,” Glenn says. “We don’t get paid daily, we don’t get paid weekly - often our income comes in once a month or even every second or third month, depending on the season.”

Glenn is a member of the Croftby Carney’s Creek Primary Producer’s Brigade. In the 74 days of fire in the Fassifern, during October through to December last year, he estimates he spent 30 to 40 days on the fire line. 

In those days, he was fighting fires or mopping up after fires or helping hand-build fire breaks through mountainous terrain or monitoring the firebreaks for spot overs.

Some days he would only spend two to three hours patrolling the fire break, other days it would be a 12 to 18 hour stint on the fire line before coming home to attend to all the work waiting for him on his property.

“Work on a property means you can’t come home from a fire and switch off. If you’re lucky you might grab a couple hours of sleep here and there, but the property doesn’t run itself,” he explains.

When Glenn first heard that volunteer rural firefighters might get some compensation for fighting fires, he remembers thinking it was a bit silly.

“My family has always fought fires here - my dad, my grandad - we did it because it threatened our property or it threatened other properties in the district. We helped others when they needed it and they helped us when we needed it - it’s the nature of volunteer rural firefighters,” he says.

“If we don’t stop it in this area, then it would just keep burning through neighbouring districts.”

But this fire season, it was different.

“In the end, the fire that started above Burnett’s Creek on October 17 took a long time to stop. In some places, we were able to redirect it away from private property where it would have burnt out the last of the little feed there was left for cattle. We’d hold it on a firebreak for a while but then it would break out again.”

That fire eventually became known as the Mt Barney National Park bushfire and burned through more than 25,000 hectares of public and private land in Queensland and New South Wales before it was considered ‘no longer of concern’ in late December.

Glenn’s initial reluctance in claiming funds from the compensation package was replaced by the thought that the $6,000 could be used to buy feed for his remaining herd.

However, once he learned of the details of the eligibility criteria, he says he knew it would be a “waste of time”.

“It’s bloody biased as far as I’m concerned.

“I don’t know of any rural firefighter who’s a primary producer who could meet that criteria.”

Glenn says he understands that with any “government hand out” there needs to be some guidelines to stop people trying to rip off the system.

“But they could have kept this one simple … Did you fight on the fire line? Can you prove you fought on the fire line? Will your brigade first officer back up your claim?… this one could have been as simple as that.”

A scene from the Burnett's Creek fire near Glenn Fearby's property late last year. Photo: Drew Creighton