Only a very few volunteer firefighters or SES members are likely to be eligible for the compensation package promised by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
The promise was that if the volunteer spent 10 days or more on the fire line or in direct support of those on the fire line, then they could be eligible for up to $300 per day, capped at $6,000.
The details of the compensation package were revealed yesterday and on investigation the Fassifern Guardian has found that the reality falls far short of the expectations raised by the promises.
- The expectation was that the volunteer could claim for the first 10 days on the fire line and any days thereafter.
The first 10 days makes the volunteer eligible, but those first 10 days cannot be claimed, only day 11 onwards can be claimed.
- The expectation was that the volunteer could claim $300 per day.
The volunteer can only claim their normal working day wage, after tax.
- The expectation was that the volunteer could claim for the day they spent on the fire line.
If the volunteer’s normal working day was 8.00am to 5.00pm and they spent from 6.00pm to 10.00am fighting fires or directly supporting those fighting fires and then turned up for work, then they can only claim the two hours out of their normal working day - 8.00am to 10.00am.
If the volunteer did a deal with their boss and worked out of hours to make up for the time they were away from work, then they cannot claim compensation.
If the volunteer was retired and does not have a ‘working day’ then they too are not eligible to claim compensation.
In announcement on the Liberal party website it was posted: "The Prime Minister says this will include farmers, small business owners, tradies and contract workers in rural and regional areas who have been hit especially hard by this fire season."
But if the volunteer is a primary producer and cannot prove that they lost income by being away from their property to fight the fires, then they too are not eligible to claim compensation. The Fassifern is experiencing the worst drought on record, many are not planting crops due to lack of water; many have had to sell the majority or all of their herd due to lack of feed and water and many simply do not have an income - and so they too will not be eligible to claim compensation.
- The expectation was that the compensation would be a fair and equitable process and that all volunteers could claim for the 10 days or more they spent on the fire line.
If the volunteer was a part time or casual worker and fought the fires on days they would not normally be working, then they cannot claim for those days.
If the volunteer undertook a full working day and then spent much of the night on the fire line before turning up to work the next day, they cannot claim for any of those hours on the fireline.
If the volunteer did not fight on the fire line and undertook, for example, the role of getting out of bed as soon as one or more of the trucks returned to the fire shed to undertake maintenance - check the engines, clean the filters, top up the fuel tanks and the water tanks so the firies could take a break before returning to the fire line and the support worker did this before turning up to their normal place of work - they are not eligible to claim compensation.
The Fassifern Guardian contends that there is a huge difference between the expectations raised by the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Premier and the reality.
The promises were made long before the details of the eligibility criteria were revealed and won front page headlines.
Perhaps those who designed the eligibility criteria should have first spent a 12 to 18 hour day on the fire line - as many of our firefighters did on the 74 days of fire in the Fassifern - then perhaps they would not equate a normal working day with the horror, the sweat, the heat, the physical and mental hardship and the danger of fighting or mopping up after a wildfire.
Eligibility criteria: 10 days or more volunteering as a Rural Fire Brigade member fighting fire
Compensation: $300 per day up to a maximum of $6,000
The reality in Queensland
• Volunteer becomes eligible to claim for days on the fire line after fighting fires for 10 days - cannot claim for first 10 days, can only claim for days after the first 10
• Can only claim for those hours fighting the fires within normal working hours e.g. if a firefighter fought fire for 18 hours on one day and only 4 of the 18 hours were within the volunteer’s normal working day, then can only claim for those 4 hours
• If a firefighter made up the hours away from work by working at night or on the weekend, or received payment from their employer, then cannot claim those hours
• Must prove loss of income
• Volunteer can only claim a daily rate commensurate with their normal daily wage, after tax, up to a maximum of $300
• If a volunteer works part time and they fought a fire on days that they do not normally work, then they cannot claim for those days
• If a volunteer is retired, then they cannot claim any days
• If a volunteer is a primary producer then they must be able to prove that if they had stayed home on the days they fought the fire, they would have made money