LNP calls for Audit Office recommendations on QFES funding to be public

Using QFES money to pay for quarantines acceptable, Audit Office says

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Advice from Queensland's Audit Office that it was acceptable for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service to use $16m of ratepayer levies to pay for hotel quarantines has done little to hose down anger at the appropriation of the funds.

Advice from Queensland's Audit Office that it was acceptable for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service to use $16m of ratepayer levies to pay for hotel quarantines has done little to hose down anger at the appropriation of the funds.

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Queensland's Rural Fire Brigades Association and the state opposition are calling for transparency around operational funding for rural brigades, and a modernisation of the process.

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Queensland's Rural Fire Brigades Association and the state opposition are calling for transparency around operational funding for rural brigades, and a modernisation of the process.

This follows advice from the Queensland Audit Office that the state government's actions in using Queensland Fire and Emergency Service funds to pay for the costs of isolating returning travellers in Brisbane hotels at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was an appropriate use of the levy money raised.

In early June, upon learning that $16 million of fire service money levied from Queensland ratepayers was being used to foot the bill for Queensland's hotel quarantine expenses, RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux referred the matter to the Auditor-General for a ruling on the appropriateness of the spending.

At the time he said he believed money raised by the fire service levy was specifically for providing a fire service.

The Audit Office concluded that as part of its usual annual audit of QFES revenue streams, the initial payment of the costs by QFES, and the legal requirements for the use of levy funding under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, the money paid would be in accord with the Act.

"The FES Act, Part 3 Financial Provisions, refers specifically to the emergency management levy fund and what is payable from the fund," it said.

"Eligible expenditure includes the adverse effects of an 'incident' or 'event'.

"The Disaster Management Act 2003, Division 4 Interpretation, defines an 'event' to include a 'plague or epidemic'.

"We believe COVID-19 would meet this definition."

That decision plus recommendations for improvement were reported back to QFES, and Mr Choveaux said he hoped the recommendations would include a modernisation of the funding model.

"Our submission to the 2018 IGEM bushfire review said then the funding model left no flexibility and was hideously out of date in the way it raised money," he said.

The submission recommended transitioning to a QFES funding model that was risk and needs based.

Read more: We're going to answer the questions they should have asked - rural firies

Opposition fire and emergency services spokesman Lachlan Millar has requested a copy of the recommendations be made public in the interests of the community and all levy payers.

The Audit Office said it wasn't able to provide its recommendations to the RFBAQ due to confidentiality requirements under the Act.

"In addition, I request that a full budgetary statement be provided and made public on the activities of QFES to ensure transparency regarding the operations of the service," Mr Millar said.

"If you are unable or unwilling to do so it will confirm that the Palaszczuk government has no budget and no plan for Queensland when it comes to fire and emergency services."

According to a QFES spokesman, the Queensland Audit Office recommended that, as part of ongoing legislative review, consideration be given to better aligning the provisions of the Act and the Regulation.

The spokesman also said the state government, along with other states and territories, had agreed at National Cabinet to cover the cost of accommodation for individuals who needed to be quarantined under the direction of the Chief Health Officer.

"Queensland Fire and Emergency Services manages the bookings as part of its lead role for logistics in the state's disaster management plan," he said. "The costs associated with providing accommodation for individuals who need to quarantine will be covered centrally."

Mr Millar said redirecting the $16m, which would normally be used in the lead up to bushfire season, was simply unacceptable.

"The LNP has joined with the Rural Fire Brigade Association Queensland and the United Firefighters Union in calling for all money raised through the levies to be spent on the purpose it was collected for," he said. "This funding is crucial to help protect communities across Queensland from bushfire disasters."

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