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Scepticism over new deal for Queensland's $15m waterbomber

 LAT_Bundaberg.jpg

The LNP is sceptical that a new lease for Queensland's waterbombing plane will avoid a repeat of last year when the plane sat in a hangar while Fraser Island burned.

The Canadian aircraft, a Q400AT, will now be based in Australia year-round for the next four years, under a new arrangement between the Queensland and Victorian governments.

Last year's $15million contract came under fire after Grant Broadcasters revealed the Queensland Government originally only leased the plane for an 84-day period with the aeroplane due to leave the state before summer even started.

The state was then forced to negotiate two emergency extensions on the lease in order to continue using the plane to fight the Fraser Island bushfire. The aircraft couldn't be used for five days.

That is despite the Premier gloating it could be deployed at a moment's notice.

Under the new deal, the tanker – which can drop 10,000 litres of water at once – will be based in Bundaberg from September, before heading to Victoria in November.

Concerns of a crossover

Shadow Emergency Services Minister Dale Last is questioning whether the sharing agreement will work, and says Queensland cannot find itself in another situation where the plane can't be quickly deployed.

"It makes it interesting, particularly, we know that those two fire seasons are a little different, but there is some crossover.

"It will be interesting if there is a requirement for that plane to be in Queensland and in the southern states at that time; how they will manage that [and] what will be the priority," Mr Last says.

He also wants to know how much extra the tanker will cost taxpayers given the original contract was for just three months.

But Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan is assuring no extra cost to Queenslanders. Victoria is responsible for its own cost negotiations.

Mr Ryan is also disputing criticism the plane wasn't used on Fraser Island when it was needed most.

He says the lease was specifically designed to have the plane at the beginning of the bushfire season with the opportunity to keep it longer, if needed, adding that the plane is not always suitable for the island's terrain.

"It is only one part of a major fleet of assets, in fact there are over 150 aerial assets which make up the aerial bushfire firefighting fleet that's available to Queensland."

No local pilots

There are no plans to train local pilots to use the tanker, meaning overseas pilots will once again be deployed here.

"Most of the people who actually have this skill are overseas-based, so obviously during the bushfire season of Queensland and Victoria those overseas providers will be here.

"We'll obviously explore those opportunities, but look there might be some of those pilots who choose to become Australian residents as a result of the LAT being here continually for four years," Mr Ryan says.

But Mr Last wants to know what happens if the plane is needed when the pilots return home, and says training locals should be a priority.

"We could quite easily see a repeat of the debacle that unfolded last year with Fraser Island, where those flight crew members were required to have compulsory downtime away from the aircraft, and as a consequence the aircraft couldn't be deployed," he says.

The tanker is expected to arrive in Queensland in the coming months.

A review into the blaze handed down 38 recommendations into the firefighting response earlier this year.