Lauga labels Rockhampton BOM automation ‘shameful’
For the first time since 1939, Rockhampton will not have its own dedicated Bureau of Meteorology technical and engineering staff come December 2021, as the Federal Government moves to automate the city's observing field station.
As a result, the region's two remaining technical and engineering staff will be relocated, most likely to Cairns.
While the Federal Government says automation of the Rockhampton site will 'significantly enhance' the Bureau's services, not everyone is convinced.
Keppel MP and Assistant Education Minister Brittany Lauga has called on Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and Senator Matt Canavan to 'stop cutting local jobs and services' and reverse the 'cull' of the Rockhampton BOM station.
She said the cuts were 'downright insulting' to the people of Central Queenslanders - and she has the backing of renowned Queensland television weather forecaster and former Rockhampton BOM officer in charge Peter Byrne.
"I call on them to reverse these devastating cuts to BOM jobs and services immediately," Ms Lauga said.
"The cuts to the Rockhampton Bureau of Meteorology station by the LNP Morrison Government, and the sacking of expert forecasters and technicians, will have a devastating impact on regional weather, radar, warning and disaster services.
"Central Queensland can often have volatile weather impacting hundreds of thousands of people, and slashing these services reduces us to second class citizens as far as the Morrison Government is concerned."
The Rockhampton Bureau of Meteorology was established at the Rockhampton Airport in 1939 as an observation station, to support the aviation industry and provide weather data to the region.
Ms Lauga said BOM staff had been let go, the weather radar had been decommissioned and most of the equipment at the station had been removed.
"This vital service is in dire straits," she said.
"These shameful cuts affect not only the Rockhampton BOM but also the stations in Mackay, Cairns, Townsville, Charleville and Mount Isa."
She said Central Queensland needed better meteorological advice based on expert local knowledge, and technicians based locally for equipment maintenance and repairs.
"Ours is the most decentralised state in Australia, yet this Federal Government continues to centralise services in Brisbane.
"I'm told the BOM office in Brisbane does not even have an open telephone line which the public can use.
"Boaties rely on the weather before they head out on the water, so too does our defence force during military training at Shoalwater Bay.
"The Gladstone Port, Rockhampton Airport, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service all utilise weather forecasts and observations on a daily basis.
"The Rocky BOM no longer has sonde data for this region which measures real time atmospheric pressure and a range of other important data.
"If one of our wind monitors or flood gauges needs repairing, a technician from Brisbane or Cairns has to fly in to fix it.
"Our wave buoy off Emu Park went down for several weeks before it was fixed because someone had to fly in, as did the Rundle Island wind monitor.
"Previously a locally based technician would be responsible for repairing and maintaining the equipment."
Ms Lauga said given CQ was one of the most disaster-affected areas in the country, the community and economy relied on reliable local weather forecasts, observations and warnings.
"That's why a fully resourced BOM in our region is absolutely imperative," she said.
"We need to build the BOM back better - we need more expert staff, more radars, more gauges, more monitors and more alerts.
"Automation of the Bureau and control out of Brisbane is not good enough for us. The LNP says it's an 'efficiency measure', which is their code for cuts.
"Our region deserves a fully resourced BOM station, not more cuts to staff and services."
While initially concerned about the move, and labelling it 'disappointing' when it was first announced in 2016, five years on the Member for Capricornia reassured Central Queensland residents the Bureau was committed to supporting the safety and prosperity of communities and industry in the region.
She said automation of the Rockhampton site would 'significantly enhance the Bureau's services to community by providing better weather data, more often'.
"The better the Bureau's data is and the more frequently they can collect it, the more accurate and timely their weather forecasts and warnings are," Ms Landry said.
"Automation of the Bureau's observing systems also significantly improves the safety of Bureau staff, as the current manual processes involved with some operations such as the launching of hydrogen filled weather balloons carries inherent safety risks.
"The automation that will occur at the Rockhampton field station is part of a nationwide implementation that was announced by the Australian Government in 2016 and is being undertaken at 24 field stations across Australia."
Ms Landry said the Bureau had communication extensively with the community about the plans over the past five years and further communication with local stakeholders would be undertaken in the lead up to the change in December.
She confirmed the two staff currently located at Rockhampton were expected to relocate to the Bureau's Cairns Observing Operations Hub and refuted claims of job decreases.
"The Hubs are located in every capital city (except Canberra), and in Cairns, and house teams of highly skilled engineering technical staff who can quickly respond to maintenance needs wherever they might be," she said.
"The number of skilled technical and engineering staff based in regional Queensland dedicated to sustaining the Bureau's extensive observing network has increased almost three-fold since the automation process began."
Ms Landry also clarified that there had never been a weather radar in Rockhampton and the various sectors and residents that relied on services to operate safely would not be left in the dark.
"The Rockhampton area is covered by weather radars located in Gladstone, Emerald and Mackay, as well as an extensive network of satellites and other Bureau observations assets," she said.
"There will not be any diminution in the quality of the services the Bureau provides to the aviation, defence and marine sectors, or to the general community.
"It is important to understand that weather forecasts and warnings for Rockhampton and surrounding areas will continue to come - as they have for decades - from the Bureau's specialist teams of meteorologists, hydrologists and climatologists based in Brisbane.
"These experts will continue to work closely - as they have done for many years - with local disaster management groups in your region as well with the state control centre at Kedron.
"Support for Defence operations is, and has for more than a decade, provided only on occasions of major Australian or international defence exercises and is delivered on site at Shoalwater Bay. That will continue."