The Bureau of Meteorology has apologised to north Queensland mayors, who say they are shocked by the automation of a weather office in the cyclone zone despite the promise of further consultation.
The Townsville Airport Weather Station is one of 17 regional bureaus that have been fully automated, and four Townsville observer-technician positions have been reallocated to a BOM hub in Cairns.
The mayors of Townsville, Burdekin and Hinchinbrook, who sit on the District Disaster Management Group, believe the cyclone and flood-prone area needs accessible, local weather staff to relay advice to emergency teams and manage equipment.
“We believe that [the BOM hasn’t] consulted properly,” Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said.
“We had initial discussions and had raised with the Bureau our deep concerns on this restructure.
“The concern we have is, there was a promise to follow up and there was no follow-up — the changes were made.”
Hinchinbrook Mayor Raymon Jayo and Burdekin Mayor Lyn McLaughlin said they were unaware the change, first flagged by the BoM in 2016, had come into effect on February 1.
Both said they were not offered consultation.
BoM admits date ‘not explicitly laid out’
The Bureau of Meteorology’s state manager, Bruce Gunn, said a rough timeline was outlined in 2016 and had been alluded to since.
But he admitted the specific date of the downsizing was not clearly communicated.
“If they feel surprised I apologise for that,” Mr Gunn said.
“The mayors were briefed on a lot of these changes back in 2016.
“The first of February wasn’t sort of explicitly laid out, but it was foreshadowed several times.
“I will endeavour to get in touch with them to explain the changes that have happened.”
Gunn said the region would not be disadvantaged by automatic weather systems, and that staff at the Cairns and Brisbane offices now service north Queensland.
“There’s the same number of technicians, if not more, that just happen to be concentrated into particular locations close to where they can get good air transport or road transport,” he said.
He said if there was a failure during a disaster and travelling to fix the equipment was not an option, back-up equipment would continue to collect data.
“The more automation of equipment we have, the more resilient we are in that circumstance,” he said.
“With more automated equipment we’ve got more redundancy — we’re not relying on any one piece of equipment, necessarily, for crucial information.”
MP rejects complaints
Hill said the change had been introduced for cost-cutting, not service delivery.
She and the State Labor Member for Townsville, Scott Stewart, called on the Federal Member for Herbert, Phillip Thompson, to lobby to have the decision reversed.
Their concerns have been dismissed by Thompson as election politics.
“All this is, is two people, the mayor and the State Labor member for Townsville, knowing they are in an election year and need to throw some mud,” Thompson said.
“We are not missing out on any reporting, on anything that comes through, whether it’s now or through a disaster.”
Historically, BoM warnings for severe weather, tropical cyclones, and floods have come from the Brisbane office.
The BoM said local councils will communicate with its Brisbane office for weather information.
– ABCJump to next article