Local MP Terry Redman and his National Party colleagues are calling for the Premier to intervene in tough new code of conduct changes they fear will muzzle the State’s paid firefighters and extend to fire and rescue volunteers as well.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services recently updated its code requiring firefighters not to contact politicians.
The code would apply to volunteer members of fire and rescue services in the Augusta-Margaret River shire, and follows a similar move by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to have new volunteers sign a code of conduct also prohibiting unauthorised contact with politicians and the media.
In an open letter last week, Mr Redman said the new requirements were alarming and would hinder free communication with on-the-ground personnel.
“I don’t accept any member of our community, least of all an emergency service volunteer, should be gagged from talking to their local member,” he said.
“MPs of all persuasions regularly talk to emergency service workers about facilities, safety issues, communications and recognition of the outstanding efforts of volunteers.”
Reclassification of those issues as “department business” meant volunteers could face disciplinary action, which was “fundamentally wrong,” Mr Redman said.
Nationals emergency services spokesman Colin de Grussa called on the Premier to intervene and “scrap” the code changes.
Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan signalled no intent to back away from the policy change, as outlined in a letter to the Times this week (see Page 8).
Mr Logan said the updated code was needed to avoid the spread of misinformation.
He pointed to other options available to firefighters with serious concerns.
“Whistleblower laws protect someone if they voice a legitimate concern, and they can go to the Corruption and Crime Commission or State Ombudsman,” he said.
“There are also volunteer support officers in the regions … (and) the DFES commissioner also has volunteer liaison officers in his office for volunteers to directly raise any issues.”
Mr Logan said a new ministerial volunteer advisory forum also allowed volunteers to air their views.
Despite his assurances, Times readers online questioned the perceived crackdown on transparency, and volunteers declined to discuss their concerns due to the policy change.
Locally, Shire of Augusta-Margaret River community emergency services manager Adam Jasper said existing Shire volunteers would be asked “to adhere to and respect the existing relevant Shire policies” while “we are reviewing our induction policy for all new members to include reference and acknowledgement of the code of conduct and the Shire media policy”.
A spokesman for DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said the code was introduced in 1994 and there were no plans to rescind the recent changes.
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