Members will recall the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) wrote to the Premier after he announced the location of the Bushfire Centre of Excellence (BCoE) to ask him to facilitate discussions about our proposal to co-locate the office of the Association and incorporate our innovative Centre for Bushfire Education and Heritage in the design of the facility.

Our letter explained that co-locating the headquarters of the peak body for Bush Fire Brigades with the sub-department of DFES created to specialise in all things bushfire would not only help deliver better outcomes for those it seeks to serve, but also – importantly – create many other opportunities for collaboration and positive partnerships with the amazing women and men of WA’s largest emergency service.

“It has been encouraging that the Rural Fire Division was announced on 13 April last year, you, Minister Logan and Commissioner Klemm have reinforced the need to recognise the skills and experience of volunteers, provide them with even greater support and increase collaboration between all stakeholders.

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The Association has taken heed of this and on Friday made public our offer to significantly increase opportunities for collaboration and volunteer support by co-locating our administration at the Bushfire Centre of Excellence. Given your government’s desire, the opportunity to co-locate the Rural Fire Division with the Charity Association that represents bush fire brigades is simply too valuable to not make happen.”

The AVBFB letter also implored Premier Mark McGowan to discuss the proposal with us because the incorporation of our Centre for Bushfire Education and Heritage would add value to the BCoE as well as create local employment, tourism, education and heritage opportunities:

“Importantly, we also shared our hope to add value to the BCoE for the whole community (especially that of Peel) to incorporate our innovative Centre for Bushfire Education and Heritage (CBEH) at the same site.

While the BCoE is an excellent initiative, we fear that its relatively specialist scope will mean it is not fully utilised – or even open – very often and may eventually become seen as a “white elephant”. Our CBEH concept will not only eliminate that risk by increasing the overall use of the facility, but also create direct employment, tourism, heritage and education opportunities in the Shire of Murray via two key elements:

1. a volunteer Bush Fire Service heritage centre that showcases our fleet of historical bush fire vehicles, equipment and paraphernalia that is currently hidden away in the sheds of various brigades and volunteers across the state, and

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2. an interesting and informative education destination for visiting school groups, university students and adult community groups (such as bushfire ready, LIONS, Rotary Clubs etc) to learn about bushfire PPRR and engage with our various educational resources…”

The next communication we received was a letter from Emergency Services Minister Hon Fran Logan MLA who explained the Premier had referred our letter for response from the Minister.

The Minister’s letter acknowledged the support and input the AVBFB has been working hard to give his government and drew attention to the briefings and consultations about the BCoE undertaken with stakeholders across WA.

It continued:

“While further appreciating the sentiments expressed in your letter to the Premier, and the well-intentioned offers of the AVBFB, on behalf of the McGowan Government, I advise that your proposal to co-locate with the Bushfire Centre of Excellence is not supported. This position recognises that to do so would be incompatible with two of the key design principles of the Bushfire Centre of Excellence. These are to reflect and serve the whole of the bushfire sector; and to recognise excellence in bushfire management irrespective of agency, organisation or affiliation, noting that the AVBFB is only one of three associations representing fire volunteers in Western Australia.”

While it was disappointing to receive confirmation that the government had rejected our request, the AVBFB was most concerned that the rationale offered was based on a number of incorrect assumptions and felt it necessary to formally respond to ensure the Minister was properly informed:

“The AVBFB has never suggested consideration should be given to our proposal to add value to the BCoE at the exclusion of any other agency, organisation or affiliation. Indeed, if anyone from the Premier’s Office, your Office or even the Department had contacted us about our idea, we would have warmly welcomed building a volunteer “hub” with shared facilities for all associations that represent emergency service volunteers in Western Australia.”

The last main point of the Minister’s letter explained that our fear of the BCoE being underutilised is unfounded, providing assurance that the BCoE will be a busy and vibrant facility even without the Association’s proposed additions and concluded by encouraging continued collaboration.

The AVBFB has always – and will continue to – search for opportunities to work with government in the pursuit of better support, safety and acknowledgement of the incredible volunteers it is privileged to represent. We understand that government actions are often complicated by factors stakeholders like us are never aware of and as such, accept the decision in good faith.

We remain very open to any future opportunity we might have to partner with government in regard to the BCoE and encourage members to not dwell on this particular outcome as we all continue the important work of ensuring those who keep our great State safe are properly resourced, involved and respected.

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