The peak body for Western Australia’s 20,000+ registered volunteers of the Bush Fire Service has welcomed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to compensate NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season.
Bushfire Volunteers‘ President Dave Gossage said that while the initiative isn’t perfect, it does tick many boxes important to the association, its members and most importantly, the wider community.
“Federal Governments have been lobbied for years for many years to better recognise the immense value of bushfire volunteers across our country,” Mr Gossage said.
“There have been proposals to reduce tax, adjust annual leave and provide other recognition for the work Australia’s amazing 250,000+ fire volunteers donate to our community.”
“We have been working with the Prime Minister’s team for a while on this issue and we are very proud that Scott Morrison’s announcement to temporarily address the crisis in NSW is framed in the way we have asked.”
“Importantly, the Prime Minister’s announcement recognises that we do not support volunteers being ‘paid’, but do want the government to step in and remove some of the disincentives that currently exist for emergency services volunteers across the country.”
“One of the biggest roadblocks for many volunteers is lost wages and productivity. And we are very happy to see the Prime Minister specifically address that issue for NSW Rural Fire Service Volunteers in his announcement yesterday.”
“While it isn’t perfect because these payments will be made directly to volunteers (as opposed to our preferred system of reimbursing employers for wages paid to those responding to emergencies), the Prime Minister has obviously made this decision for the sake of expediency and invited more thorough consideration at the March COAG meeting.”
“In that sense, we support the Prime Minister’s announcement and are very proud to have successfully given Scott Morrison and his team the right framework – volunteers don’t want to be paid but neither they nor their employers should be out of pocket when the community needs their time and skills in an emergency.”
Mr Gossage said the association will write to the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan to ask him to lobby the Federal Government to adopt Bushfire Volunteers’ policy nationally and lead the discussion at the next COAG meeting to that end.
“We do not want the State to create its own programme because it needs to be done nationally. There are tax implications, industrial relations issues and it is now very common for bushfire volunteers to be deployed in other States when they are needed. It makes sense for it to be consistent across the whole Commonwealth, supported by each of the States,” Mr Gossage concluded.
Listen to media interviews about this issue with Bushfire Volunteers’ President Dave Gossage:
ABC Statewide Breakfast 30/12/2019
Radio 6PR Mornings 30/12/2019