The answer to this goes to the core of why we (and others) believe the Bush Fire Service must never be merged into DFES.
This isn’t a poke at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services – quite the contrary. The fact is DFES does a great job of managing and resourcing the Career Fire & Rescue Service (CFRS) and most of its volunteers. Unlike other States, WA has traditionally had little to no industrial relations issues between our 1,200 or so paid firefighters and the State, and record amounts of money have been spent to ensure the CFRS and most DFES-managed Volunteer Services are properly resourced.
However, as the Report of the Special Inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fires (Ferguson Review) made patently clear, the culture and methodologies used by those service are vastly different to those of the Bush Fire Service:
“Over the years, even though the common goal between rural and urban fire services is prevention and suppression, there have been quite differences in approach and methodology adopted. The table following attempts to describe these differences in approach as two ends on a continuous spectrum each suited to the context in which they operate. Table 15.2 extends the “approach and methodology” concept to styles of command, control and coordination.”
Table 15.2: Rural and urban approach and methodology (Ferguson Review)
Perhaps the most controversial elements of the DFES Code of Conduct are the requirement for volunteers to:
“Not respond to any media enquiries unless authorised”
“Not contact or communicate with any Federal or State Members of Parliament regarding Departmental business; or invite or allow them onto any DFES premises unless authorised”
While there has been a lot made of these two lines by some, the association completely understands and supports their inclusion in the DFES Code of Conduct. The truth is, these directives are entirely appropriate for employees of government and can be found in Codes of Conduct of the vast majority of Departments in every state of Australia.
Noting that the DFES Code of Conduct simply does not apply to Local Government Bush Fire Volunteers (our members), we acknowledge that for DFES (and any other government department that engages volunteers) this is not an easy issue to resolve.
As a State Government Department, DFES has a legislated obligation to develop and implement a Code of Conduct and a whole bunch of other policies and procedures to answer the questions all governments get about the way they operate. But on the other hand, DFES is a little bit different to most other government departments who only have to manage people they pay to behave in a certain way.
On top of that, the embedded “Command and Control” culture of DFES creates an even stronger expectation that everyone will do as they are told and follow a chain of command in regard to process.
It’s the combination of these two factors that make it impossible for the Bush Fire Service to be managed by DFES – and hence, why the Ferguson Review recommended the creation of a Rural Fire Service that ideally would be independant of DFES.