The following “Dorothy Dix” Question Without Notice (QWN) was asked in Parliament on Wednesday by the Member for Murray-Wellington Robyn Clarke and answered by the Emergency Services Minister Hon Fran Logan MLA.
AVBFB Note: As can be seen in this and other articles, the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) is openly grateful to Minister Logan, Commissioner Klemm and the other paid staff for the huge distances they have travelled on their DFES Rural Fire Division (DRFD) “tour”. While we have expressed our disappointment that volunteers have not been given a great deal of notice and the Association hasn’t been invited to attend any of these brief briefings, we have also publicly acknowledged the Minister trying to visit the regions and making himself personally available to those who could attend.
However, we are concerned that the Minister has inaccurately told Parliament three times that he has encountered “no opposition” to the Rural Fire Division on his travels. While we understand the need for politicians to paint the best possible picture of government initiatives, we lament that it has become all too common for Parliament to accept a certain level of omission and exaggeration in the claims made by its Members. Sometimes those errors are simply that – an error – and we all make them.
But given the Collie Mail published this article explaining that the Minister has indeed had volunteers tell him that they are not happy with the DRFD, repeatedly claiming otherwise is unhelpful and does a great deal of damage to the trust so many of us have worked hard to build between bush fire volunteers and government.
Mrs R. CLARKE to the Minister for Emergency Services:
I refer to the McGowan Labor government’s unprecedented support for bushfire management and community safety through its decision to establish a dedicated rural fire division.
(1) Can the minister update the house on the implementation of this historic reform?
(2) What has been the response from the community and emergency services volunteers?
Mr F. LOGAN replied:
(1)–(2) I thank the member for Murray–Wellington for her question. I also thank the member for Murray–Wellington for the amazing amount of work that she does in her electorate with all the bush fire volunteers, unlike her predecessor.
Can I update the house on what we have been doing with the establishment of the rural fire division and in bringing this information to the people of Western Australia, particularly the bush fire volunteers. Over the last couple of months I have met with 198 bush fire brigades and units across Western Australia. From Esperance to Exmouth to Kununurra, I have met with nearly 200 brigades and 42 local governments in person.
I have driven a significant portion of that, particularly through the wheatbelt, down Kojonup way, through Katanning past the member’s farm, and all the way up to Moora, back to Gingin and all through the south west. Can I say that of the hundreds and hundreds of people I have met with—the volunteers and all the shires—there has been no opposition whatsoever to the establishment of the rural fire division; none whatsoever. People have welcomed this proposal with open arms because they get the fact that we have put $80 million of government funding from our emergency services levy back into the bush—back into keeping our rural and regional communities safe. They get the idea that we have put $50 million into mitigation: $15 million for local government through the mitigation action fund and, for the first time, $35 million that will be available to coordinate mitigation on crown land and for other government agencies. Local governments get that. It is a historic investment in bushfire mitigation. It is the largest investment ever made by any government in Australia, and the local governments and the volunteers get that. It is not all about fighting catastrophic fires; it is about taking action to protect our communities so they are not affected by catastrophic fires, and that is what the rural fire division is all about.
I draw a comparison of the work I have done over the last couple of months and the launching by the Premier of the rural fire division with the previous government’s response to the Ferguson report. When I picked up this portfolio, about half a dozen of the recommendations of the Ferguson report had been implemented. We have virtually completed all of them now; I think only one has not been implemented. Recommendation 15 was the key and most controversial recommendation about whether to establish an independent rural fire service or a sub-department of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and nothing had been done.
Today I met with and briefed the shadow Minister for Emergency Services, and even today the opposition— whether it is the Nationals or the Liberals—still does not have a position on this. The opposition actually does not know what it wants. In the upper house in debate on a motion that had been moved by the representative of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party WA, the Leader of the Opposition’s emergency services spokesperson said, and I quote — Here is my set of recommendations. I would go back to calling it a service and have it deliver operational activity as a sub-department of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
That means that we take the operational activity of volunteers off local government and put it under the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. That is not what local government wants. The Western Australian Local Government Association has told me that and all the local governments that I have visited have made it very, very clear that they want to still be in control of their bush fire volunteers. The Leader of the Opposition’s spokesperson is saying the opposite. That would mean, Mr Speaker—you would know about this, because it comes back to the Albany fires—that the level 1 and level 2 fire responses, which are coordinated by local government, would be taken off local government and put inside the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. That is not what WALGA wants; that is not what local governments want.
If members want to see a classic example of the way in which the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, under its new leadership, Commissioner Klemm, is falling back on what we are doing in the rural fire division and is working together with local government, they should look at the response to the Albany fires. The City of Albany did a superb job in handling 50 fires at once, which were level 1 and level 2 issues. It had volunteers called from across the whole great southern to address them. When they got out of hand and amalgamated into the Napier fire and the Redmond fire and became category 3, they were taken over by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, which worked hand in hand with the local government and brought in more volunteers from all the way up to the metropolitan region to collaborate and successfully fight those fires. That is how we are reforming emergency services to ensure that we have collaboration between local government and state government via the rural fire division to keep our communities safe.