Please find below a media statement we received this morning from Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Hon Dr Steve Thomas MLC.
For the record, the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB):
- agrees that the ideal announcement would have been a truly independent Rural Fire Service (RFS). However, as we said in our media statement on Friday, while not ideal, we accept that the Rural Fire Division (RFD) is a step forward for Bush Fire Volunteers and all that was possible based on the government’s view of its current financial and political situation;
- supports the Opposition’s call for the budget of the RFD to be independent of the DFES budget as per the recommendations of the Ferguson Inquiry;
- also agrees with the Opposition that the headquarters and majority of staff of the RFD should be located regionally – however the AVBFB believes it is critical that all decisions of this nature are thoroughly consulted with all stakeholders and be subject to a credible cost/benefit analysis to ensure money is not wasted just to “tick a box”; and
- will write to the Opposition to confirm the issues raised in this statement will form part of its 2021 election policy regarding emergency services.
Today’s announcement by the McGowan Government of a Department of Fire and Emergency Services restructure was not a truly independent rural fire service according to the Shadow Minister for the Emergency Services Dr Steve Thomas.
“The Government today announced a department restructure to create a sub-department called the Rural Fire Division,” Dr Thomas said.
“That is not a truly independent rural fire service as recommended by the Ferguson Inquiry.”
“The Government has also once again broken an election promise not to increase taxes through its increase to the Emergency Services Levy, a tax rise for all landowners in Western Australia.”
Dr Thomas that there were key elements missing in today’s announcement.
“The Minister should have announced the Rural Fire sub-department will have an independent budget that will be quarantined within the DFES budget, so the Parliament and the community can have confidence that the rural fire budget is actually being spent on rural services,” Dr Thomas said.
“The rural fire service budget should be a separate line item in each annual state budget, and separately accounted for in the normal manner each year.
“Given the Government’s intent to not have a truly independent service, the leader of a WA Rural Fire Service should be a Deputy Commissioner, the highest rank below the Commissioner, to give the service the importance it deserved.
“I also believe that a rural fire service should be located in the country, not in the metropolitan region. I would be looking to the South West between Pinjarra and Manjimup to house the leadership group.”
Dr Thomas said the Office of Bushfire Preparedness should also be housed with the rural fire service and report directly to a rural Deputy Commissioner.
“There are some aspects of this announcement I welcome,” Dr Thomas said.
“The move to invest an additional $15 million in bushfire risk management programs and $18 million in a Bushfire Centre of Excellence Office of Bushfire Preparedness are welcome investments.
“However the Government could have funded these without increasing taxes on Western Australian landowners in another broken promise. These good initiatives could have been funded by cutting back on unnecessary and wasteful election promises in Labor held seats.”
Dr Thomas said the Government had also missed an opportunity in the proposed restructure to support other volunteers.
“The Government could have created Executive Director roles for the State Emergency Services and Marine Rescue Volunteers, so they also have representation in the higher levels of DFES,” Dr Thomas said.