Firefighting funding cuts despite tinderbox

30 Oct, 2012 09:56 AM
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TWO million hectares of tinder that has not been burnt for seven years could make this year the "worst ever" WA bushfire season, it has been revealed during questioning over the state's preparedness.

Despite the potentially dire prediction, Fire and Emergency Services Association chief executive officer Wayne Gregson warned frontline services could be cut under the state government's order to find savings worth 2 per cent.

FESA already is drawing increasingly more of its funding from the emergency services levy paid for ratepayers rather than the state government.

Mr Gregson yesterday refused to guarantee fire fighting capabilities could be protected amid the funding cuts.

"I don't think I can give that absolute iron-clad guarantee," he said outside the parliamentary committee hearing.

"I'm not going to make any rock solid guarantees that we'll always get on top of major catastrophic events."

Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said that was alarming.

"It's not just bushfires; it's other fires [too]," she said.

"If frontline services are cut that means longer response time [and] fewer people expected to do more.

"It's one of the major resources of communities and if government is putting in less money and trying to take more out then that means the government commitment to these matters is wavering."

Department of Environment and Conservation director general Kieran McNamara said the state's prescribed burning program was behind, with two million hectares of land that has not been burnt for seven years.

"The prescribed burning achieved in recent years has been less than what we would have wanted," Mr McNamara said outside the hearing.

Former emergency services minister Rob Johnson, who is now a member of the Community Development and Justice Committee that is overseeing the hearing, said the evidence proved this could be "the worst ever" bushfire season in WA.

All prescribed burns within 5 kilometres of residential areas were suspended in February and DEC was stripped of its lead control over prescribed burns after an independent review into last year's Margaret River blaze found a series of omissions and mistakes were made.

Forty properties were destroyed in that fire.

The Keelty inquiry also recommended merging FESA and DEC and creating the role of Fire Commissioner, which Mr Gregson will take up on Friday.

WAtoday

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