United group pushes for bushfire reform

30 Jan, 2017 02:00 AM
Five key State bodies are turning up the heat on political parties in a push to reform WA's emergency services structure for bushfires.
Five key State bodies are turning up the heat on political parties in a push to reform WA's emergency services structure for bushfires.

FIVE key State bodies are pushing for bipartisan support for an independent Rural Fire Authority.

They comprise the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, the State Emergency Services' Volunteer Association and the Fire & Emergency Services' Volunteer Association, WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association.

Collectively, they represent about 90 per cent of the State's estimated 30,000 emergency service volunteers and last year they formed an alliance to press for an independent Rural Fire Authority.

The group already has written to Premier Colin Barnett outlining its plan for restructuring emergency services in WA, specifically related to bushfires.

It is lobbying all political parties to agree to its plan, which was outlined in a letter to Mr Barnett.

Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades president Dave Gossage and WAFarmers president Tony York said the alliance's plan maps a new way forward while overcoming political issues.

Its main points are:

p Each of the three core services, Rural Bush Fire Service, Fire and Rescue Service and the State Emergency Service, will be established on an independent basis with their own chief officer who must be Hazard Management Authorities in their own right.

p All three services have their own responsibilities and are accountable to a minister.

p The transformation to this new structure would cause little disruption, be of minimal cost and would subsequently return WA to a community-centred emergency management that embraces "sustainable volunteerism, community resilience, capability and capacity at the local level".

With a State election set for March 11, the alliance is stepping up its lobbying seeking support from all political parties.

"We see this as a bi-partisan issue that goes way beyond particular party philosophies," Mr Gossage said.

"We're talking about a sensible approach, free of party politics and power plays, to protect rural communities from bush fires that remain raw in people's minds, with lives lost and property destroyed.

"How many inquiries do we need to have to get the message through that the best people equipped to deal with bush fires are the people living in those affected areas?

Mr York said the issue was beyond inquiries, niceties and political correctness.

"We need action and we are determined to see this issue through," he said.

Mr Gossage said the alliance's collective membership represents an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience with bushfires and other emergency management throughout the State.

Implementing an independent Rural Fire Service is imperative to replace "an increasingly centralised and cumbersome management system that disempowers community and volunteers".

"We will be advocating our reform agenda to all political parties and seeking their support and commitment to listen to those most affected," he said.

Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

is Farm Weekly's machinery writer


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