Mr Grant forgot one simple fact. The NSW RFS headquarters does not put the fires out.
Firefighters (full time, part time and volunteer) put the fires out.
Question: Mr Philip Donato (Orange)
My question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. In light of the recent announcement on the new Rural Fire Service training facility in Dubbo, would the Minister now reconsider the relocation of the entire Rural Fire Service headquarters to the Central West?
Reply: Mr Troy Grant (Dubbo—Minister for Police, and Minister for Emergency Services)
I thank the member for his question. As a very proud son of regional New South Wales, I’m absolutely committed to decentralisation in moving all and any government agencies, wherever appropriate, to the regions. As a local MP and Minister, I will continue to work with the Government to achieve this end and actively pursue opportunities to move and invest in functions outside of metropolitan Sydney, something we have been very successful with to date.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is responsible for providing fire and emergency services for 95 per cent of the geographical size of New South Wales. It is already one of the most, if not the most, decentralised government organisation or agency we have in this State. Almost 70 per cent of the New South Wales RFS paid staff work in regional offices and local fire control centres. And obviously, the volunteer numbers is a much higher figure than that. I believe there are always further functions within our emergency service agencies that could be potentially relocated, like the recent announcement the member referred to by the RFS in partnership with the Dubbo Regional Council that they will establish a new training centre at Dubbo. I understand the RFS are continuing to explore to develop other options with other local government areas and other partners as are the other emergency services. For these decisions, where government has a role, we need to balance our desire to invest in the regions with legitimate concerns for community safety.
The RFS headquarters needs the technical capability to deliver statewide life-saving services such as community warnings, live fire information, resource coordination and mapping. The Government has provided $21.5 million to establish the new state-of-the-art RFS facility. I am pleased to update the House and the member that the construction of the new facility commenced in April 2017, with the new NSW RFS headquarters expected to relocate to the new facility by September 2018, ahead of the 2018 bushfire season.
During peak operational times the State Emergency Operations Centre that is contained with inside the RFS headquarters can swell to more than 200 multiagency personnel, Some of these 200 personnel include those from the Bureau of Meteorology, the Energy and Utilities Functional Area, Disaster Welfare Services, Transport NSW, RailCorp from the Australian Rail Track Corporation, Engineering Functional Areas, Agriculture and Animal Functional Areas, NSW Ambulance, St John NSW, the NSW State Emergency Service, the Federal Department of Defence, Fire and Rescue NSW, State Forests, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Police Force, Emergency Management Australia and interstate liaison officers.
All of those personnel are located in Sydney. Further, it needs an inbuilt capability to enable local, State and national media to quickly and easily transition to the headquarters, conduct live broadcasts and disseminate important information to the community. The new Sydney Olympic Park site was chosen based on organisational and operational requirements to facilitate the many invested stakeholders and to perform those roles. Key stakeholders such as energy and infrastructure providers, Fire and Rescue NSW, National Parks, State Forests NSW, NSW Police Force, Transport NSW, Roads and Maritime Services, Defence, the NSW Telco Authority and the Bureau of Meteorology are 30 to 40 minutes from the new headquarters. The average time it takes key agencies to get to the headquarters is around 30 minutes; the average time it takes to drive to Orange in the Central West is four hours.
Driving to the RFS headquarters takes less time than it would to wait at the airport to catch a flight to access the headquarters in the Central West. Any extra time spent getting those key and vital agencies to headquarters puts lives at risk, and this Government will always put community safety before cheap political opportunism and grandstanding on such an important investment.
Other points to consider
- RFS Staff already drive from Sydney to Control Centres all over the State during major fires.
- Aviation can’t operate from the Sydney headquarters, they need an airport (like the one in Dubbo)
- Why is the SES any different? Their State headquarters is located in Wollongong.
- There seems to be too much focus upon operational briefings and reporting rather than operational tasking and deployment.
- Decentralisation of the NSW RFS will go a long way towards rebuilding the relationship between the RFS staff, volunteers, regional and rural people.
Feel free to comment and help us drive this campaign to decentralise the NSW Rural Fire Service.