Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published on September 24th 20127 – Tim Barlass

With the state already facing “extreme” bushfire risks with hot and dry weather, a parliamentary inquiry has heard of allegations of bullying and nepotism within the Rural Fire Service. The hearing was told last week by vice-president of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association that the community could no longer be protected.

At the public Emergency Services Agency hearing, chaired by Shooters and Fishers’ Robert Borsak, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was quizzed by Greens member David Shoebridge after it was revealed 48 per cent of RFS members had witnessed bullying while 18 per cent had been victims of bullying and that “only two people have been dismissed because of it”.

A water bombing helicopter fights the bushfire at Richmond Vale near Cessnock. Photo: AAP

A water bombing helicopter fights the bushfire at Richmond Vale near Cessnock. Photo: AAP

Michael Holton, president of the VFFA making allegations of bullying against the RFS said: “Nepotism and favouritism are evident in the management of disciplinary procedures.” He said he believed the time had come to appoint the RFS commissioner from outside the service, possibly by someone with a military background.

Volunteers vice-president Brian Williams said in the recent hazard reduction on the Northern Beaches fire trucks from all parts of the state had come to assist. “It is hard to get numbers in this day and age,” he said. “People are starting to lose confidence in the system.”

He said instigating a hazard-reduction burn, which used to be simple, had become very complicated. “The bottom line is we can no longer offer our community protection from wildfire.”

Submissions from a survey of 7000 volunteer fire fighters showed an increasing tendency for RFS staff to actively influence elections and cause removal of senior volunteers from positions.

Mr Fitzsimmons was challenged over allegations of nepotism. Mr Shoebridge said figures showed a person was 10 times more likely to get a paid RFS appointment if they came from one of 11 brigades in a “small part of Sydney” rather than from one of the other 2018 brigades in the rest of NSW. Those 11 brigades included Duffys Forest, Beacon Hill, Terrey Hills and Belrose, the hearing was told.

Mr Shoebridge asked the commissioner: “We should not be shy about this but one of the reasons it is raised is that your background is from Duffys Forest?”

Mr Fitzsimmons replied: “Correct.” In a brief exchange Mr Shoebridge responded: “You say there is nothing to see here but I think there is. I am after your systemic response.” Mr Fitzsimmons: “I do not have anything other than coincidence.” Mr Shoebridge: “It is a bloody lot of coincidence, commissioner.” Mr Fitzsimmons: “Yes, that is fair.”

Mr Shoebridge said the 2017 results of a People Matter Employee Survey showed the RFS had substantially more respondents who witnessed bullying (48 per cent) and experienced bullying (18 per cent) compared with figures for the police, ambulance or the NSW Fire and Rescue Service.

The commissioner said it was “actually quite concerning” but the survey didn’t correlate with the cases reported or being dealt with. There were a range of strategies to address bullying in the workplace, he said.

The Rural Fire Service Association, which represent volunteers and paid staff and raises money mostly from public raffles and bequests, was quizzed over changes in its accounts. Committee chair Mr Borsak said to RFSA president Ken Middleton: “I note that during the year … you changed the corporate structure of the association. You have incorporated a not-for-profit company. Is that true?” Mr Middleton said it was. He was also asked to explain a loss in 2016 of $1,444,000 and a decrease in members expenses of $1,944,000 attributable to deferral of the support program and provisions for givings in 2017-2018.

Mr Borsak said: “The way that reads to me, and I might be reading it wrongly, you have cancelled a whole lot of future payments or support for members?”  RFSA chief executive officer Bernard Cox countered: “I would not say cancelled. We have revisited the giving programs that we give to our members.”

Related Posts

  • THE Rural Fire Service (RFS) has lost touch with its regional roots, and volunteers who have spoken against the bureaucracy have faced bullying and harassment, including election interference at a brigade level, a parliamentary inquiry into the emergency services has been…

  • The VFFA submission is publicly available for download via the committee's website or using the links provided in this post.

  • VFFA President,  Mick Holton had a chat about bullying and harassment with the Shoalhaven FnB Team. The most important date to remember is the closing date, get your submissions in before the 23rd July 2017.

  • Radio 2UUU morning host, Barry Mac talks to the Hon. Robert Borsak MLC (Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party) about the inquiry into and report on emergency services agencies with a focus upon: 1. Bullying, harassment and discrimination 2. Support structures…

  • The Legislative Council, Portfolio Committee No. 4 - Legal Affairs will inquire into and report on emergency services agencies, and in particular: a) The prevalence of bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as the effectiveness of the protocols and procedures…

  • When the question "How do we stop volunteer emergency service workers quitting?" is asked, many volunteers will respond with "listen more and dictate less" The NSW RFS Annual Report for 2014 / 2015 stated that there was a total of…

  • The VFFA has received numerous complaints from volunteers who are bullied, harassed and pushed aside when they dare to speak out against issues that contradict the direction of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). In more recent times, The NSW…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *