Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination in the RFS

May 4, 2021

The VFFA made a submission to an Upper House inquiry into Emergency Service Agencies on the 23rd of July 2017.

In that submission, the VFFA highlighted the following key issues:

  • RFS failure to properly engage local knowledge.
  • Prevalence of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the RFS.
  • RFS disciplinary procedures do not provide appropriate procedural fairness and impartiality and have been developed in a way that appears to favour the salaried NSW RFS staff, not the volunteer.
  • Nepotism, Favouritism and Similar Forms of Discrimination.

The VFFA also pushed for relocation of the RFS Headquarters to a regional area to break the city centric and ‘Boy’s Club’ culture that had developed.

A total or 27 recommendations were made to the NSW Government by the Legislative Council, Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs. The NSW Government response was disappointing without any significant actions by the NSW RFS until the most recent display of interest by the current RFS Commissioner, Mr. Rogers.

The media has displayed a renewed interest in the instances of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, largely because one volunteer took a stand and told his story.

There are many other volunteers who leave the RFS for fear of retribution or just to get on with life without this unnecessary cultural backlash.

VFFA comments on these issues:

  • There is an urgent need to change the culture of the NSW RFS.
  • The ‘Toxic Culture’ as described by some is not only impacting upon volunteers, staff are also caught up in the problem.
  • The RFS Commissioner, Mr. Rogers appears to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of RFS Volunteers and finding a way forward.
  • We can expect more volunteers (and staff) to tell their stories of bullying, harassment, discrimination and bad behaviour from the RFS as this issue develops.
  • The VFFA reminds everyone that people who report corrupt conduct are protected under whistle blower policy. A whistleblower is a person who provides information and exposes corrupt conduct within a public sector organisation in the hope of stopping it. In NSW, if a person reports public sector corrupt conduct in good faith, you are protected by law from reprisals.
  • Nepotism is a real problem for the RFS with mates looking out for mates. The roots of nepotism have grown from the power base of the NSW RFS which appears to be firmly entrenched in the Warringah Pittwater / Northern Beaches of Sydney.
  • The VFFA is open to dialog from any organisation or association that represents the views of NSW RFS Volunteers.
  • There are concerns from VFFA members that the independent review process, made available by the RFS is unsuitable because of conflicts of interest between the suggested law firm and their client (the RFS).
  • Legal advice given to the VFFA is that Volunteers who are speaking with the RFS supplied law firm should first speak to an independent lawyer, providing that lawyer with a complete copy of available documentation in chronological order. The VFFA can provide access to legal support networks that operate pro-bono.
  • The issue for the RFS and their law firm is that there is no transparency in the process and volunteers will therefore have no method of judging whether the process is worthwhile and effective, or just a continuation of the same.  If the process is not seen as being effective and the volunteer does not have confidence in it, then it will fail and serve no purpose.
  • The VFFA can provide guidance and support to members who wish to speak up. Independent legal support and assistance can be referred. Personal details can be suppressed as required to provide suitable protection.
  • The VFFA will continue to advocate for volunteers in these matters.

The VFFA report for the Upper House inquiry into Emergency Services Agencies can be downloaded using the following link:

https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Submission-by-Michael-Holton-VFFA.pdf

The Emergency Services Agencies final report can be downloaded using the following link:

https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Emergency-services-agencies-Final-report-24-July-2018-2.pdf

Whistleblower protection links:

https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/reporting/blowing-the-whistle/blowing-the-whistle-about-corruption-in-nsw

https://asic.gov.au/about-asic/asic-investigations-and-enforcement/whistleblowing/

For more information, please contact:

Mick Holton
President
Volunteer Fire Fighters Association

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