Emergency services have had a bad run with a lineup of Emergency Service Ministers that have failed miserably.

The following SES Commissioner resignations are a poor reflection upon our governments administration of emergency service agencies:

  • Under Liberal Emergency Services Minister, Stuart Ayres, – Former SES Commissioner Murray Kear resigns in June 2014.
  • Under Liberal Emergency Services Minister, David Elliott, – Former SES Commissioner Adam Dent resigns in January 2016.
  • Under National’s Emergency Service Minister, Troy Grant, – Former SES Commissioner Mark Smethurst resigns in March 2019.
Troy Grant – You’re a disappointment.

Who will become the next minister?

Regardless of the emergency service in question, the performance of the government has been disappointing.

Emergency service workers are waiting to see who will become the next Emergency Services Minister.

What happened to Melinda Pavey? She was fantastic as the shadow minister but was pushed aside when the Coalition took over in 2011.

A NSW Government, Upper House inquiry, known as the Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs inquiry into emergency services agencies looked into:

  • the prevalence of bullying, harassment and discrimination,
  • the effectiveness of the protocols and procedures in place to manage and resolve complaints within emergency services agencies, including:
    • New South Wales Rural Fire Service
    • Fire and Rescue New South Wales
    • New South Wales Police Force
    • Ambulance Service of New South Wales
    • New South Wales State Emergency Service
  • the support structures in place to assist victims of workplace bullying, harassment and/ or discrimination within emergency services agencies,
  • the support services available to emergency services workers and volunteers to assist with mental health issues resulting from workplace trauma and the effectiveness of those programs,
  • the appropriateness of uniforms provided to personnel in emergency services agencies, and
  • the relocation of the New South Wales Rural Fire Services Headquarters to Orange, Dubbo or Parkes.

Portfolio Committee No. 4 was well represented

The Upper House Inquiry was well represented by all sides or government as follows:

  • Hon Robert Borsak MLC – Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (Chair)
  • Mr David Shoebridge MLC – The Greens (Deputy Chair)
  • Hon David Clarke MLC – Liberal Party
  • Hon Catherine Cusack MLC – Liberal Party
  • Hon Trevor Khan MLC – The Nationals
  • Hon Peter Primrose MLC* – Australian Labor Party
  • Hon Lynda Voltz MLC – Australian Labor Party

* Hon Peter Primrose MLC substituted for Hon Shaoquett Moselmane MLC for the duration of the inquiry.

The Chair’s Forward

The committee was shocked by the many cases presented to us and by the seriousness of the allegations, which at times seemed to go unnoticed by the agency itself. It is unacceptable that emergency services workers, who are there to help our communities in times of need, are subjected to such inappropriate behaviours in their day to day work. It is even more disappointing to see that the actions, or should I say inactions, of the agencies in investigating and responding to bullying allegations, have in some cases done nothing but cause further angst and trauma. 

It was very clear to the committee that many emergency services workers have little confidence in the current policies and procedures in place within their respective agencies to manage such complaints, and that this distrust cannot only be resolved internally. With this in mind, our key recommendation is for the establishment of an independent, external complaints management oversight body for workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination across all five emergency services agencies. The committee considers that establishing this layer of independence would go some way to building workers’ confidence in the complaints process, and importantly, ensure a greater level of accountability across the agencies. 

Indeed, on the theme of accountability, the committee has also recommended that the five emergency services agencies report to the Legislative Council annually on data in respect of bullying, harassment and discrimination complaints, and that this committee conduct a further brief inquiry to review this data and the steps taken by the government and agencies in implementing our recommendations. 

Another key theme in this inquiry was the mental health and wellbeing of first responders. Emergency services workers have a much higher risk of developing mental health illnesses given the nature of their work and their heightened exposure to traumatic events. It is apparent that it is not only these traumatic events that are contributing to mental health issues among first responders, but also the bullying culture that has manifested within some workplaces. The committee has therefore made a number of recommendations to make employee mental health a priority action, and to do more research on developing effective mental health interventions for emergency services workers. 

The committee has also made a number of agency-specific recommendations to address the key concerns raised by stakeholders in relation to each of the five agencies. We urge each agency to take on board these recommendations and take strong action against perpetrators of bullying within their workplaces. 

Emergency-services-agencies-Final-report-24-July-2018-2.pdf (533 downloads)

A case in point:

Perhaps Mr Grant and the NSW Government needs to accept some responsibility for the SES Commissioner resignations. Perhaps the volunteers need to be listened to…

NSW SES Commissioner resigns following complaints

By Rachel Clun – March 8, 2019

Photo: SMH – NSW State Emergency Services Commissioner Mark Smethurst has resigned. 

“I have no tolerance for misconduct and allegations will always be taken seriously no matter who they relate to,” Mr Grant said in a statement.

“Appropriate measures have been put in place to support those affected by this matter.”

The minister did not comment on the nature of the misconduct allegations.

It’s understood the complaints were made recently and an investigation was launched not long before Mr Smethurst stepped down.

Mr Smethurst was appointed NSW SES Commissioner in February 2017.

“This appointment will ensure sound leadership of the NSW SES and the further development of the organisation to help meet the challenges faced in times of crisis,” Mr Grant said at the time of Mr Smethurst’s appointment.

Before joining the SES, Mr Smethurst was a brigadier in the Australian Defence Force. He spent most of his 35-year career in the ADF as a special forces officer in the Special Air Service Regiment.

Mr Grant appointed NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart as interim SES commissioner until the position is formally advertised.

The new appointment will be made by the next police minister.

Mr Grant said Mr Stewart has had a “long and distinguished career” with the police, and also has extensive experience in emergency service management.

The police minister said the thousands of dedicated SES volunteers would be in good hands with Mr Stewart.

“I’m confident that their important work will continue under the leadership of Acting Commissioner Stewart,” he said.

A NSW SES spokesman said he had no further information beyond the minister’s statement.

Emergency Service Ministers – Very Disappointing
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