Sydney Morning Herald

July 19, 2015 by Tim Barlass

Only three months into the job and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott has upset some of the very people he is in the post to represent.

Volunteer firefighters along with landowners who lost property and farm animals in the Wambelong Fire on “Black Sunday” in January 2013 say they are insulted by comments made by the minister at a recent conference.

The problem came when he was asked at the Rural Fire Service Association conference about the NSW upper house inquiry into the fire that claimed more than 50 properties. It appears to have widened the rift between the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, which represents only volunteers, and the Rural Fire Service Association which represents paid staff as well as volunteers.

Among 29 recommendations called for by the all-party inquiry led by Shooters and Fishers Party member Robert Brown was one requesting: “That the NSW Rural Fire Service formally recognise the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association as a legitimate advocacy organisation representing volunteer bushfire fighters, and duly consult with it on policy and operational matters.”

The RFSA says it “strongly opposes this recommendation”.

Mr Elliott in a YouTube video is heard to say: “I haven’t read the inquiry’s report, I’m familiar with the inquiry, I am familiar with one of the recommendations which I certainly don’t agree with, which some of you may know, at the risk of sounding political, suggest that a competing organisation to yours be given some sort of standing.

Stephen-Lill

Stephen Lill with his prized bull Valentino that had to be put down after being injured in the fire. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

‘I’ve never met them, I’ve never heard of them, I haven’t found anybody who is a member of them, but um..I..ah…..I hope that wasn’t too political Shane [a reference to RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons at the conference]. Was that too political?

“I know there are 29 recommendations and I’ll be…we’ll be certainly looking at them but…I’ve sat on parliamentary inquiries, please don’t assume they know what they’re talking about.”
Inquiry chairman Mr Brown said the minister had come very close to being in contempt of Parliament.

“It is extremely distressing for those people affected by the fires, who may see the minister’s comments as being derisive and or dismissive of their distress and the disaster,” he said.

“I am that incensed by his remarks that I will refer them to the deputy premier, Troy Grant, and I will also write to the Premier about this. Bringing the committee system into disrepute was not very smart.”

Farmer Stephen Lill, who lost more than 200 stud cattle that burnt to death when the fire leapt out of the Wambelong National Park, said he was “disturbed” by the comments made by the minister inferring the committee “didn’t know what they were talking about”, he said.

“I am also deeply concerned by the very pointed put down of the VFFA and their members by the minister.”

Volunteer Group Captain Warren Kimber, who has been closely involved with investigating the events at Wambelong, said he thought the minister’s position was untenable.

“I think he is completely out of touch. I am sure he has lost the faith of a lot of country volunteers through his stupidity,” he said.

The Volunteer Fire Fighters agreed that the minister had not yet had time to meet them despite several requests but disputed the suggestion that he had never heard of them. They referred to a letter from Mr Elliott to the association’s vice-president Brian Williams received 29 May and signed by Mr Elliott which concerned future location of the RFS headquarters.

Brian Williams said the comments made the minister look immature. “He has made comment on the inquiry of which he has admitted he hasn’t read the findings and insulted the rest of his colleagues by saying inquiries don’t always get things right,” he said.

“For the minister to make those comments is an insult to the people that were on the panel. I think he owes the people of Coonabarabran an apology and the parliamentary members on that committee an apology. Who briefed the minister when he said he hadn’t read the findings?”

In a statement to Fairfax the minister said individual volunteer firefighters provide valuable expertise and work closely with commanders during emergencies and said his comment was a light-hearted remark.

“I regularly consult with volunteer and employee representative groups,” he said. “However, commanders of the emergency services agencies have ultimate responsibility to protect the people of NSW and I have full confidence in their ability to do so. I don’t understand why a parliamentary inquiry would suggest any commander of a combat agency be required to consult with an association of volunteers during an active operation.

“As a former chair on parliamentary inquiries, I also attempted humour about them and I think those in the room understood it to be a light-hearted remark. The government is considering the Wambelong fire report and will respond to its recommendations next month.”

David-Elliott-01

David Elliott, Minister for Emergency Services, has upset volunteer firefighters just three months into the job. Photo: Supplied

This is what the Minister said:

 

I haven’t read the enquiries report, I’m very familiar with the enquiry, I’m familiar with one of the recommendations which I certainly don’t agree with which some of you may know at the risk of sounding political suggest that a competing orgainsation to yours be given some sort of standing, I’ve never met them, I’ve never heard of them, I don’t know if any body’s a member of them but um..I.. ah……I hope that wasn’t too political Shane…was it (laughter in the background with a smiling Minister)…..was that too political (Minister stands smiling), um I know there are 29 recommendations and I’ll be…we’ll be certainly looking at them but um..ah I’ve sat on parliamentary enquiries please don’t assume they know what they’re talking about.

Click HERE or the logo (above) to view the article on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Photos: See text below image.

Featured photo – Martin Lill, son of stud farmer Stephen Lill, who lost more than 200 stud cattle in the fire. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts

  • There is no better time that "Right Now" to implement State Government changes that can help put the "Rural" back into the "Rural Fire Service". Relocation of the Rural Fire Service Head Office was always inevitable and now that the…

  • The President of the Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA), Mr. Peter Cannon OAM , has welcomed the findings and recommendations of the NSW Upper House Inquiry into the Wambelong Fire, released today, as a positive step towards a system that will…

  • Peter Cannon and Brian Williams represented the VFFA at the NSW Upper House Public Enquiry into the Wambelong Fire near Coonabarabran in January 2013. Peter and Brian submitted the VFFA submission in two parts, one in a public hearing and the other…

Tagged on:

3 thoughts on “Emergency Services Minister David Elliott ‘insults’ Volunteer Firefighters just three months into the job

  • August 13, 2015 at 11:42 pm
    Permalink

    Perhaps it would be good for any concerned Volunteer Firefighters to contact the Minister as a show of support or to clarify his reasons for making the statements at the RFSA Conference.

    See contact details below:

    The Hon. David Andrew ELLIOTT, BA, MA MP
    Member of the Legislative Assembly
    Member for Baulkham Hills
    Minister for Corrections, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Veterans Affairs
    Member of the Liberal Party

    The Hon. David Elliott, MP
    GPO Box 5341
    SYDNEY NSW 2001
    Phone: (02) 8574 6290
    Fax: (02) 9339 5540
    office@elliott.minister.nsw.gov.au

  • September 5, 2015 at 12:10 pm
    Permalink

    (This email was sent to the Ministers office – senders name suppressed by the VFFA Website Coordinator)

    Dear David,

    Your total disrespect of those of us out in regional areas who are Volunteers and have given thousands of hours to protect our communities, livestock and property is profound.

    Because of your rude comments regarding volunteers at the RFSA conference, your lack of knowledge on your portfolio, your military training which involves “ demanding respect not gaining it”, your dependence on Shane to guide you along as seen at the RFSA Conference prove you are an unfit minister for that portfolio and are grossly overpaid due to your total incompetence in dealing with people like myself who has served as a volunteer for 45 years.

    You would be far smarter to get us “onside not offside” but I don’t think that would be possible given your comments and upbringing. A full audit of RFS and RFSA and how they operate given that RFS is riddled with corruption and RFSA gathers funds by raffles and returns a meagre percentage to Volunteers would be a far smarter thing for you to pursue than trying to ridicule Volunteers.

    Why don’t you get smart and follow that up too! Rather than attempting to belittle an Organisation that truly represents the welfare of the Volunteers who give your State (if you are in any way patriotic) millions of dollars of unpaid labour every year whilst you anoint an out of control financially, top heavy and wasteful bureacracy of a non common sense Organisation as the RFS.

    Just to prove your total ignorance in the comments you made, senior staff should listen to local volunteers because they know the area where the fires are.

    You stated that Senior RFS staff did not need input from volunteers yet Shane says they should. Not smart David but that is where your military training brings you unstuck. I have seen it all before with you military people who have left the ranks of the military and it all about badges and glory. There ain’t no badges in serving your communities but there is thanks from genuine people who understand.

    An example of this would be that Peter Cannon who is the founding President of VFFA was awarded the OAM Australia Day 2015. You would not know him because he is a part of that organisation you don’t know anyone or anything about. You are a bloody liar.

    Why don’t you get very, very smart , read the report , quit denigrating fellow parliamentary representatives and start talking to real Volunteers. I fear you are not made of the right stuff to represent the Volunteer of this state in your role of Emergency Services. The States of this great Nation could not afford the personnel to carry out the jobs we do as Volunteers.

    Quit lying to people, I saw a letter whilst in attendance at The NSW Farmers Assoc conference last week that came from your Dept to the VFFA. You don’t know VFFA? You are a joke. This is a typically “city centric” attitude taken by city Liberal and Labor politicians who are totally out of their depth when it comes to understanding the meaning of “Community and Volunteers”.

    I will be taking your unprofessional attitude to your Ministry to the Premier and Deputy plus a number of other ministers and members I know and who understand Volunteers and are not rude. You are not very smart and if you continue this way you will end up where Katrina Hodgkinson ended up. The exact same behaviour as you have shown in only 3 months in your portfolio.

    I don’t expect you will be replying to me as your staff will vet out the correspondence so I will take your display of grossly overpaid, grossly under performing attitude to Members of Parliament who do come from regional areas and do understand Volunteering and do display good manners.

    Remember people power is immense and we will have our day. To discredit our input to our country is not a smart move. First lesson you need to learn is about “the media today or shut your mouth” so you don’t end up insulting good people in communities like those in my Brigade who were incensed by your comments when I showed them yesterday.

    Yours sincerely,

    RFS Brigade Captain (details suppressed by VFFA Website Coordinator)

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.