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There are many examples of how the NSW Government is cutting back services and expecting our volunteers to pick up the slack.

The lack of Ambulance Officers in some rural areas creates a situation where our volunteers are too often, required to drive the Ambulance to emergency medical care, whilst the paid officer tends to the patient. Most volunteers are happy to provide support from time to time, but there comes a point in time that these expectations become unreasonable.

The same could be said for the restructure of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

The NPWS claims that the cuts and restructure has not impacted upon the service’s firefighting capacity, but the VFFA is receiving a very different story from many NPWS staff. They say that a large number of very experienced NPWS firefighters have left the service and the restructure has not always replaced those people with a comparable experience base.

It has been suggested that the NSW Government is cashing in on the good will of NSW Volunteers (not limited to firefighting).

The NSW Government needs to be reminded that volunteers are a valuable resource that must be respected, not abused.

The following media release was published by the AWU on Wednesday September 5th, 2018:

Parks cuts putting State in Bushfire Danger

Continuing cuts to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s firefighting capacity have left NSW at serious risk in the face of one of the most dangerous fire seasons in the State’s history.

AWU NSW Secretary Daniel Walton today (Sept 5) said a recent restructure of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) had resulted in a reduction of approximately 25 per cent of experienced specialist firefighters.

“NPWS is now seriously short of experienced firefighters who can coordinate and manage complex bushfire responses across the State.

“These cuts have not only resulted in a shortage of skilled workers to lead firefighting operations, they have also created a shortage of skilled workers to train and develop future frefighters.

“The Government has also decimated the Field Staff’s capacity to professionally respond to wildfires by with the introduction of inferior equipment after downsizing the Cat 9 units from 500ltr capacity Toyota Land Cruisers to the less competent 300ltr capacity Ford Rangers.

“When you add in funding cuts the impacting of cuts to equipment and maintenance over the past few years, NPWS is critically under-prepared and under-resourced for the coming summer.”

Mr Walton said firefighters had battled dozens of bushfires dozens of bushfires across the State over recent weeks – and we have only just entered spring.

“Given the ongoing drought conditions across the state, and the increasingly likelihood of El Nino conditions over summer, NSW is potentially heading into one of the most catastrophic fires season on record.”

Mr Walton said the Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton MP, should take urgent measures to head-off the looming crisis, by:

  • immediately ceasing the forced Field Staff job cuts for those NPWS Field Staff wanting to continue fighting fires
  • freezing all further budget cuts (currently 1.5 per cent a year) to NPWS
  • prioritising the employment of 26 Field Officers (Grade 1-4) to fulfil previous commitments, and
  • restoring the more advanced firefighting vehicles to the Cat 9 fleet.

NPWS Response

It is disappointing that the AWU would deliberately mislead the public and prey on people’s fears for their safety in order to advance their agenda.

NPWS consults regularly with the AWU, and it is well aware that NPWS is increasing the number of field staff across NPWS, not decreasing it.

The number of field-based NPWS employees is increasing, not decreasing. This has been the primary reason for the recent organisational restructure.

It is not correct that NPWS has downgraded its firefighting equipment – in fact we are improving it.

Over the last 3 years, its fleet of 292 Landcruiser Cat 9 firefighting units has increased by 14%.

Mark Williams | Senior Public Affairs Officer

VFFA Response

The VFFA has received information from credible sources (including NPWS staff) that many good people have been driven away or paid out in the form of redundancy’s.

The VFFA is concerned that the NPWS is being restructured in a way that is not open and transparent. The NSW Government is deceiving the people of NSW with plans, cuts and restructures designed to save money, but the costs to our environment and the additional workload to volunteers may not be sustainable.

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