It was pleasing to hear the comments by former Dubbo Deputy Mayor, Mr. Ben Shields, at the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association AGM on Saturday, 6th August 2016 at the Parkes Services Club.
Mr. Shields was among the guests invited, which also included the Hon. Robert Brown, MLC of the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party, Parkes Mayor, Mr. Ken Keith OAM, the Mayor of Forbes, Phyllis Miller as well as the National’s Candidate for Orange, Scott Barrett, who came in place of Deputy Premier, the Hon. Troy Grant.
The VFFA’s newly elected President, Michael (Mick) Holton, applauded Mr. Shields positive comments in relation to the decentralisation of the RFS Head Office and putting the RURAL back into the Rural Fire Service, an outcome fully endorsed by the VFFA.
Decentralisation to a rural regional centre is entirely consistent with the NSW Government’s key election commitment to decentralise state government departments and to stimulate regional development and provide greater opportunities for rural and regional communities.
Since its inception the RFS has been located in the Sydney metropolitan area, there is not much RURAL about its current location at Homebush.
Mr. Ben Shield’s address to the VFFA members and guests is provided (below), his words were clear, precise and made complete sense. There is no viable reason why the relocation cannot go ahead.
The push for the re-location of the RFS HQ is gaining momentum thanks to a parliamentary enquiry asking the Minister for Emergency Services to examine the feasibility of re-locating the headquarters at Lidcombe in Sydney to a regional location.
While the initial government response was standard public service jargon and non-sensical blabbering about needing high standards of infrastructure technology and a the need to be close to Sydney media; most people read between the lines that so far the counter argument is more about RFS senior staff being unwilling to move to a regional location.
Indeed, simply re-stating what the public servants want in the RFS Headquarters is not leadership. It can best be described as laziness and at worst incompetence and cowardice.
In Dubbo, the council is very enthusiastic about having the RFS HQ in our city. Dubbo indeed is the right fit for such a complex. Take a look at some of the advantages our city has to offer:
- Almost hourly flights to Sydney.
- Flights to Melbourne, Brisbane and Newcastle.
- 5 minute access to our airport. (hardly the hour plus trip in a car from Homebush to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport)
- Very secure water supply.
- On the Newell Highway.
- On the Mitchell Highway.
- Located at the end of the Golden Highway to Newcastle.
- Geographically centre of the state.
- Land and home prices mean that staff have an affordable lifestyle
- Only ever 10 minutes drive to work.
Dubbo believes that the RFS has a close look at the “R” in its name. The reality is that the culture and direction of such a large organisation being located in the city only serves to make the whole organisation city centric. That can cause a hell of a lot of problems when such an organisation’s primary role is to focus on rural and regional locations.
With all this said, the state government shouldn’t be too shy to push this agenda. Already there has been great successes at de-centralisation. In the former Greiner/Fahey Liberal Government they successfully moved the Department of Agriculture to Orange. The Department of Local Government is located in Nowra. These are clearly precedents that prove de-centralisation can and does work. It seems the only thing missing between that government and the current one is political will!
For the RSF HQ to be located in Dubbo would be a game changer for our city and Central West NSW. It would instantly become the city’s largest employer and while further diversifying our economy away from agriculture helping drought proof our economic base. The RFS HQ could also work in with other agencies like the Royal Flying Doctor base that is located within our city. Indeed the possibilities of this game changer are endless if and when the government stands up to the vested interests of the bureaucrats.
It’s now high time that our elected representatives in the executive government take charge of the situation and make decisions based on what’s good for the state instead of simply following the vested interests of bureaucrats who are more worried about maintaining their Sydney lifestyles.
RFS volunteers know it’s better in the country; Dubbo Council know it’s better in the country; even a parliamentary enquiry has worked out it’s better in the county – all we need now is that the cabinet acknowledge its better in the country.
Failure to act in this matter in my mind amounts not only to being a huge dis-service to the people of NSW, – it’s a failure for better planning, for reduced congestion in Sydney – it actually amounts to cowardice of our elected officials to stand up to self-interested bureaucrats.
That’s why today, I’m here to ask your organisations assistance in making the move of the RFS HQ a reality. The simple fact is we all know that you cannot be a genuine Rural Fire Service if the “R” is not truly reflected in the general operation of the organisation. This Volunteer Fire Fighters Association has a fine history of getting things done and being a thorn in the side of governments of both persuasion for the betterment of the RFS and its members. That’s why I’m here to urge you as members of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association to keep up the fight for a better deal from government.
I cannot think of a better way to bring long term cultural change, better work ethics and organisational advancement to the RFS for it to move to a regional centre like Dubbo.
In my 20 odd years being involved in public and political affairs the single biggest lesson I have learnt when trying to get the government to act is that “The squeakiest wheel gets the most oil”. That analogy certainly applies to this issue. Members here today are from all over the state – and in some form or another, have real political influence. That may be by simply having an open dialogue with state members of parliament to having members who are prepared to speak their minds in the media.
I know for certain, if everyone here today when they go home to their communities were to push the issue of re-locating the RFS HQ to a regional area with their local MPs and in their local media it would quickly become a wider state political issue.
We all know the RFS desperately needs change and this is certainly a way to achieve real lasting change for the whole RFS organisation.
It is wishful to ask for a relocation but it would be highly unlikely, Why? Macquarie St is closer to Homebush than Dubbo.
All the major suppliers and contractors are within 100 km of Homebush.
Crown Solicitor, Work Cover and Universities are accessible to Homebush, so are the airports.
The state road and rail services all lead into Sydney, there is more property covered by insurance in the Newcastle, Wollongong and Sydney metro area than any other part of the state, the ratio far out ways any rural centre (2 houses in parts of northwest Sydney can equate to a small village in central NSW in replacement value) Yes, inequality exists.
And travel time, 12 hours by road to Brisbane, Melbourne and most parts of the state can be reached around 12 hours.
And yes, the public servants like living in Sydney. (I agree there are just as many good staff that can be found in rural NSW)
Goodwill to all.
We thank you for your comment. Too often we see emotionally charged attacks with inappropriate content that can’t be published.
Your comments have been published because they are based upon good open minded discussion, we welcome that.
In response to your points below:
1. Macquarie St is closer to Homebush than Dubbo
Granted, but how important is that?
Dubbo is just one suggestion and the flight time is only 1hr to Sydney then a short trip into the city.
Many other government departs are well removed from Sydney and they report to their respective minister.
2. All the major suppliers and contractors are within 100 km of Homebush
This issue is bigger than just the RFS HQ.
We need to re-invigorate regional business.
Take mining for example, they operate in highly remote locations and suppliers manage to service them.
The big picture is to decentralise businesses which can only benefit all NSW people (city and rural).
If the RFS were relocated to a larger parcel of land in a regional area (example 600 Acres or bigger) then they could have their own airport / air strip.
Imagine the benefits of establishing an aviation support facility without crowded air space with a location that is central to the state.
4. The State road and rail services all lead into Sydney
A location that is more geographically central has benefits.
5. There is more property covered by Insurance in the Newcastle, Wollongong and Sydney metro area than any other part of the state
When we talk about property, we often overlook other very valuable assets like stock and environmental assets.
NSW RFS volunteers protect those assets, not the RFS HQ.
6. Travel time, 12 hours by road to Brisbane, Melbourne and most parts of the state can be reached around 12 hours
Dubbo (if that regional location was selected) is closer to the centre of NSW than Sydney with major highways available.
If the RFS HQ was to set up shop in a regional area, they could build a fantastic facility with huge scope at a fraction of the cost to doing the same in Sydney.
Once again – thanks for the debate.
Dubbo has a Macquarie St too!
I think you could leave a Commissioners office in the middle of Sydney, along with a media unit and major incident centre or oversight control room.
HR and Volunteer Services could be ran from regional.