By Christine Speelman – 17 Aug 2016
The Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA) is continuing its push for the state government to put the “rural back into Rural Fire Service (RFS)”, now that the lease on the RFS Headquarters will cease in 2018.
VFFA is advocating for the headquarters – currently located in Lidcombe – to be relocated to regional NSW, with some suggested locations being Parkes or Forbes, or even Dubbo or Orange.
Such a move has the potential to bring hundreds of jobs to rural people.
The association, of which a number of Parkes Shire rural firefighters are members, held its annual general meeting and conference in Parkes on August 6.
And the headquarters discussion was hot on the agenda.
Parkes mayor Ken Keith, Forbes mayor Phyllis Miller, former deputy mayor of Dubbo and Local Government NSW board member Ben Shields, Member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Robert Brown and Nationals candidate for the seat of Orange Scott Barrett were among those present.
Both local mayors were in full support of the idea, with Mr Keith going so far as contributing a three-page article in the VFFA magazine detailing why the headquarters should relocate to Parkes.
Parkes being centrally located in NSW and on the Newell Highway, a transcontinental rail line linking the eastern seaboard to Perth and a regional airport were his prime reasons.
He told the meeting he had the opportunity to speak with RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott about the issue when the pair were in Parkes for the opening of the West Parkes Rural Fire Brigade station on August 5.
“We’ve been told it’s unlikely to come further west of the Blue Mountains…they’re looking at the Parramatta area,” Mr Keith said.
He said he was told the headquarters needed to be close to other services and that there were good media contacts in the city.
“But with technology today, the media is just as accessible in Parkes, Dubbo or Orange,” Mr Keith said.
Ms Miller suggested she could lobby for the RFS Headquarters to be relocated to a regional area at the Local Government NSW Annual Conference in Wollongong in October.
In a speech prepared for the conference, Mr Shields encouraged the state government not to be “too shy to push this agenda”.
“Already there has been great successes at de-centralisation. They successfully moved the Department of Primary Industries to Orange. The Department of Local Government is located in Nowra,” he said.
“These are clearly precedents that prove de-centralisation can and does work.
“For the RFS 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.”
Mr Shields suggested the headquarters could work in with other agencies like the Royal Flying Doctor base in Dubbo. Dubbo Airport also boasted flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Newcastle.
“RFS volunteers know it’s better in the country…even a parliamentary enquiry has worked out it’s better in the country – all we need now is that the cabinet acknowledges it’s better in the country,” he said.
Mr Brown told the meeting the head quarters going to Parramatta was not de-centralisation.
“It doesn’t matter where it is, if you’ve got good communications it could be on the moon,” he said.
“The only way to win the fight is to get your numbers up… We’re like a kid standing outside screaming.”
Hawkesbury volunteer firefighter Michael Scholz begged the politicians to “take it forward for us guys”.
“This nonsense that it has to be in the city is exactly that – nonsense,” he said.
“Move the headquarters to where it should be, in a rural area.”