BUSHFIRE volunteers are devastated that Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis has rejected a request from a group of volunteer fire fighters to receive their reports along with the FESA Commissioner.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said the Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis’ refusal to allow the volunteer consultative committee representing the largest group of firefighters in the state to report to him showed he was prepared to pay only “lip service” to bushfire volunteers.
Ms Quirk said the State Government had made it clear when laws creating the committee went through Parliament that those on the ground had a great deal to contribute to fire management.
Mr Francis has refused to allow the committee of volunteer firefighters to report directly to him, instead insisting they report only to the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner.
“If we are prepared to send them out to risk their own lives and to protect people’s property, the least Mr Francis can do is be prepared to receive their concerns,” Ms Quirk said.
“It’s very important, particularly for regional volunteers, that they can relay their concerns to the minister so action can be taken when needed to reduce the fire risk and improve safety for fire fighters.
Swan Hills MLA Frank Alban said the Volunteer Advisory Committees (VAC) were set up so that each of the volunteer associations could meet face to face with the DFES Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners to discuss operational and administrative matters that were not handled by the minister’s office.
“On a more local level, the many volunteer brigades in Swan Hills are always welcome to contact my office. They are an essential part of the electorate and their continued commitment is always appreciated by both me and the wider community,” he said.
Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades president Terry Hunter said it was a small request and it was extremely disappointing that Mr Francis would not agree to meet the volunteers on the new committee.
He said morale within the volunteer community was falling, “primarily as a result of the growing perception that many important decisions are being taken by a city-centric bureaucracy without consulting – or even considering – the vast local knowledge and experience of the tens of thousands of volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members”.
“Our concerns have the potential to be filtered by DFES which we are not happy with,” Mr Hunter said.
Mr Francis said he was not denying the volunteers’ representatives an open door.
“Each association is always welcome to schedule a meeting or phone call with me to discuss any issue, should the need arise,” he said.
“Every other emergency services association, including the WA Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association (WAVFRSA), State Emergency Service Volunteers Association WA (SESVA), Emergency Services Volunteer Association WA (ESVA) and Volunteer Marine Rescue Association WA (VMRWA) who collectively represent over 6500 emergency services volunteers in WA, have all agreed to the terms for this particular process.
“The VACs do not restrict or replace the access that all associations currently have to me.
“I will continue to meet with them all regularly as part of my ongoing engagement with the various associations that represent all the emergency services volunteers in WA.”