The recent funding boost to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) must be followed by a significant injection into the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW), says the Australian Workers’ Union.
Whilst any additional funds to help mitigate the risk of bushfires are welcome, the NSW Government cannot continue to ignore the acute funding crisis facing the NPWS and the Forestry Corp.
The NPWS has 50 unfilled firefighting vacancies and has suffered from years from of underfunding whilst the FCNSW requires at least $15 million extra to undertake extra hazard reductions throughout the year.
Daniel Walton, National and NSW Secretary of the AWU, said he hoped that the NSW Government had not forgotten the heroic contributions made by members of the NPWS and FCNSW during the catastrophic bush fire season.
Mr Walton said: “Every dollar extra being put into boosting Australia’s firefighting capacity is of course welcome. But, it’s essential that all our frontline fire services are fully funded and staffed. The recent bushfire season demonstrated there were major weaknesses across the state exacerbated by years of under-funding.
“We have vacancies across our national parks that need filling today. We need specialised teams that can undertake back-burning in these crucial cooler months and we need people on the ground who have the skill sets to restore our forests and help our wildlife through pest control.
“Our members worked tirelessly for months on end and put their lives on the line. They deserve more from our leaders. We need a firm plan and commitment from the NSW Government now.”
NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott announced a funding boost of $45.1 million to the RFS over the weekend which will be spent on hiring 100 full-time employees and on upgrades to the firefighting fleet.
Under the initiative, more than 70,000 volunteers will also be educated on hazard reduction burning methods, which can reduce the spread of bushfires.
The AWU has prepared submissions for the NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry and the National Royal Commission into the Black Summer Bushfires and in both has highlighted the over-reliance on volunteer firefighters and the need for a significant funding boost into Australia’s full time full-time firefighting army.
It is calling on the NSW Government to:
- Commit to filling more than 50 vacancies across NPSW.
- Funding must be found to employ 40 NPWS pest officers to help manage and protect endangered wildlife.
- $200 million to be provided for the FCNS for a state wide tree planting program.
- Improved strategies and coordination of relevant agencies focused on hazard reduction and fire suppression in national parks and public land.
- The introduction of new techniques for all-year-round hazard reduction by implementing more indigenous burning techniques.
- An extra $15 million to be given to the FCNSW to undertake hazard reductions throughout the year and the creation of two specialist fire mitigation teams.
- Employ 20 FCNSW Pest Control Field Officers.