Any increase in hazard reduction or land clearing targets must be managed by a paid and permanent workforce, says the Public Service Association, as it calls on the NSW government to end its over reliance on volunteers to prepare for and fight bushfires.
“NSW will face another Black Summer, climate change guarantees this,” said Stewart Little, general secretary fo the PSA. “Is it fair to keep relying on a temporary, unpaid workforce to be preparing and responding to these future catastrophes?
“This Black Summer we saw the consequence of staffing cuts and a lack of investment in our bushfire preparedness.
“The RFS went into a catastrophic bushfire season with a fifth of its permanent roles unfilled, because of budgetary pressures. NPWS is responsible for 75% of the state’s hazard reduction, but its firefighting workforce has shrunk by a third in less than a decade.
“The reduction to National Parks firefighting staff include remote area firefighters, who play the vital role of chasing remote lighting strikes before they spread out of control.”
The union, which represents the professional staff of the Rural Fire Service, as well as park rangers and Forestry Corp staff, says the state urgently needs 1000 permanent firefighting staff to reverse a decade worth of cuts and to begin properly preparing NSW for future bushfire risks.
“These would be paid, secure regional jobs which would keep communities safe. If the government is serious about keeping regional NSW safe they must demand permanent firefighting skilled staff, rather than try and shift more responsibility onto famers and private landowners to clear land and manage hazard reduction.”
In its submission to the NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry, the union also called for more aircraft and better equipment for those on the front line of bushfires.