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Royal Commission’s report into last summer’s bush fire crisis will do little to prevent future catastrophes

November 2, 2020

The Australian Workers’ Union has warned the Royal Commission’s report into last summer’s bush fire crisis will do little to prevent future catastrophes unless funding is pumped into prevention.

The 900 page plus report recommends a national aerial firefighting fleet, new peak agencies to better co-ordinate disaster management, improved early warning system and better integration of wildlife management.

The AWU welcomes the range of recommendations but says there should be far more focus on bush fire prevention and the recovery of NSW’s parks and forests.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said: “It’s more critical than ever that more resources are invested in hazard reduction and disaster avoidance, and that means we need our NPWS and Forestry Corporation to be fully funded and fully staffed.

“The AWU has made its position clear time and time again. We need additional, trained personnel and appropriate fit-for-purpose equipment to restore and protect our land and wildlife and this report is a missed opportunity.”

Whilst there were calls for greater accountability by the states and territories for fuel load management strategies and for the assessment and approval processes for vegetation management, bushfire mitigation and hazard reduction – the AWU questions how this can be achieved without sufficient resourcing.

The report also notes there has doubling in the annual level of hazard reduction burning done by the NPSW over the last seven years, but without proper funding the AWU says this essential work could be placed in jeopardy both in the short and long term.

The AWU is also concerned that the report only covers what should be done and not how.

Mr Walton said: “It’s now down to the state and federal goverments to decide on how these recommendations are actually put into practice. The NSW Government’s track record of gutting the NPWS provides little confidence that future hazard reduction and land management activities will actually be properly funded.”

The AWU also remains unconvinced that the report’s calls for further use of indigenous land and fire managements techniques will also be heeded unless additional funding is secured.

The AWU has outlined a whole range of recommendations that it says are urgently needed by the NSW Government and will continue to fight on behalf of its members. It’s calling for:

National Parks and Wildlife Service

1. The 50 Field Officer/Firefighter positions which remain vacant must be filled as a matter of urgency. Full time vacancies across the service need to be filled instead of recruiting temporary firefighters.

2. Urgent action needs to be taken in health and safety
provision :
• Ensure all fire vehicles are fitted with defibrillators
• Ensure paramedics are trained in winching
• Ambulances are located near fire crews

3. With the new lower paid Field Officers not having a career path, and the recognition that it can take around 5 years to be fully competent in firefighting the turnover of this group is of great concern for the future. We therefore recommend that it is of critical importance that career paths are structured for these Field Officers to ensure our firefighting capacity is not diminished into the future

4. With the destruction of wildlife and need to put urgent strategies in place, we call for the employment of 40 Pest Control Field Officers

5. NPWS need to upgrade their current firefighting plant.

Forestry Corporation

1. With the massive destruction of FCNSW assets, we need an investment of $200 million in the plantation of new forests both for future harvesting as well as natural habitat. We call for the employment of 50 Field Officers responsible for this work. These Field Officers should also be trained firefighters .

2. Employ 20 Pest Control Field Officers, 10 for the Northern Region and 10 for the Southern Region.

3. Need to employ Fire Mitigation Teams and 2 X 10 Field Officers. One in the Northern Region and the Southern Region. Both would allocate responsibility in the Western Region.

4. Need an additional $15 million in funding for HR burns.

5. The NSW Government categorically rule out any future privatisation of State forests.

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