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Royal Commission into bushfires must investigate underfunding

February 28, 2020

Australia must learn from the unprecedented bushfires that tore across the country and ensure firefighting agencies are fully staffed, fully resourced and better prepared in the future.

The Australian Workers’ Union says the Royal Commission into the deadly bushfires must investigate the chronic underfunding and under-valuing of firefighting services across Australia.

The AWU also says better coordination between and across states must be addressed – noting that in NSW there are five agencies responsible for fire management.

“Our members across Australia are committed to protecting and rebuilding our natural resources which have been decimated by fires. But, we have had to battle every step of the way to try and ensure they are properly funded and resourced and we still have a long way to go in many states,” said Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU.

“Hazard reduction has already been identified as one of the key focus areas for this Royal Commission. But, in order to do this effectively we need more staff on the ground, and we need them properly resourced. Cutbacks to services have made a real dent into how effective they can be. This has to be addressed and fixed.”

In NSW a recent restructure of national parks led to around a quarter of the most experienced firefighters leaving the service. Junior staff are also being underpaid with no career progression. In WA members are also preparing for a new EBA.

The AWU is also calling for enhanced pest control activities. “The recent bushfires have had a devastating impact on native wildlife. In order to help our endangered animals recover we need more people on the ground carrying out vital pest reduction work such as removing feral cats and foxes from critical habitats. Wildlife recovery plans need to be put in place across the country,” added Mr Walton.

The AWU will be making a submission to the Royal Commission which is expected to release its findings by the end of August.

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