Support for new rural fire division

The operation and management of bushfire brigades will still remain with local governments. Picture: Anita McInnes

VOLUNTEER firefighters and farmers have welcomed the creation of a new rural fire division, which will be funded by an increase in the emergency services levy.

On Friday, April 13 the McGowan Government said the investment in bushfire management services would be funded through the emergency services levy (ESL), with the increase taking effect on July 1.

In a statement the government said an increase of $28 to the metropolitan ESL and increases of between $8 and $17 a year across the four regional ESL categories would be included in the 2018-19 State Budget.

Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades president Dave Gossage said the announcement of a new emergency services levy referral and grants advisory committee to provide better transparency and accountability with regard to where ESL funds were allocated was excellent news.
“The AVBFB is also very appreciative that Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan appears to have done all he could in the current environment to make the new division as independent of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services as possible,’’ he said.

“Our ideal was to have a totally independent rural fire service as recommended by the Ferguson Inquiry, but accept that the current financial and political realty made that virtually impossible.”
“We therefore see the plan announced today as a very positive step forward in what will inevitably be a long journey of repairing the damage of the past.”
Mr Gossage said the AVBFB also welcomed other elements of the initial announcement including $80 million being earmarked for the establishment of the rural fire division (RFD), $18m for a new bush fire centre of excellence and the commitment to ensure a direct line of contact between the RFD and the Minister.

“The association has worked extremely hard for many years to try to explain the need for Government to better understand the unique needs and motives of the incredible women and men of the volunteer bush fire service.’’

WAFarmers President Tony York said both the RFD and bushfire centre of excellence would provide more instantaneous reactions on the ground during fire situations, as well as more power to the people.
“Volunteer firefighters, often being the landowners themselves, are quite often the first on the scene during fire events, and their experience and knowledge of the land is critical in responding to bushfires and managing the spread,’’ he said.
“By increasing the input from and training of bushfire volunteers, the very best knowledge and experience in bushfire management and mitigation is being captured.’’

The government statement said the creation of the RFD would not change the operational and management structure of bushfire brigades which would remain with local governments.

The first of its kind bushfire centre of excellence would be developed to enhance bushfire management practices across the state and to provide a specialised facility for volunteers to train other volunteers in bushfire firefighting.

“The centre will also bring together bushfire management best practice and scientific research to help develop new bushfire management principles,’’ the statement said.

“An additional $15m will also be invested in the bushfire risk management plans program, to help local governments identify and manage their bushfire risks.

“A boost of $34.6m has been provided to bushfire mitigation efforts, which is in addition to the mitigation activity fund announced last November.

“A ministerial volunteer advisory forum will also be established and volunteer support officers will be locally engaged to help volunteers with administration duties.’’

In Western Australia, the ESL applies to all properties including about 690,000 metropolitan households and 300,000 regional and peri-urban households as part of annual local government rate charges.