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Protect Our Protectors

Trish Doyle MP

In the lead up to the 2019-2020 bushfire season, the NSW Liberal Government and the Federal Liberal Government were each on the receiving end of endless warnings from experts about what could unfold. They knew that we were in drought, that the land was dry, that water supply would be challenging and that the summer was going to be a hot one – potentially one of the hottest on record.

But they monumentally failed to respond to those warnings, they failed to listen, prepare and essentially, failed to protect our state from what was ahead. 

Despite all of the warnings, we started that bushfire season with less people and resources than you would start a normal bushfire season with. There were almost 200 vacancies within the RFS, Fire and Rescue was drastically short of firefighters and currently require an additional 500 across the state, and both agencies had faced funding cuts on the ground, which were hidden behind big one-off budget items.

Footage from inside trucks that were not fit-for-purpose and consequently immobilised during NYE 2019/2020 fire season.
Many trucks fighting fires weren't fit-for-purpose

Our NPWS staff and budgets had been slashed also - leaving that agency absolutely depleted of resources. The situation, as I stated in the Parliament on 13 November last year  - was dire.

I was shouted down by Gladys Berejeklian and David Elliott - told I was being dramatic and alarmist.

The NSW Government’s line that NSW had never been better resourced was political spin.

However, as we all know, the neo-liberal focus has always been about privatisation & cuts. The About reducing the jobs and relying more and more on an army of unpaid labour, the volunteers. Mighty though they are, they need to be resourced and supported.

As the fire season unfolded, the funding shortfalls within our firefighting agencies gained national attention, and my hope was that out of all of this heartbreak and devastation, perhaps we would have a government that would now take the adequate funding of our emergency services seriously.

I had hoped they would invest in more uniforms, in better personal protective equipment (PPE), in safer trucks with better protections, in more appliances in brigades outside of the city stations, in better training, in better communication systems, in better inter-agency coordination and planning, in more firefighters, upgraded and inclusive stations, effective and sovereign aerial firefighting capabilities and in the recovery and mental health support of emergency services personnel given what they had been through, and will continue to endure as the start and end dates of our fire seasons become blurred.

This has not happened.

Rather, the Premier and Minister for Emergency Services sat on a the NSW Bushfire Inquiry Report for weeks on end before releasing it and saying that they would now attempt to formulate a plan. 

But the bushfire season had already started for many parts of the state, and now as I write this, our entire state has entered the 2020/21 bushfire season, and in terms of preparedness, we as a state have kicked it off in an eerily similar way to how we kicked off the 2019/20 one.

When you're dealing with fires, Government’s words and plans after the fact, don't mean much – but listening to firefighters on the ground and then taking real and meaningful action does.

The 'boots on the ground' are suspicious of, at least, and furious /scathing  at worst - of the 'higher-ups'. They are ropable that these shysters shop around a narrative about Fireys being 'heroes' but fail to respect, resource and protect these heroes. 

The environmental factors may not be the storm in the tea cup we were faced with last year, and so the consequences may not be as tough. But for the NSW Government to have not learnt from its mistakes, or harbour regrets for their lack of preparation, is something that should concern every resident in NSW.

We are the political party for workers and championing their rights. Some of those workers are traumatised, despondent and have lost faith in the Tories. Some didn't come home after the Black Summer, some almost didn't make it when their trucks, which weren't fit for purpose, burnt to the ground. My 20 year old son was one of those who prepared to die. When the old brake lines melted, rendering the truck inoperable in the midst of a fire inferno, those workers thought it was the end . It was harrowing. 

It's time to act on the ugly truth of a Coalition Government that lies. 

Last month we saw them slapping each other on the back for investing $192m (over 5 years!) in equipping our firefighters. When you next consider the Tory stories we are told by a sympathetic right-wing media, think on this: they spent $252m on a pork-barrelling exercise to create a council slush-fund grants program to pay for votes.... one of the most outrageous grants rorts of all time.

Our firefighters deserve better. We expect them to protect our lives and our homes and our environment. 

We are the Party of protecting workers and their rights. It's time for a Labor Government. Now.

Trish Doyle is the Member for the Blue Mountains and the Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Twitter Facebook


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