Trish Doyle MP hits out at state government over frontline cuts

Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle has called on the NSW Liberal government to reverse cuts to frontline emergency services like Fire and Rescue NSW and the Rural Fire Service that were made in this year's State Budget.

Cuts to frontline services?: RFS members during the recent Woodford fire emergency. Photo: Aidan Williams.

Cuts to frontline services?: RFS members during the recent Woodford fire emergency. Photo: Aidan Williams.

But the claim of budget cuts has been disputed by the Emergency Services minister, as well as the RFS Commissioner.

Labor's Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Trish Doyle said: "This government used to say that frontline workers like firefighters were immune from the constant budget cuts they have inflicted on the public service, but this year they began to hack away at the operational capacity of our firefighting agencies".

The Rural Fire Service is also reeling from a corporate restructure this year which left 175 positions vacant in September 2019 as bushfire season began, she said.

"This has left the RFS completely under-resourced at the beginning of a bushfire season that was predicted from the outset to be one of the toughest yet," Ms Doyle added.

In the June 2019 Budget, the Liberals cut $12.9 million from the operational budget of Fire and Rescue NSW and $26.7 million from the operational budget of the Rural Fire Service, she said.

"These cuts go straight to the frontline. We have fewer firefighters and less equipment out on the fireground for the simple fact that this government slashed almost $40 million from the combined operational budgets of the RFS and our Fire and Rescue stations," Ms Doyle said.

"If David Elliott is serious about protecting our rural and regional communities from further tragedy or catastrophe he will go to the Treasurer and ask for the $40 million that he cut in the last Budget and he will hand that straight back to our fire chiefs," she added.

But NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has called the budget cuts "a red herring" adding it was "misinformation and rubbish".

"Not only has our budget not been cut, we are enjoying record budgets. We have got more money today than we have ever had before in the history of the organisation."

A spokesperson for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott also added that "in 2019-20, the NSW government will spend more than $1.7 billion to combat emergencies and disasters, committing an unprecedented $105 million in extra funding to enhance rescue capabilities across the state".

"The NSW RFS will be receiving a record $541 million in 2019-20, an increase of 12.9 per cent from funding announced in the 2018-19 budget.

"The capital expenditure of the NSW RFS in 2018-19 included significant one-off capital purchases, including $17.5 million for the completion of the NSW RFS headquarters, and $26.3 million purchase of a 737 Large Air Tanker and lead planes."

The Gazette understands the 2018-19 Fire and Rescue NSW budget included large one-off capital expenditure items to significantly enhance firefighting capabilities including $17.5 million for the Critical Communications Enhancement Program. $5 million for training facilities at Fire and Rescue NSW Emergency Services Academy, $6.8 million for three additional aerial appliances.

But a fire union spokesman said there had been repeated cuts.

Leighton Drury, State Secretary of Fire Brigade Employees' Union (FBEU) said "the NSW government has failed to adequately invest in our fire services for almost a decade".

"The 2019/20 budget cut of 12.9 million dollars to recurrent expenditure on top of 21 million dollars of savings to be found for the Government's Labor Expense Cap is crippling FRNSW."

"Fire services are funded by Local and State Governments along with insurance companies. This is a complex arrangement but not one the community should need to consider when its homes and neighbourhoods are under threat. The State Government must show leadership at this time.

"A failure to recognise climate change and its impact on communities coupled with a lack of resources to respond to these emergencies, and perhaps most importantly, the next, is a huge worry for all of us."

He called for the NSW government to "make a full assessment of the adequacy of our firefighting resources as a matter of urgency, because this is just the beginning. It is no longer about assessing risks. The risks have been clearly demonstrated".