As the Australian east coast heads into a fire season of above average risk – in the past two months, NSW alone has had more than 1,500 bushfires – premiers in Victoria, NSW and Queensland are cutting services to and funding for our metropolitan and rural fire services.
In all cases they say they’re not targeting frontline positions – something I’ve addressed elsewhere.
In Victoria the coming season is predicted to be of average risk, but one of the first significant scrub fires of the season is already taking longer than predicted to get under control, which doesn’t bode well. The Baillieu government has cut $66 million from the combined Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade budgets.
Residents in fire-prone areas have been hit with government-driven fire service levy increases of up to 400 per cent – we all appreciate that the services have to be paid for, but four times more money for fewer fire fighters, clad in second-hand protective gear, with fewer resources and even less access to first aid training?
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s office has backed down fromsome of the cuts his department originally mooted, following resounding protests from fire fighters and the public – others continue, endangering residents, which is why Sunshine COast firies voted today to strike.
Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires devastated the nation – residents are still rebuilding, and dozens of high-risk communities are still waiting for fireproof refuges – will our Premier also reconsider? Or, as he’s demonstrated with nurses, midwives, teachers, TAFE and our State Emergency Service employees, will he continue trying to sacrifice the long-term best interests of our residents for short-term gain?
In 792 days Victorians will go to the polls. I suspect there won’t be a funding cut in the lead up to the 2014 fire season, but we will remember, and we will not allow the Victorian public to forget.
– updated: 11:41 28.9.12