Staff cuts spark fire fears as conditions worsen
IN the face of potentially one of the most catastrophic bushfire seasons on record, the Australian Workers Union has raised the alarm on recent cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
"Given the ongoing drought conditions across the state, and the increasingly likelihood of El Nino conditions over summer, the Coffs Coast is potentially heading into one of the most catastrophic fire seasons on record," the union's NSW Secretary Daniel Walton said.
According to the Australian Workers Union, a recent restructure of the National Parks and Wildlife Service has resulted in a reduction of approximately 25 per cent of experienced specialist firefighters in the Coffs Coast region.
AWU estimates that around 100 senior NWPS staff have been made redundant across the state, including 10 or more senior staff from the Coffs Coast region.
"The service is now seriously short of experienced firefighters who can coordinate and manage complex bushfire responses.
"These cuts have not only resulted in a shortage of skilled workers to lead firefighting operations, they have also created a shortage of skilled workers to train and develop future firefighters."
In addition to the staff cuts, the NPWS has diminished the field staff's capacity to professionally respond to wildfires by downsizing the Cat 9 units from 500ltr capacity Toyota Land Cruisers to the less competent 300ltr capacity Ford Rangers.
"The NPWS is now critically under-prepared and under-resourced for the coming summer in the Coffs Harbour region."
Mr Walton said firefighters had battled dozens of bushfires across the State over recent weeks - and we have only just entered spring.
The AWU has called on the Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton MP, to: "take urgent measures to head-off the looming crisis".
Specifically the union is calling on the minister to: immediately cease the forced Field Staff job cuts for those NPWS Field Staff wanting to continue fighting fires; freeze all further budget cuts (currently 1.5 per cent a year) to NPWS; prioritise the employment of 26 Field Officers (Grade 1-4) to fulfil previous commitments; and restore the more advanced firefighting vehicles.
The Advocate has contacted the minister for a response.