The state government have announced the establishment of a Rural Fire Division, aimed at boosting mitigation resources and giving local volunteer firefighters a greater say in their own response efforts.
The initial announcement has gained support from the WA Nationals and the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, but others have raised concerns the reforms will result in further waste and more bureaucracy.
Grass Patch farmer and author of the Cascade Scaddan report, Dan Sanderson, said whilst he was ‘wrapped’ to see money go towards mitigation he did not believe a Rural Fire Division was necessary.
“We still have the same Department that were responsible for responding to these two horrendous fires, in control of an awful lot of money,” he said, referring to the November 2015 Esperance region fire and the January 2016 Waroona fires.
“The reason the fires got away here in November 2015 was the lack of foresight and the lack of DFES reacting to the situation.
“That is why we started our fire review because we saw that there was a huge problem there and we could see that it was going to happen again.
“And it happened again, within a couple of months, at Waroona with devastating consequences as well.”
Mr Sanderson said if DFES was run correctly, properly and efficiently there would not be a need for a rural division.
He said having DFES in control of an additional $128 million was a concern.
“In the past DFES haven’t been a very efficient organisation,” he said.
The state government said the changes would provide volunteers and local firefighters more control over their own bushfire prevention and response efforts.
“WA is a unique state whose invaluable bushfire volunteers face enormous and widely different challenges from Esperance to Kununurra,” Premier Mark McGowan said.
“The Rural Fire Division is a major part of the broader changes and will not only recognise the skills and experience of volunteers, but provide them with even greater support.”
In November of 2015 bushfires devastated massive areas of the Esperance region, taking the lives of four people. Photo: Supplied.
Roe MP Peter Rundle said the WA Nationals supported the establishment of a Rural Fire Division.
“We think the people who have been appointed to help establish and run the division, have a good history in emergency services,” he said.
Mr Rundle said he was glad it appeared local volunteers would have a key role in running the Division because they had local knowledge.
“Anything that makes sure people on the ground are well and truly involved and can have a say and anything that can include them and enhance their role [is a positive],” he said.
“It builds on the work of the Nationals in government, we made a lot of investments in bushfire and emergency management.
The government also announced an additional $15 million will be invested in the Bushfire Risk Management Plans program, to help councils identify and manage risks as well as a boost of $34.6 million to bushfire mitigation efforts.
Mr Sanderson said he was concerned the $15 million for Bushfire Risk Management plans would be ‘gobbled up in a talk-fest’.
“I want to make sure that these new funds that are going to be raised are going to hit the ground,” he said.
“It is really important that it gets down to mitigation.”
Mr Sanderson also objected to Minister Logan’s statement that “all landowners must recognise their obligations and reduce bushfire risk on their land to avoid putting our volunteer and career firefighters in dangerous situations.”
Mr Sanderson said in the Esperance region, the biggest threat was Unallocated Crown Land
“That is not up for us to control, that is up for the government to control and that is where our risks come from,” he said.
“The landowners in this area do a very good job of mitigating fire risks on their own properties.
“Every time there has been a big issue it has happened in crown land.
“That’s where the money needs to be spent and the people responsible for that need to take responsibility, not pointing the finger at landowners not doing their job.”
Mr Sanderson said he did not want to be overly critical of DFES as he had an open line of communication with the minister and believed Mr Logan and the DFES commissioner ‘wanted a system that works’.
“I don’t agree with the way they are going about it but I’m willing to work with them in the future so we end up with a good system,” he said.