State Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan has sidestepped an offer from WA’s peak body for volunteer firefighters to set up shop in the recently-announced Bushfire Centre of Excellence.
Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades State president Dave Gossage originally welcomed Premier Mark McGowan’s announcement for the $18 million centre in Nambeelup with the hope it would create a transparent collaboration between volunteer and career fire services.
Mr Gossage offered to move the volunteer association’s headquarters to the new centre in a bid to combine the strengths of the State’s 26,000 volunteer firies and approximately 1100 DFES firefighters, but the Minister was non-committal on the offer.
“There are currently no plans to locate a particular volunteer association at the centre,” Mr Logan said.
“The Bushfire Centre of Excellence is a facility that will benefit all firefighters from across the State, including volunteers from local government bushfire brigades, volunteer fire and rescue service and volunteer fire and emergency service.”
Mr Gossage said while the centre had been portrayed as a collaborative effort, thousands of volunteers were not consulted in the decision-making process.
He was only made aware that a location had been selected 90 minutes before it was announced.
“The AVBFB accepts that no consideration has yet been given to involving the peak body for WA’s tens of thousands of bushfire volunteers in the Bushfire Centre of Excellence,” Mr Gossage said.
On the back of Friday’s announcement, Mr Gossage wrote to Premier Mark McGowan, Mr Logan and the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm to explain why housing the volunteers’ governing body at the centre was important.
He said he did not particularly want to locate the association headquarters in Nambeelup, but was committed to trying everything to improve the relationship with the State Government.
“We hope that the role of the AVBFB as well as our innovative ideas to add value to the project will mean we are much more deeply involved in the next phase of this exciting project.
Mr Logan said the State Government was implementing recommendations from the comprehensive Waroona Bushfire Special Inquiry, or Ferguson Report, in establishing the new centre and believed current reforms addressed the issues the report raised and met the needs of WA.
“An independent rural fire service would come at a significantly increased cost to the community with no additional benefits in terms of collaboration,” Mr Logan said.
“There is already an operational structure with bushfire brigades that falls under Local Government – they handle the overwhelming majority of the blazes at a local level.”
Following the centre’s announcement opposition spokesman for emergency services Steve Thomas accused the State Government of playing politics with the location of the centre.
“The McGowan Government has been playing politics with our vital emergency services for too long,” Mr Thomas said.
“Its focus needs to be on community protection, not what will win it the most votes.”