Australia — An unexpected $2 million slashed in the State Budget from SAFECOM – the government body supporting the Metropolitan Fire Service, State Emergency Service and Country Fire Service – by Emergency Services Minister Kevin Foley has angered and frustrated volunteers.
Just 58 SAFECOM staff, down from 110 last year, are left to support 14,500 CFS volunteers and the state’s 1700 SES volunteers. That will fall to 47 next financial year through attrition and redundancies.
CFS Volunteers Association executive director Wendy Shirley and SES executive officer Susan Caracoussis said the changes would hit volunteer support and training, where help was needed most.
“The cuts are too savage and the decision was not based on an audit or evidence, it’s just an arbitrary decision by the minister,” Ms Shirley said. “We (CFS) are already way under-staffed, but now the jobs SAFECOM can no longer do, will fall to our volunteers.”
The agencies’ volunteers share some training and services and Mrs Caracoussis said some “frustrated” SES volunteers had quit recently.
Six country CFS recruitment and support staff were replaced by Adelaide-based officers, who also handle recruiting and training in rural communities on a “fly-in, fly-out basis”.
“We need more volunteers, but the capacity to recruit them has been cut,” Ms Shirley said.
Asked by Liberal MP Daniel van Holst Pellekaan if cuts were based on “best operation” practices, Mr Foley told a parliamentary committee earlier this month: “I just thought it was a reasonable number” based on his state treasurer experience.
Quizzed if he provided “leadership” by deciding where cuts should occur,
Mr Foley said: “That’s government, mate; it’s hard decisions.”
Mr Foley said staff reductions meant more could be put to “frontline” services and an extra $2.1 million over four years would go to additional resources and accreditation courses for volunteers from both agencies.
He added the State Budget had also allocated $2.5 million over the next four years for improvements at the State Emergency Information Call Centre.