Australia — Western Australia’s key firefighting agency will be restructured under a new post of commissioner, in laws being drafted in the wake of a review into the Perth Hills bushfire.
Newly appointed emergency services minister Troy Buswell says the cabinet has approved the drafting of the laws to reshape the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA).
The agency would be abolished and restructured as a department of the WA government under a fire and emergency services commissioner, Mr Buswell said on Friday.
Mr Buswell said the commissioner would be Wayne Gregson, appointed in September as the head of FESA.
The restructure is in line with the recommendations of a review of February’s Perth Hills bushfire conducted by former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty.
The Perth Hills fire destroyed 71 homes and damaged others, and Mr Keelty found that FESA had failed to cooperate with WA’s Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) during the fire and had not followed proper protocols.
Mr Keelty’s damning report led to the sacking of FESA’s then CEO Jo Harrison-Ward.
Mr Buswell said that, under the restructure, the emergency services agency would be directly accountable to the government.
The new commissioner would have similar command and control capabilities to a police commissioner and would report to the minister, he said.
The legislative changes would also empower the minister to establish a new advisory committee which would be required to have volunteer representation, Mr Buswell said.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said the new structure should produce more accountability by the firefighting agency.
But it was down to the minister to regularly meet with key stakeholders about any issues, something the previous minister, Rob Johnson, failed to do, Ms Quirk said.
In early December Mr Johnson was relieved of the portfolio by Premier Colin Barnett, who said a fresh minister with a new approach was needed.
Ms Quirk said Mr Buswell needed to consult with career and volunteer firefighters, sea-rescue volunteer groups and other stakeholders before pushing ahead with the proposed structural changes.
“(Mr Buswell is) not seen as someone that’s necessarily that consultative, he tends to form a view then barge ahead, so we’ll wait and see,” she said.
“These things need to be handled sensitively and that’s not a quality that Troy Buswell is known for,” Ms Quirk said.