CFA smoky on job cuts

CFA smoky on job cuts

17 November 2014

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Australia — Some 71 fire and emergency management roles are to go under a major reorganisation of the peak bushfire fighting body, as revealed in today’s Herald Sun.

Another 59 jobs are to go from business services, 20 from operational training and volunteer programs, as well as in community and communication areas, performance and strategy.

The CFA has been quick to say no staff will be made redundant. Instead, staff who leave will not be replaced and some employees on short-term contracts will not have their jobs renewed.

The CFA’s Creating Our Future Together program is being driven by changes in technology that make some positions unnecessary. There are also believed to be efficiency demands.

The authority’s main concern, however, should be in reassuring the public that they are safe in their homes this summer.

No one will have forgotten the catastrophic bushfires of Black Saturday, which destroyed towns and communities in 2009.

The Black Saturday fires are regarded as the nation’s greatest natural disaster.

The fires caused the deaths of 173 people and injury to hundreds.

These were terrible times with some communities still struggling to recover. Black Saturday exposed serious inadequacies in Victoria’s bushfire defences that extended from flawed evacuation plans to inadequate bushfire warnings in the days leading up to the outbreaks.

Vast areas of farming land and bushland were devastated. Cattle and sheep were burnt in their thousands. More than one million animals died, including wildlife.

The economic impact of the fires was estimated in billions of dollars.

It was left to people to make their own decision whether to leave their homes to seek safety or to stay and defend themselves against the fires.

Those procedures have been changed. Authorities now have the power to order people to evacuate when threatened by fire.

The week before Black Saturday was marked by increasing temperatures with more than 40C forecast on the fateful weekend.

There were serious inadequacies in the way the fires were monitored. There were breakdowns in procedures at fire control headquarters and serious faults found by the bushfire royal commission.

There have been changes in where new houses can be built in what are regarded as bushfire-prone areas and there have been government buybacks to move people from harm’s way.

The cutbacks in several roles in one of Victoria’s frontline forces must be explained to the community. There is no room for compromise when it comes to keeping the state safe.

Waffle on west gate

Similar concerns are likely to be raised by the refusal of VicRoads to provide information on defects and structural repairs to the West Gate Bridge.

As reported in the Herald Sun today, documents detailing such issues have been refused after a 10-month battle under Freedom of Information laws.

Under FOI legislation, applications must be completed within 45 days, but even after months of negotiations nothing was released.

The only information given was that 219 documents were identified but had been denied in full.

All we can reveal is that West Gate Bridge maintenance in the past financial year cost $25 million with a further $28 million budgeted for this financial year.

The West Gate is one of the world’s longest bridges and was constructed using an innovative box-girder design. Once the bridge was completed, it was declared safe. But 35 men died and 18 were injured, many seriously, when a span collapsed as the bridge was being built in 1970.

Each year, families gather beneath the bridge at the West Gate Bridge Memorial Park to remember those workers. There is no suggestion the bridge is anything but safe, but all Victorians are owed the truth about any problems encountered.

VicRoads gives as its reason for not allowing access to documents the dubious excuse this might cause “undue public concern’’ and “unnecessary public debate.’’

This should be for the public to decide, not the bureaucrats at VicRoads. A crack appeared across two lanes of the bridge in January this year. It covered 85 metres and caused traffic chaos. The public did not panic and continued to use the bridge. So much for withholding information.

Several governments have been concerned the bridge is being forced to carry too many vehicles and a second river crossing is needed.

That would be provided under the Napthine Government’s East West Link, which the Coalition is hoping will give it an advantage in what is likely to be a tight state election on November 29.

Labor leader Daniel Andrews has a plan to ease congestion on the West Gate, but threatens to tear up contracts for the East West Link if he becomes premier.

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