Forest fires: Five cases going to Indonesian A-G

NSW national parks job cuts reducing staff’s ability to fight bushfires, former officer says

20 April 2016

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Australia– The people charged with protecting New South Wales’ national parks have accused the State Government of crippling their ability to contain major bushfires by cutting jobs.

After the NSW Government slashed $40 million from the Office of Environment and Heritage the union responsible for national parks’ workers, the Australian Workers Union (AWU), surveyed parks around the state and said that it found more than 130 vacant jobs had not been filled.

AWU state secretary Russ Collison said the union went to every one of their depots and asked them what had happened over the past three or four years.

“They said there’s been natural attrition, there’s been job vacancies, and they’re not being filled,” Mr Collison said.

Former field supervisor Nathan Cattell said he left the service in 2012 because jobs were being slashed and the workload was overbearing.

“We wouldn’t have the staff to be able to manage,” he said.

“Doing your hazard-reduction burning, your law enforcement, your pest control, and your project work to facilitate visitations is just impossible … it just became very difficult.

“There’s guys who have worked in the service for 10-15 years who are looking for other work because they’re not coping.”

Lives and homes at risk, former worker says

Many national parks border residential areas and former field officer David George said if nothing changed, homes and lives would be at risk.

“It’s not a matter of if there’s going to be an accident, it’s a matter of when, and then the Government will be sitting in front of the coroner,” he said.

“There’s only so many crews out there and crews wear out very quickly, it is hard, dirty work, there are strict fatigue management out there and there’s a reason.

“At the moment with the depleted numbers, as I understand it, you’ve got less capable people and less people being trained up.”

But deputy chief executive of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Michael Wright, has disputed the union’s claims and said there had not been any job cuts.

“National Parks has been relatively stable over the past five years… we haven’t reduced staffing levels within the agency,” he said.

‘Government being tricky with the numbers’

Opposition spokeswoman Penny Sharpe accused the Office of Environment and Heritage of fudging the figures.

“The Government is being very tricky with the numbers, they are including trainees, and they’re including temporary positions which are in that mix,” she said.

The union has called for an independent audit to settle the paper war, however, Mr Wright said an audit would be a waste of time.

“We’re quite certain of the figures we’ve given the unions already in terms of staff levels and again we’re focusing on the awards here, the public would expect the agency to ensure the resources it receives are efficiently and effectively spent,” he said.”We are overloaded. Only 10 investigators are working on the 26 cases,” he told The Straits Times, adding that only five cases had reached an advanced, cross-examination stage.

His ministry has filed a request to the Law and Human Rights Ministry to boost the number of investigators. He said he needed more officials with an environment case investigator licence.

“We can work at full speed only after then,” Mr Shaifuddin said.

The criminal investigations are in addition to the administrative sanctions the Environment and Forestry Ministry imposed on companies late last year. Some had their business licences revoked, others suspended.

Concurrently, Indonesian police are also investigating companies and individuals that used illegal slash-and-burn techniques to clear land during last year’s haze season. None of these had reached the Attorney-General’s office.

Under Indonesian law, any criminal investigation dossier drawn up by an authorised body – including the police and the Environment and Forestry Ministry – must be submitted to the Attorney-General before trials begin.

When asked by The Straits Times at a recent doorstop for an update on prosecutions of companies accused of illegal land clearing, Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo said: “I haven’t been updated of any progress on this.”

– See more at:’s Environment and Forestry Ministry will submit five cases of land and forest fires to the Attorney-General’s office by the end of the month, a ministry official told The Straits Times last Friday.


The cases are among 26 that are under investigation.

Mr Shaifuddin Akbar, a sub- director at the ministry who is in charge of coordinating the investigations, declined to name the culprits but said the cases involved illegal fires in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan provinces during last year’s transboundary haze crisis.


The ministry is pressing criminal charges against errant companies and smallholders accused of clearing land by burning, which in turn triggered uncontrolled fires between August and November last year. These offences carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of 10 billion rupiah (S$1 million).

The Attorney-General’s office will write up indictments based on the criminal investigation dossier from the ministry, and table them in the district courts.

Mr Shaifuddin said the criminal cases had been slow due to an inadequate number of personnel.

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