Question raised over WA government’s ability to fund fully independent rural fire service

Question raised over WA government’s ability to fund fully independent rural fire service

15 March 2017

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Australia — Whether the new West Australian Government can afford an independent rural fire service, has been cast into doubt by incoming Labor Minister Mick Murray.

Former Premier Colin Barnett said last month Collie was his preferred site for an independent rural fire authority, which would have its own chief executive and report directly to the emergency services minister.

Forming an independent authority was a recommendation in the Ferguson Inquiry into last year’s devastating Yarloop bushfire, which killed two people and destroyed more than 100 homes.

WA’s Association for Volunteer Bushfire Brigades wants Labor to promise the rural fire service would not be controlled by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

But Mr Murray, who represents the seat of Collie-Preston, said the government needed to assess whether it could afford a completely independent rural fire service.

“The previous government hasn’t left the books in too good an order, and if we use the Victorian model it’s $400 million — that’s going to be very difficult to sustain,” he said.

“I want to make sure that all the firies work together to give us the best for all of Western Australia, not just separate parts.”

Labor ‘non-committal’ on service’s independence

Before the election, Labor had pledged to hold a bushfire mitigation summit to decide the best strategies to tackle catastrophic bushfires.

Mr Murray said his concerns about an independent rural fire service went beyond money.

“If we can [afford it] well and good,” he said.

“It’s not only about money, it’s about making sure we don’t have lines in the sand where some say that’s my area, that’s your area and we’re not crossing over, arguing between themselves, which has happened previously.

“I want to make sure that we have an organised, modern and safe fire service.”

Mr Murray’s comments came after the Association for Volunteer Bushfire Brigades said it was “disappointed” Labor had won government.

The association’s vice-president Phil Penny said Labor had been non-committal pre-election on the prospect of an independent rural fire service.

“They I think are quite happy to implement change, but the change will come under the sub-department of DFES, which for the sake of the volunteers is not the best way to go,” he said.

A Labor government spokesman said Premier-Elect Mark McGowan had promised to support all the recommendations of the Ferguson Report, including a rural fire service, but did not comment on whether it would be independent.

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