Firefighters battle bushfires at Angourie in September (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)
Firefighters battle bushfires at Angourie in September (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)

Pay more fireys? Union calls for 1000 new staff

EVEN before Governments have had a chance to review the horrendous bushfire season of 2019/20, calls are growing louder for more investment in mitigation works.

In the past week pleas have come from multiple fronts for increased investment in areas which proponents say can decrease the risk of catastrophic bushfires.

The Public Service Association, who represent Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife staff, has called for the creation of 1000 new firefighting jobs to help bushfire mitigation efforts in the lead up to fire seasons.

The PSA said any increase in hazard reduction or land clearing targets must be managed by a paid and permanent workforce, ending what it called an over reliance on volunteers to prepare for and fight bushfires.

"If the government is serious about keeping regional NSW safe they must demand permanent firefighting skilled staff, rather than try and shift more responsibility onto farmers and private landowners to clear land and manage hazard reduction," PSA general secretary Stewart Little said.

"NSW will face another Black Summer, climate change guarantees this. Is it fair to keep relying on a temporary, unpaid workforce to be preparing and responding to these future catastrophes?"

Green shoots begin to reappear on trees burnt out by bushfire that ravaged Nymboida.
Green shoots begin to reappear on trees burnt out by bushfire that ravaged Nymboida.

Following the summer bushfires there has been plenty of discussion about the amount of hazard reduction carried out in the state, in particular within National Parks, with some in the community bemoaning a perceived lack of action.

It has led to a number alternative ideas gaining traction such as the proliferation of 'mosaic' or cultural burns conducted by Indigenous Australians, the reintroduction of grazing in National Parks and relaxation of rules governing how farmers conduct burns on their own land.

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A fire truck is seen near a bushfire in Nana Glen in November 2019. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
A fire truck is seen near a bushfire in Nana Glen in November 2019. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

However, Mr Little said the Black Summer bushfires were a consequence of staffing cuts and a lack of investment in the state's bushfire preparedness.

"NPWS is responsible for 75 per cent of the state's hazard reduction, but its firefighting workforce has shrunk by a third in less than a decade," he said.

"The reduction to National Parks firefighting staff include remote area firefighters, who play the vital role of chasing remote lighting strikes before they spread out of control.

"The RFS went into a catastrophic bushfire season with a fifth of its permanent roles unfilled, because of budgetary pressures."

And just last week CEO of Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council Nathan Brennan called on governments to boost investment in cultural burns.

Nathan Brennan Chief Executive Officer for the Coffs Harbour and District LALC.
Nathan Brennan Chief Executive Officer for the Coffs Harbour and District LALC.

Mr Brennan said there was very little funding allocated the burns which could protect the community against the risk of bushfire and enhanced local Aboriginal people's ability to continue cultural practice.

Currently, most of the money the Land Council received for this type of burn was allocated through environmental funding programs, unrelated to bushfire mitigation despite it clearly having a role to play.

He said the most recent burn at Mylestom was a good example of this as it was included in the Community Protection Plan for the town.