National Parks’ firefighting expertise up in smoke, union warns

HAZY: Smoke shrouds Meroo National Park during the August 2009 bushfires. Picture: Sylvia Liber

HAZY: Smoke shrouds Meroo National Park during the August 2009 bushfires. Picture: Sylvia Liber

CUTS within the National Parks and Wildlife Service have come at the cost of valuable expertise and compromised the state’s firefighting capacity, the union claims. 

The state government is reducing the number of NPWS regions from 14 to eight, and all but two of the regional managers will be replaced, according to the Public Service Association.

Under the reshuffle, the Illawarra area will split from the South Coast region – which stretches to the Victorian border – and be joined onto the Sydney metropolitan region from December 16.

PSA state general secretary Stewart Little said regional managers had traditionally served as incident controllers during bushfire events, but their replacements were not chosen with this primarily in mind. 

“I’m not sure where they’ve got them from. The view of the members is that they’re trying to bring in people with more of a tourism background, and we think that’s totally irresponsible,” he said. 

“These are people who are pre-eminent when it comes to their experience and knowledge of fire control.

"You're talking about 300 years of combined experience."

A spokeswoman for the Office of Environment and Heritage denied the changes would affect the service's emergency response or fire management.

“There are currently over a thousand fire trained staff within NPWS,” she said. “There will be no reduction in the number of fire trained staff available to undertake hazard reduction burns and fight bushfires on the front line under these reforms to the NPWS senior executive structure.”

" The people of NSW expect the government to manage public funds as efficiently and effectively as possible."

The spokeswoman said NPWS would emloy more than 90 dedicated fire management staff in regional locations as part of the government's $74 million Enhanced Bushfire Management Program. 

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