Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2951 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
immediately point the finger at any one person or any one incident and say that that was why they happened.
With regard to the government's decision to establish a new Emergency Services Authority, I understand that everyone is in agreement on the need for the emergency services, both professional and volunteer, to operate in a more coordinated way when the next emergency strikes the ACT. We all hope that we will never see another disaster like the fires of January 2003, but we know that we have to be, and should be, prepared.
Because our volunteer firefighters are such a crucial part of our emergency services capability, it is vital that we make them equal partners in decisions about changes to the management of emergency services. People do not have to risk their lives for their fellow residents and they do not have to keep turning up over weekends to train or keep attending emergencies whenever they are required, but they volunteer to do so because they want to fulfil a civic duty. Their community spirit and the pride they have in their work keep them serving the broader community. We cannot afford to put this contribution at risk and treat it with disrespect.
The McLeod recommendation that professional and volunteer firefighters be brought under one management structure is explained by the need to improve communication and coordination. However, this change has the potential to severely erode morale among volunteer firefighters. As I have said, and many people have said, we have had volunteer firefighters expressing serious concerns about the government's decision to accept this recommendation without consultation.
They have well-founded concerns that, if volunteers are integrated into organisations staffed by paid professionals, they will end up marginalised. They are also concerned that their particular skills in fighting bushfires, which complement the primary skills of professionals in fighting structural fires, may end up being devalued and possibly eroded.
In the debate yesterday, Mr Stanhope stated that volunteers will be consulted about the detailed structure of the new authority, but the creation of this new authority is still being treated as a fait accompli-so much so that the government has gone ahead and advertised for the new head of the ESA before consultations have even begun about how it will operate.
Further, Mr Stanhope stated up-front that the final structure may not satisfy everyone who has an interest, which is a remark that I believe will set the consultation process off on the wrong foot. The best way of ensuring the optimal outcome from the reforming of our emergency services is to fully involve all affected parties in decisions about how, when and if at all the recommendations of McLeod will be implemented.
I am fully supportive of the first part of this motion. Another reason for being so came forward today when the Chief Minister tabled a revised government response to the McLeod inquiry. Yesterday, I raised the three recommendations that were agreed to in principle, because I thought that they were a very important part of the government's consideration of the report. It is interesting to note that there were changes to take out