Page 4646 - Week 14 - Thursday, 24 November 2005
I am quite satisfied. I am not in the least worried about the number of volunteers we have … If, in fact, I felt that the time was nigh to have a massive recruitment drive for volunteers, I would do it.
The point is, minister, that to feed a volunteer force you can never stop recruiting. Even if you fear going into a temporary surplus for one quarter or for one-half of the year, you must keep the effort up to ensure the replacement of wastage. Maintaining a volunteer force is nowhere near as certain as maintaining a paid work force. So I think the minister is being extremely cavalier by stating what he has stated in this place. That is not going to encourage the maintenance of the volunteer ethic.
Let us turn now to the community fire units. The government has been slow to capitalise on the volunteer goodwill regarding the strong community willingness to see the development of the community fire units. It has been slow to support, train and resource them properly. I understand that currently there are around 700 CFU volunteers on the books, but at the latest count only about 450 of those have been trained. Retention is the problem. If training and equipping are slow to come, we will lose these people. I stress that retention is a saving to the government and has economic benefits for the government and the community. If the government moves too slowly to attract, train and retain CFU volunteers, it will lose out on valuable knowledge and it will cost the government more money to recruit and train more volunteers at a later date.
That is quite evident in the 2005-06 budget, where the CFU program has been neglected. The outstanding commitment of increasing the number of CFUs to 80 has not been met. Vulnerable suburbs that have expressed their demand for CFU teams have been neglected. If the government sticks to its word, we may see belatedly a further expansion of the program in future years. However, that is questionable, given the poor state of the budget and the lousy interest shown by the emergency services minister, who simply does not have his eye on the ball. I remind the house of what the minister said recently about this deeply concerning issue of the CFU program grinding to a halt. I remind the Assembly that strong recommendations coming out of the January 2003 disaster called for a volunteer force of 80 community fire units covering a minimum of 22 vulnerable suburbs. There is great reliance therefore on a volunteer force to expand our overall capacity significantly.
But what do we have from the government, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker? We were told recently by the minister regarding his failure to meet the target for getting these community fire units up and running that the program simply missed out in budget cabinet deliberations. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable and it really reflects a dereliction of duty, a typical irresponsible and pathetically hopeless performance by this failure of a minister. The Stanhope government could not manage then to pull funding out of its hat for that. It could pull out funding for some things—$12 million for an arboretum, $6.76 million for a real-time information system, and about $100,000 for overseas junkets—yet it could not find 500,000 lousy dollars to fund our essential CFUs, neglecting our volunteers.
To add insult to injury, this government has now failed to support our hard-working CFU members by establishing the new CFUs, for which 700 volunteers are currently awaiting training. These volunteers have eagerly stepped forward to make a significant