Page 4898 - Week 15 - Thursday, 15 December 2005

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As I said recently, I have actually been around to all the sheds of all the brigades. I have presented myself to all the volunteers. I have had no-holds-barred conversations with them and been perfectly honest with them in my responses to them. I was warmly welcomed into those sheds and those brigades. They said to me—and remember that it was Mr Smyth who was the minister prior to 2001—“It’s really nice to see the minister come and see us in the sheds and in the brigades.” Mr Smyth went to Geyser’s Creek Rural Fire Services Brigade but other ministers of the Liberal persuasion were notably absent. They had no interest whatsoever in emergency services.

Mr Pratt seems to be making a professional attempt to alienate himself further and further from the emergency services organisation, and I for one am heartily sick of it. I only wish that Mr Pratt would realise the responsibility that he carries as the alternative emergency services minister and start to support those people instead of bagging them. He picks out the little thing that he is told is wrong, believes it to be gospel without checking it out and then bags the whole organisation in the process. Mr Speaker, the government will not be supporting one word of this motion.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.27): While I have some sympathy with Mr Pratt’s motion, I do not think it is time to be holding a select committee inquiry into the Emergency Services Authority. My sympathy for the motion stems from the concerns raised around the ESA’s standard of governance, as evidenced in its 2004-05 annual report and discussed through the annual report hearings and media reports of volunteer dissatisfaction. I have to say, though, that I have not heard directly from any of those volunteers. I will reserve my opinion on those media reports until I have actually consulted more widely on the concerns that they raise.

There are also concerns regarding the lack of promised funding for community fire units and lack of progress in constructing a new ESA headquarters and training facility. The Auditor-General’s 2004-05 financial audit of agencies noted, in regard to the ESA, that the authority’s corporate governance framework is still developing; employee expenses were less than the amount budgeted by $3.2 million as the authority did not fill all planned positions during the year; and the budgeted operating surplus was not achieved due to capital injection funding not being fully drawn down because of the discontinuation of two major projects.

When the annual report was produced, the ESA had only been established for a year. It would appear to be a bit presumptuous to set up a select committee inquiry into the authority’s still-evolving governance arrangements because the annual report is of a barely moderate standard. However, I am happy to put on the record that if, during next year’s annual report hearings, we find that ESA’s governance standards have not improved, I would be pleased to support a closer examination of its operations.

I do not believe that, in the first year of operation, $3.2 million, or 12 per cent, underspending on staff is a sign of terminal mismanagement, but it does indicate an area to be watched closely. While I am concerned by the government’s failure to deliver funding for community fire units and to build the new headquarters, I know that these matters do take time and I do not think that there is sufficient cause for a select committee or an inquiry into the ESA. As Mr Pratt has apparently been doing, we can

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