Council ends fireys’ transfer to DFES

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Volunteer firefighters in action near Augusta last year.
Camera IconVolunteer firefighters in action near Augusta last year.

Councillors have scotched any further talk about volunteer bushfire brigades migrating to State Government control.

Last week’s council meeting saw a motion rejected by the majority of councillors which would have extended protracted internal discussions among the region’s firefighters about seeking administration by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, with members saying talks had gone on too long and lost support from rank-and-file members.

Though it was believed DFES would eventually administer all volunteer brigades in WA, for now the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River has closed the book despite Wallcliffe brigade as the main group still pushing hard for the move.

Cr Pauline McLeod said Wallcliffe briefed members on “the enormous problems they have as a dual-use brigade”.

But firefighting veteran Ian Earl said regional brigades were already well-supported by DFES.

“You’ll need to convince me that there’s some real value to us in transition to DFES and in all that time I’ve yet to see any evidence that it will be of benefit,” he said.

Cr Earl said it was also possible volunteer brigades — and the region’s esteemed volunteering culture — could get lost inside DFES bureaucracy.

“We haven’t been able to see what the model will look like because DFES hasn’t wanted to engage,” he said.

“They’ve been very deliberate about that.”

Cr Earl said it was appropriate DFES remained outside the debate while volunteers hashed out a way forward.

Earlier this year, a bushfire steering committee set up to explore the move got only seven of the eight out of 10 brigade votes needed.

The meeting heard East Augusta, Kudardup and Alexandra Bridge brigades were recently joined by Karridale rejecting the talks.

The proposed motion would have seen the Shire’s chief executive write to the DFES Commissioner asking for interest in a two-year trial of the handover and drafting of a memorandum of understanding.

Although some councillors felt the MoU would give volunteers the information they sought, after the debate, none backed the motion and voted for an alternative from Cr Earl to end the six-year discussion.

Cr McLeod agreed it was best the brigades “go forward together”.

Cr Peter Lane said local brigades had “a real esprit d’corp”.

“I’d hate to see that put at risk,” he said. “A lot of people volunteer.”

Deputy Shire president Julia Meldrum said closer ties to firefighters in the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions might be more appropriate.

But Cr Earl said brigades “sitting on the fence” helped quash the talks.

“An awful lot of them have had enough (of the uncertainty),” he said.

“We didn’t get the numbers. Time’s up. We need to move on.”

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails