Morwell residents are marching in Melbourne today with firefighters to protest the Napthine Government’s cutbacks to community protection. Recent fires in Victoria strained the CFA to breaking point – and also impacted on the MFB’s emergency response in Melbourne.
The crisis has been caused by Napthine Government budget cuts and its failure to deliver the 342 extra fulltime CFA firefighters promised after the 2009 bushfires. (The CFA had asked for 684 extra firefighters.) United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall says the rally will see firefighters launch a campaign to hold the government to account on funding and resources for fire protection. “From today the government can expect to be shadowed by firefighters at every turn, to remind them of their broken promise to the Victorian community.
“Victoria’s population is growing faster than at anytime in the past 50 years, yet the number of CFA professional firefighters has been almost unchanged for 15 years – while volunteer numbers are in decline. “During the Hazelwood fire, CFA and MFB firefighters worked shifts of up to 18 hours – and were exposed to contaminated water and high carbon monoxide levels. The Government was forced to hire interstate firefighters to keep CFA fire stations operating around Victoria.
“And the impact affected Melbourne residents too. During the January heatwave, the MFB put extra trucks on the road to cope with heart attacks and other heat-related problems – but saved overtime payments by taking them off the road at 6 pm.”
“That short-sighted approach, on the weekend of the Grampians fire and the Stokehouse blaze, saw Melbourne’s MFB area with a number of fire stations closed on the night of January 17 as the MFB scrambled to stretch its limited resources to cover the metro area.”
“It was worse on Sunday February 9, as fires affected outer Melbourne areas including Warrandyte, Mickelham and Riddells Creek. With MFB crews moved up to support the CFA, there were times that day when the MFB had only FIVE fire trucks available for emergency response in Melbourne.”
“Normally no MFB fire station would be without a fire crew longer than 30 minutes before another crew is moved up to cover that area.”
“The government claims to be spending more than ever on the CFA – yet it has slashed the operational budgets of both fire services. The CFA last year reported an $85 million drop in income from government and insurance funding.”
“And while the Fire Services Levy has doubled to more than $600 million, the Napthine Government has failed on its promise to deliver the recommendations of the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission.”
“The people of Victoria – most recently the people of Morwell – have been let down by a government which soon forgot the lessons of Black Saturday, scrapped many programs introduced after that tragedy, has cut back on CFA support staff, and puts budget cuts before community safety.”