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  • Not backing down from fight

    2019 - 05.17

    VOLUNTEERS…Gathered at the Jamestown CFS station on Friday night to discuss the changes were volunteers (back, from left) Steve Leesong of Jamestown, Nick Taylor of Jamestown, Shaun Irrgang of Jamestown, Black Rock Group Officer Ken Campbell, and Peter Lehmann of Caltowie CFS.Front from left Sean Kerslake of Jamestown, Damien Carpenter of Jamestown, Lee Iles of Jamestown, Derek Carkle of Jamestown and Tim Cooper.Country Fire Service volunteers are not showing any signs of stopping the fight to stop changes to the organisation they say would be harmful.

    Around 40 CFS volunteers from the Mid North attended a rally in Adelaide last Wednesday, sending a firm message to the South Australian Government.

    The rally, organised by the CFS Volunteers Association, questioned the government’s motives in choosing to “dismantle a proven emergency structure”.

    Northern Region CFS Volunteers Association President Tim Cooper, speaking on Friday night, was one of the Mid North CFS volunteers at the rally.

    He has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 35 years, and said he thinks the CFS has never faced a challenge like it faces today, with a proposed restructure that would see the parts of CFS, Metropolitan Fire Service and SES operations merged, with one commissioner controlling all three organisations.

    “(Emergency Services Minister) Tony Piccolo has said the reforms are about reducing duplication and saving money which would then be reinvested in the sector.

    “On the face of it, no arguments about that.” But Mr Cooper said the volunteers are upset that their voices haven’t been heard, despite Minister Piccolo frequently stating that he conducted widespread consultation. They say no real detail about the reforms has been released.

    “We were at the rally to tell the government we’re unhappy with the level of detail we’ve had, and the lack of guarantee about where we’re headed.

    “It’s like jumping out of a plane with no parachute.”

    He said the documents the volunteer association has been provided offer “scant” detail, and that the government had failed to do its due diligence by not providing cost-benefits analyses to CFS stakeholders.

    Mr Cooper said Mr Piccolo was “pushing the replay button” when he talked about his widespread consultation.

    “Has he been listening to what he’s been told?”

    He said his CFS colleagues attended the consultation sessions to share ideas and hear from the Minister about the proposed changes, but were given little information.

    Mr Cooper said volunteers are concerned the changes will be pushed through anyway, and that he thinks the government is “hoping the problems will just go away.”

    According to Mr Cooper, the majority of volunteers would not be against changes for the benefit of the organisation, but fear it could lead to a lack of support and resources.

    He said in a worst-case scenario, it could leave the CFS unable to protect the country communities of South Australia.

    “But emergency services volunteers don’t give up easily – we wouldn’t be in this game if we did.”

    Mr Cooper’s concerns were echoed by his fellow volunteers, including Black Rock Group Officer Ken Campbell, who said that “no-one is objecting to reform.

    “But there has been no evidence gathered to show the need.

    “We are against reform for the sake of reform.

    “The Minister has not been asking the right questions.

    “He should be asking ‘what things need to be improved, and what are the solutions?’”

    Mr Campbell said the volunteers wanted to see “evidence gathered and shortcomings documented” and said the government needed to be much more transparent in its dealings with the CFS.

    In response to questions, Minister Piccolo said “I have consulted with nearly 2000 emergency service personnel and will continue to consult throughout the journey.”

    “I have also met and consulted with the appropriate volunteer organisations, like the CFSVA and SESVA, on many occasions.”

    “If anyone wants to discuss the reform, I am happy to meet with them and discuss it face-to-face.”

    “It is important to remember that the reform process is just commencing, so there will be ample opportunity for all workers in the emergency services sector – both paid and volunteers – to have an input in the design and implementation of the new organisation.”

    “The intricate details of the new sector are now being developed in consultation with a reference group made up of emergency service stakeholders including representatives from volunteers in the sector.”

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