Tuesday 15 June 2004

Output group 5
Emergency management

5.1 State emergency management services -

Mr FINCH - Just last year in the budget Estimates I made an assessment after I had a quick ring around to find out how the SES was performing in Tasmania. The comments I received I expressed at that meeting about exceptionally low morale in the SES. The service does not have enough funding, it is limited in supplies and equipment, the equipment is run down, it is using old ambulances for road rescue services, there is a lack of preparedness for a major incident. So I talked about the fact that the SES was in fact the forgotten service.

The minister agreed, to a certain extent, and said that the SES has played second fiddle. He also highlighted that he tried at budget committee to get some allocation for SES over a couple of years and had not been successful. So this year it was good news -

Mr Aird - Did he say that?

Mr FINCH - He did say that.

Mr Aird - Dobbed us in - I will talk to him about that.

Mr FINCH - This year it was pleasing that in fact the SES had been given a very strong consideration. Morale has been boosted tremendously with the announcement that over $2 million is available for them over the next few years.

The area that concerns me, and I brought this up when we talked about the State Fire Commission in the Estimates committee, was the fact that I was concerned that we were robbing Peter to pay Paul, that in fact the Fire Commission will lose $800 000 a year for each of the next four years, and that just about tallies with what the SES will receive. I am looking again for assurances that that increase in funds to the SES is not at the expense of the State Fire Commission because I am concerned about that vehicle-rebuilding program that has been earmarked for the State Fire Commission. I do not want to see that under threat.

Mr AIRD - The program for the fire services is continuing. The program that was in place is going to keep on going in terms of vehicle replacement. There was an increase in insurance levies which is about $3 million so they were in pretty good condition to keep on going with the program that they have put in place. It gave us the ability to do other things with the money but in the net effect they are not worse off at all, given that they had an extra $3 million from the insurance levy. The Fire Service, given its funding arrangements, is doing relatively well in the scheme of things. Here was a capacity to keep on maintaining the program in terms of an upgrade and all the other things that were planned. There was a source of money coming in terms of the insurance levy which gave us the extra $3 million and here was a capacity for the Government to make sure that we could look after the very people you were moaning about - I don't mean that.

Mr Finch - Concerned about.

Mr AIRD - Concerned about, I am sorry. We always have to be very careful with our language.

Mr FINCH - As the program goes through into future years, I just want to keep my eye on that rebuilding program so that it is able to be maintained and it does occur.

Mr Aird - We will keep an eye on that.

Mr FINCH - I just want another assurance. I believe the SES people were advertising for trainers, people to train volunteers who come to the SES. I am just wondering whether the Tasmanian Fire Service could do that. They have trained trainers and they have people who can do that. I am just concerned there about some duplication of people.

Mr AIRD - There are three new trainers, one for each region, and they have to be properly accredited in SES training techniques, that is the reason.

Mr Finch - Which is different to -

Mr AIRD - It is a different type of discipline. Each discipline would have their own trainers specific to their own requirements. Of course there is the capacity for those registered training organisations to have people skilled as trainers who, given the right body of information, can train the people but in this instance the idea is to have them specifically accredited in the delivery of training programs relating to SES workers.

Mr FINCH - Last year the commissioner, when I was talking about SES, spoke about Launceston not having a dedicated SES unit. I am curious now as to how crucial a Launceston SES unit would be and whether there are plans to establish one.

Mr AIRD - The SES have people up there in the area. The model that is used in Tasmania has the support of local councils. The Launceston Council, however, do not support the model and therefore they are not doing what other councils are doing in other areas. There is a gap therefore in terms of the organisation through the support of local government. It would be much better if Launceston City Council did support the model and would allow the structure to be coherent statewide in terms of that model. Notwithstanding that, the SES volunteers have done a terrific job in Launceston when they have been called on to undertake emergency activities.

[5.45 p.m.]
Mr FLETCHER - When the honourable member who recently spoke raised the subject of dedicated employees or employees who were not dedicated, Mr Chairman, I thought I had better get to my feet and draw attention to the fact of the dedicated service personnel who support the State Emergency Service at the base at Smithton. Over a long period of time they have been very significant contributors to emergency services based in that area and it, I think, exemplifies the model to which the Leader referred just a few moments ago. Not only do they have the support of the local council but they have the support of the community as well. As a result of that operation they are an extremely well-equipped group with a very strong presence and a very high profile and a very high level of acceptance in the Circular Head community.

I am aware that over the past several years but I think particularly in the last year or so there has been a move to further rationalise the essential services to try to bring efficiencies in service delivery at a lower cost. I understand there was a paper distributed last year which outlined several options for bringing some of the essential services together to get a more efficient delivery and more rationalised delivery of those essential services. I wonder if the honourable Leader could apprise me of the moves in that direction concerning the project which was researched and a special unit that was set up involving senior officers to plan that path last year? There was, I think, general support for the proposition. Could the honourable Leader apprise me of that and indicate to me whether or not that program amalgamated certain essential service functions to deliver a better outcome and particularly a better funding outcome? Whilst local government has a commitment to fund the SES units within their community, the need for ongoing funding and funding of a more substantial nature to replace important infrastructure that is held by the State Emergency Service is an ongoing one. If the State under this line item were to get involved, many people see that that would lead to a greater security of the State Emergency Service and its allied arms, once again to deliver a better outcome for all Tasmanians.

Mr AIRD - Er -

Mr Fletcher - When you come back like that, you give me an indication you are going to fudge the truth. That couldn't be right, could it?

Members laughing.

Mr AIRD - I will start that again. No, I am not going to fudge the truth, I do not do that. You cannot fudge the truth. It is either true or it is not. Basically, yes, propositions have been considered and nothing has come before government to make a consideration of any of the various proposals that were around at the time. The honourable member would be aware that the SES were not terribly keen on the idea, which is understandable in terms of territory. So I guess it is not an issue that I am aware that is being actively canvassed around the traps. Within the agencies there may be a bit of argy?bargy about what should happen. But certainly from a government perspective we have not seen anything and I do not know if we ever will.

Mr Fletcher - There are some synergies. There would be, in my judgment -

Mr AIRD - In terms of arguing synergies, to what end? For some things I would like to know what synergies you thought may be effective but -
Mr Fletcher - There are duplications in several of the services which could be overcome if there was a single thrust towards it.

Mr AIRD - If you wanted to encourage any synergies or restructures you have to engage those who are going to be involved in that restructure and there has to be a willingness to accommodate change and a willingness to cooperate to make sure it is effective, otherwise in the end -

Mr Fletcher - You'll lose your volunteers, I accept that.

Mr AIRD - Absolutely, and that is something we do not want to do and that is why we have increased the allocation this year by 43 per cent to make sure of those people. The member for Rosevears was quite correct, there was a morale problem and people did feel undervalued and I am pleased that we have done something about it and all strength to them - they do a fantastic job.

Mr FLETCHER - I would like to make a final comment. The reason I raised that is that I took advice last year and the people who sought my input were concerned about the sustainability of the SES over a longer period of time and the sustainability of funding over a longer period of time, and the commitment of councils to significant replacement of equipment over a long period of time. My judgment was that they were supportive of any moves, subject to a certain model - there were four models placed before me and at least one of those models seemed to me to be satisfactory to them.

But I accept without reservation the fact that it is substantially built on a volunteer input and it is very important to keep those volunteers onside because they are doing extremely good work and it would be interesting for me to go back to the electorate and question some of the members who are involved just to see where they stand on this particular issue.

Item agreed to.