Millions slashed from fire budget

Claims a $41 million cut in the Country Fire Authority’s budget will not impact on Latrobe Valley’s front line services have been disputed by a local inside source.

Internal State Government documents obtained by the United Firefighters Union have revealed a push to bring the state’s budget back into surplus will see $66 million slashed from the state’s firefighting budget over the coming year.

The news has outraged the firefighters union, with UFU secretary Peter Marshall labelling the move a “bad public policy” that was going to cost people lives.

“You can’t send an army into battle – be they volunteers or full timers – without infrastructure and support,” Mr Marshall said, confirming the roll back of at least one CFA recruitment program in the state had already begun.

“The minimum level of on-duty firefighters has not risen to reflect population growth, senior managers are under strain as position are not filled, and the CFA is to put bureaucrats into uniform to cover operational costs.”

State Emergency Service Minister Peter Ryan has confirmed the extent of the cuts, but has been adamant they will not affect front line services. Questions put to a CFA spokesperson by The Express regarding the union’s claims, and how the cuts would be impacted in Gippsland were not answered, however the following statement was issued.

“CFA is aware of budget cuts. The organisation will manage this through a number of measures. Frontline services will not be affected and service delivery to the community will be maintained,” the statement read.

However a local CFA insider, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned the official position taken by CFA management.

The source said Valley firefighters were “confused” and “surprised” by news of funding cuts, and were still unsure how to react as of yesterday morning.

“It’s going to be tough because we don’t actually know where (the cuts) are coming from; it’s a struggle to provide our service on current funding already,” the source said.

“We just found out about it yesterday; there’s been a reaction of concern among the troops, but I’m not sure how this is going to affect morale.”

The source said they were “a little shocked” by the move, as the government’s ongoing commitment to supporting firefighting services since the Black Saturday bushfires had been moving in the right direction.

“I think it’s a complete turnaround (by government); after the (Black Saturday) fires, it felt they were on the right path, but now it appears we are going backwards ,” the source said.