19April2024

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National Review of Bushfires

VFBV notes the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Federal Government is considering a proposal for a national review or enquiry into this year’s bushfires.

VFBV would cautiously welcome a federal enquiry and believes there are learnings and observations that could be best explored at a national level. Just as fires don’t respect lines on a map a national perspective and overview to bushfire preparation, planning, response and recovery could be invaluable. We reject the view that duplication cannot be adequately managed or planned for, and believe the Federal Government has an important role to play.

Australia’s 250,000 emergency management volunteer workforce is a national treasure, and VFBV would welcome discussions on how they can be best supported, equipped and protected.

Any enquiry must be carefully planned and thought out to ensure terms of reference are adequately balanced to ensure any review is targeted and focussed for best effect and effort.

Having witnessed the cooperative approach taken by the Victorian and Commonwealth Government during the current campaign fires, we are optimistic that a federal review or enquiry could equally be progressed in good faith.

VFBV is strongly advocating that emergency management volunteers should equally have input into the terms of reference.

There are many factors volunteers would be keen to explore including volunteer support, safety, culture, resourcing and recognition. Building stronger integrated relationships and effort and removing artificial barriers are important factors to consider.

Volunteers would also make valuable contributions and provide a unique perspective on land management and planning, fuel reduction, and emergency warning education and standardisation amongst others. A national approach to some of these issues would provide a valuable blueprint for State based agencies and governments of the future.

As with enquiries in the past, VFBV would fully cooperate with any enquiry or review called. As history has shown, volunteers have always actively engaged in these types of discussions in a highly constructive way.

VFBV would support a review  of previous enquiries as part of a national review and believes this could form part of terms of reference.

VFBV respectfully submits that the lack of independent, evidence based, and authoritative assessment of the progress and status of previous reviews and enquires would be a significant improvement to assist the emergency service sector in realising the benefits and continuous improvement sought by previous enquiries.

A national approach would enable all State’s to benefit from the valuable lessons learned across the nation.

VFBV shares the frustration of many volunteers who have participated in a plethora of reviews, often with perceptions of little ultimate improvement to the support of volunteers and their communities with local service planning, preparation, delivery and recovery. 

Volunteers support active questioning about whether things can be done better, how to plan and prepare for the future and a need to address problems that need to be fixed.  Many of these problems require long term planning and investment. A holistic approach is urgently needed and presents one of the greatest opportunities to leverage off the strengths of each jurisdiction, while diligently pursuing improvements that resonate and have real world practical effect ‘on the ground’ and in our communities.

An enduring and national coordinated approach and oversight of the work done to build, strengthen and sustain emergency management volunteers would be most welcome and is a fitting way to recognise and respect the incredible work volunteers undertake in our communities 365 days of the year.

For now, our focus and energy is on supporting our incredible volunteers and the immediate demands of the current fire season. There will be time to pursue calm and focussed reflections and learnings at the end of the season. We urge decision makers at both the Commonwealth and State levels to respect the current operational workload and community relief and recovery works that are currently underway, and provide sufficient time for stakeholders to have input and offer advice on future reviews before terms of reference are settled.

Adam Barnett, Chief Executive Officer
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria

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CFA Volunteers are the unpaid professionals of our Emergency Services. VFBV is their united voice, and speaks on behalf of Victoria's 60,000 CFA Volunteers.

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