In a move described as ‘irresponsible’, 14 National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) senior managers have been sacked, regions amalgamated and officers required to reapply for the new positions under a state government reshuffle in the middle of the fire season.
As a result, the northern rivers region is currently without the most senior manager who would normally oversee hazard reduction burns and NPWS fire-fighting crews.
Meanwhile crews are continuing to battle a fire at South Ballina, which is under control but continuing to burn after destroying 114 hectares, much of it public bushland.
Stewart Little, general secretary of the Public Service Association in NSW, told SMH this week that the move was ‘just irresponsible’.
‘Every populated area adjacent to a national park will be placed at risk in the coming fire season,’ he said.
Mr Little predicts there is worse to come, with more redundancies in the pipeline in the new year.
But an Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) spokesperson told SMH the changes were ‘about strengthening our ability to manage the state’s parks and reserves’.
‘These changes will not affect the delivery of emergency response, fire management, visitor services and important conservation work,’ she told the paper, adding that there would be no reduction in the number of fire-trained staff available to undertake hazard reduction burns and fight bushfires.
Labor’s Penny Sharpe, however, said it was all about cost cutting.
‘Decades of specialised experience are being dumped as NPWS tries to deal with the cuts handed to them by the Baird government,’ Ms Sharpe told the paper, adding that 210 permanent staff positions had been cuts since June 2014.
‘With the potential for a horror fire season, the loss of these staff could not come at a worse time,’ Ms Sharpe said.