Arguments over funding for state emergency services on the far north coast continue, with no sign yet of nearly $6 million promised in June.
Member for Tweed Geoff Provest (Nationals) told media four months ago the state government had allocated $5.85 million for a ‘bigger, better’ fire station at Kingscliff.
‘Firefighters in Kingscliff will be even better equipped to protect the community with a new state-of-the-art facility’ he said at the time.
The new station was to be built on a new site, once a suitable location had been secured and the construction tender process finalised.
But four months later, neither Mr Provest nor Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) has provided any updates on the project and the union says funding cuts mean the money is no longer available.
$13 million cut from state emergency services budget
Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) State Secretary Leighton Drury told Echonetdaily the government had cut $13 million from the Fire and Rescue NSW budget.
‘There was no mention of the cuts in the lead-up to the state election,’ Mr Drury said.
The union and Labor have questioned the budget cuts in relation to a recent training day for firefighters in Ballina that would have left the Tweed Heads fire station without permanent workers for the day.
Northern Rivers zone commander, Superintendent Greg Lewis, told Echonetdaily retained fire-fighters from Tweed Heads, Banora Point, Kingscliff and Ballinga would have protected Tweed Heads residents in the event of a fire.
Retained fire-fighters are essentially casual fire-fighters available on-call.
While it’s understood workers from Lismore went to the training, the FBEU decided workers from Tweed Heads wouldn’t go because residents on the Tweed deserved ‘full resources and capability’, Mr Drury said.
Member for Tweed silent
Fire and Rescue responded, saying Tweed Heads Fire Station was never closed.
The agency sent a statement saying it had a ‘network of both retained and permanent fire-fighters’ able to provide 24/7 coverage across the region.
‘It is not uncommon for FRNSW crews and resources to be deployed outside their fire districts for both training and incidents,’ the statement read, ‘however emergency response is always maintained within these communities’.
‘FRNSW has a state-of-the-art training facility at Ballina which is utilised by crews to maintain operational capability and preparedness.’
But while Mr Provest has remained silent on the matter, instead directing questions to FRNSW, Member for Ballina Tamara Smith (Greens) and Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot (Labor) have spoken out about emergency services in their electorates.
‘The decision to rob Tweed Heads Fire Station of its fire-fighting staff is yet another example of the NSW Liberal National government’s neglect of regional and rural areas including our community on the North Coast,’ Ms Elliot wrote via email, ‘this Liberal National government is arrogant and out of touch’.
‘Our community has a right to feel safe this summer,’ she said, ‘Geoff Provest needs to explain why our local firefighting services have been cut’.
Greens member says Byron needs a fire station
Meanwhile, Ms Smith took the opportunity to call for a Byron fire station.
‘The evidence I have seen shows that Byron Shire is most in need of increased Fire and Rescue personnel and infrastructure,’ Ms Smith emailed.
‘With 1 million day visitors a year and 1 million holiday makers a year last year it’s not hard to believe that Byron is where we need the government to resource our Fireys.’
Ms Smith said Byron needed a new station to meet growing demand over the next 50 years.
‘A permanent, full-time Fire and Rescue Service in Byron Bay can also provide much needed education to our community about fire safety,’ she said.
But Ms Smith didn’t seem entirely impressed with Labor’s approach to FR NSW funding.
‘Rather than scare mongering the community, members of the opposition might like to consult with the front line men and women in the profession who are telling me that Byron is where we need the investment,’ she said.
Echonetdaily has asked the NSW minister for emergency services, David Elliott, for confirmation of the $13 million budget cut to FRNSW, whether or not the $5.85 million Kingscliff fire station will still happen and if so, when residents can expect to see the project begin.