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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3341

Ms HALL (Shortland) (19:14): I rise today to speak about the ongoing closures of fire stations by the O'Farrell Liberal government in New South Wales. First, I would like to put on record my thanks to the firefighters within my electorate. They do a tremendous job right across the state, and I applaud them for the difficult job they do under the worst situations imaginable.

The New South Wales Liberal government, in an effort to cut costs, has embarked upon a plan to temporarily close or take offline many fire stations throughout the whole of New South Wales, and this happens on an ongoing basis. It simply must stop. The process of taking stations offline has arisen from the New South Wales government's in-built desire to cut costs and services. Fire stations in New South Wales are made up of full-time firefighters and part-time or retained firefighters, who often work second jobs. When these retained firefighters are unable to work due to sickness, work commitments or some other event, the fire crews are moved from one station to another. It has previously been the case that full-time firefighters would be called in to fill in the shortfall in staff and ensure that the station remained operational, but that is not the case anymore. The New South Wales government, instead of paying a little overtime to our hardworking firefighters, would rather put at risk the lives of the people in the community and the safety of their property and close the station altogether, even if it is only temporarily. Often this saves them as little as $300.

Within my own electorate of Shortland, the Belmont and Tingira Heights fire stations have been closed for more than 70 hours over the past two months, putting the safety of the citizens of Shortland in danger. When these fire stations are closed, the residents of suburbs such as Windale, Valentine, Belmont, Tingira Heights, Marks Point, Pelican and Blacksmiths must rely on stations in Swansea or Charlestown, and there are a number of factors that could intervene and stop fire crews getting there in time. Anyone who knows the area will understand the risks involved with this, as fire crews travelling from Swansea must rely on light traffic and on the Swansea bridge being down to ensure that they are able to get to the site of the fire before property or, more importantly, lives are lost.

The New South Wales government is responsible for paying only 14.6 per cent of the total budget for fire and rescue services within New South Wales, with local government contributing 11.7 per cent and the vast majority, 73.7 per cent, paid for by the residents of New South Wales through fire levies within their insurance policy. It is unacceptable for the New South Wales government to close fire stations that residents have already paid for.

In response to the concerns being voiced within the community, I recently organised a meeting with residents of Shortland, firefighters, representatives of local government and the leader of the New South Wales opposition, John Robertson. I was deeply concerned to hear our local firefighters explain the pressures that the O'Farrell Liberal cuts have put them under and was also shocked to learn that firefighters had been threatened with disciplinary action by the New South Wales government for advertising these station closures to the community. John Robertson has stated that he certainly will not be putting bureaucrats before firefighters and has also said that this is cost cutting gone mad. This can be seen as nothing more than a cover-up exercise by a government so keen to hide its cuts that it is willing to bully the firefighters whose job it is to protect us.

The closure of these stations cannot and must not continue, and I call upon the New South Wales government and, in particular, the Liberal member for Swansea, Garry Edwards, to stop personal attacks on me and work with me to ensure that these fire stations remain open and are adequately staffed and that the residents of the Shortland electorate are protected from further devastating cuts to essential services. It is vital that, no matter what government is in power, we have the safety that is provided to us by the fire stations. I believe this practice must stop now, and I think that all levels of government should work together to— (Time expired)