Highly embarrassing? Or the Agenda?
‘Out of control’: Volunteer firefighters demand income support, equipment
The president of the body representing thousands of volunteer firefighters is demanding immediate income support and masks for firefighters, warning the situation is now “out of control”.
Mick Holton, the president of the Volunteer Fire Firefighters Association, accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian of ignoring rising public concerns. The leaders maintain they have not had any special requests made of them by fire chiefs who are “very comfortable with the arrangements”.
The intervention follows days of rising fears about the sustainability of NSW’s firefighting operations as personal bills mount for exhausted volunteers grappling with months of fires down the east coast.
Frustrated by the lack of action and arguing now is the time for change, Mr Holton – a former Shooters Fishers and Farmers candidate in the NSW election – said after weeks on the front, volunteers had racked up expenses, crowd-funded smoke masks and foregone thousands of dollars in income to defend homes.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has been reticent to raise the issues with Mr Morrison and Ms Berejiklian amid the ongoing crisis, focusing resources on fighting fires which have now burned through 3.4 million hectares in the first weeks of summer.
Why I didn’t donate to the Rural Fire Service this time around
As the cast were taking their bows at the end of a show before Christmas, one of them stepped forward to say that, as we left, we’d be approached by people with buckets collecting for the NSW Rural Fire Service. Normally I’d reach for my wallet – I’d done so a few weeks earlier when they were collecting for an actors’ charity – but this time I declined.
Like Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, the RFS is staffed by volunteers. Why did they need donations? Presumably, to help cover the cost of needed equipment or incidental expenses. Really? What’s happened to the state government’s cheque book? And don’t I remember hearing that the RFS had had its funding cut?
No one believes every worthy cause should be funded by the government so that private charity becomes redundant. And it’s true the federal government partially subsidises donations by making them tax-deductible. But where do you draw the line between what the government should cover and what can be left to the generosity – or otherwise – of private citizens?
The more I think about it, the more I realise that, as part of their commitment to Smaller Government and lower taxes, governments have been quietly shifting the dividing line between what the government pays for and what should depend on charity.
All governments have been doing it. State governments, for instance, have long left country (but not city) fire-fighting to volunteers. And have long underfunded the upkeep of public schools, believing parents and citizens can be left to make up the shortfall. But it’s been a particular trick of the federal Coalition government as it struggles to return its budget to surplus when there are expensive, vote-buying tax cuts to be covered.
If you’re wondering why, despite his contrition at having taken an overseas break his spin doctors tried to keep secret, and his freely dispensed “thoughts and prayers”, Scott Morrison remained adamant for so long that all that was needed was already being done to help the firefighters, it’s because he knows that too much generosity on the feds’ part could see his precious budget surplus whittled down to nothingness.