National Parks restructure impact on Far South Coast

PARK AIR: The National Parks' Park Air helicopter parked at Narooma during a remote area bushfire operation a few years back.
PARK AIR: The National Parks' Park Air helicopter parked at Narooma during a remote area bushfire operation a few years back.

The debate over staffing of National Parks offices across the Far South Coast region has intensified with differing accounts from the Public Service Association and the local State Member.

The Public Service Association is saying the NSW Government is marking the 50th anniversary of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) with a massive restructure that will cut jobs and jeopardise public safety.

Anecdotally, morale is suffering across National Parks offices across the Far South Coast with rangers unsure what the future holds for them. But this in stark contrast with State Member for Bega Andrew Constance saying the actual number of National Parks staff is set to grow.

The PSA held rallies across the state on Thursday, October 19 against the cuts with events held in Katoomba, Queanbeyan, Grafton, Griffith, and Wollongong.

PSA general secretary Stewart Little said the Berejiklian Government was overseeing the scrapping of 13 highly experienced Area Managers, who perform a critical role in bushfire and pest management.

In recent years, NPWS has downsized from 66 areas across NSW to just 37 under this restructure, he said.

 “These highly experienced officers are meant to preserve our flora and fauna and ultimately help protect the public but they now find themselves  on the threatened species list – an appalling 50th birthday present,” said.

Specifically to the Far South Coast area that is managed out of the Narooma office, Mr Little said the area had lost its area manager, as well as four project officers, two senior rangers and all of these, with the exception of one administration position, were frontline positions involved in firefighting and pest control duties in the field.

But Mr Constance when contacted by Fairfax Media said the exact opposite was true with eight new National Parks frontline positions in the Bega electorate, meaning staffing going from 57 to 65. In the Narooma office alone, staffing was going from 29 to 33 positions.

“It’s just irresponsible of the PSA to put these incorrect staffing numbers out into the community when the number of frontline rangers is actually growing,” Mr Constance said. “I don’t accept there are job cuts and its all Labor and union spin.”

Mr Little from the PSA went on to say that given the dry conditions now and into the future, it was dangerous to be cutting frontline managers, senior rangers and project officers who had invaluable bushfire experience and who were often called in as incident controllers for remote fires.

He also said Pest Management Officers (PMO) are also being thrown on the jobs scrapheap in the shake-up.

PMO’s perform a critical role in the control of  wild dogs, feral pigs, cats, goats, deer and invasive plant species and in so doing, ensure NSW meets its obligations under the Biosecurity Act. There were recently reports of dogs roaming in Mimosa National Park.

“60 PMOs and Fire Management Officers (FMO’s) were introduced 20 years ago, but their numbers have been progressively slashed across the state, with the new structure containing just eight PMO’s,” Mr Little said. “That’s 8 people to cover more than 7 million hectares.”

“The Nationals don't care about landowners or they wouldn’t be cutting jobs that provide critical assistance to farmers such as the management of wild dogs and pigs.”

“The bushfire season has already started with devastating impact and and if these cuts go through, there simply will not be sufficient experienced staff to contain them.

“Tragically, the ramifications of these cuts will probably be tendered as evidence in the Coroner’s court in the coming years”.

 “The skills of these people and several hundred years of combined experience are gained on the ground, not in a classroom, so what has been lost to date and what we are about to lose will take a lifetime to replace. Of course by then, it will be too late.”

National Parks were also vital for the region’s tourism with Gulaga National Park recently reopening.