On the 6th March 2007 a dispute arose between the Emergency Services Agency (ESA) and volunteer bushfire fighters after the ESA Commissioner announced a restructure of the ESA. Volunteers were very concerned that the changes, which included a significant alteration to the senior management of the RFS, had been announced before any consultation with volunteers had taken place.
"Everyone will have their own opinion on the model but
the decision on the final model was mine and it's one I
believe will work"
ESA Commissioner Gregor Manson
"I think there are a few noisy people out there [about
the restructure] but the majority just want to get on with
ACT Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell
Having failed to have their concerns heard through the normal organisational channels, the volunteers organised an unprecedented high-profile protest at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday 15th March, 2007.
The protest involved amassing some 40 bushfire vehicles from ALL the Volunteer Brigade sheds, from all over Canberra, and nearly 100 volunteers, at Prince Albert Hall on Commonwealth Avenue and driving in convoy to the Legislative Assembly on London Circuit, Canberra. The vehicles were then parked on the hard standing between the Legislative Assembly and the Canberra Museum, on London Circuit and in the Assembly parking area at the rear of the building.
When the Minister for Emergency Services Simon Corbell addressed the assembled volunteers and failed to assure them that a consultation process would be put in place, the Volunteer Captain's and other senior officers resigned their positions as officers of the Service, collected all the vehicle keys together placed them in a bucket (for the Minister) and left the protest area. All volunteers then made their own way home in pre-arranged transport.
The entire protest activity was completed as a very efficient and effective IMT exercise. The goals of the organisers included:
To ensure that RFS staff were not compromised in any way by the action, the plans for the protest were kept confidential amongst the organising group and their volunteer supporters.
In implementing the protest, the group worked cooperatively and amicably with ACT Police and attracted support from the SES, ACT Fire Brigade and members of the public who witnessed the event.
The protest inspired a well-considered letter of support from the President of Volunteering ACT, Ms Lorraine Higgins, to the Chief Minister. Media coverage was very positive for the Rural Fire Service and its volunteer members.
As a result of the consultation process eventually put in place following the protest (some 113 days later), the volunteers have obtained the Minister's written commitment to 2 reviews of the new structure; a promise that the lack of consultation will not happen again; and the establishment of a regular forum between volunteers and the Minister.
"I admit there may not have been as much consultation
as may have been required."
ESA Commissioner Gregor Manson
A protest of this scale, by volunteers, has never occurred in any other jurisdiction in Australia and resulted in media coverage in most other States. Subsequently the organisers and the ACT Volunteer Brigades Association received supporting statements from equivalent organisations elsewhere.
The protest was organised at the end of a long and tiring fire season when many Brigades had been stretched by sending members away on inter-state deployments to help fight fires in NSW and Victoria.
Emergency Service volunteers in the ACT have benefited greatly from the protest as they now have an embedded consultation forum with the Minister, and the certainty of not being treated with contempt by the Emergency Services Agency.
Last updated 4 November 2014