The Brumby Government has still not delivered new radios promised to Victoria’s CFA volunteers almost two years ago despite a decade of warnings that older radios and repeaters were prone to failure, Shadow Minister for Bushfire Response and Leader of the Nationals Peter Ryan said today.
“The $12.8 million radio replacement project was announced by Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron with great fanfare in 2008, when he described it as ‘the cornerstone’ of a package to help emergency services volunteers and staff respond to emergencies,” Mr Ryan said.
“Almost two years on after that announcement – and despite the tragedies of Black Saturday and the Gippsland fires – it appears that not one new radio has been provided.”
Mr Ryan said the radios used by the CFA since 1995 were clearly not up to the job, with the Bushfires Royal Commission hearing evidence that CFA radios failed to function, including:
‘The theory is that we use CFA channels and we have a dedicated channel for that, but the dedicated channel was never operable, we could never get through’ (Morwell CFA Captain Lou Sigmund).
‘We did attempt on the day to make communication via radio channel and it wasn't possible, the coverage of them … just too many limitations in the coverage provisions in our network’
(CFA Operations Officer Jason Lawrence).
Mr Ryan said on the basis of Bushfires Royal Commission evidence alone, the Brumby Government should have acted immediately to roll out new radios and repeaters.
“Labor has been told by numerous CFA brigades about communication problems for the past ten years but replacement radios have not been provided,” Mr Ryan said.
“The Brumby Government was also warned about problems with the CFA radio system in the report on the 2008 windstorm, but instead of acting to improve the situation it kept that report secret.
“Labor was also deaf to the recommendations of a House of Representatives Select Committee in 2003 that an urgent review be conducted ‘to ensure that as far as possible, firefighter safety is not being compromised through inadequate communications’.
“CFA volunteers take substantial risks in providing a vital service to the Victorian community, and it is simply unacceptable that the Brumby Government should add to this risk by failing to upgrade vital CFA equipment,” Mr Ryan said.