I address the impact on my electorate of cuts to National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers and field officers.
The Blue Mountains electorate is predominantly a World Heritage listed national park, with a small sliver of built-up areas running through the middle. The national park plays a crucial role in the local economy and the day-to-day lives of my constituents.
I was alarmed to learn, through answers to questions on notice, that the Baird-Berejiklian Government made significant staffing cuts that will gut the organisation of the expertise and capacity it requires to do its job. I have been contacted by National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, who wish to remain anonymous, who detailed to me the extent and ramification of the cuts.
At the time of that leak, 50 redundancies had been pushed through by this Government, affecting area managers, senior rangers, rangers and administrative support. According to my sources, this included some of the most qualified and experienced firefighters, and they will not be replaced. This will have a direct consequential impact on the Blue Mountains community during bushfire seasons—both due to the loss of experience and capacity to mitigate bushfire risk before high-risk periods and during bushfire events like the 2013 bushfire disaster. During those fires, sections of remote national park were burned and contributed to the spread of the bushfires, which claimed more than 200 homes.
In the months since this leak, I have done some digging of my own and discovered that the number of redundancies has blown out to 114. According to answers to my questions on notice, the number of rangers has been slashed from 266 in 2011 to just 217 in 2016. Right there, almost one-quarter of the rangers have been cut over the six years of this Government. Likewise, the number of field officers has also been slashed. In 2012 there were 750 field officers across the organisation; at the end of 2016 there were 672. That is 78 jobs cut, and the field officer workforce decimated.
Make no mistake, I am told this has been the most unprofessional, shambolic restructure in the history of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. It is a blow to the capacity of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to manage our conservation areas, provide service to park visitors and protect our communities from bushfire.
In addition to these cuts, the number of national park areas has been reduced from 60 to 50, which means that the reduced number of staff who remain employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service are forced to work harder and wider, reducing the quality and breadth of service provided.
The restructure has been bereft of genuine consultation with both staff and unions, I have been told. Information dissemination has been appalling, with the future of many staff unknown for up to four years. This has created an environment of low morale, declining productivity and fear amongst staff. They tell me this is the worst state the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has been in, in its almost 50 years of existence.
In addition to this I have been informed that the Government is seeking to cut costs by dumping weekend rosters and moving staff back to a Monday to Friday working week, leaving wide sections of national park without staff at peak weekend visitation times. Staff are concerned that park infrastructure will be degraded without supervision during weekends and that park rangers' time will be spent repairing the damage during the week.
There is also a push to diminish the status, expertise and qualifications required to attain the position of ranger and dumb down the profession by removing the need for higher education qualifications in these highly specialised roles.
Why would the Government do this to the State's premier conservation agency? Because it means it can pay the staff less. It is deliberately dumbing down our national parks rangers and threatened species officers. It is an appalling way to run a government agency. It demonstrates for all to see the contempt with which the Liberal Government views the environment and those who seek to protect it.
As the letter from my well-placed source said:
To think they are doing this at a time of climate change and environmental degradation of the planet is just deplorable.
There seems to be no thought given to anything but saving money.
Well, actually, it is the people's money and they deserve to have it invested in the long- term health of our pla net for the generations to come.
To this end, I call on the Berejiklian Government to reverse these cuts, respect the work that the National Parks and Wildlife Service does and take seriously the need to protect and conserve our national parks and conservation areas.