3 August 2017
Ms TAMARA SMITH ( Ballina ): My question is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Will the Minister commit to State Emergency Service volunteers and to communities across the State that funding for the essential replacement of SES vehicles—vehicles that the service has relied on to keep our community safe more than 35,000 times in the last financial year alone—will be maintained?
Mr TROY GRANT ( Dubbo—Minister for Police, and Minister for Emergency Services): I thank the member for Ballina for her question and for giving me the opportunity to again update the House on the commitment and hard work of our State Emergency Service [SES] volunteers and the support that the New South Wales Liberals and The Nationals in government provides to every unit across our State. This morning I met with the NSW SES Volunteer Association to clear up some misinformation on this important issue raised by the member for Ballina. I am glad to have been given the time today in this Chamber to update the House more broadly on what I said to the volunteer association and on the Government's commitment to resource the State Emergency Service.
On this side of the House we have a proud record of investment in our volunteer units and of working in close partnership with them to ensure that they can provide a reliable, prompt, safe and consistent response to their local communities in times of flood, storms and other emergencies. The NSW SES recently finalised a major five-year program to refresh and centrally manage its operational vehicle fleet that was previously the remit of local councils. The commencement of the project involved moving that burden from local councils so that it could be better managed by the State. The operational vehicles provided by councils were, I am advised, often of varying standards and ages. In many cases, they were not suitable for volunteers to undertake their statutory roles.
The Government has committed additional funding of more than $46 million over the past five years for the procurement, maintenance and control of the NSW SES operational vehicle fleet. This funding was part of a $96 million Strategic Disaster Readiness Package announced by the Government in response to the 2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry. Of this amount, $24.5 million was allocated to the purchase of new vehicles in a transition from the existing vehicles over a five-year period.
Ms Trish Doyle: Where are they?
Mr TROY GRANT: I acknowledge the interjection from the member for Blue Mountains, who asks, "Where are they?" I am happy to inform the House that the NSW SES has delivered 181 new vehicles, which include: 73 light general-purpose utility vehicles, 42 light storm vehicles, 25 medium storm vehicles, 12 medium rescue trucks and 11 community first responder vehicles.
In addition, hundreds of vehicles has also been transitioned from the local council to the New South Wales SES and are being operated, maintained and managed by the SES. I congratulate the New South Wales SES on the successful completion of this program, which has brought the vehicle fleet up to approximately 636 vehicles. I am advised that the maintenance budget of the existing fleet is fully built into the current New South Wales SES operations budget. That is a very important point of distinction.
However, there has been some scaremongering throughout the community and by some members of this House on this issue that has caused some confusion. I acknowledge that that does not include the member for Ballina. I wish to allay that confusion today. The New South Wales Government is committed to ensuring that volunteers have the resources they need, and that commitment is ongoing. Funding for the maintenance has been secured and is in the budget. This Government will never walk away from volunteers' safety in relation to the vehicles they use. The Government is ensuring that the New South Wales SES continues to work with bodies such as Infrastructure NSW, the Treasury and the Department of Justice to develop the next stage of its operational fleet, which will include the new vehicles that will add to those I have mentioned.
As the Minister—and this is the commitment that I gave to the New South Wales SES Volunteers Association—I absolutely support volunteers and give that commitment in finalising all that work, which is critical to ongoing success. So the answer is yes. The fleet replacement program has been successful. It is vital that it should continue and I will ensure that it does. Members of this Government, unlike Opposition members, do not sign blank cheques, make promises, and then break them. We put rigorous requirements around business cases to ensure that every funding program is not only successful but also sustainable. When I inherited this portfolio I made every one of the associated agencies aware of my disappointment that the business case was not finalised to a standard in sufficient time to allow for announcements of the procurement to be made at budget time. However, that work must be done, and it will be completed shortly. I have made it very clear to all involved that we must work together and that I am not happy there is any confusion or fear on the part of volunteers about the future strategy. I promise all volunteers that it will be sorted out shortly.