State Emergency Service Fiftieth Anniversary
Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [4.45 p.m.]: I move:
That this House congratulates the State Emergency Service on its fiftieth anniversary and commends all volunteers for their contribution to the safety and wellbeing of New South Wales communities.
I am delighted that the House has agreed to debate this motion. I can now record in Hansard the support of members of the Opposition for the more than 9,000 volunteers in the State Emergency Service [SES] who do such a brilliant job and provide such great support to the communities of this State. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the SES, an organisation comprised of active volunteers, who look after communities right across this State—north, south, east and west—and who do so in a committed, well-trained and enthusiastic way. They are irreplaceable and their work and commitment to it could not be carried out by anyone else without enormous cost to the taxpayers of this State.
This week is State Emergency Service Week. On behalf of the community of New South Wales each SES member will receive a commemorative fiftieth anniversary medallion in recognition of the service they give to the citizens of this State. I understand that in excess of 1,000 volunteers will participate in Saturday's parade, which will include members of other emergency services organisations—paid, professional and volunteer—who work hand-in-hand with the SES in performing its role. These organisations respond whenever they are needed and work co-operatively. One organisation generally will have primary responsibility, but other organisations and individuals work with that organisation to fulfil the task at hand. The way these organisations work together is an amazing tribute to the spirit of volunteerism in this country.
The parade on Saturday will be supported by mounted and motorcycle police, the New South Wales Fire Brigades band, the SES band and members of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol and the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Association. The latter two organisations, being maritime organisations, provide emergency support along our coastline, with limited resources. Members of the House will be aware that in recent days SES teams have been active in the Far West and Central West of the State. The conditions late on the weekend in Broken Hill were cyclonic and the local SES responded, It was supported by Central West SES volunteers. and SES volunteers were flown in from Sydney to deal with the problems in Broken Hill and the wider region. In the past 48 hours there has been a need to respond to heavy flooding in the Central West, where a state of emergency having has been declared. Again, the SES has been to the fore, working with other emergency services organisations.
For the past 50 years SES members have been there when required. With their distinctive orange uniforms many people mistake them for professionals doing a paid job. It is important to put on the record that SES members are volunteers. They work in their day jobs and turn up in their own time to train at night and on weekends. They turn out, often during the night and certainly on weekends, when they are needed to deal with an emergency or crisis.
As the honourable member for Orange said to me earlier, SES volunteers in Orange undertook their normal work on Tuesday, were engaged in training on Tuesday night, supported their community throughout the night, and then returned to their day jobs the following day. That demonstrates their extreme commitment and is typical of SES volunteers across the State. They respond to minor and major events when required. Honourable members will recall the Sydney hailstorm, major flooding on the North Coast and even the Granville train disaster all those years ago—SES volunteers are always there. Across the State there are 332 units with more than 9,000 volunteers; we have all seen them in action.
Although their primary responsibilities relate to floods and storms, SES volunteers provide support in many other ways. They provide back-up support to the Rural Fire Service and other emergency service personnel, both volunteers and paid. The State Emergency Service volunteers were formed in 1955 following disastrous floods across New South Wales when many lives were lost and many homes were flooded. The service was formally established in September 1955 and was known as Civil Defence. In 1972 the State Emergency Services and Civil Defence Act was passed by Parliament and remained in force until 1989, when it was replaced by the State Emergency Service Act.
The State Emergency Service performs a wide range of functions such as preparing flood plans, assisting the Bureau of Meteorology, identifying flooding and river levels, evacuating people whose property is threatened, rescuing people who are endangered, trapped or injured by floods or storm, supplying communities or individuals who are isolated due to flooding, minimising damage to properties affected by floods and storms, and putting tarpaulins on roofs affected by heavy winds or rains. The SES also co-ordinates immediate welfare requirements for affected communities and individuals. It works well with the Department of Community Services. I commend the department for the wonderful job it has done in the Central West and west of New South Wales in recent days. The SES also performs a role in educating communities on how to protect themselves and their property.
I commend the 9,000 volunteers, who train in their own time to protect their communities, often in unpleasant circumstances. They have to search for lost people and support police by attending motor vehicle accidents, which is often very traumatic. These volunteers are trained to a national standard. Their training level is equivalent to that of paid professionals. They are trained in first aid and general rescue techniques and have many other skills required to meet local needs. They must also have the necessary skills to use a range of equipment such as vehicles, boats, lighting, hydraulic rescue sets, and vertical rescue equipment.
State Emergency Service volunteers have been recognised with national medals and Commonwealth emergency service medals. These volunteers provide an ongoing and valuable service. I have had the pleasure of visiting many units throughout the State, including units in the Warringah, Pittwater and Manly areas, the northern beaches area that I represent. They do an invaluable job, especially during the heavy storms we have experienced over the past decade. They interact well with other emergency services organisations. It is worth noting that a number of SES volunteers have lost their lives on active duty. Some seven names have been added to the honour roll on the Volunteers Memorial near Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a magnificent tribute to those volunteers.
Not all members of Parliament will have an opportunity to speak in this debate but I know that my comments reflect their views and their appreciation for the wonderful job that the SES has done over the past 50 years, and continues to do. The SES Volunteer Association is the organisation that represents SES volunteers, who have made a tremendous contribution to this State and cannot be replaced. We must do everything we can to ensure that they have the individual support of members of Parliament, the collective support of government and the support of their respective communities to enable them to perform their task well into the future.
Mr GERARD MARTIN (Bathurst) [4.55 p.m.]: I am pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the State Emergency Service on its fiftieth anniversary year. This week in the Central West we have seen how effective these volunteers are in dealing with the flood crisis. I thank Craig Ronan, divisional SES controller based in Bathurst, who is responsible for the Central West, Trevor Gunter from the Bathurst SES, and all volunteers, ably led throughout the State by Brigadier Philip McNamara, who is in charge of this growing band of volunteers—in the vicinity of 9,000 or 10,000. It is appropriate this week that the Minister for Emergency Services, who has been in my area meeting with SES volunteers who are doing a great job, introduced the State Emergency Service Amendment Bill, which will amend the State Emergency Service Act to formalise certain organisational and operational changes to the SES.
The bill will formalise the arrangements under which the SES volunteers work and acknowledge that what started 50 years ago as an enthusiastic, ad hoc band of volunteers is a cohesive emergency service. I take some pride in the fact that the Government, over its 10 years in office, has provided some $237 million in funding to the SES. This year the budget is $40.6 million, an increase of $6.3 million on last year and 182 per cent over the life of this Government. The Government has recognised the importance of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations by allocating $300,000 in the budget this year to ensure that volunteers join with other emergency services, such as the Rural Fire Service and the Volunteer Rescue Association, to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Emergency Services Ministers over the past 10 years have acknowledged the importance of sharing resources amongst the various volunteer groups, particularly the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service, to deal with major incidents such as bushfires. I am pleased to state also that almost $1 million has been allocated to establish a new operations communications centre at the service's State headquarters at Wollongong. This will be staffed around the clock, seven days a week, answering calls for help and dispensing SES units to emergencies.
Mr David Campbell: With very competent staff.
Mr GERARD MARTIN: I am pleased that the Minister is present. He knows that the call centre will have a staff of 21 when it is fully operational and, added to the other 20 staff in the Wollongong area, they will bring another level of professionalism and support to these volunteers. Communications, as we know, are essential to any emergency service, and no more so than the SES. This Government investment in the Wollongong area will mean an exceedingly high level of professionalism and back-up service that will enable SES volunteers to not only continue the great work that they have been doing for five decades but to continue do so with an increased level of safety and professionalism.
The least we owe our volunteers, whether they be SES, RFS, VRA or whatever, is to ensure that they have adequate resources to do their job efficiently and safely. I think members on both sides of the House agree that the professionalism of the emergency services in New South Wales, and indeed in Australia, is second to none in the world. Indeed, many countries send people to New South Wales to learn and to find out the best way to do things. I am proud to thank the SES for the past 50 years of service, and I look forward to it continuing its great work.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE (Lismore) [5.00 p.m.]: I join honourable members in congratulating the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Davidson, on moving this important motion. I am pleased that the Government has joined with the Opposition in congratulating and thanking the State Emergency Service for 50 years of service, and commending all volunteers for their contribution to the safety and wellbeing of New South Wales communities. Recently I had a humbling experience when I had the honour of representing the shadow Minister for Emergency Services at an emergency service volunteers memorial service at Mrs Macquarie's Chair. About 12 months ago in the Lismore electorate Mr Col Jackson tragically died of a heart attack while he was on his way to an incident as part of the Rural Fire Service.
Col and his family have always been involved with the State Emergency Service. Col was recognised at the memorial service, which was also attended by the Minister, Tony Kelly, and Brigadier Phil McNamara. It was a humbling experience to be there with the Jackson family to have Col recognised for his service, together with other people who have lost their lives. The shadow Minister referred to the bands that were present on Saturday. I spoke to the director general, Brigadier McNamara, about McNamara's band, which is the SES band. The music they played was a great rendition. I shall be a little parochial and talk about one unit that I know very well, the Lismore city SES unit. Like other SES units throughout the State, the Lismore unit continues to grow steadily. At present it has 53 active members, 10 reserve members and 10 inductees currently undertaking training. That means that 73 members are available for call-outs in the Lismore area. I believe there are 10 further applicants on the waiting list to commence training in February 2006.
The Lismore unit responded to 366 requests for assistance over the past 12 months. I want the community to be aware of what these people do. Every day these volunteers put their lives at risk to provide a better community for us to live in. In terms of their support for the Rural Fire Service, they responded to 11 call-outs, generating 270 person hours; flood assistance, 123 call-outs, generating 1,256 person hours; storm assistance, 198 call-outs generating 1,148 person hours; search and rescue, and assist police, 15 call-outs, generating 736 person hours; road crash rescue, motor vehicle accidents, four call-outs, generating 39 person hours; miscellaneous, for example animal rescue, six call-outs, generating 18 person hours; and community activities, such as traffic control at parades held in the community, nine call-outs, generating 493 person hours. That unit alone provided 3,960 hours—that is 366 requests for nearly 4,000 hours provided by these genuine, dedicated people in the community.
Earlier when I informed the shadow Minister of that, he said that it is eight hours a day for 500 days. That is what the SES workers have provided to the community at no charge. And they are there, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, the Lismore unit has a problem. I am sure I speak on behalf of many SES headquarters when I say that as the units grow, their premises become too small and they need to build bigger premises. Admittedly, the units receive support from both the State and Federal governments. The Richmond-Tweed division SES controller, Scott Hanckel, and the Lismore SES controller, Laurie Matterson, are working continually to provide the right premises for the area. At present Lismore City Council is working with both the State and Federal governments to provide a top-quality facility for these people to work in. I am sure I speak for all members of The Nationals and the Liberal Party when I place on record my appreciation for and recognition of the 50 years of service by people in the SES and their continued support for the people of New South Wales. [Time expired.]
Mr Andrew Humpherson: Point of order: I thank honourable members who contributed to the debate.
Motion agreed to.