A “WELL-oiled” response to the weekend’s bushfires justified the NSW Rural Fire Service being located in Sydney rather than a regional centre like Orange, according to Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant.
The state government again copped criticism last week after Shooters, Fishers and Farmers’ Member for Orange Philip Donato asked why the service’s head office, and its associated jobs, would not be relocated to the bush when the current lease at Lidcombe is up in 2018.
But Mr Grant said the current metropolitan headquarters allowed the service to host eight government agencies on Saturday and Sunday, allowing emergency groups to co-locate easily and to broadcast and communicate more effectively with media.
“The location of the RFS headquarters means it is able to quickly and readily respond to events like those we saw over the weekend,” Mr Grant said.
Regional councils – including Orange City Council – and volunteer organisations had lobbied the government since 2015 to bring the office over the Great Dividing Range, arguing it would present a better fit for its ‘rural’ moniker, with the additional benefit of more jobs to regional towns.
In December Mr Grant’s predecessor David Elliott dashed those hopes and declared the NSW Rural Fire Service would instead move to a state-of-the art facility at Homebush.
The Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers Party took up the cause again this month, with Mr Donato arguing the relocation of the Department of Primary Industries to Orange was a successful precedent for the policy of decentralisation from state governments.
MLC Robert Brown also said moving the service bush would also save government money in Sydney rent, while modern technology would bridge the distance between the city.
Mr Grant said it was essential for the headquarters to be convenient to major media outlets, operational stakeholders and support agencies.
“During peak operational times the State Operations Centre within headquarters can swell to over 200 multi-agency personnel,” he said.
Almost 70 per cent of Rural Fire Service staff work in regional offices and local fire control centres.
Mr Grant said the government will look at other opportunities for investment in emergency services infrastructure in regional NSW.