The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Pere Walsh, said “heaven help regional Victoria” if there is another bushfire this summer to match the disaster of 2019/2020.
Because, Mr Walsh explained, the Andrews Labor Government has cut Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) field staff by 133 people.
He said in their place; the Government has introduced 444 new staff – in office positions.
“That money should have been available for seasonal firefighters; who actually save lives; not for yet more bureaucrats shuffling paper around their office, never being available on the phone and having absolutely no relevance when the chips are down,” Mr Walsh added.
“We need more boots and fewer suits in regional Victoria – and once again we are being ignored, treated with the usual Andrews’ contempt,” he said.
Reviewing the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) annual 2020-21 report, Mr Walsh said “this report shows the true focus of Labor’s environment management was to cut field staff but increase the number of office-based public servants”.
“While this Department also looks after energy, planning and other matters, it is truly alarming the agency which is most responsible for managing our public land; is reducing the focus on work on the ground to instead favouring more office staff,” he said.
“The ongoing issue is the double standards of the Andrews Government; by allowing what would never be acceptable in Melbourne to become the norm in country Victoria.
“And increasingly, alarmingly, that norm is forcing us to make do with less every year as manpower, resources, even the basic planning of progress, is sucked out of regional Victoria and poured into the bottomless black holes of botched infrastructure and major project work in Melbourne,” Mr Walsh added.
“For instance, I had a call last week from The Nationals Member for Ovens, Tim McCurdy, telling me a bridge at Croajingolong National Park won’t be rebuilt until four years after the fire passed.
“It is these appalling Parks Victoria recovery efforts from Black Summer bushfires that demonstrate; beyond all doubt; the total inability of the Andrews Labor Government to deliver practical environmental works,” he said.
“This government is expert as the big announcement – and then hopes no-one checks later to discover nothing was delivered.”
Mr Walsh said The Nationals receive more complaints about public land management than just about any other issue.
He said whether it’s the lack of fuel reduction burning, the issue of weed and feral animal management in national parks or indeed the recovery of communities from bushfires and storms, this is a critical area on which the Victorian Government should focus.
“It’s really a very simple formula – we need more boots and fewer suits – not the other way around.”