Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson today called for a Parliamentary inquiry to be established into serious allegations of workplace intimidation, sexism, bullying, harassment, theft of equipment and mismanagement within Fire and Rescue NSW.

Ms Watson made the call in State Parliament this afternoon during a Private Members Statement and following a series of articles published in the Illawarra Mercury in March, April and May.

“The articles make very disturbing reading.

“As Members of Parliament we rightly praise the work of emergency service personnel.

“They do a tremendous job keeping our community safe.

“We therefore have a clear responsibility to ensure that our emergency service personnel are able to undertake their essential tasks in a safe working environment.

“All workplaces should be free of any incidence of bullying, sexism, discrimination, and harassment”, she said in her speech.

Ms Watson said that the serious nature of the allegations warranted an independent inquiry after many former and current firefighters indicated that Fire and Rescue NSW had buried their complaints.

“The claims made by these former and serving firefighters have been treated like a pin ball, bounced from one appeal agency, to another, and then another, and then another.

“The way the bureaucracy deals with such complaints is designed to wilt the spirit of only the most determined of individuals to withstand the frustration of not having their substantive claims addressed.

“In the meantime, the victimisation, bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, discrimination and mismanagement simply continue, hidden from view.

“This unacceptable behaviour and culture only flourishes in an organisation which so heavily relies on hierarchy and rigid structures, such as Fire and Rescue NSW”, she told Parliament.

Ms Watson said that the allegations of former and serving firefighters was also supported by a former Liberal State Parliamentary colleague, former Member for Londonderry, Mr Bart Bassett, who told the Illawarra Mercury on 13 March 2015:

“I feel very frustrated for these ex-members and some still existing members of fire and rescue in the manner in which they have been treated by the authorities.

“It’s disgraceful. They’ve got legitimate claims that have been ignored, in my opinion, and the authorities obviously don’t want to look at it because I actually think it’s in the too hard basket because of the culture of the organisation.

“It’s time it was sorted out. The victimisation of these members is unacceptable…”

Ms Watson said that after representations from Mr Bassett, other State MPs and herself that the former Minister for Emergency Services, The Hon Stuart Aryes MP, had referred the complaints to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

“I have been advised by the current Minister for Emergency Services that ICAC does have a referral from the former Minister.

“But I don’t believe the ICAC will make any inroads in investigating these claims further.

“I consider it is time that all of these allegations are tested in a transparent public inquiry. Let the cards fall where they may.

“I believe it is time that the Parliament conducted a Parliamentary inquiry into Fire and Rescue NSW.

“I call on the Minister to establish such a Parliamentary inquiry in the other place as soon as possible.

“It is time these former and serving firefighters had an opportunity to have their matters heard.

“I hope the Minister will act on my request”, Ms Watson said.

3 June 2015