Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath has voiced the concerns in parliament of Gippsland coast guards who are frustrated with the Andrews Government’s response to an inquiry into marine rescue services.
The Nationals MP has called on Minister for Emergency Services Jane Garrett to provide funding assistance for comprehensive insurance for volunteer coast guards so they can continue their important work saving lives.
Speaking in parliament this week Ms Bath said volunteer coast guards had to raise their own funds for insuring their rescue vessels, buildings and public liability.
“Recently I spoke to Gippsland squadron commodore Chris Newman who informed me that at the Victorian state council of volunteer coastguards the matter of funds for comprehensive insurance was worryingly discussed,” Ms Bath said.
She told the parliament the situation was “dire” with the Victorian component of what is owed by the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Association in the vicinity of $140,000.
“This is a huge amount for our hardworking volunteers and taking time away from their work keeping people safe on our waterways to go and raise money and rattle tins is just ridiculous,” Ms Bath said.
“I call on the minister to immediately provide funding for this comprehensive insurance to allow these people to do the good work they do and provide us with security and safety across the marine environment.”
Ms Bath also raised the Andrews Government’s response to the Inquiry into Marine Rescue Services in Victoria saying Labor had “ignored much of the hard work of the committee and many of its recommendations, and provided a convoluted response”.
The inquiry looked at a number of things including the current structure of maritime rescue service provision in Victoria and possible improvements.
Ms Bath said the government’s response had resulted in official strike action at Marlo flotilla because local coast guards felt their requests for help had fallen on deaf ears.
“One of the main points that came from the inquiry was the option of establishing a single state-wide volunteer marine search and rescue (MSAR) organisation for Victoria,” Ms Bath said.
“The Victorian coastguard proposed the creation of a new organisation named Coastguard Victoria, which would be made up of all the state’s existing MSAR organisations — similar to Marine Rescue New South Wales.”
Ms Bath said this proposal was backed by stakeholders and the committee had found the establishment of Marine Rescue NSW had been an “overwhelmingly positive reform” resulting in a range of benefits for marine search and rescue and recreational boating sectors in New South Wales.
This recommendation was not fully accepted by the Andrews Government and Ms Bath said local volunteers were frustrated.
“Gippsland squadron board advisor Richard Burgess has been in constant contact with me over the last few months and is appalled at the government’s response to this inquiry,” she said.
“He believes the government’s recommendation is just a governance model constructed to benefit the downsized office of maritime safety and says it adds complexity to volunteer operations while being a bureaucratic and cheap way out of funding the entity required to drive best practice.
“Gippsland’s volunteer coast guards are passionate and dedicated and work hard at fundraising so they can keep people safe on our local waterways – we should be listening to them and adopting the committee’s recommendations.”
Ms Bath said her Nationals colleague Member for Gippsland East Tim Bull had also raised the ongoing viability of the coast guard in both East Gippsland and the state, with the Minister in parliament this week.