Emergency services training ground shutdown putting communities at risk

Victoria’s emergency services personnel will no longer undertake vital safety training in felling trees, jeopardising the state’s response to bushfires and putting communities and first responders at risk.

The Nationals’ Member for Gippsland Melina Bath raised the alarm in state parliament this week after TAFE Gippsland’s timber training coupe was shut down by a court injunction.

Located in East Gippsland, the timber coupe is used for intensive, high risk training of frontline first responders to help them prepare for the summer bushfire season.

This vital coursework ensures emergency responders know how to identify and safely fall dangerous killer trees.

“Expertise in high risk felling assists in reducing the spread of bushfires and protection of life and property,” Ms Bath said.

Emergency services personnel who train at the site include Department of Environment Land Water and Planning, State Emergency Services, the Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police.

Under questioning from Ms Bath in Parliament, the Emergency Services Minister couldn’t say what Labor will do to ensure training of critical emergency services occurs before the coming fire season.

“The root cause of the injunctions are legal loopholes in the timber code of practice that enable green wilderness groups to exploit what should be water tight regulations,” Ms Bath said.

“If the Andrews Government doesn’t immediately rectify and shutdown the avenue for activists to disrupt vital training coupes, it is knowingly compromising the safety of our community.”

Ms Bath said she was appalled that when answering her question, the Minister for Emergency Services Jaclyn Symes said she wasn’t across the issue and instead labelled it ‘local’.

“This TAFE training coupe plays an important role in preparing emergency services personnel across the state for bushfire season.

“There are 270 individuals in limbo who cannot complete their emergency response training.

“The Minister’s dismissive attitude is mind blowing when you consider East Gippsland is still very much in recovery mode from the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires.

“With the plentiful winter rain and the expected spring vegetation growth in Gippsland and across Victoria, Ms Symes must intervene to ensure the training of first responders is prioritised.

“The Andrews Government must immediately outline a plan to ensure the training can continue.”