No solution in sight for frontline responder training

The failure of the Andrews Government to fix legal loopholes in the Timber Code of Practice has blocked training for essential service workers, firefighters and first responders, placing communities at risk.

A court injunction on two forestry training sites in East Gippsland has obstructed TAFE Gippsland’s essential forestry training, the only nationally accredited specialist training course of its kind in Victoria.

‘Forestec’ is still waiting to deliver training for 270 first responders in preparation for the upcoming summer bushfire season.

The one of kind training is undertaken in the Colquhoun State Forest in East Gippsland in the Lior and Tiger Coupes.

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath who visited the site recently, said it is outrageous that Andrews Government inaction is compromising training of project firefighters, SES and CFA first responders for summer.

“Labor has had 15 months to update of the Timber Code of Practice and remove ambiguity that enables third party litigators to target training coupes,” said Ms Bath.

“On behalf of the community, I raised this urgent issue in State Parliament with the Minister for Emergency Services a month ago – bushfire season is rapidly approaching and there’s still no solution on the horizon.

“The blocking of training has state wide implications and regional communities are understandably very concerned.”

Ms Bath said speaking onsite with course graduate, Orbost resident Mitchell Fenner reinforced the essential nature of the training in protection of habitat and communities during bushfire and storm events.

“It prepares frontline emergency responders to identify habitat trees, safely fell dangerous trees, clear access roads, undertake fire management, perform machine assist, 4WD, chainsaw cross cut and conduct threatened species surveys and plant identification,” said Ms Bath.

“These vital skills protect people, communities, public land and wildlife – it’s a hands-on experience which focuses on managing the forest in times of crisis.

“Almost 80 per cent of the trainees are employed by DELWP for summer firefighting crews.

“Claims that commercial timber harvesting is undertaken at TAFE Gippsland’s field sites are untrue and misrepresentative.

“Like all VicForest coupes, these sites are extensively managed under the strictest environmental regulations.

“In addition to compromising the safety of first responders, ironically the injunction puts our public land and habitat at greater risk – the Andrews Government is directly responsible.

“Labor must immediately implement a solution and allow these 270 first responders to undertake their vital training,” said Ms Bath.