For the State Emergency Service volunteers to have the full trust in FESA and the consultative process to be effective within FESA, CEO Gregson will need to ensure any restructuring still allows them an effective voice and that senior staff follow through with their promises of delivery, including timelines and associated feedback. The manipulation and control over the SES Consultative Committee over the past 5 years by senior staff who have no empathy with SES volunteers, has been increasingly unsatisfactory.
An example of this is the SES cap which took over 18 months to be delivered, never went to the SES Consultative Committee for their input and when delivered did not use the WA State Colours in the SES emblem. Let us look at the consultative process from a historical point of view. The State Emergency Service in Western Australia has gone through many changes over the past fifty years.
The SES was part of the Department of Treasury, Civil Defence, Police Department, their own department and, over the past 12 years, as part of the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia. It was following the Barchard Report (1997) that the State Government formed a committee to assess the emergency services in Western Australia. This committee was chaired by John Lloyd. This was in the 1990s and the SES Volunteer’s Association (Clive Abel, Gordon Hall and John Capes) made contact with this committee to find out exactly what was going on and what was under consideration.
The reason for this involvement by the SESVA was to climb aboard the boat to help steer it in the right direction and point out the hazards on the way, in such a manner that would best meet the needs of the SES Volunteers and, importantly, the communities they served. Amongst this, one of the areas of agreement, which was fully supported by the first FESA CEO (Mr Bob Mitchell), was to provide the key stakeholders, the volunteers, with a voice within FESA.
This was to be modelled on the Volunteer Consultative Committee structure that the SES had had in place since it was first mentioned as the Volunteer’s Advisory Committee (VAC) in a ministerial statement dated the 15 August 1985.
As a result of this, Consultative Committees were agreed to for all the joining services for the commencement of FESA on 1 January 1999. The FESA Board, chaired by Barry McKinnon, was a “representative Board” with key stakeholders as part of that Board. All Chairs of these committees were on the FESA Board along with an independent representative of each volunteer service (Gordon Hall for the SES Volunteers). In the early years of FESA, when the State Emergency Service was a Division in its own right, the consultative committee worked well and feedback indicated that it was reasonably effective. FESA never followed through from the legislation with writing the terms of reference or the modus operandi for the SES Consultative Committee. Without terms of reference for the Consultative Committee set in policy, there was the opportunity for some staff to manipulate the situation to suit their needs of the day.
After 2006 when a restructure was put in place, which effectively did away with the State Emergency Service as a Division, the effectiveness of the Consultative Committee for the State Emergency Service collapsed. The voice of the volunteers has been reduced to about 4 hours of business during the CC meetings, instead of the 8 – 12 hours that had been the norm prior to the formation of FESA. Anecdotal evidence is that the best session during the Consultative Committee meetings is always the one from the SES Training Group. Feedback is that other sessions at the CC meetings do not provide answers from FESA to the stakeholders, senior staff members over promise and feedback or promised deliverables are not satisfied. CEO Gregson now has the opportunity to correct this and return the State Emergency Service Consultative Committee to an effective stakeholder reference group or alternatively disband the CC and set up a formal structure utilising the SES Volunteers Association as the main stakeholder reference group.
Editorial written by three concerned senior SES Volunteers
(names with held by request)