Around the dinner table, with our family and friends, we have all stopped to pay thanks to the healthcare workers who have got us through this pandemic and the firefighters who have kept us safe in the recent fires.
But have you stopped to thank a DPIPWE employee? In last two years we have seen crises come thick and fast: the 2018 bushfires; followed quickly by flooding in our state’s North and North West; a Fruit Fly incursion; the largest whale stranding in our history; and then a global pandemic.
Behind every one of these incidents stand Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) employees, sometimes leading the response but always part of the team. DPIPWE employees are subject matter experts in a dizzying range of areas and specialists in incident management.
It is Parks and Wildlife Service employees who fight fires in our National Parks. It is Biosecurity Officers who are responsible for protecting our border and ensuring tourists are complying with COVID restrictions. DPIPWE is our surge workforce, more DPIPWE employees were deployed to the COVID-19 response then any other agency.
Despite this, austerity measures have such a tight grip in DPIPWE that employees are denied the resources to do the job. Employees forced to dip into their own pockets to buy equipment to manage the land the Crown is responsible for. Vehicles for Rangers and Field Officers that are not fit for the job, and over the safe loading weight. The same vehicles we ask employees to drive towards raging fires.
The list goes on. But perhaps most damaging is the long-term unfilled vacancies and precarious employment in DPIPWE. The growing number of fixed term seasonal contracts which mean that staff are effectively stood down each winter. The contracts which only guarantee employment for 50 hours a year – less than one hour a week guaranteed. A permanent job with no income security. Then there is the folly of cuts to Visitor Service Officers on Maria Island in the same week we opened our borders.
Despite DPIPWE’s vital role it remains the public sector’s poor cousin when it comes to funding. It plays a fundamental role in emergency management, yet it is not funded or recognised as an emergency service.
It is time we acknowledge the quiet achievers of our emergency response workforce, the protectors of our natural and cultural heritage and the leading role DPIPWE will play in rebuilding our damaged tourism sector and in supporting our agricultural and aquacultural industries in our recovery from COVID-19.
It is time we fixed DPIPWE. The Government needs to provide DPIPWE with the staff, resources, and equipment it needs to do the job. Or next time we might find it is not there to help us when we need it the most.
Community & Public Sector Union Tasmania