In November of 2019, just prior to the peak of the Black Summer Bushfires, it was reported that the NSW Fire and Rescue service had seen its capital expenditure* funding cut by 35% (equivalent to nearly $30 million) in the latest state budget. Similarly the Rural Fire Service had seen its capital expenditure budget cut by 75% or nearly $50 million.
Tarric Brooker, for Independent Australia, clarified that while some of the cuts could be attributed to larger one-off purchases in the previous years budget, including a 737 fire fighting aircraft, the capital expenditure budgets for these services had been reduced to levels below 2016 overall. The second half of 2019 also saw a ‘restructure’ take place within the Rural Fire Service which reportedly left 175 positions vacant as that year’s bushfire season began.
The NSW Parks and Wildlife Service had also seen budget cuts under the Liberal National Coalition government, with Ms. Brooker arguing that the total area effectively treated by hazard reduction burns by the service had been reduced by 26% since 2016:
“This has left more than 274,000 acres not subject to hazard reduction burns compared with a similar 3 year period before the budget cuts were enacted.”
In 2021 the issue of cuts to fire fighting services made media attention once more with Blue Mountains MP and Shadow Minister for Emergency Services, Trish Doyle, calling upon the NSW government to reverse the cuts made in past years:
"These cuts go straight to the frontline. We have fewer firefighters and less equipment out on the fireground for the simple fact that this government slashed almost $40 million from the combined operational budgets of the RFS and our Fire and Rescue stations…If David Elliott is serious about protecting our rural and regional communities from further tragedy or catastrophe he will go to the Treasurer and ask for the $40 million that he cut in the last Budget and he will hand that straight back to our fire chiefs."
*While capital expenditure is different to daily operations (which covers firefighter salaries for example), this budget is allocated for essential equipment, such as fire fighting trucks, support ambulances and helicopter water bombs.