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CVC objects to NPWS restructure

Geoff Helisma

At yesterday’s Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting (after the Independent’s print deadline), councillors decided whether or not to write to the NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton and the Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, to inform them of CVC’s objection to “the loss of seven National Parks & Wildlife Service positions”.

These positions, mayor Jim Simmons’ minute states, will potentially be lost due to “the relocation of the [NPWS] regional office” from Grafton to Coffs Harbour.

The mayor has reacted to a letter from the Public Service Association (PSA) of New South Wales, which advised CVC that the NSW Government’s proposed restructure of the NPWS across the state includes the amalgamation of “management areas into newly formed branches” that will result in “significant changes to staffing, positions and structures”.

According to the PSA, the NPWS currently maintains an office on level 4 of the government office block at 49-51 Victoria Street (where up to, or approximately 29 staff work), depots at South Grafton and Iluka, and a visitor information centre/kiosk at Woody Head.

“The current proposal by NPWS includes removing one area manager position,” the PSA letter states, and “most of the admin positions and almost all the regional and state-wide specialists.

“In part, this is because of a decision to amalgamate Clarence North and Clarence South areas, and to base the centre for the new branch’s administration in Coffs Harbour rather than Grafton.”

“…These cuts would leave only 17 positions working out of the NPWS office in Grafton.”

The PSA maintains that the restructure will include a “significant loss of fire fighting resources, including the potential loss of “seven experienced crew leaders”.

The restructure will also result in “the elimination of pest control officers” on the north coast, except for one “who will be located in Coffs Harbour”.

“Wild pigs, dogs and weeds could have a significantly increased impact on farming and tourism in the region,” the PSA letter states.

Specifically, the jobs the mayor is referring to are noted in the PSA letter as “seven experienced crew leaders”.

The mayor puts it this way in his mayoral minute: “The loss of seven positions puts management of the National Parks estate in the Clarence at risk from lack of resources to manage large increases in tourist visitation, lack of staff to control pest and weeds and importantly puts many of our towns and villages at risk from uncontrolled bushfires.

“The movement of the Regional Office to Coffs Harbour is illogical, given that Grafton will soon need to cope with the highway bypass affects, which won’t be the case in Coffs Harbour.

“Similarly, Grafton has large amounts of government office accommodation, which Coffs Harbour does not.

“This move will continue to see the drift that has been occurring over recent years; of staff from Grafton to Coffs Harbour in the Office of Environment portfolio.”

The mayor pointed out that the 22 per cent of the Clarence Valley (2,262 square kilometres) is national park, while the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area (LGA) is home to just 42 square kilometres of national park, or 4 per cent of the LGA.

“The location of staff should be where the demand is,” the mayoral minute states, particularly when considering “the massive visitor growth in the National Parks Estate in the Clarence Valley (23 per cent per annum – source National Parks Manager Grafton)”.

“The Clarence Valley is one of the biggest bushfire risks in the state due to a combination of the NPWS estate and the State Forest estate.,” the mayoral minute states.

On the economic front, the report to yesterday’s meeting states that “the loss of seven positions from the Clarence Valley would be a loss of over $500,000 in wages spent in the area”, notwithstanding that the PSA’s sums indicate that up to 12 positions could be lost to the area.

Meanwhile, the PSA is holding a day of action tomorrow October 19 at six sites across the state, including Grafton.

A rally will be held from 1pm to 2pm outside the Grafton NPWS office at 49 Victoria Street, to provide a chance for “the community to stand in solidarity with NPWS staff”.