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Shadow boxing as NPWS jobs on the line

Councillors Karen Toms (left), Greg Clancy and NPWS staff member Janet Cavanaugh spoke at the door of Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis’s office during a PSA-organised rally protesting against perceived negative outcomes as a result of restructuring the NPWS. Mayor Jim Simmons was otherwise engaged at an official opening of Pacific Valley School’s special needs section. No other councillors attended. Images: Judy Myers

Geoff Helisma

Discovering the facts behind the current argy bargy involving the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), the Public Service Association (PSA), Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and Clarence Valley Council (CVC) is anything but clear.

In one corner, the PSA claims that the NSW Government’s restructuring of the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) will result in the shedding of “between seven and nine positions” in the Clarence Valley and the loss of “highly skilled, experienced staff”, who “coordinate the response to fires, manage our local national parks and help landholders deal with wild pigs and dogs”.

In the other corner, the OEH claims that relocating the regional office from Grafton to Coffs Harbour is “the appropriate location as it is the larger of these two regional hubs”, and that it is easier for its staff to utilise the Coffs Harbour airport, rather than Grafton’s.

The OEH maintains that, according to its count, that the current 37 fulltime equivalent employees (FTE) in the valley will be maintained and that the amalgamation of state’s 50-area model to 37 areas will “reduce duplication of resources and [result in] a benefit from economies of scale”.

Meanwhile, the valley’s councillors unanimously resolved to write to the Environment Minister and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis “regarding the importance that the state government maintains the current employment levels and position grades of NPWS staff in this region”, and expressed its opposition to the “relocation of the regional office to Coffs Harbour instead of Grafton”.

Chris Gulaptis has entered the fray with a short, sharp media release that labels the PSA’s claims as “a series of wild allegations” that amount to “little more than a dishonest scare campaign”.

“There are almost too many Union untruths to correct but the claims of massive staff cuts and abandoning services in the Clarence need to be debunked,” Mr Gulaptis says in the media release.

Concurring with observations made by the OEH’s Parks Programs executive director Michael Wright, in a letter to mayor Jim Simmons that landed on councillors desks as last week’s council meeting commenced, Mr Gulaptis said “no office or depot will be closed”.

“Far from having a negative impact on the Clarence Valley, the changes will improve services over time,” he said.

“The restructure is a cost-neutral exercise, not designed to deliver savings, but to reinvest funds previously expended on executive and management layers into increasing the number of field-based roles.

“Our national parks are to be enjoyed by the public of NSW and it’s sad and disappointing when the PSA union overlooks this fact for political point scoring.”

At last week’s council meeting (October 17), Cr Karen Toms said she would have preferred a “motion that was a bit stronger” and that she hoped Mr Gulaptis “will change his tune and stand up for the [threatened] positions”.

“I hope to see other councillors at [last Thursday’s PSA organised] rally” in support of the NPWS employees, she said.

Protesters marched from the Victoria Street NPWS office to Mr Gulaptis’s Prince Street office.

Cr Jason Kingsley said the OEH letter tabled at the meeting “held no substance” and was the product of “spin doctoring”.

“Here we go again,” he said. “It’s about time [Mr Gullptis] gets up and fights for jobs … you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.”

Mayor Jim Simmons said he was motivated to table a mayoral minute on the matter when he “became upset” at the suggestion of job losses; “then got really upset about the proposal to relocate the regional office to Coffs Harbour”.

“Why move [the office] from an area that has [2,262 square kilometres] compared to Coffs Harbour’s 42 square kilometres,” he pondered.

“It’s a massive difference in park area … I have to wonder why?”

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