‘I won’t allow our rangers to be used as scapegoats’: Minister
The state's environment minister says he will not allow National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers - who perform hazard reduction burns - to be used as "scapegoats" for the fire crisis.
It comes as the NSW public sector union claimed the number of fire-trained rangers employed by the agency had been slashed by 35 per cent since the Coalition came to power in 2011.
Environment Minister Matt Kean has defended National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff who undertook 137,500 hectares of prescribed burns last year, exceeding their target of 135,000 hectares.
It comes after criticism from Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall who said not enough hazard reduction burning had been done in national parks to manage the fuel load.
"I can't believe on a day where we should all be pulling together to protect our community some people want to politicise these fires," Mr Kean told The Daily Telegraph.
"I'm not going to have the incredibly dedicated hardworking team in national parks be used as scapegoats when they're out there risking their lives for the people of this state."
According to the Public Service Association, there were 289 rangers in 2011 of which 28 were senior staff.
But last year it says there were only 193 rangers and no longer any of senior level.
The PSA also claimed the number of area managers has dropped from 50 to 37 following a major restructure of the NPWS last year.
It is their job to draw up maps and plan hazard reduction burns.
PSA general secretary Troy Wright said ongoing cuts and a major restructure last year had seen NPWS lose more than a third of fire-trained roles.
"If the origins of these catastrophic fires across the state are in National Parks then it is the National Party and part of the Berejiklian Government that are responsible for the lack of preparedness," he said.
Australian Workers' Union NSW branch secretary David Walton said 50 NPWS field officer roles are currently unfilled, out of a total of about 700.
He claimed department heads are under "enormous pressure" to deliver savings, resulting in unofficial hire freezes creeping in.
"(This) is an unprecedented situation," he said.
"We just don't have adequate resources to deal with catastrophic events that are becoming increasingly common due to climate change."
Vacancies include a field officer position at Lane Cove that has been empty for 18 months and a position at the Mount Keira depot which has been available for over 12 months.
Mr Kean said as of October this year, NPWS had 1655 full time equivalent staff - an increase of 144 since 2017.
"Moreover, since 2011, the NSW Government increased the number of firefighters in the NPWS from 1050 to 1226," he added.