Unions representing our emergency services personnel have welcomed the chance to have the leadership and management of the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency (ESA) scrutinised as part of an independent review.
In an email sent to all ESA employees by Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) Director-General Richard Glenn and seen by Region, it was announced an “alignment review of the ESA executive leadership team” had begun, with a final report expected by the middle of the year.
“All organisations regularly review culture and performance to ensure systems, structure and people are in place to deliver objectives,” he wrote.
“As the ESA continues moving to an all-hazards approach to emergency management, it is timely to review the operation of the ESA senior executive leadership team with a focus on how they set direction and align the organisation.”
The independent review is being conducted under the advice of former Ambulance Victoria CEO Professor Tony Walker ASM.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents the ACT’s paramedics, welcomed the announcement.
“[We] look forward to working with Mr Walker in exploring the current tensions in senior ESA Management,” ACT branch secretary Ben Sweaney said.
“Our members continue to have full confidence in the ACTAS Chief Officer and look forward to the findings of the review.”
But the same confidence couldn’t be said of the ESA’s Commissioner Georgeina Whelan.
During protests over working conditions at the end of last year, the union put forward a motion of no confidence in the Commissioner on behalf of its paramedic members.
The United Firefighters Union of Australia ACT branch also took aim at the ESA’s leadership during the recent 20-year anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bushfires.
Secretary Greg McConville said the agency needed to be an administrative and coordination body rather than an operational body, which was recommended following the 2003 fires.
He accused the ESA of failing to address important issues from the fire to protect Canberrans and said its structure meant it was difficult to hold the agency to account when it came to spending.
“Thanks to the ESA’s culture of secrecy and unaccountability, the operating revenue of the fire services remains cloaked by layers of bureaucracy which were identified as unacceptable by the Coroner and the McLeod report after the 2003 bushfires,” Mr McConville said.
“With climate change driving more extreme weather events each year, including worsening bushfires, the people of the ACT can no longer tolerate the failures of their Emergency Services Agency.”
Emergency Services Shadow Minister James Milligan said it was about time the leadership structure of the ESA was examined.
“What is most concerning is that I am hearing of a growing rate of PTSD, mental and physical health issues across the services – all consequences of a toxic workplace environment,” he said.
“This is not due to those serving on the front line, but it is a failure of the structural support given to our hard-working employees.”
He particularly drew attention to the ‘We R Not Ok’ messages from paramedics and concerns over the Ambulance Service.
“We have heard too many stories about the failure of our services … this is not the fault of our frontline workers but speaks directly to the workplace culture, a lack of staff to service the growth in incidents, poor rostering and the perception of not being heard,” Mr Milligan said.
“I was shocked earlier this year to find that according to the recent Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, the ACT has the second highest turnover of ambulance staff in the country at 11.4 per cent, almost twice that of the next highest.
“This is unacceptable.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said the review process had been labelled the ESA Executive Leadership Alignment (ELA) Review.
“The ESA is highly effective in its operations, and its performance is not in question and will not be examined as part of this Review process,” they said.
“We value the high level of professionalism demonstrated every day by the ESA as it delivers emergency services to our community.”
It was not confirmed whether this review would be made public.
Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman said he would be informed “where appropriate” about the review’s outcomes once it had concluded.
“I was made aware of the intent to carry out the review prior to its commencement and as it is a public service administration matter, I will not be involved or commenting further,” he said.
“Canberrans can and should continue to have faith in the performance of the agency, reinforced by their incredible ability and response to difficult times the Territory has faced.”
Region contacted the ESA for comment but was directed to JACS.