Today’s question again implies that NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Brigades have some existence separate to the RFS (see ‘How autonomous are NSW Rural Fire Brigades?’ (February 25, 2015)), which they don’t.
I have a question regarding NSW Council amalgamations and RFS Districts.
With NSW Council Amalgamations well underway, one contentious issue that has surfaced as a result of redrawing the newly amalgamated LGA’s boundaries, has been where two previously separate fire districts, potentially managed by two different Fire Control Centres have now become one fire district, with the local RFS members now having to decide which FCC to align with.
This is a tough decision as I’m sure the RFS members would prefer to remain with their previous FCC and not have to change, quite the stalemate.
If volunteers are unable to agree on which direction to go and the decision is made for them, are there any legal options available to RFS volunteer members to challenge an unfavorable decision that members feel goes against the majority of the Brigades and in the best interest of their community?
You have my permission to use this question in your blog, however if you could leave my name out of it, that would be appreciated.
The Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 6 says:
(1) A rural fire district is constituted by this section for the area of each local authority, with boundaries of the district being the same as the boundaries of the area as at the date of commencement of this section.
(3) If the boundaries of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted by this section change after the commencement of this section, the boundaries of the rural fire district change so as to correspond to the boundaries of the area.
(4) If the whole of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted by this section is dissolved after the commencement of this section, the rural fire district is dissolved.
(5) If part of the area of a local authority for which a rural fire district is constituted is dissolved after the commencement of this section, the rural fire district constituted for the area is taken to have been constituted for the remaining part of the area.
It is the Commissioner of the RFS that is ‘responsible for managing and controlling the activities of the Service …’ (Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 12(1)). As the Local Government boundaries change so too does the fire district to match the new boundaries. If it turns out there are now two or more fire control centres within the district, it will be up to the Commissioner to decide which to keep and which, if any, to close. It will also be up to the Commissioner to decide which Centre each brigade will ‘align with’. It is not a matter for ‘the local RFS members now having to decide which FCC to align with’ unless that is how the Commissioner has decided to manage the changes.
There are ways to challenge administrative decisions if it is thought the decision maker has failed to take into account material required to be considered, or considered extraneous material when making the decision or if there is some sort of ‘estoppel’ (eg a promise was made and relied upon and the decision is contrary to that promise) but they are unlikely to be relevant in this context.
In this context the NSW government has determined to change the local government boundaries and the intention of the RFS Act is that the boundaries of Rural Fire Districts will match those of the local government authorities. How the RFS is then managed within that new reality is a matter for the Commissioner not the members of each brigade.
With NSW Council Amalgamations it will not be a matter for local RFS members to decide which FCC to align with should a district end up with one or more FCCs. The management of the RFS is a matter for the Commissioner. There will be no practical legal option for RFS volunteers to challenge the decision of the Commissioner if he or she chooses to close an FCC or change the reporting lines for a brigade.