Today’s question is a bit of an odd one.

I am a volunteer in the NSW rural fire service, captain of a brigade. Many firefighters and landowners, often one in the same in the bush, have said to me that they believe that the Army /Military should have been called in a lot earlier than they were. I agree with them.

The NSW government has announced an Independent Bushfire Inquiry – see

When you look at the terms of reference to the NSW enquiry (, items 3,8 and especially 9, many say to me “Here is a chance to change things and get the army in sooner” I agree with them.

The concern among fire fighters and especially me is that If I/we make a submission to the inquiry the RFS will kick our butts for badmouthing the RFS. Can the RFS kick our butts if we make a submission?

If by ‘kick our butts’ it means ‘take disciplinary action’ the answer has to be ‘no’. The RFS can only ‘kick butts’ if there is a breach of the code of conduct. The inquiry says (emphasis added) ‘The Inquiry welcomes submissions from bushfire-affected residents, emergency and support personnel, organisations and the general public.’

There is nothing in the code of conduct that would stop a person making a good faith submission, reporting on what they observed and their opinions. But there are limits. For example the code says:

The NSW RFS is strongly committed to providing and maintaining a respectful and inclusive workplace, where all members are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect at all times…

If you make a submission saying that a senior officer made decisions in bad faith, out of malice or make a personal gain you are a) probably wrong and b) at risk of getting your ‘butt kicked’.  Most times that people try to assign motivation (he did it because he had a private interest, or he did not like me or some such) it is based on false reasoning. The implied reasoning is:

  1. I know the truth
  2. This is what I know
  3. If another person does not (or did not) share my view he or she must have had an improper motive because there can be no other explanation given what I know is true.

But of course the other person has a different perspective, different information, different obligations, a different world view. So limit submissions to what you personally observed or can establish and don’t malign others.

Remember too that the NSW RFS cannot ‘call in the army’. The NSW Government can ask the Commonwealth for that assistance. There are Constitutional issues in the use of the ADF. You can make submissions on what ‘should be’ but don’t confuse what ‘should be’ done next time with what was possible at the time. The point of an inquiry is to make recommendations to make necessary changes to allow what ‘should be’ in the future.

So write the submission carefully, formally without making personal criticism.  If you do that, the RFS cannot stop members making a submission to a NSW Government inquiry that is specifically calling for those submissions nor ‘kick butts’ for a submission that the member are made in accordance with the 3.3 Ethical Decision Making principles. It can be quite ethical, and in the best interests of the RFS to make a submission that says ‘this is what happened – we think it would have been better if this had happened instead’ but not ‘this is what happened and it happened because this person is an idiot, or corrupt, or wouldn’t listen to my sensible suggestion’.

Of course I cannot comment on how others may react or perceive you if you make submissions that are critical of them or their decision making or who think your submissions are incorrect or inappropriate.