Ballarat West MP Sharon Knight calls for ‘urgent action’ on radio system

BALLARAT West MP Sharon Knight has called for urgent action to upgrade the radio communication system used by firefighters after revelations fire crews were forced out of using the system due to airwave congestion.

As reported in the Courier yesterday, one firefighter was forced to use his mobile phone after they were unable to communicate with an operator via the VicFire system. 

Ms Knight said she had written to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services Kim Wells and would raise the issue in Parliament. 

“I just think it needs an immediate response,” she said.

“I have called for the Minister to intervene immediately and the communications system was one of the recommendations in the Royal Commission from the Black Saturday Bushfires.”

A government spokeswoman said the week when the incidents were supposed to have occurred was one of the busiest for ESTA operators, with every fire dispatch position covered and every channel open.

However, UFU secretary Peter Marshall also expressed concerns about the use of one operator and one channel for both Bendigo and Ballarat firefighters during quieter times. 

Ms Knight said she believed the union had raised this concern with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services previously. 

“It is hard for me to fathom how we can have this problem ... after the lessons from Black Saturday when the Royal Commission has said, ‘we have a problem with communication’,” she said. 

“I will be watching very keenly the Minister’s response and I really call on him to intervene and do something about this.”

However, the government spokeswoman also said radio patching was a normal way of operating in the Ballarat area. 

“It would not have made a difference if the channels referred to were unpatched as roughly 95 per cent of the traffic were on the same channel anyway,” she said.

“No other units were heard attempting to get on air.”