“Instead the safety of the state is being left in the hands of volunteers.”
Mr Melham, whose union represents full-time staff at the Department of Sustainability and Environment, said the state was “abusing the generosity” of its Country Fire Authority volunteer firefighters.
While the government claimed it could draw on more than 3000 staff, many of those were part-time or casual employees or bureaucrats and many were not able to take part in fighting fires, or in prescribed burns.
He said there were “too many chiefs” in fire agencies and not enough fire fighters.
“We need a professional full-time fire fighting force,” he told the commission. “You can’t go and fight a war with a part-time army.”
Mr Melham said that even more damning than its failure to act on its promises to boost numbers after the 2003 Esplin Inquiry into Victoria’s bushfires, the latest state budget had cut the department’s funding by $47 million, “notwithstanding Black Saturday”.
Mr Melham also said the Victorian government’s target burn of 130,000 hectares annually should be tripled to 385,000 hectares, as recommended by a parliamentary inquiry last year, and resources needed to be multiplied 10 times “if we are fair dinkum”.
He said the state’s bushfire strategy was fragmented and uncoordinated and marred by lack of resources and trained staff.
He said a single fire authority, such as the old Victorian Forest Commission, should be re-established.
“We need to put all the resources back together,” he said. “It just makes sense. It would give us a better fighting chance to fight these fires when they hit us.”
Mr Melham’s comments went unchallenged by state government lawyers at the royal commission, who had no questions for the union leader.