The former NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner who steered the state through the deadly Black Summer fires has been dropped by the public service.
- The flood inquiry said Resilience NSW, which Shane Fitzsimmons led, failed victims and should be dismantled
- Mr Fitzsimmons said the inquiry’s criticisms were unfair and not based on truth
- During the Black Summer fires Mr Fitzsimmons was nicknamed the “nation’s father”
Shane Fitzsimmons had been leading the disaster response agency Resilience NSW, but it’s understood today will be his last day.
His contract has been terminated under the provisions of the Government Sector Employment Act which states a senior executive can be sacked without notice.
The move comes as the government prepares to abolish Resilience NSW and replace it with the Reconstruction Authority following a scathing review by the independent flood inquiry earlier this year.
The inquiry, commissioned in the wake of this year’s deadly floods, found Resilience NSW’s response was inadequate, “slow and inconsistent” and sometimes caused confusion.
Nine lives were lost in the floods which spanned from the Northern Rivers region down to the Illawarra and west to Broken Hill.
The government accepted the inquiry’s recommendation to abolish the agency and replace it with a streamlined body with a more focused remit.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said the decision to terminate Mr Fitzsimmons employment wasn’t personal.
“No one’s blaming anyone,” he said.
“It’s not about personalities, it’s about making sure you’ve got the best structures in place to provide support to people.”
He refused to be drawn on why Mr Fitzsimmons wasn’t the right person to lead the Reconstruction Authority.
“There are always difficulties in natural disasters but if you don’t reflect on how you can do things better than you’re not going to have a better response into the future.”
This morning Michael Cassel was announced as the acting CEO for the authority.
Mr Cassel is currently the secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment and will continue in this role until a permanent CEO is found. He formerly served as a professional NSW firefighter for 15 years.
The new authority will have a “unique alignment” between disaster and strategic planning which does not currently exist, Planning Minister Anthony Roberts said.
The Opposition’s emergency services spokesman Jihad Dib said the decision to sack Mr Fitzsimmons was premature.
“I think this shows a complete lack of foresight, the government has effectively sacked the nation’s most experienced emergency management leader at the worst possible time, especially given we’re in our third La Niña event and we’re well into the bushfire season.”
Mr Fitzsimmons previously took issue with the inquiry’s criticism of Resilience NSW, and accused it of relying on inaccurate information.
“I think unfortunately a lot of roles and responsibilities that are not ours are being attributed to my staff,” he told the ABC.
He told a September budget estimates hearing there had never been a more comprehensive, expeditious and cooperative pursuit to recovery.
Mr Fitzsimmons also warned that replacing Resilience NSW with a different agency was not a “sensible” path to take.
Months ago, Premier Dominic Perrottet was tight-lipped about Mr Fitzsimmons’ future with the public service, and said they would “work through those issues”.
Mr Fitzsimmons was hailed a hero after the 2019–2020 bushfires that ravaged the state and killed 33 people directly, and 450 others from smoke inhalation.
His calm and “tell-it-like-it-is” demeanour reassured the public during the nine-month crisis, and he was nicknamed “the nation’s father”.
He spent 35 years in the fire service and 12 as commissioner. Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said every decision he made during the Black Summer fires was a “culmination of his own experience.”
Mr Fitzsimmons resigned from the Rural Fire Service in April 2020, and he accepted a job leading Resilience NSW — a job he said he took with “great trepidation”.
Following the flood inquiry’s criticism of Resilience NSW, former Bega MP Andrew Constance defended him, and said he “deserved better”.
“For goodness sake, this is a bloke who saved lives, who was there for my community and our state during Black Summer,” Mr Constance said.
Minister for Emergency Services, Resilience and Flood Recovery Steph Cooke today praised Mr Fitzsimmons for his 30 years of service to the state.
“Shane has worked tirelessly for the people of NSW and I can’t thank him enough for his dedicated service and support,” she said.
Mr Perrottet said NSW owes Mr Fitzsimmons a great debt.