Fire Service Commission Chairman resigns

  • Jack Elder
Internal Affairs

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Jack Elder, has announced he has tonight received the resignation of the Chairman of the Fire Service Commission, Roger Estall.

"While I regret Mr Estall's decision, I understand completely his reasons for doing so," Mr Elder said. "No person holding public office should be subjected to such baseless and unprecedented and continuous personal attack by opponents of plans to modernise the Fire Service. I include in this those Opposition Members of Parliament with close links to the Firefighters Union."

Mr Elder said that while Mr Estall and the Commission had recently been directed to make progress with Fire Service reforms, the Government had received legal advice there was no present basis for their dismissal.

"Mr Estall has decided that it will be in the best interests of completing the reform programme and the benefits that programme will bring to the safety of New Zealanders, that he step down," Mr Elder said.

"Mr Estall took on the job reluctantly, considering it his public duty to do so. He has made considerable personal sacrifice in carrying out the Government's desire to reduce the number of deaths and damage from fire.

"He has my thanks for the job he has done and certainly deserves recognition for what has been achieved to date.

"There is evidence that fires and fire deaths are trending down. The campaign to install smoke alarms in homes has already saved lives and significant progress has been made in raising awareness about kitchen and caravan fires. Despite the El Nino dry summer, rural fire prevention and control has also benefited from the Commission's new focus.

"Mr Estall has already received grateful acknowledgement from volunteer firefighters for the priority the Commission has given their needs. They, after all, make up the bulk of the nation's fire service."

Mr Elder said in a letter to Mr Estall that the Government will be making an ex gratia payment of $68,000 to him in recognition of his resignation and "taking account of the intense pressures under which the Commission has operated recently and your unstinting efforts in progressing the Government's reform objectives of the Fire Service".

The Government will be moving quickly to fill the vacancy on the Fire Service Commission left by Mr Estall's resignation, Mr Elder said.

Media inquiries:
Trevor Henry
Press Secretary
ph: 04 471 9131 (wk)
04 386 2765 (hm
026 114 309 (pager)
025 477 994 (cell)

18 May 1999

The Hon. Jack Elder
Minister of Internal Affairs
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON

Dear Minister

The purpose of this letter is to offer my resignation as Chairperson of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission. I have been discussing with you and the Government for some time my concern about my continuing in office.

I want to make it abundantly clear I am not resigning as a result of the draft report handed to the Commission recently by the Select Committee for a response in terms of the natural justice requirements of the Standing Orders of the House. Tomorrow the Commission will be tabling its response to the Select Committee. It contains a lengthy and robust defence of the Commission.

Nor am I resigning as a result of any request or pressure from you or the Government to do so. As you know I have been advised that no grounds exist upon which I could be dismissed from my post. I am going because it is the appropriate time to go in terms of the work I was put here to do.

You will recall that the Government is due to review my terms of engagement with the Fire Service Commission in July. My consent is necessary for any change in my situation at that point, but I have reached the conclusion that it is in the best interests of the programme that I have instituted at the Fire Service that I leave rather than trigger the review clause.

I came to do a job. Much of that job has been done. Its completion, in order to succeed needs a new pair of hands. They will need to be powerful hands.

My commitment is to the modernisation of the New Zealand Fire Service. It is a cause in which I believe deeply. I have come to the conclusion that my continuation in the office of Chair of the Fire Service Commission will jeopardise the Commission's goal of completing modernisation.

To be quite blunt I have had a gutsful. I am sick of being a political football. I have been subjected to a campaign of character assassination and denigration that has been unrelenting.

I am used to working in an environment where reason, knowledge and logic prevail. This approach has led to certain conclusions in relation to the Fire Service that are unacceptable to my critics. They have preferred to denounce and demonise me rather than answer the arguments. They will stop at nothing to resist the forces of modernisation despite the clear evidence of the need for it.

The goal of my critics was first to prevent my appointment and then to force me out of office. Thus far, I have put up with the onslaught. I would continue to put up with it if I thought I could complete the task. But I cannot. The campaign mounted against me is taking too much of my time and energy.

I have borne the attacks because I personally believe that the reform outcomes are worthwhile. It is shameful that New Zealand has tolerated for so long the number of fires that occur and the resulting waste of young lives, workplaces that provide jobs and the destruction of community amenities and cultural heritage. Our messages about fire safety are getting through, but we are continually hamstrung by some of our employees and their ostrich-like view of the problem. The majority of our people want a change.

It is equally shameful that the legitimate needs of New Zealand's 8,000 volunteer firefighters have been ignored for so long. That has now been addressed.

It was shameful, too, that the Crown's assets have been allowed to run down due to deferred maintenance. That too has been addressed.

In other areas too, the Commission has made great progress since it was appointed. I am proud of that and was fortunate to lead a united Commission. I acknowledge the contribution of my fellow Commissioners and thank them for it. Thank you for the opportunity to serve New Zealand as Chair of the Commission.

I confirm that I accept the Crown's offer of an ex gratia payment of $68,000 in full and final settlement of all matters connected with or arising from my appointment as Chairman of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission. My resignation will take effect from 5.00 p.m. on Thursday, 20 May.

Given my resignation, the conditions previously imposed on me on the expiry of my term of office are no longer appropriate. Accordingly, I seek your waiver of any requirement on me to observe the conditions contained in your letter to me of 30 July 1998 varying the conditions of my appointment. In doing so, I acknowledge my ongoing obligations as to confidentiality.

Yours sincerely

Roger Estall
Chairman