Calls are growing to pay volunteer firefighters as the Federal Government seeks to reduce reliance on the Australian Defence Force for coping with disasters. After multiple inquiries and Defence itself warning the burden on the military was unsustainable, Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt last week flagged a bigger role for non-government organisations including the veterans-led Disaster Relief Australia. A State Government spokesperson said it was important to investigate all options, with climate change making natural disasters more prevalent. “Western Australia has over 28,000 emergency services volunteers that form part of our emergency response network covering the largest emergency management jurisdiction in Australia,” the spokesperson said in a statement. Senator Watt said increasing the number of paid firefighters who were on hand throughout summer was an option being considered. “It could be a matter of us working with the states and territories to support them to convert some of their volunteer forces into paid personnel for certain parts of the year as well,” he told ABC radio. “Obviously, there’s a cost to the federal government every time we use the defence forces and it may be that … what we don’t have to spend on the defence forces might be available to us elsewhere.” Senator Watt said other groups that did similar work to Disaster Relief Australia “might be resourced as well” and emphasised that the ADF would be ready to be called up this summer if needed. The State Government spokesperson said NSW and Queensland State Governments, with support from the Commonwealth, had used organisations like Disaster Relief Australia “and different models to support large-scale recovery projects”. It comes after Department of Fire and Emergency Services technicians tasked with keeping fire trucks on the road were handed an immediate pay rise well in excess of 20 per cent. In May, firefighters staged the first industrial action they had undertaken in 12 years in their bid to secure a 5 per cent pay rise but last month accepted the State Government’s blanket public sector wages policy - 3 per cent plus a one-off $3000 cost-of-living payment, although they did receive higher penalty rates. Cracks are appearing in the policy, with youth custodial officers at Banksia Hill and Unit 18 getting a 12 per cent hike as part of efforts to address crippling staff shortages in August, but prison officers and registered nurses continue to hold out.