With bushfires raging through NSW, firefighters usually receive warm welcomes but the Fire Brigade Employees Union said the opposite occurred at the Miranda by-election last Saturday.
FBEU state president Darin Sullivan said members handing out “vote Liberals last” cards at polling booths were harassed by Liberal MP Brad Hazzard and other party members.
Mr Sullivan accused the MP for Wakehurst of “bully tactics”.
“He and other party members were going to each polling booth and taking down the names of every firefighter there,’’ he said.
“They were getting up close and taking photos of our face without permission in order to report names and faces to the minister [of emergency services].
“Mr Hazzard went to every booth to deliberately intimidate every firefighter,” he said.
Some firefighters reported verbal altercations with Liberal party staffers and volunteers at booths.
Approximately 60 off-duty firefighters manned polling booths in the electorate wearing “Stop O’Farrell’s Fire Station Closures” T-shirts.
The firefighters were protesting the O’Farrell Government’s budget cuts that have taken stations in the electorate offline over 60 times this year.
The union said their aim was for firefighters to be considered ‘‘frontline’’ staff, along with teachers and police, who are exempt from budget cuts.
“We find it offensive to see Liberal MPs prancing out at the bushfires for the media when they’re cutting firefighting services,” Mr Sullivan said.
Some Liberal politicians proved more sympathetic. The union confirmed Kiama MP Gareth Ward had made efforts to hear firefighters’ concerns.
Mr Sullivan responded to criticism that the union was politicising a natural disaster.
“The fires were a coincidence to our campaign. Both the NSW Fire Brigade and the Rural Fire Service are facing more cuts and the community needs to be educated.”
The union also faced criticism that their efforts would have been better spent at the bushfires and that they had used their uniforms inappropriately.
“We wore old uniforms no longer in use, uniforms that are now our property,’’ Mr Sullivan said. ‘‘We had no official badges.
“We receive AEC approval and had every right to be there.
“Many of the union’s officials have been, and will be, on the frontline of these fires throughout this emergency, side by side with all the hard-working full- time, part-time and volunteer firefighters across NSW.”
Mr Sullivan said the community response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We think our campaign claimed a part in the historic 27per cent swing result,’’ Mr Sullivan said. ‘‘We had lifelong Liberal voters coming up to us saying that they had voted against the party for the first time because of how O’Farrell has treated firefighters.’’.
Bolstered by its success, the union is threatening to implement the campaign at the next state election.
“If Premier O’Farrell doesn’t come to us to negotiate cuts, then we’ll be forced to roll the campaign out across every electorate in the next election,” said Mr Sullivan.
Mr Hazzard did not respond to requests for comment.