Volunteers Emergency Services | June 06, 2017

Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation And Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017

Victorian Parliament - 6 June 2017 - Ms KEALY - It is interesting to hear members on the other side of the chamber, the government, saying, ‘Isn’t it terrible, these grubby politics which have been at play?’. We need look no further than some of the commentary that we have heard today and in the media, pushed by the United Firefighters Union (UFU) on websites or even on ads run on the same day as the bill was tabled. How interesting that the UFU got information about that. I will tell you where the grubby politics are. It goes right back to the last election, when the UFU handed out how‑to‑vote cards for Labor. It goes back to when the UFU doorknocked 43 000 homes to help people like the member for Mordialloc get elected. So there is absolutely no doubt who is the grubby politician in here. Perhaps he is walking out of the chamber because he does not want to hear that story today.

I do support the reasoned amendment that was put forward by the member for Murray Plains in regard to ensuring that we finally consult with volunteers about how the Country Fire Authority (CFA) should be structured into the future, that we consult with Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) and other associated organisations, because that is what we should do. We should be consulting with the people who work within these organisations as volunteers and not just listening to the union, the UFU, to understand what it wants to get through its grubby deal. We also need to ensure that we do support the right for volunteers and career firefighters to access presumptive cancer legislation. That is very important. We have supported that, as we will continue to do. I am one of many members on this side of the chamber who two years ago signed a number of pledges at our local CFA brigades to ensure that we do have those rights for volunteers.

I think perhaps the grubbiest thing of all is the feedback I have received from so many of our CFA volunteers who have come forward and said, ‘Do you know what, Emma? I don’t care that we’ve finally got some legislation up that would support presumptive rights to compensation. I actually would like you to vote against this because we don’t want a grubby, dirty deal which would destroy the CFA. We are being held to ransom to access cancer compensation which we deserve to access as a right. It should not be in alignment with the destruction of the beloved CFA that we have worked so hard for over so many years’. So I ask people on the other side of the chamber who say that this is not political to urge their other party colleagues to split this bill. You know full well that if this bill were split and you took out the presumptive cancer legislation elements, it would get through today.

We could have presumptive cancer legislation that protects the right of career and volunteer firefighters to get the support and counsel that they need when they are suffering from and dying of cancer. Think of all of those firefighters who have passed away from fire‑related cancers over the past 800‑odd days — the 800‑odd day gap between when the Minister for Emergency Services stated that she would table this legislation and when it was actually done two weeks ago. The politicisation of this issue has not been on this side of the table; it has always been with the Andrews Labor government. Linking the presumptive cancer legislation to the destruction of the CFA is absolutely reprehensible and quite a vile thing.

Mr J. Bull interjected.

Ms KEALY — The name of a website has just been yelled out to me by the member for Sunbury. Perhaps we could talk about the website that was launched on exactly the same day that the bill was tabled in this Parliament. The VFBV had not been consulted about the elements of this bill until it was tabled that day, and yet the UFU were able to launch a website that exact same day. They were able to put out an advertisement on TV that night, which coincided with the evening news. You cannot tell me that there is not a strong linkage there in the UFU’s influence over elements of this bill, while the VFBV, the volunteer firefighters, were not consulted. I think that is an excellent point made by the member for Sunbury and something that certainly needs to be pointed out.

When I speak to constituents, that is one of the key elements that they are so concerned about — that they have not been asked about this. Whether it is through regular brigade meetings or whether it is through the government speaking to the VFBV, at no stage have they been consulted by this government. It is an obligation under the volunteers charter that volunteers be consulted about changes to the CFA. Through this legislation the government are essentially writing out volunteers and therefore overriding their obligation under the volunteers charter to consult with volunteers. That is a disgrace, given the CFA is our largest volunteer organisation in the state, and a disgrace for my local CFA members.

The electorate of Lowan has 110 CFA brigades. We do not have one integrated station. We have volunteer firefighters, but we also have two training grounds: one in Penshurst and one in Horsham. We have a number of people employed at those training grounds, obviously. We also have a number of administrative staff who are employed, particularly in the Horsham area, and these are essential employees because they are people who provide on‑ground support when we have our large bushfires, particularly in our national parks. In Lowan we have of course got the Grampians National Park, the little and big deserts and the Wyperfeld National Park. It is essential that we do have that localised support.

One of the concerns around this bill and how the structure of Fire Rescue Victoria will operate is that we will lose every single paid employee of the CFA. We will lose all of our administrative support. There will be nobody within the CFA — no organisational structure — above a brigade captain or group officer, who are active firefighters. This is a key concern, and I would like to refer to a submission that was made to me by a local volunteer firefighter, Rodger Bethune. Rodger is a member of the Horsham headquarters brigade and has been a volunteer for more than 10 years. I will add that I am also a CFA member with the Horsham brigade. Rodger outlines his concerns around this loss of administration and management staff, and I quote:

Without an administrative network across the state as is currently the case the CFA will be no more than a disorganised and uncoordinated group of well‑meaning volunteers, without its own logistics, communications or administrative backup. This is the scenario the government has planned to cause a forced reliance of the CFA and its volunteers upon the new Fire Rescue Victoria, an organisation it has no formal connection with other than a working relationship in times of emergency.

Rodger then goes through the different elements in which the members of Fire Rescue Victoria will continue in their roles. Some of those employees will be seconded to the CFA, and we will end up with a permanent cycle of secondment. CFA volunteers will have no input into their own organisation and its resources and management, which will be controlled by an outside and unconnected Fire Rescue Victoria. This is just ridiculous when you consider that we are basically cutting off the whole of the support structure for the CFA. This is why none of the eight reviews of the CFA have included this model that is being put by the government.

I refer back to Rodger’s submission:

Through these changes the union will get control of Victoria’s fire services by stealth, it tried and failed in the CFA EBA, now the Premier and emergency services minister have worked out a way to give it to them by unlawful means.

Rodger goes on that this matter should be referred on to the Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission, and I quote:

Like all Victorians I am sick of suffering under a corrupt government administered by corrupt ministers who act improperly in office using their position to breach statute to achieve results and effectively block those of us who play by the rules and respect laws of the state.

The anger from Rodger is absolutely palpable, and I completely understand that, because this is all about payback for the unions and all the support they have provided to the Andrews Labor government in helping it get into office in the first place. I get the question asked to me so often: what does Peter Marshall have on the Premier? There are many speculative ideas around that, but I am not going to go into those.

I do have a number of other key concerns, including the impact on surge capacity. We will not have as many volunteer firefighters in metropolitan areas if they are never called out. This will impact country volunteers. Also, where will the volunteer assets go — the sausage sizzles, the fundraisers — that they have used to raise their own money to pay for their own appliances? Within this legislation these assets will be transferred to Fire Rescue Victoria.

Will jobs for our local CFA staff be relocated to the nearest integrated station in Ballarat, a couple of hundred kilometres away? Will we lose jobs in country Victoria yet again under this government? We will be lowest on the list for asset renewal. There is no doubt new brigades, new stations and new appliances will go to areas where there are union members, and what will the cost of this be with the fire services property levy looking to skyrocket after two years? This government must oppose this bill. It is an absolute disgrace.

 

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