Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017
06 June 2017
Ms Ryan (Euroa) — I welcome the opportunity to contribute today to the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017. The Leader of the House can try all she likes to sell this as a modernisation of the fire services, but we all know why this government is bringing in this legislation, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the modernisation of the fire services.
There is not a single element of this bill that is written with community safety or what is best for volunteers or even getting a fair enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) for the Country Fire Authority's (CFA) career firefighters in mind. This bill is entirely a political fix for a Premier who has done a deal with one man who exerts an unholy amount of influence over him. Why? That is the question that everybody is asking but no-one is willing to answer. That is the question that my volunteers are asking. Why would you tear apart the greatest volunteer fire service in the world? Why would you do over 60 000 volunteers on the whim of just one man?
As I said, it is not about community safety, it is not about protecting the rights of volunteers — we certainly know that much — and it is not about a fair EBA. It has never been about those things. There is only one motivation for this, and that is to dig the Premier out of the political crisis that he has created by doing a deal with Peter Marshall. We know that the United Firefighters Union (UFU) campaigned for the Labor Party at the last election. In fact there is a convincing argument that the Labor Party holds government because of the UFU and the doorknocking and campaigning they did and the polling booths they manned in key marginal seats. But does that warrant the bullying actions of this Premier, the lengths he has gone to and the people he has sacked to drive through an EBA that is fundamentally just a power grab for Peter Marshall?
Last week I met with volunteers from the Euroa group at Creightons Creek, and one of the volunteers there, Bernie Wallis, actually said to me, 'We never asked for this fight. We have been forced into this by the Andrews government. We didn't ask to leave our jobs in the middle of the day to come and fight for our role as volunteers', but that is the position that the Premier and those on the government benches have put these people in. What is worse is the volunteers feel completely abandoned. Why? Because the Premier has gotten rid of every single person that has stood in his way and that has fought for volunteers, from the government's own minister right through to the board, the CEO and now the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), as we see in this bill.
I support the reasoned amendment that has been moved by the member for Murray Plains. I am absolutely disgusted by Labor's decision to tie compensation for firefighters with cancer to this bill. It is absolutely vile. They are playing politics with cancer sufferers, and I cannot think of more of a dog act — that is the only description I can think of. It is absolutely a dog act. It is political treachery. We have said that we are happy to split the bill. There is nothing standing in the government's way of passing presumptive rights legislation today — nothing at all.
We say that with some concerns about the scheme that the government has proposed, which sets hurdles for volunteers in accessing compensation that are not required for paid firefighters. This is not an equal piece of legislation; it does not provide equal access to presumptive rights. For example, the bill provides for an advisory committee that will be asked to offer an expert opinion to the CFA as to whether a volunteer who is applying for compensation has attended fires 'to the extent reasonably necessary' to fulfil their duties as a firefighter. That is very vague. What does 'to the extent reasonably necessary' even mean? The bill is silent on those issues, and it places hurdles in front of volunteers that do not exist for paid firefighters. However, we believe that the cause of presumptive rights legislation is too important to wait.
We have given the government the option of passing that element of the legislation immediately by splitting the bill today. But we know they do not want to do that, because they are playing a political game here where they want the opposition to vote against this so they can run out and tell people that we do not support presumptive rights legislation. That is not the case, and the volunteers that I represent know that is not the case. There has been no consultation over this bill, and we know that the volunteer charter compels the government to consult with CFA volunteers about all matters which might reasonably be expected to affect them. There was no consultation at all with Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) about this bill and there has been no public scrutiny. This is a comment from the VFBV on the day that the Minister for Emergency Services announced this legislation:
It is important to understand that none of these reforms have been the subject of consultation with VFBV. The minister's comments that we have been consulted are false and misleading.
Despite rumours about the proposed split, circulating for some weeks now, there has been no consultation with VFBV and no briefing of any detail whatsoever.
The government lied about the consultation it claimed to have undertaken. Not only that but, as the member for Ripon said earlier, it knows that it has acted illegally by bringing in this bill. Why else would this legislation basically legislate away the government's obligation to consult with volunteers? That is absolutely disgusting. They have broken the volunteers charter and they have acted illegally. This whole bill has been concocted by a secret subcommittee of cabinet behind closed doors. This is what one of the volunteers from north-east Victoria, Lachie Gales, has said about it. He sent me an email last week. He said:
I'm a senior volunteer leader from CFA district 23 and I'm writing to express my deep concern with the latest Andrews government plans for Victoria's fire services.
He went on to say:
As a CFA volunteer of 30 years, I've undertaken every operational role and qualification there is. I'm currently a level 3 incident controller, accredited by EMV and CFA … I understand the issues at play here and have independently formed a view that what is happening here is an appalling issue of governance. It will not reflect well on the Victorian Parliament to acquiesce to the kind of abuse of proper process that is occurring here.
He concluded by saying:
All I'd ask for is reasonable consultation, proper process and constructive dialogue with the government. All things that are enshrined under the CFA act.
It's the least our community deserves when the stakes are so high.
But not even that could our government afford our volunteers.
Communities and brigades across my electorate understand the value of surge capacity. We have been the beneficiaries of volunteers coming out of the interface areas of Melbourne in some major, major bushfires — Black Saturday and the Kilmore-Mickleham fires among them. In setting up Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) this bill fundamentally damages that surge capacity. There is no clarification in this bill as to what the chain of command will be for volunteers who are co-located in FRV stations. It appears that those volunteers will have no authority to make decisions in the event of a fire unless it is at the control or request of FRV firefighters. If they are not going to be able to make decisions, why on earth are they going to stay? Why are they going to maintain that level of training? It is a simple fact that they just will not. In fact the government knows this, because in its own budget papers this year it has predicted a reduction of 10 per cent within the volunteer CFA numbers just this year — a drop of 4200 CFA volunteers.
There is so much more that I wish I had time to talk about regarding this bill, including the impact on the fire services property levy, but let me conclude by saying this: nobody asked for this. Nobody recommended this. Not one of eight reviews recommended this.
Mr Richardson interjected.
Ms RYAN — The member for Mordialloc is correct; Peter Marshall did ask for it. He was the only one. We can pass presumptive rights legislation today. No-one is standing in the road of that at all, but we will not just stand by and let you destroy the CFA, one of the greatest volunteer organisations in the world. Shame on those on the opposite side of the house for doing that. Shame on those MPs who purport to — —
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member's time has expired.