Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation - Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) 2017

Written on the 27 March 2018

27 March 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

 

I am pleased to be able to rise and make a contribution to the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017. I note that in the explanatory memorandum it says:

The purpose of the Bill is to
  • provide a rebuttable presumption to claim compensation under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 for career firefighters and volunteer firefighters who are suffering, or will suffer, from specified forms of cancer; and
  • amend the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958 and Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to modernise Victoria's fire services framework, particularly as it relates to metropolitan areas.

That all sounds very simple, and as Ms Bath just said, this should be two separate bills because we are talking about two separate issues. I have listened to the contributions of government members in fact the whole state has listened to the contribution of the government in relation to this issue for years and we have been in here today debating this bill that came into the Parliament in May 2017. The minister at the time said in his second-reading speech:

I call on the house to pass this bill as a priority to ensure that these reforms can be fully implemented.

In the contributions today there has been commentary from the government members saying that we have held this bill up. It has been an absolute outrage again from the government, who continues to mislead the Victorian public on what this issue is about, because effectively what this bill is all about is giving power to the United Firefighters Union (UFU) and the union members. Everybody can say that we do not care and that we are not looking after paid firefighters quite the contrary. In fact what the government has done has been divisive and quite disgraceful for the tens of thousands of Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers.

I can say that with some understanding because my family have had a history of working as CFA members for decades. In fact my grandfather was one of the founding CFA members. My father was a member, and my brother is a 45-year

An honourable member interjected.

 

Ms CROZIER Indeed he is. He is a very decent man, and I can say that with great pride. My brother is a 45-year member of the CFA, who was out with thousands of volunteers just two weeks ago in far western Victoria.

I have friends down in western Victoria who were going about their business and then got calls to come and help fight those fires that took many parts of the community by surprise. It was a very severe day. Everybody knew that; there were warnings about it. Ash Wednesday is etched in the minds of so many of us who experienced those fires that ravaged western Victoria. It brought back a lot of memories, and it was a very difficult day. They were very, very difficult conditions. I have friends who were battling the fires of their neighbours and their friends to save property. Unfortunately some properties were not saved, but others, fortunately, including most of the ones I know, were saved.

But I have friends who were severely impacted, who had come from Bridgewater to Scotts Creek to help friends, and in fact when they were trying to get in touch what actually happened was one of my friends had ridden his bike into a dam and lost his phone while he was continuing to put out spot fires. There were horrendous conditions 2.00 a.m., it went right through the night. Of course his family and friends close to him were very worried because nobody could contact him.

These CFA volunteers are out there doing what they know, and I think it is absolutely telling that many members of the government do not actually understand the differences in firefighting conditions, because forest fires are very different from grassfires and you have to have local knowledge of terrain and an understanding of many of the aspects of what could affect the local community how it might be impacted. There was story after story about the issues that arose just two weeks ago. The power went out. There was no internet connection. Phone batteries were dead because there was no power. There was confusion in many instances, but the CFA volunteers who knew those communities went out and did what they did, working with each other so effectively. That is the spirit of CFA volunteers.

Another friend, who was on his way to Timboon and Cobden around that area, was asked by six trucks where the fire station was when he pulled up. I do not know if those six trucks were paid firefighters, but they certainly were not locals. That is the point. The locals know the conditions. They know the terrain. They know where the station is. They know the surrounding properties. They know who is around. They recognise a whole range of things that others do not. For this government to allow a union to have such control over such a vital community service that does so much is just extraordinary.

We all know that. This is not anything new. Everybody knows that Peter Marshall has got the biggest grip on this deceitful, disingenuous and dishonest Premier and his dishonest government. We have had that debate about rorting. Well, this bill also says it, because they are dishonest about what they are trying to do. This is nothing more than a cover-up for the unions and the payback that this government has done. One day that will all come out. It will come out.

An honourable member In the royal commission.

 

Ms CROZIER It will come out in the royal commission. That is why we need the royal commission because it is extraordinary. Peter Marshall waltzes around this place more than most, and one wonders what he is doing here. He is pulling the strings on this Premier, let's face it. Let's just think about the history of so many, not just the opposition members on this side of the bench but members of the community and also those directly involved. Let us just go back to the time lines.

These are the victims of Daniel Andrews's fire services crisis. In May 2015 Danny Michell, chief of staff to the responsible minister, resigns after ongoing bullying by Peter Marshall and the UFU. On 10 June 2016 Jane Garrett, the minister, is forced to resign by the Premier following a cabinet crisis meeting. I mean, we all know this happened. It goes on. On 10 June 2016 the new minister, James Merlino, sacks the CFA board despite a Supreme Court injunction. This is extraordinary. The board members sacked were Claire Higgins, John Peberdy, Ross Coyle, Katherine Forrest, Michael Freshwater, Peter Harmsworth, James Holyman, John Schurink and Michael Tudball. On 17 June 2016 Lucinda Nolan, a very highly respected woman in her previous role within the police force and the Premier's own hand-picked CFA CEO, resigns. She resigns! Goodness me. If that does not ring alarm bells, then I do not know what does.

On 29 June 2016 Joe Buffone, CFA chief fire officer, quits, citing concerns over the UFU enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). On 23 September 2016 Peter Rau, Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) chief officer, resigns. The police minister, Lisa Neville, claimed Mr Rau resigned due to health reasons. What a lie that was another lie by this government. In an email exchange Mr Rau's wife informed 3AW she was so infuriated, as she should be that he had actually resigned 'due to stress as a result of bullying by the United Firefighters Union and the current situation of the EBA'.

These are real people who have put their heart and soul into the roles that they were doing to get a better service and the reforms that everyone talks about yet they were bullied out. It is an absolute disgrace, and you all should hang your heads in shame. The police minister was then forced to apologise for her misleading comments. There have been misleading comments across the chamber in every part of this debate and outside this chamber.

On 13 October 2016 it was revealed that more senior MFB figures were on indefinite leave, as allegations of union bullying continued. Darren Davies, assistant chief fire officer of the MFB, remains on extended leave. Andrew Zammit, MFB assistant chief fire officer, remains on indefinite sick leave. On 23 October 2016 David Youssef quits amidst the EBA strife. In March 2017 Bruce Byatt, the CFA deputy chief officer, quits. On 27 August last year Paul Stacchino, MFB acting chief officer, resigns after less than 12 months in office. The list goes on and on and on, and I am going to continue to read because it is quite damning.

On 7 July 2017 Jim Higgins, MFB CEO, quits amidst plans to restructure the Victorian fire services and create the all-professional Fire Rescue Victoria. On 7 October 2016 Bob Barry, assistant chief officer of south-west Victoria region, was allegedly sacked for being too supportive of volunteer firefighters.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) A good man.

Ms CROZIER A good man, Acting President, quite right. He was sacked for being too supportive of volunteer firefighters, for heaven's sake. What does that say about the culture? Ms Shing, you talked about people being allergic to the hard work of cultural change. Your culture of bullying and what you have done to so many CFA volunteers and these good people who have been in positions of responsibility is a disgrace.

On 14 October 2017, 10 senior MFB firefighters claimed they were forced into early retirement by the UFU. On 19 January 2018 MFB president Andi Diamond quit. When she quit, the decisive vote that was then undertaken by a new board was voted on 4 to 3, and that new board member appointed by the government was just a week prior to that vote taking place. This just is an absolute joke that you think that the Victorian public do not see through you. They are incredulous about what has gone on, and that is why we do need a royal commission.

Ms Symes, when she was talking, said that we had the amendments six months ago. What absolute rubbish. You dumped 29 pages just today and said there were no changes. You have lied again. There are changes, and they include amendments to clause 48. New section 20AB(2A)(a) provides that the CFA must obtain the written consent of the minister before:

entering into an agreement or arrangement with a person or body for the provision of goods or services by the Authority

Presumably this would mean the CFA would need written consent to conduct its fire equipment maintenance services, or it could mean brigades would need the minister's consent to attend community events and to conduct Santa runs as they are essentially services provided by the CFA.

The other thing that I want to say in the little time that I have got I could go on for a lot longer because this does impact on so many people that I know and I am just quite incredulous about how the government has gone about this is that the amendments also include the Firefighters Registration Board. The CFA will only be able to employ a chief officer, a deputy chief officer and an executive officer (EO). What is that? What is the EO? Why is there not a chief executive officer to be appointed for the CFA?

The new amendments will make no change to the original conditions of the bill, and we still have on this side of the house, as I have said, grave concerns for the future of the CFA. Volunteers will not be protected from the union and will be put at risk of being treated as second-class firefighters. I think that is absolutely right, because I actually know so many CFA volunteers who are disgusted with what has gone on under your government. All of you are complicit. You have all signed off on this. You have all seen the litany.

Your own colleague Jane Garrett in the Assembly whatever happened to her inside that cabinet meeting not all of you will know, but it is pretty clear that she did the right thing. She did not agree with what had gone on with the union and what had gone on with the CFA. She understood that this was putting an absolute wrecking ball through the CFA. For you, the government members, not to understand the extent of what the CFA volunteers do but, through your rhetoric and your disingenuous words, to say you do just demonstrates the desperation of what you want to do to get this through on behalf of the union, Peter Marshall and all of his cronies.

If I can just conclude, Acting President Ramsay, because I know this affects your part of the region, another friend of mine also told me about some of the employees who work for him as drivers for Trotters Coaches, who evacuated a wedding party at the stables in Gazette. It was an incredible act that they did. I think that you are well aware that the CFA volunteers doused those buses with water to protect them so that they could get those buses in to get those people from that wedding party out. That was the courage of the volunteers and of those drivers, who are just decent human beings. I think all of the people should be acknowledged for the work they did all who were involved in those fires. I said that on Twitter and I was attacked by the UFU, predictably. Nevertheless, everyone who was impacted and everyone who was involved should be acknowledged for the great work that they did, the volunteers in particular.

There are many people who have lost their homes and so much stock, property and assets, and it takes a long time to build that up and for it to come back. For many people it will take many, many months, and some may never recover. It is critical that we support them while they rebuild their lives and get on with it, but doing this will gut the CFA volunteers, many of whom are still down there fighting those peat fires at Cobden and would still be out if there was another fire. I suppose one good thing is that we are entering into the autumn season where the hot weather is diminishing and the fire season at that point is also diminishing.

I am very concerned about the support that the crossbenchers are giving the government, because I do not think they fully understand the implications of this bill. I, like my colleagues and others, strongly oppose every ounce of what the government is doing here with this bill.

 

 


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