SPEAKING ON A BILL | FIREFIGHTERS PRESUMPTIVE RIGHTS LEGISLATION

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) — I also rise to speak on the motion moved by Mr Purcell in relation to the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017. That was the bill which was before this house not long ago. From memory, that bill was referred to a parliamentary committee, which conducted numerous hearings, with hundreds of witnesses and submissions. The Parliament went through a lengthy process to explore fire services reform, which included the presumptive legislation. There was hearing after hearing, with expert after expert.

The bill came before the house and we went through a lengthy process which went for days. In fact I think the sitting went for over 30 hours. We went through the bill clause by clause in a lengthy committee process, and every single clause passed this Parliament. We had division after division after division, and those clauses were passed by this place. That was until the 11th hour, when contrary to every convention this place has had in place for the past 160-odd years, two members of the coalition broke their word, broke their commitment, broke their undertaking — along with the rest of their leadership group — and came back on the third reading and bulldozed the whole legislation.

It is hypocrisy from the other side to say they care about firefighters and they care about presumptive rights. It is just convenient to do so today. When those opposite were in government the Greens party and Ms Hartland brought in a bill, with just the presumptive legislation, and they knocked it on the head. So do not lecture us about caring for firefighters and presumptive rights. You never have and you never will.

I am a bit disappointed. We had the vote. I have got a lot of respect for Mr Purcell, but unfortunately if you had voted and seen what the opposition were doing back then, maybe that bill would have been in place by now. But it is what it is.

I am sure Mr Purcell has good intentions in trying to put this back on the agenda, and I respect him for that, but for the opposition to come here and lecture us — ‘Vote for this motion, and then we will get the bill through’ — well, let me tell you this: there is an election coming up. As we did at the last election, when we said we would do presumptive rights for firefighters and we would reform the fire services, those will be issues come November. In the next few months we shall return and you shall be on the other side, and that whole issue will be tested again. We will see what you have got to say then.

Mr Ramsay interjected.

Mr MELHEM — I am not going to support your stunt, Mr Ramsay. It is just a stunt. As I said, every single clause of that comprehensive legislation — which is in the first paragraph of this motion — was passed through this place. Every single clause of that bill passed — hundreds of divisions — and you did your stunt at the last minute. It was just disgraceful. I cannot believe you are even standing here saying, ‘We are supporting the motion. We will support presumptive legislation’. You never have. You never have in the past; you never will in the future.

Talking about the motion and talking about the issue itself, it will sort itself out — but not by playing politics in the way you are playing politics.

Mr Ramsay interjected.

Mr MELHEM — Well, either one. You have to get with the program, Mr Ramsay. If you are fair dinkum about firefighters and the Country Fire Authority, about looking after firefighters, you should have actually done the right thing on Good Friday, when your comrades Bernie Finn and Mr Ondarchie came here and ratted on you and ratted on everyone — both a bunch of rats. That is what they did: they ratted. You are no different, because if you had had some decency — if the other side had had some decency — on that day, two of you would have left the chamber and done the right thing and firefighters would have had presumptive rights by now. They would have had presumptive rights by now. That is your doing.

That is why they do not have it — because of you, because you ratted on Good Friday. You sold them down the drain. There is the challenge for you: if you are fair dinkum about fire reform and firefighters — looking after them — we can bring the bill here tomorrow, the whole bill. We have debated it. We voted on every single clause — every single clause. If you were fair dinkum about it, you could have actually said, ‘Okay, clause 1 is the whole bill as it is’. We actually spent hours and hours and days and days in this chamber debating that bill. We spent days and weeks debating the bill in the committee. I was on that committee.

There is the challenge for you: you can simply move an amendment to the motion and just say, ‘Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017′ — boom. I am not authorised to speak on behalf of the government, but as a member for Western Metropolitan Region, here is the challenge for you: move that motion to actually get that bill passed now. You might get that done. You will get that done. But no, you just want to play politics. You just want to play politics. That is what you have been doing for the last four years.

So no, I will not be supporting the motion. I support presumptive rights for firefighters. I support it. You had your chance. Do not pull a stunt. We will come back and fix it. We will come back to that space and get presumptive rights for firefighters. We had a bill before this house which I supported, and I will continue to support it. I support a full, comprehensive reform package for the fire services, including presumptive rights. That is what I support, and that will happen. We will deliver on our commitment, with you or without you.

You ratted on Good Friday. Well, 24 November 2018 is not far away, and hopefully the next Parliament will finally do justice for the firefighters of Victoria — volunteers and career firefighters. We will and I am sure that Victoria will actually see through the stuff you are trying to do. When we return to government and the next Parliament resumes or takes place or starts or commences, that will be one of the priorities for us to actually put in place — to make sure firefighters are looked after.

We all know there are only two weeks left in this Parliament. For a bill like this to be done, there is no time for it. But make no mistake: the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to looking after firefighters, career and volunteer, is paramount, is still strong and will continue to get stronger and stronger. We will deliver an appropriate bill which includes presumptive rights for firefighters, because they deserve to have that. They could have had that a few months ago. They could have had that on Good Friday just past, but because of the act of bastardry that was committed by the opposition that did not happen. You should just basically bury your heads in shame, because it is on your heads. That is why firefighters in this state do not have presumptive rights. It is because you committed that act of bastardry on Good Friday. Shame on you.

 

22 August 2018