SPEAKING ON A REPORT | FIRE SERVICES BILL SELECT COMMITTEE – FINAL REPORT

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) — I rise to speak on the inquiry into the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017 final report. When the bill was before the house it was referred to a select committee to inquire into the proposed legislation, and I was one of the lucky ones who made it onto the committee. First of all I want to acknowledge the good work done by the members of the committee, who worked through the winter period to give serious consideration to the bill.

I had the pleasure of attending a number of hearings in regional Victoria and Melbourne to, most importantly, listen to the firefighters who will be directly affected by this bill. I am referring to the members, both volunteer and career, of the 35 integrated stations. Throughout the process we heard from both sides — both volunteer and career firefighters. What the government is trying to do with the proposed legislation had universal support from the integrated stations. We also heard from Emergency Management Victoria in relation to the proposed legislation. Emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley supports the proposed legislation. He talked about the benefits of what we are trying to do. There is no question: the majority of the evidence presented to the committee was in support of the proposed legislation.

Basically the changes will bring the Country Fire Authority (CFA) back to being a volunteer organisation. The 1200 brigades that currently exist in regional Victoria will remain intact — there will not be any change to them — and the CFA will be fully funded as a volunteer organisation. However, in urban areas and in greater Melbourne there will be Fire Rescue Victoria, which will be a full‑time firefighter organisation. It is very important and about time we as a society acknowledge that in any major populated area we need to have full‑time career firefighters responding to fires and to not just depend on the volunteers, who do a terrific job. They do a great job, but I think it is hard enough for them to go to work, raise their families and respond to multiple fires in metro areas. I think it is an abuse of the generosity of volunteers. I understand there is less pressure in country areas and in areas that are not heavily populated. In heavily populated areas it is important that we have full‑time firefighters provide the service. That stood out clearly in the various submissions we received from various parties.

Unfortunately when it came to the final recommendations the party lines of the Liberal‑National parties and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party were in force, and they were in total opposition to the proposed legislation. A number of recommendations came out of this inquiry, which I will refer to briefly in the minute and a half I have left. The minority report agreed to some of the recommendations either outright or in principle in relation to, for example, undertaking consultation with Emergency Management Victoria and the recommendation that the government:

… develop and publish a detailed implementation plan in parallel with any further fire services reform proposal.

So we agreed on that. One thing we did disagree on, though, was whether or not the actual demerger or the creation of Fire Rescue Victoria should integrate the 35 integrated stations with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. That obviously has been a fundamental disagreement. To me that is not a logical disagreement. It is party politics. It is a political disagreement, because the Liberal Party made a political decision to oppose what the state government — the Andrews Labor government — is trying to do to reform an act dating back to 1958, based on political grounds. That is the only thing separating the parties.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr MELHEM — If only these members heard, listened to and were actually paying attention to the firefighters, paid and volunteer, at the 35 integrated fire stations who are supported by this legislation. Instead those members have opted for a political decision and said no. I commend the report to the house with the exception of that particular recommendation. When you look at this proposed —

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Morris) — Thank you, Mr Melhem.

23 August 2017