CFA Select Committee motion

Mr PURCELL(Western Victoria) — I rise today to speak on the motion standing in the name of Mr Rich-Phillips to establish a select committee to review the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017. It is pertinent to raise that the bill encompasses two important sections. While it includes presumptive legislation, the purpose of the bill is really to split up the volunteers and the paid firefighters. In my opinion it is wrong to include these two together, because the presumptive legislation could be construed as an attempt to convince people that they should pass this bill on the basis that it includes what are some good points as well as what are some very contentious points. I have made an undertaking that if the bill does not go through, I will do my best to make certain that the presumptive legislation part of it goes through at a later stage. I have undertaken that on behalf of the volunteers that I have met with throughout this process.

This has been by far the most contentious issue that I have had to deal with during my short term in this house. In south-west Victoria there are many, many concerns that exist, and not just from the volunteers. The concerns of my constituency also come from the local baker, the local butcher and everyone you talk to. It is really not just the volunteers, and it is an issue that has dominated our media in this state more than the many other important issues that we have to deal with, so for that reason we do need to take it very seriously.

I understand the need for some reform in fire services. From the meetings I have had with volunteers, they certainly believe that as well. There needs to be reform around the outer metropolitan areas that have changed over the last decades in that there is a change required in the services those areas need. As I said, that is understood and recognised by many people in the community. I understand that there has already been a great deal of consideration and work undertaken in regard to those boundaries. That will be, if this motion is agreed to, considered by the committee, and it will be able to report on that.

But to jump from this to the entire restructure of fire services is a big leap. This is not a one-size-fits-all issue. It may work in and around the metropolitan areas, but it is certainly not the best fit for some of the country areas. Those supporting the legislation say that nothing will change for the volunteers. If there really is no change, why have the volunteers not been consulted throughout the process? If there is nothing to hide, I would ask why there has not been more transparency. I have raised this time and time again over the past few months, but nothing has happened in regard to the consultation process. This is a major issue that volunteers have had with this bill — why there has been such a lack of consultation with them.

I have tried to bring myself up to date with what is happening with this legislation. I have read the bill, as I am sure all other members have. I have met with the government and been briefed on the bill, and I have met with the opposition. I have attended many workshops on it. I have met with paid firefighters at two integrated stations and have had seven evening meetings in regional areas to meet with volunteers. The volunteers do not have an issue with the change, but they are concerned about a number of aspects of it. They are concerned about whether they will become the second cousins in the firefighting process and whether they will be adequately funded, not only initially but in the longer term. They are more concerned about the way the bill has hit the table than the content of it. They do not want to see this legislation rushed through, and they want to make certain that they have an opportunity to have some input into what happens.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) is the backbone of many of our communities, and in all good conscience, without that consultation, I will not at the moment support the legislation, as I have said publicly. It is a strong volunteer organisation that has been around for over 150 years in one form or another. In the early days it was farmers with tanks on the back of their trucks.

That brings me to the select committee. I honestly was not sure whether to support this motion in the beginning. I am concerned that this committee will become a political sideshow and that it will not achieve what it should. The committee should be solely concerned with the bill. It should not be made into a political football. It should consider the impact of fire services on Victoria, not the reasons for the development of the bill. I hope this responsibility is taken seriously and that the committee achieves these outcomes.

The CFA model is recognised throughout the world, and our volunteers selflessly give their time to fight fires locally, nationally and also throughout the world — they do travel to other parts. It is vital that we support our volunteers, and I hope that the committee allows this to happen. I will therefore be supporting this motion, and if it passes, I wish all the members of the committee all the best.