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12 March 1991 - Current

Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017
Page 4592
07 September 2017

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan) — I am glad to rise to support this bill, particularly after having been involved in the select committee process looking into the bill. I am pleased that the government has responded to some of the concerns that were fleshed out in the report, particularly addressing issues that were raised around the secondment of management in the Country Fire Authority, support for volunteers and funding certainty for the CFA. I think that is a good thing. There should be certainty for funding the CFA, particularly when there is a change of government. Coalition governments come in and, as they do, cut funding. The government has also addressed strengthening the powers of the CFA's chief fire officer, which was also brought up as a concern during the committee hearings.

I assume that during this debate we are going to hear a lot about firefighters, both career and volunteer, being offended by certain things. As far as the career firefighters are concerned, I think they are offended because of falsehoods that have been run in the media and by other organisations that questioned their commitment to community safety. In particular one falsehood that was run out a number of times was that volunteer firefighters would not be allowed to address a fire until there were seven professional firefighters on site. No-one could actually find any documentation that that was ever a career firefighter's position, because it was not true. I can imagine how career firefighters were offended by that. Volunteer firefighters were being fed that information; they were being told by people that they had faith in that that was the case. I can imagine them being offended when they were being told that that was a fact.

A myriad of falsehoods was put out about firefighters. One particular one that involved career firefighters and volunteer firefighters which was fleshed out at one of the regional hearings was that at the Warrnambool fire station the volunteer firefighters had to use a different entrance from the one used by the career firefighters. This was a statement made by our Prime Minister, who said that it was a fact. When the volunteers from Warrnambool appeared at the hearing, they were dismayed. They did not understand why this was said and they dispelled that statement completely.

I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about firefighters being offended. I am at the point now where when it comes to community safety I think career firefighters and volunteer firefighters will be quite happy for us to put their hurt feelings, if they have hurt feelings, as a second or third priority. I suggest that outside this process career firefighters have legal recourse that they should follow. If they have been slandered — and they have been slandered — I suggest that they should follow up their legal recourse against the media outlets and other organisations that slandered them. But they should keep that out of this process because this process and this reform that we are debating today is about public safety.

I commend Ms Hartland on her contribution being centred all around public safety because that is what struck me as a member of this committee. This is about public safety, particularly in urban areas that are not Liberal-held safe seats like Brighton, Bulleen and Hawthorn. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade has coverage in those particular areas. When there is a structural fire, two appliances will be sent out and they will be dispatched within 90 seconds. They will arrive at the scene of that structural fire, whether it be a house, a school, a kindergarten, an aged-care centre or a disability group home.

Mr Dalidakis — Risking their lives.

Mr LEANE — They will be risking their lives, as all firefighters, career and volunteer, do. There will be a crew of a minimum of seven so that they can at least have the particular skills mix with breathing apparatus et cetera. They can go into that school or kindergarten and save people from that particular building because they will be guaranteed to have the necessary training. When those particular appliances leave the stations in those safe seats in Balwyn, Brighton and Hawthorn, they will be backfilled by another appliance. That is the way it works. They will be backfilled by another appliance and that will make sure that that particular area is covered. If there is another event, those particular appliances will be out within 90 seconds again.

But for those who live outside those Liberal safe seats — who live, say, in a highly urbanised rural town — people in this chamber want to keep a system of a fire service that we have inherited from the 1950s, when Dandenong used to be the country, Springvale used to be the country and Geelong used to be very much a country area. Tell someone who lives in Frankston or tell someone who lives in Springvale — where you have got houses all around you, your back fence backs onto a school, across the road you might have an aged-care facility, down the road you might have a disability group home and you have got houses all on top of you — that they live in the country. That is what people in here want to maintain — a 1950s system from when it was the country.

What happens if it is an integrated station? If it is an integrated CFA station, there will be four firefighters called out. They are to be there within 8 minutes, compared to the Liberal safe seats, where it is 7.7 minutes, because that is based on trying to maintain a structure fire within the room of origin — and it is a scientifically proven thing. There will be four firefighters dispatched from an integrated station, and to back them up there will be volunteers called via their pagers.

Volunteers gave us evidence that because of the population growth, because they do not necessarily work where they live and where they volunteer, because of a number of issues and because of congestion, it is harder and harder for them to respond. When it comes to the pagers — and this is the same with the volunteer brigades in the urban areas as well when their pagers go off — their procedure is not to let the control centre know that they cannot come. That is not the procedure. So if they are working in the Melbourne CBD and they get a page in the outer east — or even the inner east because the MFB boundary has not moved for 60 years — and they are unable to respond to that page, the procedure is not to let the control centre know. So if that brigade does not respond within 4 minutes to back up the integrated brigade to provide a workforce that is able to address a structure fire in exactly the same way a structure fire is supposed to be addressed and is addressed in the Liberal safe seats, then another brigade will be paged.

Keep in mind that at a number of these integrated stations, the volunteers at those integrated stations called for career firefighters to come there. They called for them to become integrated stations. There have been examples, and Cranbourne is one, where they demanded career firefighters come to that area because they could not keep up with the demand, and their main objective — as the main objective for all of us in this chamber should be — is public safety. They demanded there be an integrated station. So if there is a nearby volunteer brigade area which cannot respond, those career firefighters will be called to respond to that area, therefore leaving the area for which the volunteers demanded there be career firefighters present with no career firefighters and leaving it empty, therefore leaving the same situation that those volunteers called for. People are looking incredulous over there — 'Well, this isn't true'. Well, maybe you should have listened. We have got Mr Young there. He was elected on 200 primary votes, and he is going to determine that people who live in the outer urban area cannot have the same firefighter service as the urban area. Congratulations to you, Mr Young. Congratulations to you.

I have to say I never understood how bad this system was. I am actually quite embarrassed. I never understood until I was on the select committee how ordinary this system is, and I am demanding that it get fixed. This is a disgrace, and I tell you what: response times have never been published in CFA areas, and in some areas it is an outrage. It is a scandal. So I flag to this chamber that in the future if for any incident the system has not been of support, it is our fault — it is the Parliament's fault, it is the fault of previous governments of all flavours for squibbing it and it is previous ministers' fault for squibbing it. No wonder there is a ghost of fire services past coming out saying, 'There's no need to reform, because they squibbed it at the time they should have reformed it'. It is an absolute outrage that this is not going to be addressed.

So I flag to this chamber: if you want to vote down this reform, you will own the current system, so when there is a fire at a kindergarten, when there is a fire at a school or when there is a fire at a disability group home and it is not addressed, it will not be the firefighters' fault, it will not be the volunteer firefighters' fault, it will be your fault. I tell you now: now that there has been a report tabled in this chamber I will get up every Wednesday and I will tell you about the incidents; I will tell you if someone has been burnt because it suited you politically not to reform a system that has not been reformed for 60 years.

The only concern you brought up on public safety was the surge capacity, which you could not prove because you did not speak to the volunteers at the integrated stations. You did not. You relied on the Victorian Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) to tell you who did not go to speak to them. You relied on Jack Rush to tell you that the case is that their feelings would be hurt and they would not carry on, which is actually an insult because when they actually gave evidence to us they said they have a commitment to public safety and they will continue to volunteer and they will work within the reforms. So you roll out Jack Rush, who had not been in an integrated station for seven years, and there is an old saying, 'Don't get between Jack Rush and a bucket of taxpayers money'. Jack Rush was retained by the VFBV to try and be some credible witness, but when you have witnesses from the fire services, when you have current professionals and when you have professionals from interstate telling you that this service has to be reformed you still say no because it does not suit your political ends.

I tell you what: how about putting the public safety first? How about considering that? Because I tell you what: I am not going to let you forget. I am going to talk about this every Wednesday of Parliament and I will tell you when there is a fire and when someone loses their house in the outer suburbs. They will not lose their house in the safe Liberal seats now. There were instances of this and there were submissions about this happening. This has happened; this has happened over the years. You are saying, 'Oh, no, it hasn't happened', because you did not read the submissions that came in about instances where standard operating procedures have broken down time and time again because we are working off a 1950 model of fire services, and you should be ashamed that you are not going to do anything about it. You should be ashamed, and we all should be ashamed that we never did anything about it in previous governments as well.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr O'SULLIVAN (Northern Victoria).

Debate adjourned until later this day.