CFA; Local Issues

Matters of Public Importance - Fire Services

Wednesday 7th March 2018

Fire services

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:56:34) — It is a pleasure to join the debate and support the member for Gembrook in the matter of public importance he has submitted to the house today:

That this house condemns the Andrews Labor government for its total mismanagement of our fire services from December 2014 until today, noting in particular:

(l)    the handling of the protracted CFA EBA negotiations;

(2)   the handling of the MFB EBA negotiations;

(3)   the disrespect shown to Victoria’s hardworking volunteer firefighters;

(4)   the loss of so many staff and board members of each of our fire service organisations; and

(5)   allowing the United Firefighters Union to take control of the operations of our fire services.

In starting my contribution, can I can declare that for many years I was a volunteer fire brigade member, I was actually secretary of a fire brigade and I was on Sunday rosters for two different fire brigades to make sure I helped exercise their truck. So I have had a long history with fire brigades. My very first role in public life was as a secretary of a fire brigade, when I was about 19 years old. So I actually understand what goes on and I understand the importance of the Country Fire Authority (CFA). Our family farm was actually burnt out at the particular time of the 1969 fires, so I understand those issues very, very clearly.

And I understand the emotion of country people, particularly the CFA volunteers, who just despise this government now. They despise those people on the other side of the place, they despise the Premier, they despise the Deputy Premier. Do not underestimate the strength of feeling about what the Andrews Labor government has done to the CFA. The most frequent question I would get now as I go around community events in my electorate is, ‘When can we get rid of this rotten government; when can we get rid of this corrupt Premier?’. That is what people are actually asking every day when I go to particular events. Do not underestimate the strength of feeling among country people, particularly CFA volunteers, about this particular issue.

This issue goes back to and predates the 2014 election. If you think back to the brag of Peter Marshall around that time after the 2014 election, he said he had 700 firefighters manning booths for the Labor Party and manning the pre‑polls — and supposedly his fireys doorknocked 43 000 homes. That was in one of the firefighter magazines, so it is something that is on the public record. So there is payback here. This is what this is all about, it is about payback for election support. That is why this issue has been kept alive and has caused the Andrews government to just bleed, particularly in country Victoria, over that time — because the firefighters were there helping this Premier get elected and they want their pound of flesh.

There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs. Very dedicated people to either the CFA or the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) have lost their jobs because of the actions of the Andrews government, and it goes right back to May 2015, when the chief of staff of the responsible minister at the time resigned because of bullying by Peter Marshall. It goes to the former minister herself, the member for Brunswick, who resigned in June 2016 because she just could not cave in and do what obviously the Premier and the cabinet wanted her to do and trash the CFA’s reputation at the time.

If you go back to June 2016, if my memory serves me correctly, that was the time when I think the Premier said this ‘needed to be fixed, and I fixed it’, so it is nearly two years since the Premier said he actually fixed this issue. If you listened to question time today, I do not think it is fixed. It has been going on for a long time. If you look at all of the CFA board members — Claire Higgins, John Peberdy, Ross Coyle, Katherine Forrest, Michael Freshwater, Peter Harmsworth, James Holyman, John Schurink and Michael Tudball — all lost their jobs because of this particular government. All are people who were dedicated to serving the CFA and making sure our communities were kept safe and they were forced out by this particular government.

Around that same time Lucinda Nolan, who had a very distinguished career in the police force and gave up that career to become the CEO of the CFA, was forced out by this particular government over that time. Joe Buffone was forced out, and his reputation was absolutely trashed by the Deputy Premier. The Deputy Premier went out the front of 1 Treasury Place and absolutely trashed his reputation in the nightly news. That is the sort of standard that this government will stoop to as they do stuff. A couple of months later Peter Rau, the MFB chief officer, resigned, and the minister of the day, the Minister for Police, said that he resigned through ill health. It was only the fact that Peter Rau’s wife went on 3AW and told the truth about why he resigned and the fact that it was not through ill health — that he was actually forced out — that forced the minister to apologise around that time.

Darren Davies, Andrew Zammit, David Youssef, Bruce Byatt, Jim Higgins and Bob Barry all left, and 10 senior fire officers were forced into early retirement in October 2017 because they would not do what the government wanted. More recently, in January this year, the MFB president, Andi Diamond, quit after the board was stacked with government appointments to force through the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) for the MFB at that particular time. There are literally decades and decades and decades of firefighting experience and commitment to our two fire services that have been forced out by this particular government over that time.

We come to the current issues now with the proposed EBA that is there for the MFB and this whole issue around having a consultative committee. I cannot understand why anyone would want to manage an organisation where every decision they have to make has to go to a consultative committee — a committee that has to have consensus about management decisions before management can make those decisions. How can anyone run the fire services and how can anyone have a chain of command in an organisation when every decision has to be taken back to a consultative committee with the union to get the okay to do that sort of thing? The minister at the table is shaking his head.

Mr Carroll interjected.

Mr WALSH — It would be a very good exercise for some of those that sit on the other side of the house to go and read the EBA and actually understand the things that are in it, especially the things around the right of veto that is effectively built into that consultative committee process. Obviously in question time today the Deputy Premier did not know what was in his own EBA because he answered every question with an absolute mistruth.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WALSH — Being kind, you would say it is a mistruth. People who were being unkind would say he was a blatant liar and misleading the house. He did not actually understand the EBA that he was answering questions about. You have got a situation where that person — that person that no‑one on the other side of the house will mention — effectively has a right of veto over every management decision —

Ms Asher — Except the member for Wendouree.

Mr WALSH — The member for Wendouree mentioned him, did she?

Ms Asher — Did she ever.

Mr WALSH — That is very brave. That is very good. But effectively it is a right of veto over every management decision of the MFB, and if the legislation that is now in the upper house ever got through, that would mean the same right over the CFA and you would have MFB staff seconded to the CFA and United Firefighters Union (UFU) members trying to tell the volunteers what to do. It is a situation where you could have an office‑bearer, a lieutenant or a captain of the fire brigade, with 10, 20 or 30 years experience on the fireground having a six‑month‑trained UFU career firefighter telling them how to deal with that particular fire. I know that the office‑bearers in the brigades in my electorate found it absolutely totally offensive that they would not have control of the fireground where they were going.

In supporting the member for Gembrook in his matter of public importance, of all the matters of public importance that we have debated in this house I think this is one of the most critical because this goes to the heart of community safety across all our communities when it comes to fire. We know how bushfire prone Victoria is and the risks that exist. We all remember what happened on Black Saturday, and the firefighters did a fantastic job over that time, both career and volunteer, and I do not see why we have a government that wants to trash half of that equation — the volunteers. That is where the numbers are. That is where the surge capacity is when we have those major campaign fires. It is those people who give up a week of their work, their pay cheque for a week, to go and fight those fires and keep our communities safe, and I think the Premier and all those in his government should hang their heads in shame for what they are doing to the MFB and the CFA.

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