Country Fire Authority enterprise bargaining agreement
CRISP (Mildura) — I rise to speak in support of the matter of public importance (MPI) raised by the member for Gembrook. This is about volunteerism in our community. Volunteers, including those in the Country Fire Authority (CFA), are paid in respect; that is all they ask for in exchange for their time and in some cases their money to keep our community safe. It is locals looking after locals. It is locals understanding local needs, and it is local knowledge that is everything to our communities.
Now we hear of some secret committee that is going to change things. What sort of change do we know of? What we are hearing is that despite previous promises about boundaries, the Andrews government is considering splitting the CFA. This goes to the very heart of what so many of our volunteers and our communities expect. Can the boundaries of the CFA be moved? The answer is yes. The boundaries are set in legislation with complex details on how you move them.
Boundaries can be changed by request from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and a municipal council agreement, and then it goes to the Governor in Council. That is if you want to enlarge the urban boundary. But that is not what I am here to talk about, because I am talking about Mildura. If the government wishes to create new areas that are not a simple expansion of the existing boundary, it is not possible — it requires legislation. That is what is rumoured is going to happen in Mildura.
Expanding the boundaries of the MFB to the edge of the metropolitan area would capture many brigades and both integrated and volunteer firefighters. It would displace thousands of volunteers that cannot volunteer at MFB stations, thus impacting our surge capacity. I will explain surge capacity later.
The government can make Mildura part of the MFB, it can displace the volunteers from Mildura and, yes, the government can redraw the response boundaries threatening the nearby volunteer brigades. This is what scares our communities most: that there will be a creeping takeover of the Mildura CFA areas. Yes, the government is a slave of the United Firefighters Union (UFU) in their takeover plans for the Mildura region. They will do anything for the UFU, including removing — —
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! There is too much audible conversation in the chamber. I cannot hear the member for Mildura.
Mr CRISP — What has become of the volunteers in integrated stations? All I can talk about is Mildura. In Mildura they have been driven out. There is no other way to describe it. They are part of the group of 3800 volunteers that have left the CFA. They have been driven out by the activities of the paid firefighters within that station complex. It has become a hostile environment that has just ripped out the respect for what they are there to do.
Where have these great community-minded volunteers gone? Some have gone to nearby brigades, which are now threatened. Some have joined the rural fire service over the river in New South Wales. All these volunteers wanted was respect. The Andrews government has allowed respect to be ripped out of the CFA, particularly at integrated stations. By implication the Andrews government is ripping respect out of communities. the government may not value respect, but country people do, and I do.
Surge capacity has been discussed. As well as keeping the community safe day-to-day, CFA volunteers provide the state with a stable surge capacity. Surge capacity is vital to how we go about major campaign fires. It is the ability to mobilise large numbers of emergency personnel to major emergencies while currently maintaining the coverage at local services at home. For example, during the major disasters both volunteers and paid firefighters travel outside their areas to fight major fires, such as on Black Saturday, and we can even go back as far as Ash Wednesday.
In my particular area in the recent period there were what we call the Yaapeet fire and the South Australian border fires. Surge capacity is only available to a volunteer agency with thousands of firefighters trained and able to travel anywhere across the state. The Yaapeet fire burned for 10 days, with multiple crews from the Mildura region working 12-hour shifts, and we had a fire in almond hulls and husks down at Carwarp that required a long commitment of volunteers to look after that area. Also crews from our region travel interstate to assist other states. The Blue Mountains is one area where volunteers went in recent years.
There is also the role that our volunteers play in non-fire emergencies. We had floods in January 2012 in Beulah, and there were volunteers from Mildura sandbagging that area. I was there, and they were giving their time. Then later in February there were huge floods in Mildura from getting our annual rainfall in 12 hours, and those volunteers worked for weeks pumping water away from roads and other infrastructure. In the Remembrance Day storms they assisted the State Emergency Service, particularly in Merbein, to remove debris and fallen trees. The Merbein fire station, staffed by volunteers, became the hub of that community. The community interacted with that station. That is where they went for information and that is where they went for support. Even the Deputy Premier visited the station and was briefed by volunteers. It took days to clear away the debris to let the utility services access and restore services.
The fire stations are the centres in community emergencies because the community feels connected to them. They respect their volunteers and they are respected, and they have been doing that for over 70 years. Paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters are all trained the same, and they are prepared to continue to protect their communities. But in these circumstances, with the lack of respect for them, it is certainly being ripped out of them.
The enterprise bargaining agreement dispute could have been resolved if there had been no negative impact. Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria have been demonised in this. They have said that all they want to do is protect the CFA volunteers and not see the CFA split up. This year the government has become enslaved to the UFU, which just wants to see what they can get.
In dealing with all the red herrings, the false news and the alternative facts, or even perhaps lies, the government cannot demonise the federal government on this. All they were endeavouring to do was maintain the role of the volunteer in the Australian community, so to demonise the federal government I think is worse. All they wanted was that the volunteers be respected and that volunteerism thrive in our community.
In fact to many of those volunteers and many of those communities it seems like it is just a takeover. What they are afraid of is that they will be wedged up by boundary changes hidden away within the presumptive legislation, which is something that has been promised for a long time. It will be in the same bill. There is no doubt about that. It will wedge volunteers, and therefore they will feel they will have to give away their volunteerism to agree to that. They should not be put in that situation. The government has been in no hurry to introduce this presumptive legislation because I think it wants to use it to blackmail those volunteers. It was promised within 100 days of them coming to government, but there is no sign of it yet. It has been used as a wedge — something that is unfair on those particular communities.
One of the other things that is going on out there that is impacting how volunteers feel about being respected is the apparent budget reduction of $47 million this year. Again, this is not adding to the value of the gift they give us, which is their time. They deserve respect. Then there is the cost of all of this to Victoria. So much of the money that is going to be a priority for the government and the UFU could go to equipment if they have to go way beyond these boundary issues. Imagine what could be done with that spend.
The principle of volunteerism is under threat. A cornerstone of our community is under siege. I stand with the communities and the volunteers to oppose a government that is complicit in driving volunteerism into the ground. Shame on the government that has sunk to this level.