CFA Torn Apart
CFA Torn Apart

VICTORIA’S CFA will be a  volunteer-only firefighting service  and the role of volunteers further enshrined under law, while a new organisation, Fire Rescue Victoria, will be established to fight fires in Melbourne and major regional centres, in what the Government says is a much-needed and overdue reform to the state’s fire services that will keep Victorians safe.

This has come after the long running dispute with the militant United Firefighters Union over their EBA that saw Jane Garrett resign as Minister for Emergency Services along with the board and senior members of the CFA over the dispute with the union.

The CFA said that the union wanted to control the CFA volunteers and would not agree to the union demands. The Premier Daniel Andrews sacked the CFA board in June last year.  This was to force the organisation to accept a workplace agreement it feared would harm volunteers and hand too much control to the UFU.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made changes to the Fair Work Act to prevent the EBA succeeding.

Leader of the opposition Matthew Guy MP said, “This attempt by Daniel Andrews to rip apart the CFA will result in the loss of thousands of  volunteer firefighters and will put the
lives and properties of Victorians at risk.”

“Daniel Andrews’ attempt to rip apart the CFA will mean the loss of volunteer firefighters from the 35 integrated stations that support professional and volunteer firefighters. In addition to these
losses, there could be thousands more demoralised volunteer firefighters who leave after Daniel Andrews’ divisive campaign,” he said.

“Already operational volunteers in 2016-17 are expected to be 10 percent below target, a reduction of more than 4,200 volunteers,” Mr Guy said.

“Daniel Andrews can’t even say how much his plan to break up the CFA will cost. This week in PAEC, despite being given numerous opportunities to itemise the costs, the State Government could not or would not disclose what this will cost taxpayers,” said Mr Guy

“The only consultation Daniel Andrews did was with Peter Marshall,” he said.

Mr Guy also said, “There has not been a single review into emergency fire services that recommended breaking up the CFA.”

“This is worse than a political fix. This is a political fix that puts the lives and property of Victorians at risk.”

VFF

Farmers fear the Victorian Government risks gutting the Country Fire Authority to create a larger Metropolitan Fire Brigade under a radical new plan to solve the bitter industrial dispute engulfing the CFA and United Firefighters Union by splitting the rural fire service into two separate entities of volunteers in one organisation and paid firefighters in a new Fire Rescue Brigade.

Victorian Farmers Federation President, David Jochinke, this  week told Treasurer, Tim Pallas, the farming group had major concerns over the potential impact the plan would have on rural communities, including the slashing of CFA resources and a blow out in the Fire Services Property Levy.

“Farmers are worried that any split in the CFA would cripple the volunteer service, creating a second class organisation that is under-resourced and understaffed,” he said.

“While a slick, new MFB will have the benefi t of paid full-time staff with union backing, there is a real risk the volunteer CFA will suffer from a lack of resourcing, staff training, equipment, recognition and coordination of different programs, ultimately impacting emergency response times,” Mr Jochinke said.

The Treasurer committed the Government to working with the VFF to ensure volunteer firefighters and rural communities weren’t impacted by the split, including committing $100 million to the
volunteer fire service over the next four years, but Mr Jochinke said farmers were sceptical of the quick fix.

“The UFU has been trying for years to gain control of the CFA, and the State Government cannot just roll over and strip the resources out of a vital volunteer organisation of 60,000 members, which would sacrifice its capacity to respond to emergency situations,” he said.

“Our communities want peace of mind and an end to this ugly industrial dispute, but most of all they want their CFA to be left alone,” Mr. Jochinke said.

Mr Jochinke said the Government failed to openly consult with the rural sector leading up to the recent announcement, which left a lot of questions still to answer over the
proposed new structure.
“The Government has been unclear on how they propose the relationship between any two new fire services will work, and we need to know if the Government plans for the MFB to be answerable to the CFA in shared regional areas, and how the long-term funding of the CFA will be maintained,” he said.

Mr Jochinke said the VFF looked forward to working with the Treasurer, and Premier Daniel Andrews to meet the Treasurer’s commitments that the plan wouldn’t
undermine rural fire services.

Reaction

“While the rest of Victoria celebrated Volunteer Week and the generous contribution of CFA volunteers, Labor’s secret cabinet committee designed to tear apart the CFA put its proposal to Cabinet
last Monday,” said the Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.

“The proposal attempts to split the CFA into a country volunteer-only body which would see thousands less volunteers protecting Victoria,” she said.

Ms Kealy is urging CFA volunteers and supporters across the region to fight the split.

“This is the last stand for the CFA and we must unite to stop Labor from tearing the organisation apart,” Ms Kealy said.

“After Black Saturday, Daniel Andrews described volunteers across our region as ‘extraordinary people’.  He told Parliament: ‘Words cannot properly reflect our gratitude for their efforts and admiration of their commitment and their dedication’,” she said.

“It was only eight years ago that CFA volunteers were being praised as heroes after Black Saturday. Now Daniel Andrews wants to get rid of them,” Ms Kealy said.

“Splitting the CFA to hand over suburban areas to career firefighters would devastate the organisation’s ability to mobilise large numbers of emergency personnel to large scale fires in rural areas, putting the safety of our local communities at risk,” she said.

“News of the split comes after $47 million was cut from the Emergency Management budget in this month’s State Budget and the government’s target shows an expected reduction of more than 3,500 volunteers,” Ms Kealy said.

“This is further evidence Daniel Andrews is more determined to destroy the CFA, protect his union mates and put Victorian families at risk,” Ms Kealy said.

“The Nationals will always stand up for CFA volunteers and we must all now stand together to protect the volunteers who protect us,” she said.

Change needed

Victoria has some of the best firefighters in the world, but they currently operate under systems and structures that have not changed since the 1950s. In just the last decade, eight reviews have been undertaken into Victoria’s fire services, including the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

They have made it clear that the state’s services are in need of modernisation.

Premier Daniel Andrews said, “We’ve had eight reviews in the past ten years. All of them have reached the same conclusion that the current fire services structure isn’t working.”

The State Government’s changes, outlined as part of the Fire Services Statement, will respond to these issues, and ensure Victorians can rely on modern and local fire services to keep them safe, regardless of  where they live.

“We are taking action to protect CFA volunteers, modernise our fire services and most importantly keep

Victorians safe, wherever they live,” said the Premier.

“Under the reforms, the CFA will be further protected under law as a volunteer service and our 1,220 CFA brigades will continue to serve their communities as they have always done, as well as providing vital surge capacity during major emergencies,” he said.

“Importantly, CFA volunteers currently serving at one of the state’s 35 integrated stations will be able to remain at that station, co-locating with Fire Rescue Victoria services,”  Mr Andrews said.

“Additionally, the Government will make sure CFA volunteers have the equipment and support they need, with a dedicated $56.2 million CFA Support Fund to strengthen volunteer recruitment, training, brigade support and leadership,” he said.

Establishment

The new Fire Rescue Victoria will be established to fight fires in major regional cities and Melbourne, bringing together the MFB and career staff from the state’s 35 integrated CFA stations,including the 450 extra career firefighters currently being delivered.

Fire Rescue Victoria will be based on other successful police and emergency services organisations, including the model in New South Wales, and will be led by its own Commissioner.

Consistent with Recommendation 63 of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, an independent Fire District Review Panel will also be established. The Panel will conduct future reviews of the boundary between fire services, based on population growth, urban development and the volume of Triple 000 calls.

Victoria’s emergency services will also have the very best facilities and equipment, with the establishment of a new Emergency Services Infrastructure Authority.

One of the first tasks for the new authority will be to work with the CFA on delivering a new $44 million station building program. The reforms include driving cultural change, including an ambitious target to quadruple the number of career female firefighters in the fire services from 100 to 400, within four years. The reforms hope to increase the number of women in CFA brigade leadership roles from 265 to 909 over the same period.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Emergency Services James Merlino said,  “We’ll enshrine the CFA as a volunteer firefighting service under law and unite our career firefighters under one
organisation.”
“We will also drive cultural change with real and ambitious targets to increase the number of female firefighters in our fire services, particularly in leadership roles,” he said.

To roll out these reforms, an Operational Implementation Committee will be established and chaired by Mr Greg Mullins AFSM, former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW.

Fire and rescue services will continue as normal, and the amount collected through the Fire Services Property Levy will not change over the next two years while the reforms are
implemented.

 

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