My matter is for the Minister for Emergency Services.
This is the Parliament’s last sitting week before the establishment on 1 July of Fire Rescue Victoria, and the CFA’s accompanying reconfiguration – and I have previously expressed my unease a number of times here about those impending changes.
Along related lines, I want this evening to raise various matters that are of great concern to a number of members of the Beechworth CFA, which is one of the CFA brigades in my electorate.
I won’t get to anything like all of those concerns in the limited time available to me this evening, unfortunately.
But I’ll at least start by saying that one of the biggest problems there is, and has been, the brigade’s lack of appropriate firefighting equipment. Currently, it continues to possess only three firefighting vehicles – all of which are more than a decade old.
In keeping with the fact that Beechworth is situated on hilly countryside and between pine and eucalyptus forests, the vehicles are also not particularly well suited to the local terrain and enjoy only very limited access to most of the town’s many high fire-risk areas.
None is even capable of accessing the critical area around the local gorge, for instance, and two privately-owned vehicles (one of which is actually 40 years old) must be used for these and related purposes instead.
Local members are also saying to me that, like in many other brigades, the recent and imminent changes to Victoria’s firefighting model are contributing to growing internal disputation, and a sidelining of what should be highly valued corporate knowledge and experience.
They also consider these changes are weakening morale, and minimising the opportunity for feedback and meaningful input into decisions from volunteers.
Whilst I obviously hope the fire services restructure of 1 July won’t accentuate these problems, I am not especially confident at this point that will be the case.
It’s also worth noting that Beechworth will apparently be the last station to be amalgamated under the new structure. I am advised this won’t happen until around mid-2021, and am therefore not sure what (if anything) will substantively change there in the intervening period to address the current difficulties.
Given all of this, the action I seek from the Minister is that she accept an invitation to join me (as long as it is safe in a COVID context to do so) in a visit to the Beechworth Fire Station to meet with local firefighters and talk with them directly about their many needs and concerns.