My matter is for the Emergency Services Minister.
The action I seek is that she participate, with me, in an online meeting with CFA volunteers from my electorate.
I request this because volunteers continue to express to me their considerable frustration and disenchantment with the implementation of Victoria’s fire services restructure.
I take the Minister’s point, from 27 July in the Wangaratta Chronicle, that volunteers at integrated stations were invited to engagement workshops on the restructure early this year.
However, those workshops were held just after volunteers had been fighting terrible, exhausting fires for days and weeks, and they were ultimately attended by only a mere fraction of the State’s volunteer firefighters. Indeed, I continue to be inundated with feedback from volunteers who say, in a contrary way to the Minister, there has (for a long time) neither been adequate consultation nor any genuine recognition of volunteers’ views.
It’s impossible in a speech as time-restricted as this to adequately do justice to all of the current concerns. Nevertheless, many of them mirror problems associated with the restructure about which I have already spoken a number of times in this House. So, for now, I will run through only a few of the more commonly-cited problems that are continuing to emerge.
Firstly, there’s the apparently significant reduction in the CFA’s ability to make financial decisions to meet its brigades’ needs and interests. This has also seemingly extended into many difficulties over various proposed agreements (including tenancy agreements) with the new body, Fire Rescue Victoria.
I am told the CFA is also being denied the ability to choose seconded staff, and that people transferring to FRV are taking with them existing assets like vehicles, laptops and mobile phones – which effectively strips the CFA of ownership of that property. Similarly, the names of commemorative CFA members are, appallingly, being removed from trucks while those of career firefighters are staying.
In turn, volunteers say there is an ongoing lack of detail about:
- the Government’s promises of new appliances and fire stations;
- changes to the arrangements relating to personal protective clothing, and respiratory protection;
- reduced access to leadership, mentoring, training courses and content; and
- an overhaul of the previously-used and widely-embraced peer support and welfare programs.
The fundamental point here is that many CFA volunteers are feeling increasingly undervalued, unappreciated and disillusioned. They also believe that Victoria’s until-now longstanding volunteer firefighting model and ethos is in danger of collapse.
This is a collapse that can now probably only be averted through a very substantial expansion of consultation and goodwill between the Government and volunteers.
I therefore plead with Ms Neville to use the online meeting I am proposing to explain, first-hand, how she believes the restructure will genuinely benefit everyone – rather than completely remake Victoria’s fire services, to the significant and ongoing detriment of volunteer firefighters in particular.