Today the Legislative Council has debated fire services legislation. In speaking on the Bill tonight, I have outlined the reasons why I have opposed this legislation.
This could (and should) have been an opportunity to identify and discuss, in a consensual way, reforms that might help to genuinely enhance Victorian firefighting well into the future. Instead, like many others, I see this as the latest chapter in a story about fire management in Victoria that has become very political, acrimonious and frustrating. In the process, no-one’s best interests have been served – least of all the many Victorians living in some of the most fire-prone regions in the world and who deserve the best-organised and best-functioning fire service imaginable.
I am, and have been for a long time, a CFA volunteer. Complementing the very detailed correspondence and advice I have received, this background gives me a level of personal, practical familiarity with the issues and competing perspectives about this legislation. I respect every firefighter in this State, irrespective of whether it is their career or they are a volunteer, or a member of a union or not. The hard work, dedication and selflessness they bring to protecting the lives and livelihoods of others is something for which all of us should be eternally grateful.
It is not clear to me how Labor’s proposed changes would actually improve community safety, enhance fire service arrangements or delivery. There has not been enough detail or explanation of how the overhaul will work at a practical, operational level. To my knowledge, there has never been a recommendation as part of an inquiry that the CFA should be separated in the way this legislation proposed, nor has there been adequate consultation with critical stakeholders, including volunteer firefighters.
I support the presumptive compensation component of the legislation in-principle, but am concerned by the proposition that two distinct classes of firefighters are created for this purpose. I believe that the treatment of, and criteria for, claims should fundamentally be equal for career and volunteer firefighters. I would have preferred the two aspects of this Bill considered separately to enable standalone examination.
I am very grateful to the many people who have contacted me about this legislation and the sincerity and passion with which they have expressed their views.
Tania Maxwell MP
Member for Northern Victoria