Emergency response options available


March 23, 2022

Production of documents – Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority

I rise to make some brief comments on the Opposition’s documents motion.

I continue to despair at issues around ambulance response times, repeat failures of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority system, hospital ramping and the ripple effects across the whole health system. There is nothing more important than community safety – and this includes the safe response to people who are critically ill and require urgent care. It must be absolutely terrifying for someone to call and call for an ambulance and there’s no one answering that call.

My advocacy around this issue started when I spoke with Indigo Shire back in 2019 about the ambulance response times in their area – which were some of the worst response times in the state, and still are to date.

Around the same time, I was contacted by a constituent – Tony Hubbard from Seymour, who had lost his wife, Gayle.  ESTA told them the ambulance was on its way, but couldn’t – wouldn’t – tell them how long they would have to wait. They waited more than 40 minutes and Mrs Hubbard passed away during this time.  Back then, I urged ESTA to change their script, so that people are given an estimate of the wait time and can make a judgement on other action they might take, if they have capacity and need to.

In Mr Hubbard’s circumstances, if he had known they would be waiting more than 40 minutes, he would have taken his wife to hospital himself – which was just around the corner; he could see the hospital from his back verandah.

It seems that ESTA has changed the script now – and we’re hearing that in some cases people are simply being told an ambulance will not be dispatched.

What’s not clear is whether they are being given any alternatives, such as being directed to nurse on call or another service. Just on this, I know that sometimes ambulances can be diverted to other jobs, and this is largely the reason that people were not given an indication of the wait time for an ambulance response. But, it still astounds me that you can track delivery of a pizza on your app, but not for an ambulance. 

Mr Hubbard campaigned for a 24-hour service in Seymour and gathered thousands of signatures from residents in support. There is consistent feedback from across my electorate there are not enough ambulances in the system to meet the specific needs of regional areas, including the challenges of typography – and this stems from before COVID.

I don’t think we can underestimate how stressful this is for the workforce either – across all parts of the system – and I express our thanks, on behalf of myself and my colleague Stuart Grimley MP, to the emergency service workers, in our electorates and across the state.

I believe the Minister for Emergency Services is sincere in trying to get the service back to an acceptable level and I hope that the review being conducted by Mr Graham Ashton into ESTA capability will deliver strong improvements. I also hope that the money now being made available to address this issue will bear fruit – and fast.

We hope that the review being conducted specific to ESTA will not preclude the government from giving consideration to initiating or expanding other initiatives that could help meet demand in the system, particularly in the Ambulance Services portfolio.

This includes programs like the ‘first responder’ pilot, where Country Fire Authority units offer level two first aid response to code one call-outs.  I know the Kiewa CFA is very keen to participate, with 80 per cent of its members first aid-trained and lifesaving equipment at the ready. 

In regional areas, where people can wait 25 minutes, or two hours, or at the moment might be told an ambulance won’t be coming – this could be a real game changer for accessing emergency care.

The community paramedic care model is another – Ambulance Victoria is trialling this with Mallee Track Health and Community Service and Tallangatta Health Service and I believe this trial will be completed mid-year.

My colleague Stuart Grimley MP and I have both met with HMS Collective about its community paramedic program, and we wrote to the Minister for Health and Ambulance Services in this regard last year. This model is based on systems in the United Kingdom and Canada, where instead of treating people in hospital with minor ailments, community members are treated at home. This develops longer term relationships with health workers and prevents issues from becoming too serious. Anecdotally, some of their patients have gone from calling an ambulance service up to seven times a week, to none.

The workers at HMS Collective are registered paramedics. Their work doesn’t replace triple zero, but it aims to free up hospitals and ambulance paramedics. They estimate their service of just 20 workers saves 90 hours of ambulance transport every week – imagine if this was expanded!  I’m told that funding a private business operating in a marketplace is not within the scope of the Department of Health’s role in commissioning services within the public health system.  Perhaps, in this time of crisis, its time to widen the scope.

In closing, we will be supporting this documents motion – recognising that perhaps some of the documents included may not be able to be provided for various reasons, but we support transparency on such an important issue.

Maxwell questions fire communications timeframe

Media statement

February 11, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP has asked Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes when the government expects cross-border emergency services will be able to communicate seamlessly in a disaster.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria told Parliament this week that incompatible emergency services radio networks between Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia made communication between border fire brigades “near impossible”.

“In 2004, the Council of Australian Governments’ National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management supported the alignment of emergency services’ communications between the states,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The 2020 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements report notes that little progress has been made in the 17 years since then.

“The former Walwa CFA captain (David Hanna) recently noted that after 45 years in the CFA the communication systems remain incompatible and requests for basic upgrades to equipment and facilities have been ignored.

“Lack of action on this issue is, frankly, dangerous for residents in border communities and hampers the tactical capacity of local emergency services.

“So, my question is, will the government commit to a time line and finally sort this out?”

Beechworth CFA captain Bruce Forrest, in evidence to the 2020 royal commission following the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, said: “The Murray River is between you (and NSW Rural Fire Service brigades) but, bar getting out a waving, there’s not really much you can do”.

Legislative Council standing orders require questions to be answered within 14 days.

In a separate question, Ms Maxwell asked Ms Symes when the Country Fire Authority’s Wangaratta’s district 23 will again have an operating incident control centre.

Ms Maxwell said Wangaratta had “currently no dedicated Country Fire Authority incident control centre within the city boundary”.

“The CFA district 23 headquarters building, which also hosts the Emergency Management Victoria Wangaratta incident control centre, had to be evacuated late last year due to damp and mould, and the district 23 leadership team needs a new premises to meet its needs,” she said.

“Senior CFA volunteers have raised with me their significant concerns that the Wangaratta incident control centre has been offline for the 2021–22 fire danger period.

“The 16 CFA brigades of the Wangaratta group have no permanent facility in Wangaratta at all to date.

“What assurances can you provide, Minister, to the Wangaratta district 23 area that these issues will be urgently addressed?”

Ms Symes answered that she was “aware of the issues”.

“We have some meetings just this week to further discuss these matters,” the minister said.

“You have written to me, and so have many of the brigades. I have met with them in person.

“Most of them, as I said, I have a longstanding relationship with, so this is ongoing work.

“But I am not in a position to give you any further information in relation to funding or the like. It is an ongoing matter that I am very well across.”

Cross-border waits for integrated emergency network

Constituency question

The Murray River is between you but, bar getting out and waving, there’s not really much you can do.

Bruce Forrest, Beechworth CFA captain, in evidence to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements: July 3, 2020

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:52): (1605)

February 9, 2022

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services (Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP).

Incompatible radio networks between emergency services in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia make communication between border brigades near impossible.

In 2004 the (Council of Australian Governments’) National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management supported the alignment of emergency services’ communications between the states.

The 2020 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements report notes that little progress has been made in the 17 years since.

The former Walwa CFA captain (David Hanna) noted recently that after 45 years in the CFA the communication systems remain incompatible and requests for basic upgrades to equipment and facilities have been ignored.

Lack of action on this issue is frankly dangerous for residents in border communities and hampers the tactical capacity of local emergency services. So my question is: will the government commit to a time line and finally sort this out?

Image: Border Mail 2020

Wangaratta needs a working fire incident control centre

Question without notice

February 9, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:10):

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. Minister, there is currently no dedicated Country Fire Authority incident control centre within the city boundary of Wangaratta.

The CFA district 23 headquarters building, which also hosts the Emergency Management Victoria Wangaratta incident control centre, had to be evacuated late last year due to damp and mould, and the district 23 leadership team needs a new premises to meet its needs. You have correspondence from them and me in this regard.

Senior CFA volunteers have raised with me their significant concerns that the Wangaratta incident control centre has been offline for the 2021–22 fire danger period. The 16 CFA brigades of the Wangaratta group have no permanent facility in Wangaratta at all to date.

What assurances can you provide, Minister, to the Wangaratta district 23 area that these issues will be urgently addressed?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:11):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question, something that I am very much across.

I know a lot of the volunteers in Wangaratta, obviously, having worked with them for more than seven years.

I recently had the pleasure of opening the brand new SES facility in Wangaratta, which was a fantastic investment from the Andrews Labor government following some floods and the identification of inadequate services there for those volunteers to operate, so I am very aware of the issues in relation to Wangaratta.

We have some meetings just this week to further discuss these matters. As you have indicated, you have written to me, and so have many of the brigades. I have met with them in person. Most of them, as I said, I have a longstanding relationship with, so this is ongoing work. But I am not in a position to give you any further information in relation to funding or the like. It is an ongoing matter that I am very well across.


I have no supplementary at this time. My question was going to be about meeting with those members themselves.

Vote defeats public agency scrutiny

Media statement

December 9, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP was last week prevented by two votes from giving Parliament and government the power to request a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission review of public agency compliance with equal opportunity law and authorise it to publish findings.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria moved in the Legislative Council on December 3 to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 during debate on the government’s proposed changes to equal opportunity exceptions[1] for religious organisations.

“Victorians have been shocked this week to read about VEOHRC findings into the extent of bullying, harassment and gender and sexual identity discrimination in Ambulance Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But in 2018 we were prevented from knowing if there was similar behaviour in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority when Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld action brought by the United Firefighters’ Union against the VEOHRC’s power to conduct exactly this type of review.

“The Court found that the VEOHRC had exceeded the powers of review given it by Parliament.

“So the only way to ensure that the VEOHRC is properly equipped to do its work is to change the Equal Opportunity Act, and I look to the support of my parliamentary colleagues to do that.”

Ms Maxwell’s amendment would have authorised Parliament or a Minister to request a VEOHRC review of programs and practices of any government department, public authority, state-owned enterprise or municipal council.

It would also authorise the VEOHRC to release a report and related documents under this process subject to a public interest test.

Government response

But Attorney-General and Legislative Council leader Jaclyn Symes MP told the House the government was unable to support Ms Maxwell’s amendment “because I do not have an appreciation of what the outcome will be”.

“I know what you are trying to achieve, but because of the time I have not had the opportunity to get advice on whether there would be unintended consequences and the like and how it would change the VEOHRC’s practices,” Ms Symes said.

“Have you got any advice from the commission or otherwise about how that would be implemented? You do not do things unless you know exactly what they are going to do, and I am not in a position to know if there would be other consequences for your amendment.”

Ms Maxwell said she had requested a meeting with the Equal Opportunity Commissioner.

“In my speech in the second-reading debate I said it is clear that the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 needs to change in order for VEOHRC to review matters that may be referred to it by a government minister or the Parliament,” she said.

“As Ms Symes noted in response to my question yesterday, the government cannot table a review that it does not have and VEOHRC cannot provide the minister with a copy of a particular review because of a court order made by the Court of Appeal in 2018.

“The court order was enforced in direct relation to section 151 of the Equal Opportunity Act. It clearly demonstrated that if the government requests a review of a public entity by VEOHRC, that entity may simply say, ‘No, thanks’, and block the review.

“If there are systemic human rights issues within a public authority, a government department, a state-owned entity or council and they do not self-refer, the government or the Parliament should, we believe, be able to refer this to VEOHRC.

“The commission’s role is executed through researching systemic issues; reviewing organisations, programs and practices for compliance; and conducting investigations under the Equal Opportunity Act.

“So these amendments provide for VEOHRC to exercise some discretion. VEOHRC can consider a referral and determine not to review an organisation; however, there is a public interest test for the release of reports and documents. I believe these are reasonable amendments—ones that advance the protections for workers and public transparency—and they would provide the opportunity for those reports to be accessible by changing section 151 of the Act.”

Opposition supports amendment

Shadow attorney-general Matthew Bach told the House the Opposition was “very understanding” of Ms Maxwell’s amendments.

“From our perspective, given the seriousness of the issues which she has hit upon both in her contribution here but also in the very helpful explanatory note that she circulated some time ago, we will be supporting her amendments,” Dr Bach said.

Liberal Democrats’ David Limbrick MP and Independent Catherine Cumming MP also indicated support for the amendments.

“I would like to thank Ms Maxwell’s team for briefing my team on what she is intending to do here,” Mr Limbrick said.

“I appreciate some of the concerns raised by the Attorney, but I do appreciate the intent of what Ms Maxwell is trying to do and the Liberal Democrats will be supporting this.”

On division, the move to amend the bill was defeated 19-18, with the Reason, Animal Justice and Greens parties voting with Labor. Two more votes would have passed the amendment.

Ms Maxwell used Question Time yesterday to ask the Emergency Services’ Minister Jaclyn Symes MP if the government itself would initiate changes to the Equal Opportunity Act, or conduct a fresh review of workplace culture in Victoria’s fire services.

Currently S.151(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 says:

Commission may conduct review of compliance

S. 151(1) amended by No. 26/2011 s. 22(1)

(1)  On request of a person, the Commission may enter into an agreement with the person to review that person’s programs and practices to determine their compliance with this Act.

Ms Maxwell’s proposed amendment to Bill:

(2) On request of the Parliament or government, the Commission may review the programs and practices of any public agency or authority.

(3) The Commission may disclose a report or documents that relate to the review of programs and practices of an agency or authority under (2) if the Commission considers it in the public interest to do so.

[1] Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2021

Equal the opportunity to see fire services’ review

Question without notice

December 2, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:33):

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services.

Minister, this week the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) released the report of its independent review of Ambulance Victoria. It was noted to be both painful and confronting and uncovered entrenched disrespect, victimisation and bullying. To the credit of Ambulance Victoria, this report is transparent and it has accepted all the recommendations from the review.

With respect to the similar review of fire services and the stubborn position of the union to block its release, will you once again seek to gain access to this report or make changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 so future taxpayer-funded reviews cannot be blocked?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:34):

Ms Maxwell, in relation to your question where you mentioned the VEOHRC report into Ambulance Victoria, it is compelling reading. It is an important review and I want to commend the management of Ambulance Victoria for taking that seriously. I also want to thank every single member of Ambulance Victoria who came forward to share their experience with the commission, and I encourage those members to continue those conversations. They are important conversations to have.

We should not have workplaces that are not inclusive, respectful and safe.

I have talked about the culture of the emergency services agencies that I have responsibility for in relation to the emergency services portfolio. You have asked for specific information on the VEOHRC review into workplace culture in relation to the fire services. I have answered this question on several occasions. I cannot table a review that I do not have. The VEOHRC have advised me that they cannot provide me with a copy of the review, not because of their legislation but because of a court order made by the Court of Appeal in 2018. So I do not have the capacity to force them to break a court order. That would be inappropriate in any sense but particularly in my other portfolio of Attorney-General.

I guess what I would say to you, Ms Maxwell, is that rather than focusing on a report from five years ago that I have not seen and I do not have access to, the government is focused on cultural change.

We are investing in and delivering in partnership with all of our emergency services organisations, and you have referenced Ambulance Victoria. There are other organisations where issues have been raised, and I think it is important to acknowledge that. I think I have said also, on the record, that the agencies that I deal with do not shy away from their responsibilities to address this. They do not deny that there are problems, but we are all working together to ensure that all of our agencies are safe and inclusive, and we really want them to be a welcoming place, particularly for women. That is something that I am particularly passionate about, and I know you share that passion.

As I meet more and more people in the organisation, I am really confident that everyone is focused on that end-goal.

Ms MAXWELL (12:37):

Thank you, Attorney.

Attorney, the VEOHRC report into Ambulance Victoria noted 52.4 per cent of surveyed respondents reported experiencing bullying. An internal review of the fire services revealed similar statistics. If the government seems unable to obtain this report for tabling in the Parliament, will the government initiate a new similar review of the fire services that will be more transparent?

Ms SYMES (12:37):

I think I addressed the issues that you spoke about. I meet with our emergency services agencies on a regular basis and always on the agenda is workplace culture. I will continue to have those conversations with them, and as I meet more and more staff and volunteers in the organisations as well I will be focused on outcomes.

As I said previously, I believe that our agencies are well on their way to understanding their culture and have in place some really ambitious objectives to ensure that they are one of the best places to work in the state.

Image: Guardian Australia

Fire Rescue overtime questioned

Question without notice

November 30, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (13:28):

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services (Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP):

Minister, Fire Rescue Victoria’s first annual report details an overtime bill for Victorian taxpayers of more than $71.8 million. Across the organisation’s 3570 staff and firefighters, this averages out at $20,112 per employee. All up, each FRV employee costs an average of $181,730 a year.

In comparing the service’s overtime with similar organisations in other states, the overtime required for our fire service staff seems incredibly high. For example, Fire and Rescue NSW overtime for 2019–20 was less than half, and their overall employee expenses are about $200 million less.

Minister, has the government had discussions with Fire Services Victoria to question the high rate of overtime paid to staff and made attempts to try and address this blowout for the future?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:29):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question in relation to fire services. I know she is a big advocate for both our volunteer and our career firefighters in our state. As we know, Victoria is one of the highest risk fire areas in the world. From talking to both our CFA and FRV staff, as I have been getting out and about in the new role, you used to probably have a bit more predictability about when there would be a fire, and now that seems to be almost year-round, given climate change. So it is so important to have support for both our career and our volunteer firefighters.

We did make a commitment to increase firefighter numbers, and that is exactly what we have done. There have been 450 funded since 2015. In relation to the matters I just went through it is really important that we continue to make appropriate investments for the safety of Victorians. Firefighters work tirelessly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they certainly deserve the pay and conditions for the sacrifices that they make in relation to the enormous effort that they put in.

With the transfer of many of the Country Fire Authority staff into FRV, there were an additional 1670 staff overall in 2020–21 compared to 2019–20 and an additional 1445 operational staff, including career firefighters, that were part of the transfer from the CFA to the FRV, and also 225 support staff.

In relation to some of the figures that you are putting out there, I will have to double-check that because I do not think you took into account the fact that there were a lot of the support staff that transferred as well.

There is a lot of work going on. We continue to work with FRV on their needs and on ensuring that we give the best support for the firefighters and the support services so they can continue to do their important work.

Ms MAXWELL (13:32): Thank you, Attorney, and a big shout-out to all those people in those fire rescue positions who do so much work to keep us all safe.

The overtime bill for operational staff included $21.6m for recall overtime and $10.3m for overtime to maintain strength of the operational units. Another $33m was counted as ‘other’, so I would be interested to know at some stage what that covers.

But my specific supplementary question is: overtime that represents $20,000 annually to each staff member might seem great for their pay packet, but has there been or will there be any evaluation completed on the implications for safety of such a high level of overtime being required for these emergency employees?

Ms SYMES (13:32): I can assure Ms Maxwell that at all of the meetings I have had with all our emergency services the welfare of our staff and volunteers that put themselves on the line time and time again for the protection of the community is at the forefront of their considerations. You would appreciate that I have had conversations in here about workplace practices and sexual harassment and the like, and I can assure you that a topic of conversation with every agency is the welfare of their staff.

Firefighters deserve inclusive compensation rights

October 26, 2021

Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation) Bill 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:02):

I am pleased to speak today on the Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters Presumptive Rights Compensation) Bill 2021. The bill implements an occupational cancer presumptive rights compensation scheme for forest firefighters modelled on the scheme that passed this Parliament in 2019 for Fire Services Victoria and CFA members. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party supports this bill with a small but significant amendment.

The link between exposure to fire and cancer is an enormous risk to the health and safety of firefighters and a huge personal cost to those that protect our property and people. I stand here today very proudly as a CFA volunteer. We know the devastating bushfires Victoria faced in the summer of 2019–20 required the massive efforts of every firefighting resource our state could muster. Resources came from interstate and internationally to help. Fighting bushfires requires the cooperative efforts of career, volunteer, forest and industry fire crews with heavy machinery from timber and industry contractors. It is a multi-agency effort and exceptionally dangerous work. The exposure to every fire increases the risk of cancer, and quite a lot of research has been done, though the samples are often skewed by gender.

It is not just about research and statistics, though. At the end of every statistic is a person, and when contemplating these kinds of legislative changes we must have at the forefront of our minds the personal stories of those who are ultimately affected. At the time the presumptive rights legislation was passed in this Parliament for CFA and FRV firefighters we welcomed news that the government would implement a similar scheme for forest firefighters. Presumptive legislation is available in many jurisdictions around the world in varying forms. They include a common list of cancers, but that list is being expanded in response to emerging information.

Before speaking about this aspect in more detail, I will note contact from industry representatives who are concerned that the presumptive rights do not include industry brigades or independent contractors.

It is a requirement for plantations to have their own fire crews and they work hand in hand with the CFA on fire prevention activities and emergency fire response. There are 23 forest industry brigades registered across the state, representing about 800 people, with around 15 per cent of those being female. Hancock Victorian Plantations told me that from the summer of 2019–20 bushfires on their land alone there were 50 people eligible for the national emergency medal. These people are heroes but will not be eligible. I hope more work is done in the future to find ways to recognise the risk of exposure for these cohorts and how to extend them appropriate presumptive rights.

We do have an amendment today, which seeks to include female-specific cancers on the schedule list. If it is appropriate, I would ask for it to be circulated.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendment circulated by Ms MAXWELL pursuant to standing orders.

Ms MAXWELL: I said earlier that there are people at the end of the terrifying statistics linking exposure to fire with increased risk of cancer, but let us look at statistics for a moment. A substantial study of nearly 37,000 firefighters between 1972 and 1999 in Florida found significantly increased incidents of bladder, testicular and thyroid cancer for men. Female firefighters had significantly increased incident rates of overall cancer, cervical and thyroid cancers and Hodgkin’s disease. Women comprised around 5 per cent of the sample, so while the findings were significant the sample size was too small to be conclusive. Regardless, the suggestive data was frightening, with cervical cancer incidence more than four times higher in women firefighters. More generally, firefighters have a 9 per cent higher chance of developing cancer in their lifetime and are 14 per cent more likely to die. A study by Bates found testicular and prostate cancers were of high incidence in male firefighters.

In addition to studies on cancer risks, a growing body of research is emerging regarding exposure to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens and hormone disrupters. This is not just on the fireground but extends to stations and on firefighting gear. Medical oncologist Dr Kenneth Kunz suggests cancer rates in female firefighters run higher than the general population in Canada, predicting that female firefighters get a minimum 20 per cent more cancers than the general population. He suggests that 65 per cent of female firefighters will eventually get cancer and 45 per cent of them will die from cancer.

These predictions relate to Canada, where a number of provinces have recently expanded their presumptive rights to include female-specific cancers. Female firefighters are caught in a catch 22 in terms of research. They represent low numbers, compared to men, so they lack the scientific and media attention. Female firefighters in Canada and the United States are pushing for parity for gender-specific cancers. For them, if male counterparts are covered for testicular and other cancers, like prostate, why is there not a reasonable and good faith provision to include female-specific cancers?

It is disappointing that there is so little data specific to women and the impact on their reproductive organs from exposure to fire. While their numbers are only around 4 per cent in Australia, women have been involved in the fire responses for more than a century. Encouragingly, forest firefighters have a greater representation of women, at around 25 per cent, which makes this amendment even more important.

So while the science might not be able to demonstrate the same level of proof, women should not be penalised for this, and we believe that the suggested data should be enough to provide presumptive rights for reproductive cancers in women that are similar to those afforded to men.

Victoria prides itself on being progressive in terms of gender equality, and in fact the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning commissioned research back in 2016 to improve gender diversity in fire and emergency management. This research was led by Women’s Health Goulburn North East, from my electorate, and focused on how DELWP and networked emergency organisations might increase their capacity through diversity.

In all simplicity, gender equality is about creating a level playing field. This state has sometimes gone well beyond—extended levelling the playing field—in the name of gender equality, sometimes in ways I have completely agreed with. But it has not been prepared to put things in place ahead of the curve so that women are not left behind. I hope we do not wait years for data to confirm what we would reasonably conclude now—that the elevated risk in cancer we see in male reproductive organs is probably going to be the same tragic fate for women. This is not just about presumptive rights either. Recognising the probable increase in risk is important for the overall approach to health and safety for firefighters, whether that relates to protective gear, processes or other means to reduce the risk.

I do want to thank the government for actively engaging with me about this and for their undertaking to do further work on expanding these provisions. I look forward to this, and I hope provisions will be considered for FRV and CFA firefighters as well.

In closing, I said earlier that presumptive rights are not just about statistics but are about the individuals affected. A good friend of mine is a recipient of the support offered by the presumptive rights scheme for firefighters. He was and is a proud and effective CFA firefighter. My friend Mick Daws is a great man. And while I wish his cancer away with all my might, I am glad the presumptive scheme was there to give him some much-needed financial assistance and moral support. On that note I commend this bill to the house.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (18:42): 

Thanks, everyone who has made a contribution on the second-reading debate. It is very interesting that it is an issue that is very close to Acting President Melhem’s heart—and his involvement in the development of where we have got today.

It is an unfortunate reality that recent research findings show that firefighters experience a higher rate of certain cancers than the population at large, and therefore it is a reasonable presumption that firefighters due to their dangerous and necessary occupation are more vulnerable to certain cancers. This bill shifts the burden of proof to access compensation in favour of our forest firefighters. It establishes a presumption that for eligible firefighters certain cancers will be treated as workplace injuries unless there is proof to the contrary. It does this by creating a scheme model very close to the one for career and volunteer firefighters under the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2019.

This bill makes use of recent research and evidence on the risks to firefighters to underpin the very significant change to the workers compensation scheme. It is based on our best assessment of the risks and the costs of care, but the validity of those assumptions will need to be tested over time. The bill covers the categories of firefighter and the types of cancer for which the data and relative risks and eligibility requirements are clear and compelling.

I understand that Ms Maxwell has proposed an amendment to include three additional cancers under the scheme that primarily affect women. I think this whole chamber shares Ms Maxwell’s aspiration to ensure the scheme is supportive of women in our fire and emergency services.

This government is committed to increasing the representation of women in our fire and emergency services. Recently the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has established a women in fire emergency services management program through which they have undertaken research to understand the barriers to increasing the number of women in fire and emergency services leadership roles and to improve their recruiting and training processes to ensure a diversity of representation. I know that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister D’Ambrosio, and Minister Symes in her role as Minister for Emergency Services are both very passionate about this and are making sure there are more women taking up positions in the fire services.

However, this bill is written to cover cancers in which we have the highest degree of confidence based on scientific evidence currently available globally. The cancers listed in this bill are those that governments across Australia are most confident are diagnosed more frequently in firefighters. At this present time we cannot say with any confidence that firefighting increases the risk of contracting other cancers. A recent report out of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency has noted that very few studies have so far been conducted linking elevated incidence of the types of cancer that Ms Maxwell’s amendment is concerned with. Our government agrees that further research is needed and notes that there are a number of studies ongoing. The government will continue to monitor scientific evidence that evolves to ensure the scheme provides for all firefighters. This bill is about ensuring quality of protection across our different streams of firefighting services—for our career and volunteer and now forest firefighters. Any amendment to this scheme, including extending the scheme, would want to be considered holistically and acknowledge the importance of equal protection for those who put themselves on the front lines to keep Victorians safe.

In saying that, I want to thank Ms Maxwell again for raising this important matter regarding her amendment today. I note that Ms Maxwell with this amendment will not go into a division, but we thank her for raising this today. The Minister for Emergency Services, Jaclyn Symes, is a massive advocate for women in the emergency services and those on the front line, and I understand the Minister for Emergency Services has given Ms Maxwell a commitment to undertake further consultation and take into account the medical and scientific advice before we proceed with any reforms that Ms Maxwell may be suggesting. The emergency services minister is happy to involve Ms Maxwell when speaking to women this will affect and those on the ground. I am happy to provide in the chamber this commitment to Ms Maxwell to involving her in this development, and I know this is an area Minister Symes is really interested in exploring.

Motion agreed to – Read second time – Committed.

Committee deliberation

Clause 1 (18:49)

Ms MAXWELL: I have just a couple of quick questions, if I may, to the minister. Minister, you spoke in your speech about the research to ensure that there is further investigation and research done in relation to having these particular cancers for female firefighters, as is intended by my amendments. I am just wondering: how do we achieve those statistics if we are not ultimately encouraging female firefighters to take on that career role? These amendments were done as a guide to support women and encourage women to go into that role knowing that they would have potentially the same opportunities should they end up with cancers which are proven to have been caused by their firefighting career.

Mr LEANE: Well, the answer to Ms Maxwell is there is a commitment, and the Minister for Emergency Services, with the carriage of the other bills that we have passed around the CFA and FRV firefighters, is committed to exploring—well, there are couple of things that she is committed to. She is committed to increasing the number of women in the fire services, but she is also committed to working with the women that are currently in the fire services—to working with them and accessing with them and involving them in any research. I appreciate Ms Maxwell’s concern; I think the whole chamber does, as far as what she has brought to the house goes. As for this bill, it is a bill that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change has carriage of, as far as the Victorian forest firefighters go. I know it is nothing to really brag about, Ms Maxwell, but the forest firefighters are actually 25 per cent female, so there is probably a better snapshot of what we can work with there as well. I am sure the minister for environment is happy to work with the Minister for Emergency Services and also Ms Maxwell, which is the commitment that Minister Symes has given.

Ms MAXWELL: Thank you, Minister. Look, I would just like to leave this with a comment and just say that while I am disappointed that the amendments are not going to a vote, I am incredibly excited, and I thank the minister for his commitment and particularly Attorney-General Symes for giving this commitment. I really look forward to us working together to ensure that female firefighters are encouraged both to work in the field and to feel that there will be further research done to ensure that there is equality and that for those cancers that are listed for men, women will feel that they have that same right afforded to them. Once again, I thank the minister for his responses and for that commitment.

Clause agreed to; clauses 2 to 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 (18:54)

Ms MAXWELL: I move:

1. Clause 9, after line 27 insert—

  • 13 Primary site cervical cancer 10 years
  • 14 Primary site ovarian cancer 10 years
  • 15 Primary site uterine cancer 10 years

I would just like to speak on that amendment, if I may. I think I probably covered off most points in my contribution earlier, but I will reinforce our view that female firefighters should not be disadvantaged from support simply because their demographic is currently too small to provide for conclusive studies. I would like to thank everyone again who has engaged with me and my office on the proposed amendment, including the government, the opposition shadow minister and most of the crossbenchers.

The markers are there, and we should pay attention. Women are as susceptible to elevated risks of cancer as men. Men have significantly elevated risks to their reproductive organs, including testicular cancer, and indicative statistics, though small in number, show the incidence of cervical cancer to be more than four times higher in women firefighters. Yes, the studies are inconclusive on female reproductive organs, but it is a reasonable bow to draw. Quite simply, what is good for the goose is good for the gander—or in this case, the other way around. There are jurisdictions around the world recognising this very point and including women-specific cancers out of good faith and caution. While that might not be enough to make this change today, I am very hopeful that this amendment will be incorporated into future legislation and extend these presumptive rights to all female firefighters.

Mr LEANE: I just quickly reiterate the commitment from Minister Symes to working particularly with Ms Maxwell on this issue and working actually with the women that are currently in the services, but also the commitment of Minister (Jaclyn) Symes and Minister (Lily) D’Ambrosio about increasing the number of women that are in this part of the emergency services—a very important part of the emergency services. I think we agree to work together into the future, but this particular amendment we will not be supporting at this point.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clause 10 agreed to.

Reported to house without amendment.

Resourcing regional paramedic demand


September 14, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) 11:37:

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services, Ms Symes:

Minister, congratulations on your new portfolio. As you know, Northern Victoria has some of the greatest gains to make in the state to improve ambulance response times.

We know our ambulance workforce is committed to the care of their patients, but regional services are challenged by increased demand, hospital ramping and geography.

Minister, in a meeting with the Health and Community Services Union last week, my office was told there are approximately 1000 paramedics in Victoria who are trying to obtain work in the system. 

Ambulance Victoria has only allocated 56 more paramedics for rural Victoria as part of the 300 committed (new) positions in the past 12 months. This is despite a 26 per cent increase in code 1 callouts for local government areas in Northern Victoria, compared with the same time last year.

Minister, will the government allocate more paramedics to regional Victoria to help meet this massive increase in demand?


I thank Ms Maxwell for her question. I am the Minister for Emergency Services, but I act for Minister Foley, who is the Minister for Ambulance Services. So I will seek an answer in relation to the provision of paramedics from Minister Foley. I do thank you for your question, and there has been record investment and recruitment of paramedics. I recognise the same issues that you do in our shared electorate in relation to areas that are seeking to have additional resources, so I would be quite interested in the answer as well. So I will seek those details and provide them to the house.


Thank you, Attorney. Ambulance Victoria is currently in talks with the CFA about delivering a first-response program in partnership with a number of regional brigades. This will be welcome news to Kiewa CFA, who have put their hand up for a pilot as first aid responders. Could the minister please update the house on those talks, if possible?


Thank you, Ms Maxwell, for your supplementary question, which crosses more over into my portfolio as opposed to the Minister for Ambulance Services, but I might take that on notice and get you an update of the emergency medical response rollout, because I have only received preliminary briefings and I am not in a position to provide specific locations of where that might be rolled out to. I can assure you that I have heard that many brigades in regional Victoria are very keen to take on that role, but in terms of specific locations I am more than happy to provide you some more information in relation to that matter.

Thank you, President, and thank you, Minister. Ambulance Victoria is currently in talks with the Country Fire Authority about delivering a first response program in partnership with a number of regional brigades. This will be welcome news to Kiewa CFA, which has put its hand up for a pilot as first aid responders. Could the Minister please update the house on these talks?