Protect firefighters who protect us

I’ve been pressing the Victorian government hard to add ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers to the list of ‘presumptive rights’ available to Victorian volunteer and paid firefighters.

A presumptive right makes a brigade or service firefighter diagnosed with a cancer listed on Victoria’s schedule of work-related diseases automatically eligible for state-funded medical care and compensation.

Fire Rescue Victoria’s 3500-strong workforce includes about 170 women, and the Country Fire Authority’s 30,000-strong volunteer force is estimated to include about 5000 women. Forest Fire Management Victoria has the highest proportion of women firefighters – about 25 per cent.

But Victoria’s current schedule of presumptive rights does not include three types of cancer that occur only in women.

Women firefighters tell me they did not know these cancers were absent from the schedule, and have been quite shocked there’s no formal recognition of female-specific cancers that can be caused by their work.

In the past 10 months, I’ve raised directly in meetings with former health minister Martin Foley and Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes the need to include ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers in Victoria’s schedule.

I’ve also put the issue to Parliament, promoting political and community awareness of the occupational health risk, liability and equity issues. I sought to amend government legislation in October 2021, and introduced a private member’s bill in May 2022

The government committed in October to undertake ‘further consultation…before (proceeding) with any reform…’.

Yet there’s been no further consultation to which I’ve been invited to share my views, or what I’m being told by women firefighters.

But the release this month of the World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency findings that firefighting as a job is carcinogenic to humans should compel the government to urgent action.

It’s simply a fair, just and safe decision that would help protect these women who put themselves at risk protecting us.

Tania Maxwell MP
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria