THE fate of volunteers in Victoria’s CFA has become like a remote forest fire in recent times.
The issue has been quietly burning away out of sight after flaring into public consciousness last year with big rallies and a tug-o-war linked to the federal election.
But while the flames of fury have appeared to become flickers, the Victorian Government has been working on a new fire management plan for the state.
It will result in a new organisation Fire Rescue Victoria overseeing stations in Wangaratta and Wodonga and the CFA reverting to a purely voluntary organisation.
Depending on which side of politics you listen to the shake-up is either the best thing to happen to fire services in Victoria in 60 years or the precursor to a massive drop in safety.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the existing “fire services structure isn’t working” and his government’s revamp will “protect CFA volunteers” and “keep Victorians safe, wherever they live”.
But Liberal member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell says Mr Andrews “is ripping apart 160 years of proud history of volunteer firefighting in Victoria”.
“His decision will be detrimental to volunteers and will result in a big decline in volunteer numbers, which will reduce the capacity of the CFA to fight major fires during the fire season,” Ms Lovell said.
“Currently, during major fires – such as the Black Saturday fires – the surge capacity for volunteers is largely boosted by volunteers coming from outer-urban CFA stations, and these stations will no longer be part of the CFA.”
At the heart of the CFA brouhaha has been a dispute over an enterprise bargaining agreement and the role of the United Firefighters Union.
The splitting of paid and volunteer firefighters is a way of resolving tensions, even if it is couched in terms of “modernising”.
But is it worth irking some volunteers who are left to wonder what they’ve done wrong.
As the cliche goes, only time will tell.
NSW has operated with a similar model for many years with permanent crews under the Fire and Rescue moniker and volunteers part of the Rural Fire Service.
Former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins will chair a committee to oversee the new Victorian system.
Let’s hope he extinguishes that metaphorical remote forest fire and helps spark a smooth-operating set-up in Victoria.