Not apt to compare CFA divide to apartheid

THE political firestorm which has accompanied the debate about the future of Victoria’s Country Fire Authority continues to flare.

The latest stoking of the matter came during speeches in the Victorian parliament on the legislation which will see a new body Fire Rescue Victoria formed for paid firefighters.

The chasm between Labor government MPs and their Coalition counterparts was clear with the former championing the division of paid and unpaid crews as modernisation, while the latter said it would damage the CFA volunteer ethos.

Volunteer Wodonga fireman and member for Benambra Bill Tilley in his contribution lauded the deeds of CFA crews but pointed to practical difficulties in stations where paid and volunteer crews blend.

“You need that support from your career firefighters to bring your skills up all the time so that you are able to keep yourself safe and your colleagues safe,” Mr Tilley said.

“But in saying that let me tell you that in some of these integrated stations throughout the state of Victoria apartheid is bloody well alive.

“Those imaginary lines in some of those integrated stations now will be clearly marked yellow — and God help any volunteer who crosses some of those lines; heaven help those poor buggers — but we will continue to support each other in the very best way.”

As an amateur firefighter Mr Tilley has an insight beyond the average MP, but he over-egged his argument by using the term apartheid.

It was unnecessary to compare division among CFA crews to that experienced by black citizens of South Africa who were treated as sub-human by that country’s white-ruling class.

Mr Tilley could have said there was a split or a division, but by invoking apartheid he has belittled the long fight for racial equality and distracted from his own point about the fate of the CFA.

The Victorian Emergency Services Minister James Merlino says “to use apartheid for political point scoring is reprehensible” and has called on Mr Tilley to apologise.

Mr Tilley responded by claiming Mr Merlino was taking advantage of “social media hype”, though he did concede his language may have been “inelegant”.

Wodonga’s MP is known for calling a spade a spade, but in this case he dug himself into an unnecessary hole.