Committee divided on CFA’s future

FUTURE UNKNOWN: Wangaratta's Jason Allisey and Trevor Logan with Wodonga's Brett Myers at the inquiry hearing held in July.
FUTURE UNKNOWN: Wangaratta's Jason Allisey and Trevor Logan with Wodonga's Brett Myers at the inquiry hearing held in July.

Firefighters looking for answers about the future of the CFA have been given zero direction from a report following the Victorian parliamentary inquiry.

The committee could not agree on recommendations so they split into two groups – the Coalition and a Shooters Party representative, then Labor and the Greens – and wrote separate, contradicting reports.

The Coalition report recommended the fire services bill should be withdrawn completely because of a lack of certainty about the changes and not enough consultation with firefighters.

“Written submissions to the committee reflect almost total opposition to the proposal from volunteer firefighters and near unanimous support from career firefighters,” chairman Gordon Rich-Phillips said.

“It is difficult to envisage how proposing a restructure which impacts on 57,000 passionate volunteers without consulting them, and then trying to quickly push it through Parliament, could be successful."

The other side recommended going ahead with the restructure, after completing another round of consultation with the CFA and MFB.

Northern Victoria MLC and Labor member of the committee Jaclyn Symes conceded firefighters should have had more of a say in the changes.

“We’ll cop that – we think the government could have started consultation earlier, but we’re dealing with an environment that is particularly turbulent and toxic,” she said.

A hearing in Wangaratta and written submissions from all across the Border formed some of the views, many very emotional and passionate, for the committee to consider.

Ms Symes said her group agreed with most of the recommendations, including compliance with the volunteer charter and publishing a detailed implementation plan, but not scrapping the bill altogether.

“It would be pretty much disastrous to do another review,” she said.

The Labor half of the report stated fire leaders’ support for change in the CFA “was unambiguous and overwhelming”.

“(The bill) provides a framework for modern fire services that will be able to adapt to change and keep Victorians safe into the future,” it stated.

“The issues raised in this inquiry around response times point to a need for greater transparency when it comes to our fire services.

“We recommend a number of measures of performance across the fire services be published at regular intervals.”

Both sides noted the evidence of Wangaratta fire station’s officer in charge Trevor Logan who said “misinformation and innuendo” from Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria, such as telling remote towns their volunteer members could not deal with fires themselves, had divided people.

“This is affecting our mental health and it needs to stop, not just my mental health but his mental health as a volunteer,” he said.

The future of the bill will likely be decided by the crossbench members in the Victorian Parliament’s Upper House.