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REPORT ON FIRE SERVICES' BILL

 

Select Committee report on proposed Fire Services’ Bill

THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL SELECT COMMITTEE ON FIRE SERVICES presented its final report into the proposed restructure of the CFA and MFB on 18 August as proposed in the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017.

The Select Committee has recommended that the Bill should be withdrawn, or rejected by the Legislative Council. The Select Committee has also recommended that part 2 of the Bill, relating to firefighters’ presumptive rights compensation, should be reintroduced to Parliament as a stand-alone Bill to be considered on its merits. In total, the Select Committee has made 10 findings and 10 recommendations.

“We have made these recommendations because of the lack of certainty around implementation, operations, and funding under the proposed restructure; the failure to undertake consultation; and, the consequential polarisation of fire services staff and volunteers,” said Select Committee Chairman, Gordon Rich-Phillips.

The Select Committee’s recommendations emphasise the importance of consultation in reform of the fire services. It has called on the Government to ensure compliance with its consultation obligations under the Volunteer Charter and the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 prior to proceeding with any further reform of the fire services.

The Select Committee has also recommended that the Government undertake meaningful and balanced consultation with Emergency Management Victoria, CFA, MFB, staff and volunteer representatives prior to proposing any further reform of the fire services. Other recommendations focus on employment of CFA staff and funding arrangements for the fire services.

Almost 1,900 submissions were accepted by the Select Committee and public hearings were held in Melbourne and across regional Victoria.

“The Select Committee is grateful to all the firefighters and other community members who contributed their views to this inquiry,” Mr Rich-Phillips said. “The evidence we received has shown the depth of feeling on these issues in the community.” A minority report produced by the Select Committee’s Labor and Green MPs called for the Bill to be passed, stating “. . . it provided a framework for modern fire services that will be able to adapt to change and keep Victorians safe into the future”. The Select Committee’ majority report is available from its website – www.parliament.vic. gov. au/fireservicesbill/article/3782 The key recommendations from the report: Recommendation 6: Due to the lack of implementation, operational and funding certainty; failure to undertake consultation; and consequential polarisation of fire services volunteers and staff, the Bill should be withdrawn. If not withdrawn, the Legislative Council should reject the Bill.

Recommendation 7: Part 2 of the Bill, ‘Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation’ should be reintroduced to Parliament as a stand-alone Bill to be considered on its merits. Other recommendations: Recommendation 1: The Government ensure compliance with its consultation obligations under the Volunteer Charter and the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 prior to proceeding with any further reform of the fire services. Recommendation 2: The Government undertake meaningful and balanced consultation with Emergency Management Victoria, the Country Fire Authority, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, staff and volunteer representatives prior to proposing any further reform of the fire service Recommendation 3: The Government develop and publish a detailed implementation plan in parallel with any further fire services reform proposal. Recommendation 4: Country Fire Authority staff should continue to be employed directly by the Country Fire Authority, and solely within the Country Fire Authority chain of command. Secondment should only be used for staff exchange/development opportunities, not as a default employment mechanism. Recommendation 5: The Government and its agencies not endorse any enterprise agreement, instrument or accord, which has the effect of limiting the exercise of statutory powers of the chief officer(s) of the fire service(s). Recommendation 8: The Government ensure adequate infrastructure funding for the fire services independently of the restructure. Recommendation 9: The Government develop and publish a detailed funding plan in parallel with any further fire services structural reform proposal. The funding plan should identify and address the impact of: (a) resource and asset transfers between the Country Fire Authority and Fire Rescue Victoria; (b) the creation of the Fire Rescue Victoria fire district on the Fire Services Property Levy revenue base beyond the two year freeze period; and (c) any changes to the differential charging rates for the Fire Services Property Levy beyond the two year freeze period. Recommendation 10: The Legislative Council refer the Department of Premier and Cabinet to the Legislative Council Privileges Committee for investigation of its interference with the Committee’s inquiry.

The findings from the report: FINDING 1: The restructure of the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade as proposed in the Bill was not included among the recommendations of the fire services reviews undertaken over the last decade. FINDING 2: The policy development process for the restructure did not involve representatives from Emergency Management Victoria, the Country Fire Authority or the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. FINDING 3: The Government’s failure to consult with the Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria as required by the Volunteer Charter and the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 has caused considerable concern to Country Fire Authority volunteers, reinforced the perception of a bias towards the United Firefighters Union, and undermined confidence in the restructure proposal. FINDING 4: The Government’s original written submission to the Committee contained substantial errors relating to its claimed level of consultation. Its failure to acknowledge and correct those errors until prompted by the Committee undermines confidence in the claimed consultation process. FINDING 5: The Government’s failure to undertake implementation planning in parallel with developing the restructure proposal has caused substantial and unnecessary uncertainty in the community as to the impact of the proposed changes on the fire services. FINDING 6: The Government has taken the unusual step of including ‘implementing the Victorian Government’s fire and emergency services priorities’ as a statutory function of Fire Rescue Victoria alongside fire prevention and suppression, and emergency prevention and response. FINDING 7: Section 38 of the Bill as drafted may limit the capacity of the Country Fire Authority Chief Officer to exercise operational control of seconded staff. FINDING 8: The impact of the restructure on firefighting surge capacity is disputed and will not be known until after the restructure is bedded down. It is important that surge capacity is not diminished through changes to the fire services. FINDING 9: The development and publication of quarterly outcomes based fire services performance measures will provide the Victorian community with more meaningful data than is presently available. FINDING 10: The Government’s claim of executive privilege over the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report is inconsistent with the Commission’s stated intention of publicly releasing its report in mid 2017. The Committee regards the changing explanations provided by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner for her failure to comply with the summons, along with the Government’s claim of executive privilege as designed to frustrate the Committee’s Inquiry.

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