Greens agree to inquiry on fire services reform | Australian Greens

Greens agree to inquiry on fire services reform

Greens MP Colleen Hartland speaks in parliament on fire services reform, agreeing to a select committee inquiry
Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - 3:30pm
Colleen Hartland

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) — Clearly this bill is a major reform. It is a bill that has been long overdue, but I have to acknowledge right at the start that I think one of the problems with it is the lack of consultation and engagement with both career and volunteer firefighters. I find that quite distressing because this is such important legislation, especially the legislation around presumptive rights for firefighters.

As people would know in this house, I brought a private members bill in in 2013 which was rejected on constitutional grounds. I then made a number of attempts to send a motion to a committee, which was filibustered and refused time and time again by the then Liberal-National Party government, and they refused to bring in their own bill. I find that very distressing when we look at this bill, because if that had happened the firefighters at Hazelwood would have automatically been covered. They will have to be covered by a special clause in the bill that will deal with people who have been affected at major events. The issues around compensation for firefighters who trained at Fiskville has still not been resolved. All of these things could have been resolved if the previous government had brought in their own presumptive legislation rather than then running what I consider to be quite a disingenuous pledge campaign when they were in opposition.

We support — I am not sure whether the word 'support' is quite right — this select committee. We accept that it is going to happen, but we think that it needs to be short, it needs to be sharp and it needs to deal with the matters that Dr Carling-Jenkins has just spoken about around the devastating effects that the issue is having on the morale of career and volunteer firefighters.

Over the last two years the way firefighters have been used as a political football has been beyond compare to anything that I have ever seen. I think you have probably heard the same stories of children in playgrounds being told that their fathers or mothers who are career firefighters are thugs and 'I don't want to play with you because your dad or your mum is a thug'. This is the kind of stuff that is coming back to me all the time, and yes, the social media wars have been quite ugly as well.

I think they are the things that this select committee needs to address. We will meet, we will do the hearings, we will do the report, we will bring it back to the house and we will resolve it. Hopefully the government will use that time for engagement. It is no longer about consultation — the bill is here; it is about engagement. It is those technical details that firefighters, especially volunteers, need to know, from 'How does this work?' down to the level of 'We've raised $100 000 for our pumper; is it ours or does it go into the new service?'. All of those kinds of things need to be addressed, and that needs to be addressed by very intense engagement out with all of those brigades.

I am not going to speak for much longer, but I think there is one thing that we need to remember: if we look at what happened in London in the last week with firefighters who went into that tower block, they put their lives on the line, and that happens every day in Melbourne. Firefighters, whether they be career or volunteer, put their lives on the line. They go into fire situations as we are running out of those fires. They are there to protect us; what are we doing as a Parliament to protect them both physically and emotionally?

The conflict that has gone on for the last two years has to end; we have to have reform of the fire services. We need presumptive rights legislation to be passed through this Parliament so that firefighters who get one of the 12 cancers do not have to actually worry about what is going to happen to their family because they cannot get compensation. They are the kinds of things that we need to be addressing rather than this very ugly political football that has gone on. For those reasons the Greens will support this motion and participate in the select committee.