CFA is business as usual - for now

By Charmayne Allison

THE future of Kyabram CFA is under a cloud after controversial fire services reform legislation last week passed into law.

Labor only needed the support of three of the 11 upper house crossbenchers but wrangled four, enabling the controversial bill to glide through.

After more than three years of bitter conflict, the bill is now set to dramatically overhaul the state’s fire services, stripping the CFA of its paid staff who train and support volunteers and merging it with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to form a new service, Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV).

While many staff will then be seconded back to the CFA, they will be bound by a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) handing the United Firefighters Union (UFU) control of resources and recruitment.

The bill will also allow the UFU to dominate a new Firefighters Registration Board which accredits anyone wishing to work for FRV, including those seconded to the CFA.

Finally, it promises presumptive rights to cancer compensation for career and volunteer firefighters – legislation Victorian firefighters have long battled for.

While the bill has been bitterly opposed by the Coalition, the government said it would modernise Victorian emergency services and “enshrine” the CFA as a truly community-based volunteer organisation.

‘‘Our firefighters currently operate under systems and structures that have not changed since the 1950s, and it’s clear these services need to be modernised,’’ Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said.

‘‘Our 1220 volunteer CFA brigades will be untouched, continuing to serve their communities day-to-day.’’

Some CFA members in the region are less convinced, concerned the changes could see them treated as second-class citizens or worse, cause volunteer firefighter numbers to plummet.

But Kyabram CFA captain Mick Crompton is looking at the bill with a glass half full approach.

“The way I see it, there are obviously changes we can control and those we can’t control. At the end of the day it’s about adapting and working with the new changes,” he said.

“It’s going to be quite some time to see how the bill will be implemented and what changes that will mean for Kyabram.

“Until then, it’s business as usual for us. That’s been our attitude all along. If we can’t change it, we opt not to hold onto it.”

He said the presumptive rights legislation is a win for all volunteer firefighters.

“It’s a positive outcome for volunteers and will make sure they are not discriminated against.”

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has accused the State Government and Labor members for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes and Mark Gepp of ‘‘tearing apart our CFA.’’

‘‘(This bill) will see the CFA stripped of its paid staff, which will be moved into the new Fire Rescue Victoria and seconded back to the CFA, with approval from a union-controlled board,’’ he said.

He accused the state government deliberately tied its divisive bill to a bill granting presumptive rights to firefighters who develop cancer as a result of their work.

“I support presumptive rights for volunteer and career firefighters,” Mr Walsh said.

“But twice, The Nationals introduced a standalone presumptive rights bill to Parliament and twice the Andrews Labor Government voted against it.”