By Victoria Stone-Meadows
The State Opposition has trashed the government’s proposal to restructure the CFA and MFB despite a lack of policy detail available for scrutiny.
State Emergency Services Minister James Merlino announced on Friday 19 May that paid members of the CFA will join with the MFB to become Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) and the CFA will be left as a solely volunteer organisation.
“We’ll enshrine the CFA as a volunteer firefighting service under law and unite our career firefighters under one organisation,” he said.
The announcement comes as the long running dispute between the United Firefighters Union and the CFA over an enterprise bargaining agreement sees no end.
FRV will be responsible for fighting fires in Melbourne and large regional towns bringing together paid CFA members and MFB firefighters along with a further 450 career firefighters.
The volunteer CFA stations across the state will be unchanged under the new model with the 1220 current CFA brigades continuing to serve their communities.
The State Government has also outlined FRV will take over the areas currently covered by integrated stations and boundaries will be redrawn by a new Fire District Review Panel.
The future of integrated fire stations such as Pakenham, Cranbourne, Dandenong, Hallam, and Springvale – where volunteer and paid CFA members work alongside one another – has been called into question under the proposed changes.
The Fire Services Statement updated on Thursday 18 May outlines volunteers at integrated stations will be encouraged to stay in their communities to work alongside the paid firefighters who transition into FRV.
The statement also details that volunteers who wish to move to a CFA brigade or transition into a position with FRV will be supported to do so.
State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has called the announcement a “political fix” that aims to “destroy the CFA”.
“Victorians still ask that question why? Why is the State Government so hell-bent on destroying the CFA?” he said.
“With no evidence on breaking up CFA; there is no document that says what the government is announcing is the right way forward, no evidence that says destroying a successful operation is going to be a positive or safe step forward.”
Mr Guy did however acknowledge that $56.2 million for training and recruitment and $44 million for new stations is welcome funding for the organisation as well as praising the extension of presumptive legislation to volunteers.
“Yes, greater monies for the CFA is good news. Yes, presumptive rights legislation is a good step forward,” he said.
“But all of those things can be done without disrespecting volunteers; all of those can be made as part of strengthening the CFA with no need to break it up.”
Shadow Emergency Services minister and Gembrook MP Brad Battin said the move would cause division and breakdowns in integrated stations in Melbourne’s South East.
“If a future CFA service is co-located with other services, when a call comes in or pager goes off, it’ll only be career staff called out first, then when needed they will call on volunteers from what we can see,” he said.
“That is a concern we don’t want to have in the future; Pakenham volunteers, Cranbourne volunteers, Hallam volunteers, all deserve respect and to be called out as soon as they can.”
Mr Battin said while he cannot know for sure the outcomes of the restructure as the policy details have not been released, he believes CFA volunteers and FRV members will not work together.
“I’m hoping between the actual firefighters on the ground it won’t cause divisions but my feeling is we are going to end up with two leadership groups and volunteers not being called out and therefore dropping off.”
Mr Guy and Mr Battin claimed that fire services in New South Wales – which the proposed FRV restructure is modelled on – have less volunteers than Victoria’s CFA.
They claimed that basing the restructure on such a model would lead to less and less volunteers in the CFA in the coming years.
However, annual reports from the CFA show that the organisation has 54,530 volunteers and the Rural Fire Service in NSW has 74,162 volunteers.
This does not include the 6318 volunteers who work with Fire and Rescue NSW in community fire units across regional areas of the state.
Mr Merlino hit back at the claims from the Opposition claiming the claims of Mr Battin and Mr Guy in relation to the CFA could not be trusted.
“Matthew Guy’s credibility is in tatters after his latest lies about firefighters,” Mr Merlino said.
“Not only does he continue to fully support Brad Battin – who made disgusting claims about our Black Saturday heroes – Matthew Guy continues to say anything so he can keep using firefighters as political footballs.”
“One thing is clear: you can’t trust a single word Matthew Guy says.”