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Presumptive Rights and Fire Services Legislation Amendment

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak briefly on the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017. This is another election commitment delivered by this government. This bill does two very significant things. One is obviously to deliver on our election commitment to a presumptive rights compensation scheme, a compensation framework for firefighters. The other is to reform and modernise the structure and governance of Victoria’s fire services, as announced by the Premier and the Minister for Emergency Services the other week.

The bill abolishes the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and establishes Fire Rescue Victoria and makes other consequential changes to positions and titles. The bill also provides for the transfer of all relevant operational staff from the existing 35 integrated stations of the Country Fire Authority (CFA), as we have heard before. The bill, something that those opposite neglect to mention, strengthens the role of volunteers by inserting an additional objective for the CFA board to support the effective and sustainable recruitment, development and retention of volunteer officers and members to deliver capability in the provision of the authority’s services. And that is not all in terms of volunteers. There is a whole range of other things, and I will get to some of the commitments shortly.

But the part of this bill of which I am proudest is the presumptive rights aspect. The bill will apply a presumption to compensation for both career and volunteer firefighters who develop one of 12 cancer types and who meet the qualifying period by cancer type. This scheme will apply to eligible firefighters diagnosed on or after 1 June 2016. So we are true to our election commitment in terms of that time frame. The bill also provides for an advisory committee to support the application process for volunteer firefighters and provide an expert opinion to WorkSafe on special consideration claims made by exceptional exposure events.

This is profound change, and it is a shame that it has taken this long to get it done. We are the second last jurisdiction, I understand, to make this change. It is not surprising to me that this change is being made by a Labor government, because generally compensation schemes and progressive measures like this for emergency services are made by Labor governments. The fire services statement the minister made when he announced these changes with the Premier also supports the Country Fire Authority significantly with $100 million in new assets and supports and a dedicated $56.2 million CFA support fund to provide additional brigade and volunteer support, improved health and safety and training.

Of course we are beefing up what the opposition called surge capacity, something they would not know much about because they chronically underinvested in fire services. We are boosting the availability of appropriate fire services across a larger part of Victoria than ever before. This is on top of all the other investments we are making that we announced prior to the election — the 450 additional firefighters, CFA trucks, expanding emergency medical response and increasing the fire services budget from about $930 million under the former coalition government to $1.1 billion in the 2016–17 budget and $1.14 billion in the coming budget.

We also closed Fiskville and remediated the site. We have bought the land for the new training facility, a $40 million allocation. We have made a whole range of other investments around supporting the CFA, the MFB and fire services generally, so it is quite galling to listen to those on the other side talk as if they are the best friends of the firefighter and the best friends of the CFA and volunteers generally, particularly the member for Lowan who I think said, ‘We could have had presumptive rights by now’, and the member for Bayswater who said, ‘We proudly support presumptive legislation’.

I draw on an article by Richard Willingham and Henrietta Cook in the Age of 21 August 2013 — so under the previous government — that says:

The Napthine government says it is not convinced there is a link between firefighting and certain types of cancers, despite international research and state government-commissioned studies finding a direct link —

and despite the commonwealth already implementing a scheme by the time this article was written. For a direct quote, because I think one of the opposition members said that is not accurate in an earlier contribution, I refer to this statement:

We are not convinced that there is a direct link between cancer and the firefighters.

Says who? The previous speaker and then emergency services minister, the member for Rowville, said that on Wednesday morning in the week that article was published.

That is why it is just galling for those opposite to say we would have had presumptive rights. No, we would not have; without a Labor government we would not have had presumptive rights. As if in any universe a conservative party — the Liberals and The Nationals — would introduce workers compensation schemes. The workers compensation framework we have in Victoria was introduced by the John Cain Labor government in 1985. This presumptive rights legislation and this framework of compensation are again being introduced by a Labor government. There is clear evidence here that the other side denied or — if I am historically accurate — cast enormous doubt on a link between Fiskville and cancer when everybody else knew it existed.

With those few words, I commend this bill to the house. I commend the care, dedication and diligence of the Minister for Emergency Services, the Premier and the government when it comes to the frontline services that support us in times of need.