Purcell undecided on CFA split

Upper House Member for Western Victoria James Purcell.

Upper House Member for Western Victoria James Purcell.

Upper House Member for Western Victoria James Purcell says he’s open-minded about any move by the state government to split the CFA into paid and unpaid firefighters.

Mr Purcell expects the state government will next week introduce draft legislation into the Lower House calling for the CFA to be split into two groups.

He expects the bill will come to the Upper House in the following two to four weeks where his vote will be crucial to its passing.

Mr Purcell said he had not yet decided whether he would support or oppose a move to split the CFA.

Mr Purcell’s vote has been crucial on many controversial bills in the past and he expects it to be no different on the CFA issue.

He expects the Coalition, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and Democratic Labor Party Upper House MPs to back the volunteers’ call for the existing CFA structure to be retained and the Sex Party to support the government, leaving him with the casting vote.

“That is normal and it will be no different with this,” Mr Purcell said.

He said he had not seen the draft bill but “everyone seems to have made their minds about how they are going to vote.”

“But if the legislation is what everyone says it is, to split the CFA into paid and non-paid, it has some merits,” Mr Purcell said.

He said most of those he had spoken in CFA brigades were opposed to a split.

“But in NSW it is split and it works OK,” Mr Purcell said.

He said he intended to meet with the government, the opposition and many paid and non-paid members of the CFA throughout the south-west before he made a decision on how he will vote.

Volunteer Fire Brigade Victoria District Five councillor Owen O’Keefe, of Winslow, has said he expected the proposal would mean CFA volunteers at Warrnambool and other regional brigades would be hived off into a new organisation.

Mr O’Keefe said the career firefighters at Warrnambool would, under the proposal, join another organisation that would include CFA career firefighters throughout the state and Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) members.

He believed the proposal’s main goal was to enable the state government to resolve the long-running dispute with career firefighters over their enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). Among the issues bogging down negotiations has been federal legislation requiring the new EBA not to disadvantage CFA volunteers. 

Mr O’Keefe said he feared the proposal for separate organisations would allow career firefighters to expand their influence and lead to a reduction in volunteer numbers.

A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said the government was focused on resolving the EBA dispute with the paid firefighters that had “gone on for far too long.” 

“The federal government's intervention has left the parties at a point where it’s very difficult to find a way forward,” the spokesman said. 

He made no comment about whether the government was preparing draft legislation on the split proposal but said “it is looking at a range of options to end this dispute.”