Fire services bill interim report handed down

The first results of an inquiry into proposed changes to Victoria’s fire services have been tabled in parliament, with a final report containing recommendations due out in mid-August.

An interim report released Tuesday revealed close to 1700 submissions were received by the inquiry, which was in part prompted by Port Fairy-based MP James Purcell’s decision not to support a state government bill in the upper house.

The bill, which would see an overhaul of the state’s fire services with the creation of a Fire Rescue Victoria, was referred to a committee for consultation and improvements. The proposed changes also cover presumptive cancer compensation rights for both career and volunteer firefighters.

Committee chair Gordon Rich-Phillips said it was grateful for the large number of submissions received from firefighters and community members across the state.

“The inquiry has involved a number of contentious issues and the committee is working through the extensive evidence it has received,” Mr Rich-Phillips said.

All the submissions and transcripts from seven public hearings, including one held in Hamilton, are available online.

Warrnambool station career staff representative Troy Cleverley said the submissions were mainly supportive of the changes to fire services in the state.

Mr Cleverley said the reforms were badly needed, and he hoped the bill would go through whatever recommendations were made in the final report.

“We’re hopeful that James Purcell will look favourably upon this reform bill now,” he said.

“We really hope that he can take the emotion out of the argument and make a decision based on evidence and the facts that are being presented.

“This issue is solely about community and firefighter safety and shouldn’t be based on emotions. It’s all about getting a red truck with four firefighters on it to your door as quickly as possible.”

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) representative Owen O’Keefe said the inquiry had been a “rushed process” without the opportunity for volunteers to have a meaningful contribution.

He said it was likely the passage of the bill would rely on Mr Purcell’s vote again.

“We volunteers are waiting with bated breath to see what direction the independent members of parliament take on this issue,” he said.