Statement from the Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria CEO Andrew Ford has released a response to the state government’s decision to split paid and volunteer staff in the CFA.

The decision of the Andrews State Cabinet to ram through changes to Victoria’s fire services without public and CFA volunteer consultation disregards Victoria’s community safety needs and is unlawful.

It is simply bad government.

Under the CFA Act, volunteers must be fully consulted on any proposed change by government that affects their organisation, operations, service delivery, support and rights, before any decision is made. This ensures decisions are made based on all aspects of community safety. Today’s decision has never been a matter discussed or subject of consultation with CFA volunteers, which is a legal requirement of the CFA Act.

Like it tried last year, the Victorian government is again trying to circumvent its obligations and requirements under Victoria’s emergency management laws, in particular the CFA Act, through an industrial deal. It claims last October’s Fair Work Act amendments by the Turnbull government have forced its hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. The FWA amendments did no more than back up Victoria’s own emergency management laws and prevent the use of industrial agreements registered under the FWA from setting them aside.

The current CFA system of volunteer based operations with integration of paid staff where needed ensures effective and affordable public safety service standards for Victorians. In the CFA, paid staff are supposed to support and supplement volunteers to deliver CFA services. This system ensures high level community resilience with local communities engaged in planning, preparing and responding to emergencies and recovering from them through their local volunteers. 

Importantly, urban and regional volunteers are the backbone of Victoria’s surge capacity to respond to multiple emergencies and long duration disasters across the state, particularly during the fire season.

This system is likely to be axed under the government’s decision. 

The Victorian government wants to use their new fire service structure to ram through the union’s agreement, giving them large scale control over Victoria’s fire services.

Volunteers will be replaced by paid staff in delivering urban services with volunteers effectively relegated to a secondary role in urban and regional areas. This will both undermine community safety and cost taxpayers and their households an arm and a leg.