Second Reading Debate – Emergency Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

I rise to speak on the Emergency Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. This was born out of the 2012 white paper that was initiated by the Liberal government after the Black Saturday events, which led to the reform being discussed and the royal commission recommendations. Quite proudly, we think this is a good action. We will not be opposing this bill, but there are some concerns that we may address.

This bill is about making sure there is good coordination right across the state of Victoria at state level, regional level and municipality level. There will be a staged approach to its implementation so that the state can get, at a high level, the operational elements required so that it can unfold at a regional and municipality level without any hiccups. The regional level people and the municipality level people can follow the guidelines at a state level so it is a very smooth transition. What we will see is an improvement in the interoperability that needs to be streamlined so we will have more coordination capacity between organisations that respond to emergency events such as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Country Fire Authority (CFA), lifesavers, coast guard, and even industry will be playing a part in this — as they should be — as well as the Bureau of Meteorology, departments, councils, the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and even vets. As we know in some events such as fire and flood there needs to be vet attendance for some animals to be put down, unfortunately.

What we will see is work being done in the area of planning, mitigation, and response and recovery for events such as fires, floods and many other events. I am really pleased to see this because what we really want to see is those regional responses coordinated well. I think we need to stop for a minute here and say we are doing a very good job already but can always improve. A continuous improvement cycle is something we should always embrace, but I want to take the time to thank people who operate in the emergency services space. Every single one of them is a person who plays an important part, and we talk about the people who come and give their time, both paid and volunteers.

In Warrnambool, when I first took on this role, I met a lot of people who, in typical local western Victorian style, are very embracing and welcoming. I remember being at a Bunnings sausage sizzle with the CFA and both the paid and volunteer guys and girls, together raising money. I remember talking to them about the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) on that day and most of them did not understand what it was really intricately about. They understood there was a pay rise and were quite comfortable with that and happy about that, as I would expect and I think is quite acceptable, but when I talked to them about veto and the like they were not aware and not comfortable with that. A lot has come about since then, and it is making it really difficult for integrated stations like Warrnambool to have the relationship that we all value in the country, of respect between paid and volunteer workers. I commend the guys at Warrnambool and at Portland and other integrated stations who do such a good job. They get on and get the work done, all of them, and I congratulate them and thank them.

I also thank the CWA, the other lifesavers that I met this year on the beach. I went up and spoke to a few of the young guys who volunteer their time, and the coast guard, who I met with recently in Portland, Warrnambool and Port Fairy, who do a fantastic job. It will always be best to have improvement. I experienced some of the coordination issues myself when I was nursing at the Framlingham Aboriginal community. The town of Framlingham is quite near the Aboriginal community, so I always had a challenge when I called ambulances because no-one could figure out the difference between Framlingham Aboriginal community and the Framlingham township. It is things like that where we will see locals, if they are allowed a seat at the table — and this is where my concern is — in a volunteer capacity that is, because at the bill briefing that I went to on this bill it was not identified that volunteers like CFA volunteers would actually have a seat at the table. It was silent on that whereas the previous legislation actually specified that, so that is a real concern for me.

With my Framlingham example or the local farmer — as I have rung up many a time for a fire and had to direct through different paddocks because I know where the drains are that have culverts in them versus a fire truck trying to get through a drain fully loaded with water, which can cause it to get stuck — having that local knowledge is incredibly important and mapping that out and having that plan for it is really vital. That is what this bill will see to.

We recently had an event in Warrnambool where a drowning tragically occurred, and the ambulance was called to the Cutting. Unfortunately, I am told, the ambulance went to Killarney Beach some 8 kilometres away. It is this sort of local knowledge that we understand at a local level, and often it is volunteers such as the lifesaving community who know the coast well or the CFA, who are often volunteer farmers out in the country, who really do know the topography and the geography very well. So I am pleased that we get the opportunity to really streamline that because we have got some great opportunities.

Port Fairy is a very good example of how we have got a fire station that is in desperate need of being replaced. We have a situation where the Victoria State Emergency Service — another fantastic group of mostly volunteers — work closely together with the CFA in Port Fairy, so much so that they want to coexist because it makes complete sense. Many of them wear the same hat. Currently in that fire station the women — and I note this on International Women’s Day, when we see the token gesture behaviour of the other side who say they really embrace women, but the reality is they are happy to sign off on an EBA that says women working part-time do not have the same skill capability.

I am personally offended by that because I worked part-time in both accident and emergency and intensive care and that was often 0.5, so that was two days one week and three days the next. I am quite offended by the fact that somebody would say my skill set was any less than someone working full-time. I would disagree with that, and most women do manage to work very effectively part-time and maintain their skill set, which is a requirement of your registration, I might add, and do effective work within the home running the family as well. So on International Women’s Day I am quite offended that I stand here and hear from the other side that they endorse an EBA that does not allow part-time work within the fire services.

I think Myra Murrihy from Port Fairy would also be quite offended. She volunteers at the Port Fairy station and there is not even anywhere for her and her other female colleagues, who are growing in number, to change. So she actually changes beside the truck, and the men try to give her and her colleagues as much privacy as possible but at the end of the day you are in a rush. You are trying to get out the door, you are trying to get changed, so I am sure she would be in compromising positions often and trying to do her best in that most disrespectful situation.

Also we look at the Portland situation where they have coexisted so well for years. As one firefighter from Portland said to me, ‘We have had a divorce imposed upon our family, when we did not actually have any problems in the marriage’. That is them referring to the fact that the volunteers and paid staff were working so well together and were getting the right results despite the lies and the twisted statistics that are being put out at the moment. They have actually had a great record of fire responses and outcomes and they are all very offended. If they are serious about fire reform over on the other side, as they talk about, why am I having people like the Bolwarra team coming and telling me that they do not even have power in their fire station? They have to back their truck in when they come back from a fire, if it is dark, with their mobile phone with a torch on it.

That is how they back their fire truck in — their fire truck, which is ancient. You talk about reform. Let us start with infrastructure. Let us start with respect. Let us make sure that we show respect for the volunteers who do so much in our community, in the South-West Coast and every other region of this state, who are feeling so disrespected. Let us return that respect to them. Let us show them how valued they really are. Let us make sure they have a place in the Emergency Management Legislation Amendment Bill by making sure that they are identified as having a seat at the table and that they are valued as volunteers right throughout the state of Victoria.