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Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016
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Cameron, Sen Doug
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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
(Senate-Monday, 19 September 2016)
CHAIR (Senator McKenzie)
Mr Van Den Driest
- Ms Jones
Content WindowEducation and Employment Legislation Committee
Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016
DOWIE, Mr Kade, Career Firefighter, Senior Station Officer, Ballarat City
ENGLISH, Mrs Dianne, Volunteer (Craigieburn Secretary), Craigieburn
FAOUR, Mr Raj, Volunteer, Hallam
KEATING, Mr Stephen, Career Firefighter, Senior Station Officer, Hallam
SHAWCROSS, Mr Patrick, Career Fireghter, Ballarat City
SYMEOY, Mr Luke, Volunteer, Craigieburn
THISTLETHWAITE, Mr Alan, Career Firefighter, Greenvale
WALTER, Mr Thomas, Career Firefighter, Greenvale
SPICER, Mr Peter, Career Firefighter, Senior Station Officer, Craigieburn
VAN DEN DRIEST, Mr Timothy, Career Firefighter, Senior Station Officer, Rowville
CHAIR: We will now reconvene. I now welcome a panel of career and volunteer firefighters from various integrated CFA fire stations in Victoria. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of the witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. We have members of the media present today. The committee has authorised photography and filming of these proceedings. However, before we start, do any panellists have an objection to being filmed or photographed? I will take silence as consent. I now invite those of you who wish to to make a short opening statement—Senator Cameron, you have a habit of interrupting my opening comments.
Senator CAMERON: If you have finished, I just want to get in before they start.
CHAIR: Okay. I shall throw to you. I will invite members of the committee to put questions.
Senator CAMERON: I just want to make a statement just before we start, that is all. Because there is so little time, I did want to indicate that I live in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. On behalf of the Blue Mountains community, can I thank all the volunteers and professional firefighters who came from Victoria to assist the Blue Mountains community in one of its worst ever times. I fully understand the importance of volunteer firefighters and understand the importance of professional firefighters. On behalf of the Blue Mountains community, thanks for the effort that you guys put in in our time of need. That was all.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Cameron. I am sure we all concur with that. Who would like to kick off with their short statement?
Mr Dowie : Firstly, I would just like to open with a brief history of my time in CFA. I started as a volunteer serving in the Colac Fire Bridge for 11 years as a volunteer, before I became a career staff member in 2002. Since that time, I have worked in the role of firefighter at Ballarat City. After gaining promotion to a leading firefighter, I worked as a structural instructor, instructing volunteers across the western part of Victoria for about 12 months. I then took a position at Melton Fire Station. I worked the very first day where we integrated that. I have some strong experience working with volunteers and also working in an integrated brigade, particularly in the early times when some of the integration issues are quite challenging.
From there, I spent 3½ years as a station officer, working in outer metropolitan Melbourne at Hoppers Crossing, before gaining a position back at Ballarat City as a senior station officer, where I have been the last 4½ years. In the last 12 months, I have spent a significant part of my time at Ballarat City in the role of officer in charge of Ballarat City Fire Station. Part of that role also includes the responsibility of looking after the Eureka Group of fire brigades, so the four surrounding 100 per cent volunteer brigades that look after the community of Ballarat and the surrounding districts.
I want to just share with the senators some facts about the fire service in Ballarat. To do that, I would like just to do a quick comparison. In the 1999-2000 financial year, Ballarat had a population of 70,000 people. Ballarat City attended 1,216 fire calls and had a total of five staff on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One of our neighbouring brigades, the Ballarat brigade, is a very strong volunteer brigade and we have a very close working relationship with the members there. Just as a comparison for the same period there, in that same period they had 371 primary fire calls and they managed to turn their firetruck out within their allocated four minutes 79 per cent of the time.
I am going to move forward to their 2015-16 financial year. Ballarat's population has now grown to 101,000 people. Ballarat city has eight career staff on full-time duty and last financial year we attended 1,728 calls. Again, in comparison to the Ballarat brigade, 292 primary calls and, over a steady decline, the brigade now manages to get their firetruck on the road within their allocated time 23 per cent of the time.
This is not due to a lack of members in their brigade. It is not due to a lack of commitment from the members of the brigade. Volunteer brigades now struggle to get fire trucks on the road due to lifestyle commitments, work-life balance, traffic issues, where the members of the brigade live and a whole range of other factors that impact on the capacity of volunteers to turn out and do the role. I also want to mention that when they do turn out and do the role they are exceptionally good at what they do. I am in no way having a shot at their capacity, their ability or their intent. I am just giving you facts about the ability of volunteer brigades to respond.
As I mentioned, we also have three other brigades in the Eureka group and their figures are very, very similar. As I said, as part of my role as the operations officer I have been working closely with the Eureka group brigades on ways in which we can improve our fire service delivery to the community.
There is a 2015 letter that has been tabled and I hope senators have a copy of it. It is addressed to the operations manager, Brett Boatman, who is in charge of district 15. In this letter the brigade captains and group officer clearly state that they request assistance from CFA in the form of an additional leading firefighter at Ballarat City and an additional integrated fire station at Ballarat West. This letter was submitted to Operation Manager Boatman in December last year and to this day there has been no action taken. Our brigades are still struggling to do the very best they can and Ballarat City still supports all the brigades as well as looking after its own area.
This EBA is effectively why we are here. My opinion is that this proposed legislation will have a negative impact on our fire services and our communities. The proposed EBA mentions an additional 509 careers staff. As I just mentioned, there is a need for additional career staff in our towns and communities, both in outer metropolitan and rural cities. This increase in firefighters gives us better coverage on the ground. It gives us the ability to respond from an increased number of locations. Most simply, it increases our ability to stay safe as firefighters on the ground, knowing that we have the appropriate resources to do our work safely.
Additional staff also fill positions such as structural instructors. One of the biggest complaints I get from volunteer brigades is it is very hard to receive the training. These positions mean more staff, making it easier to fill the positions such as instructors and enabling us to further enhance and develop our volunteers. As well as having additional staff on the fireground on a day-to-day basis, we now have a greater capacity to mentor and develop the volunteers on the fireground. We have the capacity to work with them, mentor them, develop them and use them as incident controllers, assisting them to be good at incident control as well as filling their normal roles as firefighters.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on some of the previous comments about cross-crewing. In my experience in three different integrated brigades of volunteer and career staff, there has never been an issue where we have not let a volunteer member on a fire truck. I am not aware of that happening in any location within CFA. I am 100 per cent certain that, if this EBA is put through, that will not change. To this day we take volunteers on fire trucks when they are on station. We do not hesitate to allow them on trucks and I cannot see how this legislation will impact on our ability to use volunteers the same way we do now, but I can see it impacting on our community service and our firefighter safety. Thank you for your time.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Dowie. Another statement?
Mr Shawcross : Once again I would like to say thanks for the opportunity to present to you today. I would also like to add, as Kade said, I began my service in CFA as a volunteer in the Colac Fire Brigade in south-west Victoria, where I am still currently a volunteer member. Today I would like to present an example of an incident which occurred in the Ballarat area some time ago. I want to make a comparison between how it transpired that evening and how it might transpire once the new EBA goes through. This example occurred in Remembrance Drive in Alfredton, which is a suburb in the City of Ballarat area. I just want to point out that, for comparison, the Ballarat population is around the same size as that of Canberra—around 100,000 people. At 2.30 am, Ambulance Victoria was dispatched to motor vehicle accident. The patient was heavily trapped in the wreckage and seriously injured. The vehicle was smoking and it was also on gas. Once on scene, they did a size-up and fire and rescue services were requested by AV straightaway. Eleven minutes from the time of dispatch, the first CFA member arrived. He was a volunteer captain in his own car. However, he was unable to perform rescue or fire suppression due to having no equipment in his vehicle. Sixteen minutes after dispatch, the volunteer rescue brigade arrived on scene. Then 29 minutes from dispatch, the volunteer firetruck arrived on scene. The incident is 5.9 kilometres travel time from Ballarat City Fire Station where the career staff were stationed, and the fastest resources were not dispatched to that event.
I would also like to, if I may, table a letter from Ambulance Victoria with regard to this event. Under the proposed EBA, the volunteer response still remains the same. So, if that event happened now, the volunteers would still be turned out as they were on that evening. However, if Ballarat City Fire Brigade is also turned out, we have a 90-second guaranteed response time and, conservatively, we would be on scene within six to seven minutes. That buys us an extra nine minutes for rescue services and also buys us an extra 22 minutes, compared to the previous response, for fire suppression.
I would just like to highlight that the new EBA will actually support volunteer response and it also gives the community enhanced road accident rescue and EMR capabilities. EMR stands for emergency medical response, and that is to support Ambulance Victoria. The new EBA also provides guaranteed response times, guaranteed crew numbers and guaranteed skills. It underpins and further enhances the CFA mission to protect lives and properties, which is what we are all about. Whether we are staffers or members, it is all about that. However, the new EBA does not hinder volunteer ability to respond to emergency calls and it will not stop the volunteers from turning out to fires and incidents, so everything remains the same. However, the proposed EBA does offer additional support to volunteers who are finding it increasingly challenging to provide adequate service delivery through lifestyle and other circumstances, which Kade mentioned before, as well as guaranteeing response and resourcing for the community during emergencies. Thank you very much for your time.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Shawcross. Are there any other short statements?
Mr Spicer : I would like to kick off a little bit with some history as well. As a said earlier, I have 16 years as a career firefighter. I have worked all around Melbourne—south-eastern suburbs, western suburbs, northern suburbs. I have worked in northern Victoria and I have done a couple of stints as an instructor at the Fiskville training ground. I pursued a career in firefighting to make a difference and to have one of those careers, I suppose, where you feel like you have done something meaningful. I have been proud of the work that I have done and I continue to be proud of the work that we do as career firefighters. I guess that is why the last six months or so have been very difficult, seeing the vilification of career firefighters in social media, in mainstream media and in the community in general. I think all of it is due to misinterpretations of what is in the proposed EBA and the politicisation, for political ends, in whatever political persuasion you would like.
I really wanted to talk about what I see as the intent of the EBA. A couple of the senators I think touched on it in the earlier session. It is not just about our pay and conditions. It is probably worth noting that we rejected an earlier pay offer which was higher than the one that is currently on the table. We rejected it because the other conditions that went with that did not provide the degree of firefighter safety that we require and it did not offer the additional safety that is offered in the proposed EBA now for community. One of the things that was mentioned briefly was road accident rescue, EMR. Those are things that are included in the proposed EBA that we will be providing to the community, which is obviously a positive thing.
Firefighter safety is always going to be top of our list. We cannot help anyone else if we are injured or do not get to the fire in the first place. I have a couple of points, and PPC was one that came up earlier, I know. I might just touch briefly on the PPC, if I can, and how we came to the position we had with the PPC. That was through our consultation and the fact that we did have a union representing us.
One of the early specifications for the structural gear that we wear now, from CFA, without going into too much technicality, had the layers within it the wrong way around and it was going to create danger for firefighters. There is a thermal barrier and a moisture barrier. The moisture barrier was on the wrong side, which would have allowed moisture into the clothing and then, in a hot environment, potential steam burns for firefighters. That was one of the things that we fought and fought and fought, and finally we got through. Now the gear that we wear is safe and, as we talked about, was also issued to volunteers, so we do have the same gear.
The 'seven firefighters dispatched', is also, obviously, one that has been very contentious. If I could just go into why seven—I am not sure if everybody understands why the No. 7. Let us say we are going to a house fire. The house is going; it is alight and there are people reported inside. As an incident controller my first tasking will be for two crew wearing breathing apparatus to take a hose line, make an entry and start a search. There are my first two. I am the third—so we are now up to three—because I am the incident controller. When I am sending two people into that environment it is a totally uncontrolled environment. It is not like anybody else's workplace. It is totally uncontrolled. My job is to try and bring some control back to that and get rid of the variables.
I want another two breathing-apparatus operators on standby, outside the house, ready to assist those operators inside should the ceiling collapse, should fire increase and they get trapped or whatever that might be. It is a safety requirement that I have another two operators. Now we are up to five. These people are going inside with a hose line and they are going to put out the fire. They need a pump operator to provide water. There is my No. 6. The seventh guy should be, probably, managing BA control, knowing who is in and who is out, how long they have been gone and where they are. He will be doing that but he will also be running around, essentially, as a gopher outside the building. He will be getting a ladder off the truck. He will be running another hose line. He will be getting equipment for the guys inside as they need it. That is how we come to our seven.
Then we come back to: 'Why seven career staff?' Obviously, there are volunteers who can perform those roles; there is no doubt about that. We have volunteers who are breathing-apparatus qualified. We have volunteers who are pump operators. We have all of those things. What we do not have is a guarantee that when I go out there with my crew of three I am going to get an additional four people who are qualified in those things to an incident. The only way I can be guaranteed I am going to get that No. 7 at the fireground when I get there or shortly after I get there is by despatching seven career firefighters. Even assuming that the volunteer brigade responding with me turns out with a full crew of four people on their truck, there is still no guarantee of the skills mix I am going to get. They may be BA qualified, they may not be. They may be pump operators, they may not be. We just do not know. As I said earlier, it is about removing those variables. Sure, I can use those people. If the volunteers turn up and they are breathing-apparatus qualified I will task them and I will use them in my fire suppression. But if they are not, my plan just went out the window and I have got two guys inside potentially compromised by a structural collapse or increasing fire activity, and I have no way to get them out—because the people who have turned up may not be qualified to do that.
Again, as Kade said earlier, it is not a swipe at volunteers and their skill level, but it has to be acknowledged that the skill level of volunteers across the state varies. It varies according to their opportunities, it varies according to their desires, what they want to train in, and it varies in the skills profile of their brigade. If they are essentially a rural brigade—just north of Craigieburn, where I work, there are rural brigades—if that is their skill profile, then their number of breathing-apparatus operators will be significantly lower than an urban brigade. That is where the 'seven career firefighters' dispatch comes from. I am happy to talk some more about that.
I have a number of other points but I have made my main point that I wanted to make: that there has been a lot of misinformation out there and that the EBA for us, as career firefighters, is our safeguard. It is how we ensure our own safety.
Mr Keating : I am a senior station officer based at the Hallam fire station, which is in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We have a fairly busy workload there. We have a station that does nearly 2,000 fire calls a year. We do medical emergency response. We were one of the trial stations before that. Hopefully, it is being rolled out in the new enterprise agreement.
We also manage a hazardous materials unit for chemical response to everywhere east of the Hume Highway in Victoria. The Hume Highway runs from Melbourne up to Wodonga. Everything on the east side of that—the pointy end Victoria—is an area that we respond to in our hazardous materials unit.
I have been a member of the CFA since 1989. I started as a volunteer firefighter at a little place called Kyneton—about 15 minutes up the road from here. After a few years of involvement in the brigade, I realised that you could do this for a career. I really enjoyed the work and that is why I took it on. I started as a career firefighter in 1995. I went through the Fiskville training college and found my way out to stations in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne.
The organisation has afforded me opportunities to develop. I have reached the career rank of operations officer level 2. I have been able to study. I do fire investigation. I am an advanced structural wildfire investigator with the CFA, and that is another area of an integration success story. I have also been able to do further education through the organisation to the level of a masters in emergency management.
I want to touch on a few of the points that some of the other panel members have spoken about. The first one that I will touch on very quickly is seven on the fire ground. My shift of firefighters at Hallam are living the not-having-seven-on-the-fire-ground scenario at the moment. We had a garage fire on Christmas Day last year. We arrived on the scene several minutes before any other crews. As incident controller, I only had the option of one firefighter to run the pump and one firefighter in a breathing apparatus. My SOPs say that I cannot put people into a fire in that situation. I had a street full of screaming public telling me that they wanted me to get involved and stop the fire from spreading to the neighbouring houses, and that sort of thing. Now I have got a firefighter who is still off work. He tore a disc in his back. He has done over six months in bed and hospital. He is just starting to get into some rehabilitation work to see him come good.
It is funny: I had some notes written on this but I will not read them, because it is easier just to talk about it. The volunteer brigades did respond that day. They left their Christmas lunches, left their families and came out. They did an excellent job. They were professional in the work they did. They were capable.
They have breathing apparatuses. They can operate their pumps. They assist us in getting water and can do all of those things; however, their ability to be on scene at that job when we needed them, at the very outset, was not there simply because they had to travel to their station to get their truck to go. That left me with a choice of: do nothing and have three houses on fire, or do something and we try and save someone's Christmas a little bit.
The shift ramifications of trying to get a guy back on the truck who comes in for two days a week for an hour a day are astounding. As an officer, it has highlighted that we really do need to look after our people.
I am sure that if we asked the public what they would rather have us do—would they rather have us sit on the sidewalk and wait until we have enough people to do what our standard operating procedure says, which is that we wait until we have an appropriate number of crew before we attempt a job, or do we do the best that we can in the circumstances that we are given. It is a risk versus reward scenario, and we will do that, generally.
But the following day, we went to another job. Instead of turning and going east from our fire station, on Boxing Day we went to the Dandenong Primary School. Their hall was on fire. Dandenong is an integrated station, so there was an integrated station going to support another integrated station. We arrived on scene. We had in excess of seven firefighters. So straightaway, the job the day after the accident, we were able to have two crews of two BA wearers, or breathing apparatus wearers, ready to go and advance the hose lines into the fire. We had additional people helping to get water into the fire truck that we designated we were going to use to pump the water. The incident controller was able to stand back. He stood back on the basketball court and was able to survey everything going on around him, make logical and clear decisions and provide that level of information to the crews that needed it. We had extra people on the ground able to carry out the tasks that we needed to, such as isolating the power, isolating the gas, working out where the other hazards were and forcing entry through the doors. In my mind, that is a much better scenario than the one we had to live through on Christmas Day, and if the enterprise agreement can deliver seven firefighters onto the fireground, and that is of any persuasion—as my colleague had said, it is not that we do not want volunteer firefighters on the fireground. It is not that we do not want them to respond, but what we need is some certainty on people that are attending.
CHAIR: I know you probably have a lot of additional points to make, but I am confident that the senators want to get to questions and I have a hard time holding them back. Mr Faour, do you have a statement?
Mr Faour : Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak today. I really do come today to speak from the heart and to give you a completely different perspective of what it is like to be a volunteer in an integrated brigade.
You probably hear a lot in the media, and the VFBV love to speak about 60,000 volunteers and how they represent the 60,000 volunteers. Well, I am one—and one of many—who stands before you today and tells you that we are not represented by the VFBV. We see all these things that are happening. We see a huge wedge and divide that is being driven between the volunteers and the staff, and unfortunately there seems to be a lot of detachment from certain brigades which seem to be further out in the state and do not have much to do with staff firefighters. I do—I come from a brigade that, last year, did 9,950 calls. I am a volunteer. Even if I were to turn out to half of those calls, and say I were there for an hour each time I went to a job, I am committing 1,000 hours at my station a year in calls, which brings me to my next point: the amount of hours for someone like me, as a volunteer. I have a three-year-old daughter; my job requires me to travel; I am a keen fisherman, so I like to get a few hours in fishing; and I try to keep up to scratch with breathing apparatus, pumping and any other skills I can maintain; I am a code 1 truck driver at Hallam. I need to try to fit all of that into my life. It is my choice that I do want to do that. It is because I am passionate about it. But let's be realistic: sometimes, I cannot get out of the house and I cannot jump into my car and I cannot get down to the station. But when I can, then I do my best.
I jump on the truck with my comrades here, because they do not stop me from getting on the truck. They actually welcome me getting onto the truck. When I get to the station, they are like, 'Raj, are you available? Are you jumping on with us?'. My first answer is, 'Boys, I'm with you 100 per cent.'
Just to show you the camaraderie between the volunteers and the staff at our station: when I am free at lunchtime, I am down at the station and I share a meal. We sit down in the mess and we eat together. We have coffees together. We have a fishing club together—we all fish together. So it saddens me to see this situation turning into a huge political game. There is a lot of misinformation that is being pushed onto many volunteers out there who do not have the exposure to these integrated brigades or the firefighters. If I was in doubt of anything, I would always go up and I would research it. I would ask, whether it is a UFU delegate at our brigade, whether it is Steve, whether it is another friend of mine who might be up north.
That brings me to my next point, which is: I had questions about seven on the fireground. I have actually seen, as a volunteer, firsthand, being in the back seat of a truck, turning out and responding to a full volunteer brigade—we respond into the area—getting to the job and that brigade still has not responded. We get out. We start doing what we need to do. There is still no response. Just to put it in perspective: four minutes to turn out a truck, as a volunteer. Then you get out the door. We have already got on the job. By the time Vic Fire comes back and says to us, 'This responding brigade that you're supporting to has failed to respond; would you like us to page another brigade?' if we are at a fully involved house fire, we say, 'Yeah. Respond another brigade.' Then the clock starts all over again. By the time they page another brigade—and hopefully they respond——we are looking at, now, 10 minutes or 15 minutes. In our area, we have got factories, hazardous materials, houses—it is a very, very busy area. We are looking at 15 minutes, sometimes, before a truck even rolls out the door.
I explained before: volunteers do an amazing job. And our volunteer brigades—surrounding brigades—do an amazing job in providing a wonderful service. We need to remember, as volunteers: we are not doing this for ourselves; we are doing this because we want to look after the public; we want to look after our communities. That is the whole point of what we do. So it is 15 minutes, and there are three or four of us at an incident. It is not acceptable. How are we providing service to our community if we are not getting out the door?
Another thing that baffles me is this. I know for a fact, asking questions, that this EBA is not going to affect us. Sorry—I will not be too much longer. The EBA does not affect us. I just cannot fathom why volunteers are getting involved in an agreement which is between an employer and their employees. It is just like St John Ambulance getting involved in Ambulance Victoria's EBA—it is unheard of. And it is because of the message that has been driven and the untruths that have been driven that are putting fear into these volunteers that do not have access to ask the questions. It is almost being pushed, like they are puppets, unfortunately.
My main point is this. We are coming up to a very busy fire season again. I would love to see this bill scrapped so that the EBA can go through so that we can focus on doing what we do best, and that is working side by side and protecting our communities and providing what we are there for—and that is protection to our community and our families.
CHAIR: Thank you so much.
Mr Symeoy : Thank you for this opportunity. I really do appreciate it. I am from Craigieburn fire brigade—northern suburbs, Craigieburn. We are an integrated station. I have been a volunteer there for 33 years. I hold the rank of third lieutenant and am a life member. I have some prompts here that I am going to use. I am basically going to say it as it is as well. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I totally respect every single person that is in this room that has anything to do with the CFA. I get very emotional, so I will try and hold that back.
We will start off with misinformation. Right across the board there has been a lot of misinformation. People do not know what the truth is. People have not had the opportunity to find out what the truth is because of being in remote areas and all that sort of stuff and not being able to get to an integrated station and talk to the guys that have been there. We have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask questions and be told what the EBA is all about. By doing that, the brigade has come to the conclusion that the EBA has got nothing to do with volunteers. Basically what is going to come out of this is: we are going to be benefited better; the community is going to be benefited better. That goes for seven on the fireground. Last night an 82-year-old woman was rescued from a fire in Craigieburn because there were seven on the fireground. The first two appliances there were two staff trucks. The truck that came from Craigieburn had one volunteer. She had just come out of a recruit course and she was tasked accordingly for that. There were four other members on that truck. Also the MFB came along and they had the numbers. So there were seven staff members who went about their business, did their job and extracted the lady out of the building. She went off to hospital safe and sound. There is the importance of seven on the fireground. There is no easier way to explain it to you. That is how it is.
Cross-crewing: we cross-crew, yes. We always have; we always will. What they are trying to say is—the way I understand it—at the moment there are three, five, four or whatever there are on shift. What that means is, if they go to a campaign fire, basically the shift goes together on that truck. If there is room on that truck, volunteers go too. No-one gets told, 'No, you're not going.' They will take you. They will mentor you. That is what I have become now. I have become a leader because of that—being mentored on a truck. That is the truth.
Respect: I cannot tell you how much respect I have for these guys. They have taught us. They have showed us respect. They hold their heads up high in public. Everywhere they go, they just shine in the way that they deal with the public. They treat everybody with respect, talk to them nicely and get the same back in return. Respect towards volunteers: we sit down every Wednesday night before training. We have dinner. We have had barbecues. We have had functions. We have had parties. We have gone away. There is no divide. Where you hear about that divide, it is rubbish.
If I can just go back to one thing that I heard earlier: a gentleman said something about volunteers leaving and going to another state. I can tell you now: that is a crock. Why? Because they are volunteers and they are here to help the community. That is what we do. We are here to help the community. We are here to do whatever the task is that we are asked to do and we do it professionally. It does not matter if you are a volunteer; it does not matter if you are a staff member. When we get on the fireground, we are one. We work together. We get tasked together. I have been the first person on scene and I have run a job and I have had staff members come up to me and say, 'Are you right?' 'Yes.' 'What do you want me to do?' 'I've got this.' There have been times when I have gone, 'This is too big for me. I need help.' They have been there to help me. So there is the respect that you get.
On behalf of my brigade: we do not want this bill to go ahead. We want this settled. I would like this settled. The fire season is coming up and we do not need this. This has gone on for too long. The EBA has got nothing to do with volunteers. If anything, it is going to better us and better our skills and better our equipment, because half the equipment that we have got today we would not have if it were not for staff. That is the honest truth. I can stand here and put my hand on my heart and tell you that. Thank you for the opportunity. That is me.
CHAIR: Thank you. There are three more. Like we had to with the last session, keep it very quick, guys, please.
Mr Van Den Driest : I am a senior station officer out at Rowville, which is out in the outer east of Melbourne. We are on the urban-rural interface. I have been part of CFA for 18 years. I was a volunteer for approximately three years before transitioning through to career staff and the integration model.
One of my roles recently has been as integration officer at Rowville. Two colleagues and I were put in there for a 12-month on-day period to assist the volunteers in their transition from a fully volunteer brigade to an integrated model and help get them up to speed with how the new world would look, having career staff on their station.
The point I would like to raise is about the seven career staff dispatched to fires and incidents. We must provide the most appropriate personnel to the fireground in the shortest responsible time, whether it be volunteers or career staff. Many events we go to are time-life critical events. Volunteers, through no fault of their own, often struggle to either respond at all or respond with less than the appropriate crewing. If I may, I have some documentation I would like to submit.
CHAIR: Just bear in mind, we have heard a lot of evidence about the seven crew.
Mr Van Den Driest : I am from district 13—that is, as I said, the outer east. Rowville is my brigade. One of my concerns, as a station officer, is: when we go to fires, we are hoping to get the support that we require. Oftentimes, we do not and, so much so that, as a brigade, we have started to keep a log of the brigades around us that have not been able to support us through fires and incidents.
When you have a look at the document that I am holding up, this is only a two-month period and only one brigade—this is my concern as a senior station officer in our district. Again, I want to reiterate: this is not a swipe at volunteers. We understand that volunteers have issues that they have to attend to. They have family. They have work commitments. They have hobbies and all of that.
If you have a look at the red on this document, the red is when they have failed to respond in an appropriate time or failed to respond with the appropriate crewing. This is an everyday occurrence. This EBA will resolve that with seven on the fireground. There has been a lot of talk about seven on the fireground. This is an example of how that can be fixed. It will make my life a lot easier with seven career staff on the fireground.
Bearing in mind, there time restraints, if we could just move to the other two documents: if you have a look at the map of Victoria, you will see it is broken into north-east, south-east, south-west. If you look very closely, you will see where all the brigades are. If you have a look at the second map, the more colourful one, it will show you where the integrated fire stations are.
With respect, the volunteer members who were here before us are not from the brigades where seven on the fireground is going to affect them.
CHAIR: With respect, Mr Van Den Driest, I think you are actually misinterpreting the evidence we heard from the former panel. There were people who were supporting Wangaratta, for instance.
Mr Van Den Driest : Right. I retract that. That is where a fire station is located.
CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt: keep going.
Mr Van Den Driest : In closing, I really want to make it clear: we are not laying blame—
Senator CAMERON: Mr Van Den Driest, don't feel intimidated; I think you are doing pretty well.
Mr Van Den Driest : Thank you. I would like to reaffirm: this is not about volunteers; this is about our ability to provide a better service, a more appropriate service. We are not trying to stop volunteers from responding to incidents; we are simply saying: we have a better model. Volunteers can still respond to fires as they normally would, but we need to maintain our own safety as well as the safety of the community. Thank you.
Mr Thistlewaite : Good morning, Senator. Thank you for the chance to speak. As I have already said, I am representing my brigade, which is the Greenvale Fire Brigade. I will not go into any details in regard to seven on the fireground, because that obviously has already been covered. When this initially came out, in my brigade obviously there were concerns with the volunteers, so we sat down and spoke to them individually and as a group in regard to all those concerns. As a whole, my brigade are supportive of the EBA and they wish for it to go through, and that is because of firefighter safety. I just want to make sure that is nice and clear.
Seven on the fireground is definitely one of those ones, but the other one that we need to touch on, I believe, is the consultation clause. With that clause, it is portrayed as a veto.
CHAIR: There are many clauses that go to that.
Mr Thistlewaite : Yes, for many clauses. It is portrayed as a veto but that is not a veto, and we all know that is not a veto because it states in there that it requires agreement, and if it cannot be agreed to then it goes to a committee or a distribution officer so that that decision can then be made. It is about firefighter safety, the community's safety and ensuring that we have the best possible procedures and best possible equipment that can be out there. I cannot see how anybody can be against that and say that our safety is not important. That is one of the points I want to make.
Also, from a personal point of view I want to stress that, like other career firefighters, I live in a wholly, solely volunteer response area. If I believed this was going to affect a volunteer response, I would be basically saying that I do not care if the volunteers do not turn out to my house when it catches on fire. I live in an area where volunteers respond and my family's safety is at risk, and if I thought this EBA was going to affect that I would not be supportive of it.
Just so that you know a little bit about me, I have been in the CFA for five years and prior to that I was also in the military. So I am a very community minded person and I would never do anything that put the community at risk. I volunteer myself and have in the past. I have been a Scout leader. I currently volunteer at my local lawn bowls club. We are all community minded people and we do it for the community.
CHAIR: I think that is, without a doubt, accepted by everybody.
Mr Walter : Thank you for your time, Senators. I am from Greenvale Fire Brigade. I am a level 3 firefighter and I have worked for CFA for two years now. Outside the CFA I am also an Army reservist.
Today I would like to talk about two points if I could. The first is firefighter safety and the second is community safety. The role of a firefighter and the job that I do is inherently dangerous. It is my job to go to unsafe situations and make them safe. When I turn up to work I accept those risks, but I think it is reasonable to expect that my employer should take reasonable steps to ensure my safety as well. As an employee, the EBA is a mechanism that I have to be able to have an input into my safety at work, and that is through safe work practices like seven on the fireground, which has been spoken about, which guarantees that there is someone on the way; which guarantees that if I am inside a structure and it collapses there is someone there to back me up, to rescue me and make sure I go home to my family that day. It also ensures that I have consultation and input into the equipment that I use, the work practices that I follow at work and the training that I follow.
The second point I would like to make is on community safety. The areas where this agreement will have an effect are the greater metropolitan areas and the large regional centres like Geelong and Ballarat. These are not rural areas anymore. The line in the sand was drawn in 1958 to determine the difference between the metropolitan fire brigade district and the CFA district. These areas are no longer rural, and the people in these areas expect a level of fire coverage as to what the risk is in the area. They are paying the fire service levy, and I believe that they should get better value for what they pay.
The final point I would like to make, and I guess it is more of a question—I hope it is a question that is asked throughout this process—is: what is best for the community? I believe that if the EBA is implemented the community will get a lot of benefits out of it. Thank you for your time.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Walter, and thank you everyone for your evidence and the work you do in all of our communities here in Victoria. A number of senators have questions. I have some too, I would like to flag, but I will go to Senator Marshall first.
Senator MARSHALL: Thank you for talking about seven on the fireground, because I do want to go there. It has had something like 27 front page stories in the Herald Sun, so I think it is worth getting to what it really means. I think you have described it very well, but I want to get some clarification. That is effectively for structural fires. One editorial I read in the paper effectively said that you would have to have seven firefighters standing around a burning match on the ground before someone was prepared to actually stand on it and put it out. I want to differentiate between structural and, say, a rubbish bin fire. So it does not mean—tell me if I am wrong—that you have to wait until seven on the fireground to put out a rubbish tin or stand on the burning match or anything of that nature?
Mr Keating : That is correct. The seven on the fireground is more for your environment and structural type fires. Notwithstanding that, at a structural event, the senior person on the first-arriving appliance, according to the CFA's standard operating procedures, will assume the role of incident controller. They may deem that there is not a requirement for those seven to respond or that the crews on scene are appropriate to deal with that job. So it may be that you go into a structure and there is a dispatch of your seven crew and, on arrival of the first appliance, it is deemed that it is not necessary—for example, a pot on the stove or some other scenario. The incident controller can alter the requirements at any point.
Senator MARSHALL: So let's be clear: you do not have to wait for seven to be on the fireground before you start addressing the fire?
Mr Keating : Not at all.
Senator MARSHALL: Well, that is something that has been misrepresented.
Senator HANSON: Sorry to interrupt, but 43.2.7 says:
Consistent with the increases in staffing provided in this Agreement, the CFA will conduct an extensive range of preventative and preparedness programs and meet its duty of care by ensuring a minimum of seven professional firefighters to fireground incidents are dispatched before commencement of safe firefighting operations. This requirement applies to integrated stations in Districts 2, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15 and 27.
That is what it actually says in 43.2.7. We keep hearing that it is totally different. So what is it? Is this right or not or has it been changed?
Mr Keating : Senator, with respect, what it says in that document is that responding prior to the commencement of activities, the activation of the fire brigades is the mechanism when the fire call is made. Firefighting will start when the first appliance arrives on scene, and that will be some time after the appliances have been dispatched.
Senator HANSON: What I have heard is that the first truck that goes out and attends the fire will assess it but, in the mean time, other trucks with seven professional firefighters must be dispatched. If the first firefighter that is there says, 'No, it's alright, mate; it's only a lit match on the ground,' they can then say, 'Turn around and go back.' Is that correct?
Mr Keating : Yes.
Senator HANSON: That is not what I am reading here. It says the CFA will meet:
… its duty of care by ensuring a minimum of seven professional firefighters to fireground incidents are dispatched before commencement of safe firefighting operations.
So they can actually still go ahead and—
Mr Spicer : The key word there, Senator Hanson, is 'dispatched'. It is a requirement that they are dispatched. The way it will work is somebody will call triple 0, for instance, and that call will then be transferred on to VicFire, who will dispatch us. What they are saying is that they will be dispatched. So there is a call of fire and straightaway a minimum of two trucks will be dispatched. If one truck gets there and establishes that there is no requirement for any further resources, at that point they can turn any other responding appliances around. So the key word is 'dispatched'. They are being dispatched. They are not necessarily getting on scene or starting firefighting.
Senator MARSHALL: I am glad we are having this discussion, because it is something that seems to be very misunderstood. Outside of the integrated stations area of control, what applies there?
Mrs English : The same as normal.
Senator MARSHALL: The same as what happens now?
Mrs English : Exactly.
Senator MARSHALL: No change?
Mrs English : They get a fire call, they go, they do their job. That is it.
Senator MARSHALL: Is there a requirement outside of the EBA arrangement for seven on the fireground?
Mr Shawcross : If I may respond to Senator Hanson, and you too, Senator Marshall, in regard to that. If you continue on with that clause Senator Hanson, further on down the page you will find a key phrase, which says that 'career firefighters are dispatched to' or that 'career firefighters respond to'—I am not sure of the exact wording. So probably, on my estimation, 85 to 90 per cent of the state, we do not actually respond geographically to those areas. So it only pertains to the areas, in reference to what you mentioned there, Senator Marshall, within our areas where the career firefighters actually work.
Mr Thistlewaite : I will just say exactly the same thing. It only applies to 32 stations. So out of the 1,200 CFA stations, this applies to 32.
Senator HANSON: For the moment?
Mr Thistlewaite : No, with this agreement.
Senator MARSHALL: And those integrated stations are now where we have, what we might loosely call, an urban sprawl. So you either have your major towns, which are effectively small cities compared to 20 or 30 years ago when the CFA boundaries were done—or 30 or 40 years ago, I should say—or the urban sprawl from the metropolitan area. If you drive out in Eltham, for instance, you would assume that you are still in a Melbourne metropolitan area because you are, but it is not covered by the MFB.
Senator MARSHALL: Nods. Yes, all right, confirm that, thank you. Mr Faour, you talked about the respect and some of the distressing things. I have actually seen a leaflet which is about raising money for the volunteers, the Valuing Volunteers Fund with their bank account details which actually refers to paid firefighters like this, 'fight back against mercenaries taking money to do what volunteers do for free.' It says, 'Help us save the CFA from UFU criminals,' and, 'Show your support for hero CFA volunteers and your total contempt for paid union thugs.' Do any of you guys fit into that category?
Mrs English : I hope not.
Unidentified speaker: I would like to think not.
Senator MARSHALL: Is this sort of stuff widely distributed and how is that actually affecting the morale in the CFA organisation. I would be happy to table it.
Mr Spicer : I personally cannot see how we have reached this divide that that sort of rhetoric is creating. I do not know how we come back from it. I like to think we can, but it is certainly affecting morale, there is no double.
Mr Faour : Just quickly, that leaflet that you had there, Senator, that is all over social media. Right? So that is being distributed not only to other firefighters but to members of the public as well. And this is how you can see that just everyday people are reading this kind stuff and making opinions of my colleagues here as being thugs when they are actually probably some of the most upstanding people in our community.
Mr Symeoy : Also on that, that is what I was talking about earlier about misinformation. Everyone gets misinformed. Everyone starts to worry that someone is going to come into their catchment and takeover and push that person aside. It is not going to happen. This has been going on for a long time. This is only one major leaflet that has been put out on social media. This is where we need to get this over the line and we need to fix it now because, unfortunately, people's lives, other than the firefighters, their families and also everybody else, are going to disrepute here and it is not fair on anyone. We need to fix this. We need to get the right information out to everybody. Unfortunately, it is not out there and when you do ask for it, you are not getting it.
CHAIR: Thank you. On that question of morale, some of the evidence provided to us in this session now, rejected the evidence of the CFA volunteers that there were morale issues. We heard very, very clearly in the earlier session that there were CFA members, particularly on the border, choosing to join New South Wales brigades and, yet, specifically yourself, sir, rejected that evidence. And yet, you talk of this dispute as having morale issues for you and your workforce, but at same time rejecting that it, similarly, has significant morale issues on the CFA.
Mr Symeoy : It has right across the border.
CHAIR: So you retract your earlier comments?
Mr Symeoy : No, what I was trying to say was that it is right across the board that the information is not out there, and it is affecting everybody.
CHAIR: No, my question went directly to morale. You rejected statements by CFA members who appeared earlier that this whole issue has been significantly impacting their level of morale. You said no; you rejected that evidence.
Mr Symeoy : Yes. Okay, yes, I will retract that. I am sorry.
CHAIR: Thank you. On the whole question of people being unaware of the truth, people being misled et cetera, was the former emergency services minister, Jane Garrett, misled or unaware of the truth or the facts?
Senator CAMERON: Chair, point of order: how can these individuals, who are out there helping the community, know what has happened to the minister? That is a totally unfair and improper question.
CHAIR: They have made statements about people being unaware and about untruths. I am asking if the former minister might have been one of those people.
Senator CAMERON: They cannot talk to the former minister.
Senator LAMBIE: This is not helping morale issues.
Mr Faour : I do not know what happens behind closed doors in politics. Politics is called politics for a reason, and that is because it is politics. Only God knows what deals could have happened behind closed doors. I am not saying that something did happen, but who am I to say that something did not happen? So how can we sit here and comment on that? We cannot. What I can comment on is that I know that an association that I am a part of, I feel, is misleading us volunteers, and I am part of that association, so I can make that comment.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr Thistlethwaite : I cannot answer for the former emergency services minister, but I can tell you about a personal experience of mine. I was playing lawn bowls, and there was a person playing next to me who knew I was a career firefighter. He came up to me and he started abusing me, using the language that you saw in that letter, calling me a thug, a scumbag and a mercenary taking money from volunteers. That is the sort of behaviour that I have had to deal with, that other career firefighters have had to deal with and that my family has had to deal with. That is a personal example.
CHAIR: Thank you. I think that goes to my point, which is that both sides of this debate are on the ground, severely impacted in morale, and we as the community expect you to come together and keep us safe all year round.
Senator CAMERON: If that fellow kept his big trap shut, it would not be as bad.
CHAIR: Thank you so much, Senator Cameron! Your help is always appreciated!
Senator CAMERON: Good!
CHAIR: This is one of my final questions: I have listened to your evidence, where you have made a good case that the impact of this EBA on volunteers and service provision, particularly for integrated stations, is in question. However, I listened to Lucinda Nolan give very direct and clear evidence to the Victorian inquiry into this particular issue that she believed the EBA would undermine the CFA's capacity to fulfil its role as an emergency service provider. How do you reconcile those two very different views?
Mr Keating : I suggest that that is an opinion of an ex-CEO of the CFA, not an opinion of the people on the ground that are doing the work day in, day out.
CHAIR: Okay, that is your—fine.
Mr Keating : That is her opinion versus our opinion.
CHAIR: Yes, it is, but I think she formed that opinion, as we have heard, as the employer of the CFA employees. She formed the opinion that the EBA as it stood would undermine the capacity of the CFA to perform its function under the act. Mr Keating, do you disagree or agree?
Mr Keating : I disagree, on the following grounds: since 2006, when we have gone through enterprise agreements, VFBV have continually, I suppose, lobbied against them or produced negative communications to their member brigades—I am an employee at a member brigade, Hallam—about enterprise agreements and said that our agreements will undermine the work of the volunteers and prevent the volunteers from conducting their work. These communications have been coming out since 2006. If I can just focus the senators' minds to Black Saturday 2009, where integration of volunteers and staff from various organisations all across Victoria and Australia came together to overcome unbelievable adversity. Again, there are other examples—last Christmas Day, Wye River—of integration, with staff and volunteers and incident management teams on the fire grounds working together seamlessly to protect their communities.
CHAIR: Mr Keating, no-one disregards the importance of the CFA—the volunteers and the paid firefighters working together. It is the understanding that those that are employing—the CFA proper and the chief fire officer—and the legal advice, reject that this EBA actually allows that to occur and the volunteers to retain their volunteer status.
Mr Keating : I cannot comment on that commentary, on what you are saying.
CHAIR: Thank you. I will go to other senators.
Senator LAMBIE: With regard to the 350 additional paid firefighters, how many volunteers do you have in Victoria?
Mr Van Den Driest : 60,000—
Senator LAMBIE: Out of those 60,000, have you given them the offer first if they want to step up and become paid firefighters?
Mr Van Den Driest : I can answer that, if you like. To become a paid firefighter is open to everybody—volunteer or not. They go through a process, just like an employment process, that CFA have in place.
Senator LAMBIE: I would imagine it does, but right now it does not take a brainwave to sit here and watch you guys in front of me and realise that you are extremely divided and that your morale has hit rock bottom. That is sitting in front of our face, and that exactly is what is happening between the volunteers and yourselves and the union. You are in a pretty bad state. I mean, how long did it take you—six or seven years—to work out a uniform? Something is very terribly wrong here. So I am simply asking you to extend the olive branch. Before you take anybody else on, have you asked any of those 60,000 volunteers if they would like to stand up—and put them first, to the top of the list? Do not tell me about discrimination—I do not want to hear the crap. I want to know if they have been given the offer first.
Mr Symeoy : Can I answer that as a volunteer. We have the opportunity—every single volunteer knows when the CFA are recruiting. Everybody knows that there is a process to go through. It is not an organisation that say, 'You do a really good job—you should be a firey. Come and see so-and-so and you've got a job.' It is not like being a plasterer or anything like that. It has a process. It has been like that for as long as the CFA has been alive. It has been like that for as long as the police force has been going. That is the process. So, to answer your question: no, we do not get hand-picked and offered like that. We do get encouraged. We do get encouraged to go and have a crack at it and we do get encouraged to be helped to get past the line, get mentored, trained, be physically fit to be able to get through the stages that you have to get through to become a career firefighter.
Mr Spicer : Senator Lambie, in the introductions here today you would have seen that most of the career firefighters here have come from a volunteer background. It is a fairly common thing that most—not most, but a large percentage—of career firefighters have come from a volunteer background. So I do not know whether that helps explain—
Mr Faour : I have one comment too. Also, being a volunteer does give you a lot of experience, obviously, if you apply for the job. So, if I keep my skills maintained and up-to-date and I learn a lot of things through being on the fire ground, when I apply for the job it is going to give me a better opportunity than it is for John Smith that is a bricklayer. I am going to have that edge on him anyway. So we are getting skills that we can use in CFA and in life every single day through the organisation.
Senator LAMBIE: That is great, but I would like to see the 350 paid firefighters that you intend on putting on out of the 60,000. I am just wondering how you can extend the branch so that morale is not so rock bottom.
Mr Faour : Well, it is open to us. It is up to us to put in for it.
Senator LAMBIE: No, it bothers me greatly that we have already had a five- or six-year fight over a uniform and now we are going down this alley. So you are your own worst enemies—I think that needs to be said. How old is this volunteer charter? When was the last time it was updated with the volunteers?
Mr Van Den Driest : Senator Lambie, if I may. From Rowville, we would have two or three applications per week of people ringing, saying, 'I would like to do what you do. How do I go about it?' We do not discriminate whether they are volunteers or not. We bring them in, we train them and we give them the best opportunity. I have got two guys right now that I have seen from day one, from the moment they walked in the station. We have worked with them extensively. One is a volunteer. One is not a volunteer. It does not matter to us. People come to our station, we extend the olive branch that you are talking about and we help them get through the system.
Senator LAMBIE: I would like to see your charter. Can you—
CHAIR: That might be a question for the CFA, maybe next week.
Mr Keating : The owners of the charter would be the VFBV and the CFA jointly, I would suggest.
CHAIR: Yes. We will get that with the appropriate witnesses in front of us.
Senator CAMERON: I have a document here which is headed, 'Ops EBA information'. It is authorised by the organisational leadership team—Lucinda Nolan, Joe Buffone, John Haynes, Steve Warrington and there are a whole range of names there. This is update No. 3, dated 20 May 2016. There may be changes since then—obviously clauses have changed—but it says here:
Claim: The Operational EBA will not undermine volunteers.
There are numerous clauses that either directly or indirectly impact on volunteer members. For example: Clause 36.4—
which is actually clause 35.4 in the latest agreement—
requires paid firefighters to report only to other staff, DCO's or the CO, even where a volunteer is the Incident Controller.
Can I also ask you about some of the evidence we had earlier about the BASO, the brigade admin officer? Can someone take those issues and just advise us whether this is a correct proposition or whether it is not correct?
Mr Dowie : I can speak on the incident control part. I have not got the latest version. As late as last Sunday, I was on day shift to respond to a motor vehicle accident on the outskirts of Ballarat. On arrival, there was a lieutenant from a volunteer brigade who was the incident controller. I turned up as a paid career firefighter, senior station officer, and I did not take over the job. I went and stood next to the incident controller to give him some guidance and give him a few tips on some things that he might want to consider as the incident controller, and I provided some mentoring and leadership to this fellow as part of his development and also making sure that the community's needs were met as part of that. Under this proposed EBA, that does not change. The way we operate on the fireground as professional career firefighters interacting with our volunteers does not change.
CHAIR: But it could, couldn't it? That was simply because you are a facilitator and take your leadership role seriously in that situation. If it were not you—if it were somebody with potentially less of a focus on a role of facilitation and leadership—potentially under that EBA what happened on Sunday might not happen.
Mr Dowie : There is potential for that to happen now, as there is potential under the new EBA. The same deal is you could potentially have a volunteer incident controller who turns round a career truck because they do not want career firefighters on the fireground. The potential is there for that now and there is the potential for that to happen after this proposed EBA.
Senator CAMERON: This is from Mr Buffone and Lucinda Nolan. It says:
Clause 45.15 prevents volunteers and paid firefighters working on the same truck unless agreed by UFU and CFA.
I think we have had evidence that is not correct.
Mrs English : No, it is not.
Senator CAMERON: So you agree that is not correct. It goes on:
Clause 45.14 requires 4 paid staff on every truck unless otherwise agreed. This will prevent staff from joining volunteers in
firefighting until a required 7 paid firefighters are present, regardless of the number of volunteers who are present.
Is that correct?
Mr Spicer : That is the one that was modified, because originally it did say something about 'on scene'. It was modified and clarified to say, 'dispatched'. What we want is the trucks on the road.
Senator CAMERON: Dispatched.
Mr Spicer : Correct.
CHAIR: You might be reading from an old document.
Mr Spicer : It is an old—
CHAIR: A previous EBA.
Senator CAMERON: I indicated that. It goes on to say:
Clause 90, coupled with Schedule 20 seeks to limit uniforms to only paid firefighters and ensure paid firefighters are visually distinguishable from volunteers in uniform, station wear and personal protective clothing.
Why would you need to distinguish the professionals from the volunteers?
Mr Spicer : Currently we have a different coloured stripe on the helmet which indicates staff versus volunteers, and it goes back to what I was discussing earlier with the skills mix. That is not to say that the skills are any different between a yellow stripe and a white stripe, but it does give me a heads up straightaway. As an incident controller, I can look and say, 'That guy's got a white stripe. I know what he can do. That guy's got a yellow stripe. I need to do some work and ask to find out what he can do.' So there needs to be something. In my view, it does not need to be significant, but there needs to be a way of knowing that I need to check on that guy's skill set.
Senator CAMERON: Clause 17 restricts delivery of community education by predominantly staff and mandates that volunteers may only do so when paid firefighters are unavailable. I have to tell you: this is one area I am really unclear about. Why would anyone restrict the volunteers from doing community education?
Mr Shawcross : I can answer that. Clause 17—point 1 and point 2—is actually a breakdown of the same clause in the 2010 EBA agreement, which is clause 71.1. It has exactly the same wording. It has just been broken into two sections. As you read clause 17 now, it has been going on for the last six years and volunteers have clearly been delivering community education to the community anyway. So nothing has changed.
Senator BACK: Time is against us. I just need to know—if you cannot tell me now, tell me on notice: of the 34 integrated brigades, how many people are paid officers and how many people are volunteers? Do we know that?
Mr Keating : Based on my brigade, and it is probably similar in other brigades, we probably have a 50 per cent ratio. There are about 32 permanent staff at Hallam fire station and approximately 30 operational volunteers. The numbers do change a little bit because they move about.
Senator BACK: Before I got into the question, I should thank you all for your evidence. It is fantastic. Perhaps you could provide us, via the secretariat, that number across the 34 brigades. How many fully-paid CFA brigade stations are there, where there are no volunteers?
Mr Thistlethwaite : None.
Senator BACK: What then defines the difference between an MFB, which has all paid personnel, and CFA brigades in urban areas, as Mr Walter correctly identified? You identified the fact that these lines were drawn in 1958. I am asking: what defines the difference between an MFB brigade of fully-paid officers and a CFA integrated brigade, where you have some of that?
Mr Spicer : Essentially, it is a separate organisation altogether. The MFB is a separate organisation from CFA.
Senator BACK: I am aware of that.
Mr Spicer : I am not sure what your question is about then. Essentially, what defines it is a line—a not very clear line—
Senator BACK: I have been agonising over this for some period of time, but what is clear to me from most of the examples that most of you have given, starting with you, Mr Dowie, in terms of the incident control the other day, and Mr Shawcross in terms of the letter that you showed me, is that this has nothing to do with enterprise bargaining. These are standard operating procedures. Mr Spicer, you eloquently and correctly explained to us why we need the seven personnel. These are all in standard operating procedures. In terms of the hierarchy of call-out, in terms of the mistake made—as evidenced in this letter; the fact that the correct group were not called out—that has nothing to do with enterprise bargaining. In terms of the incident control, standard operating procedures would surely say to you, 'I am at this incident. Correctly, you are observing the lieutenant,' but standard operating procedures are going to say, 'This person, a well-meaning volunteer, is now beyond his level of skills, and I've got the capacity, under standard operating procedures, to step in in the interests of the community'—and, incidentally, in that person's interests as well. I go down this list. Mr Van Den Driest, this is not about volunteers; this is about our ability to provide a better service. Absolutely it is. But we all know about risk analysis; the likelihood of something happening and the impact of it if it does. My question to you is: how is all this tied up in enterprise bargaining agreements; why is it not tied up in standard operating procedures where it, correctly, can be addressed?
CHAIR: Is there a question, Senator Back?
Senator BACK: Yes there is. I have just asked a question.
Mr Spicer : I probably do not have the definitive answer, but I am happy to take a punt, and that is the failure of CFA management to implement these things into standard operating procedures. We do not have a voice in the CFA, other than our EBA. We do not have a representation on the board; whereas VFBV, the volunteer organisation, has four board members appointed to the CFA board. The career staff has no representation. In lieu of CFA implementing the SOPs that you suggest, and I tend to agree, our voice is through the EBA. We, rightly, voice our concerns—
Senator BACK: If I can sum it up: a group of people who should be subject to standard operating procedure terms and conditions, being the volunteers as well as yourselves, have now been drawn into something which is actually an enterprise agreement between an employer and its employees, relating to what the term means, bargaining about an enterprise. That is a totally different issue in terms of the hierarchy of control, incident control et cetera et cetera—do you not agree with me, Mr Keating? Those are not wrapped up in EBAs. They are wrapped up in the operations of an organisation. That is where this confusion has occurred, surely? According to your map here—I do not know much about Metropolitan Melbourne, but have a look at where all those Fs are. They are all in urban areas, aren't they? In Ballarat; 100,000 people you told me, and all these areas around Melbourne: Corio, Geelong et cetera. That is what this issue is about. We are totally confusing the term.
CHAIR: Given that we have another session after lunch with the CFA volunteers and another session with folks like yourself, we will pursue this line of questioning afterwards. I thank you very much for your service and your evidence.
Proceedings suspended from 12:02 to 12:59