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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 223

Workplace Relations


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:29): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Can the minister update the Senate on action the government is taking to protect Victoria's Country Fire Authority and its 60,000 volunteers?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:30): I thank Senator Paterson, a very passionate senator from Victoria, for the question. I can confirm that earlier today the Prime Minister introduced this government's legislation to honour our election commitment to the people of Australia and, more particularly, the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria that we will protect them from this hostile union takeover. The Turnbull government is taking decisive action to protect the Victorian CFA from Labor's takeover by the United Firefighters Union through a new enterprise bargaining agreement. Our legislation will amend the Fair Work Act to protect the CFA.

What the Victorian government and those opposite are trying to do is a misuse of the Fair Work Act and, further, is actually contrary to the legislation that governs the CFA in Victoria. The Fair Work Act should never, ever have been used or been able to be misused quite deliberately for the purpose of undermining the 60,000 volunteers in Victoria. The proposed CFA agreement contains a number of clauses that are discriminatory against volunteers and provide the United Firefighters Union with an unreasonable, unwarranted degree of control over volunteer operations, including a veto over management decisions.

We on this side of the chamber make no excuses. We will stand side by side with the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria who give up everything—including sometimes, if they have to, their lives—to ensure that Victoria always remains firm, to protect it from fires during the fire season. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Paterson, a supplementary question.



Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:32): Why was it important for the Commonwealth government to act in this matter?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:32): As enterprise agreements are governed by federal legislation, the Fair Work Act, this parliament has the power and the responsibility to act to ensure this takeover does not occur. This running debacle has now resulted in the resignation of the Victorian Minister for Emergency Services and the CFA CFO, but, on top of that, it also saw the sacking of the CFA board by the Andrews government. Look at former Minister Garrett. Look at the front pages of the Victorian newspapers today and see what she is alleging against the UFU boss, Peter Marshall. And then have a look at what former Bracks Labor government Minister Haermeyer said in June this year:

I faced a similar situation as Minister … in 2000. It was not until I offered my resignation … that I was able to get people's undivided attention to what was at stake, that a perilous situation was averted and the CFA volunteers were backed …

Those who would put at risk the CFA's massive volunteer base—

(Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Paterson, a final supplementary question.



Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:33): Is the minister aware of the impact that this long-running dispute has had on 60,000 CFA volunteers?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:34): Unlike those on the other side who sit here and insult volunteers in Victoria who would do anything for their state, we on this side—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock.

Senator Cameron: A point of order: the minister should withdraw. There has been not one insult against any volunteer in Victoria from this side, and the minister should withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cameron. The minister did not directly refer to any senator on your side in an unparliamentary way.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Mr President. I refer to Don. Don is a veteran volunteer firefighter of over 50 years. For 50 years he has served the people of Victoria, and this is what he had to say:

We just don't want to be interfered with - we are volunteers …

That is what we on this side of the chamber are going to side with—the people like Don who have stood up for 50 years and served the people of Victoria.

Obviously, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a Victorian MP—where is he in relation to this issue? He did not even go to Victoria during the election campaign, because he did not want to front the 60,000 volunteers and tell them—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. A point of order, Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, the question to the minister was about impact. I have actually read the agreement. I would like the minister to actually deal with this question and go to the clauses that supposedly impact the volunteers.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cameron. That is a debating point, Senator Cameron. There is no point of order.

Senator CASH: Mr President, CFA volunteers do not hesitate to support Victoria and Victorians in their hour of need. This parliament now needs to do the same for them.