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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12189

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:10): The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 is seeking to introduce retrospective compensation for firefighters who are diagnosed with certain types of cancer, after qualifying periods of services.

Firefighters are an important part of our community and we all support and appreciate the wonderful work they do promoting fire safety and protecting people from fires. In any survey of ordinary everyday Australians as to the most trusted professions, firefighters always rate at or near the top, as should be the case. All Australians acknowledge, rely upon, respect and trust firefighters and the brave and remarkable work they do for our communities.

The coalition supports this bill, but it is important to note that it is for a very specific group of firefighters who are exposed to a specific number of fires with specific hazardous chemicals that can cause cancers. This bill will bring about change for around 2,800 firefighters, the majority of whom are employed by the Australian Capital Territory government. These firefighters are a very specific group who represent approximately eight per cent of the Australian firefighting labour force. The remaining firefighters are covered by the relevant state or territory workers compensation legislation.

The introduction of this presumptive legislation is to ensure the class of employees, namely firefighters, if employed for specific lengths of time can deem certain cancers contracted by them to be work related unless the contrary is established. For firefighters who develop the specified cancers as a result of their work, the cancer will be deemed to be work related and therefore compensation will be available.

The qualifying periods of employment highlight the length of time for which one must come into contact with these types of fires to qualify and indicates that most firefighters would never be exposed to the same levels that the qualifying firefighters will have been. The cancers and associated qualifying periods of employment as set out in the bill are: primary site brain cancer—five years; primary site bladder cancer—15 years; primary site kidney cancer—15 years; primary non-Hodgkin lymphoma—15 years; primary leukaemia—five years; primary site breast cancer—10 years; and, primary site testicular cancer—10 years. The amendment put forward will remove the onus of proof required for certain cancers. Instead of the employee having to demonstrate the illness is work related before they are compensated, it will be up to the employer to produce evidence that the cancer is not work related.

Whilst the coalition supports this bill, it is important to ensure that this legislation does not set a precedent for compensation claims by other industries or other firefighters who are not exposed to the same level of hazardous chemicals that can cause these harmful and deadly illnesses. Whilst firefighters do have access to workers compensation it has proven difficult to pursue some claims because of the unique nature of their workplace.

The coalition appreciates and understands these concerns and it is therefore supportive of this legislation. I know how many people in the Riverina have contacted me in relation to supporting this particular legislation, these particular amendments, to ensure that it is supported, and that it does go through, to support those firefighters in the dangerous work they do now and into the future so that they have peace of mind.

It is also important to remember that there are other channels for compensation for other firefighters and other workers in different industries who develop illnesses or are injured in the workplace. We do not need to introduce, nor should we introduce, legislation that is specific for each possible scenario when these measures are already provided for by states and territories.