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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12190

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:14): As foreshadowed when this bill, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, was in the main chamber when we last sat, the federal and ACT governments had raised a number of concerns about the operation of the bill. There was then to be a period of discussion during which we would consider how to deal with those concerns. A fortnight later, I am very pleased to be in a position where there are a set of amendments proposed by the government and supported by the Greens, and there is an amendment that I have moved that I understand will be supported by the government. The member for Calwell outlined the amendments well and went through the purpose of those amendments, so I do not intend to add to that. Those amendments will clarify issues around prospectivity, clarify to whom the bill applies and clarify the date from which the bill operates.

There is one matter, though, that I do wish to note briefly. In the course of the discussions, the ACT government raised the point that it wanted to make it clear that this bill and these amendments would apply to employed firefighters and not to volunteers, because there are a number of volunteers who are employed in the ACT government. Accordingly, that is reflected in these amendments. My position is that I hope that, if it is the case that, at some later stage, volunteer firefighters consider they can mount a similar, science based case to be included in this, then they are in a position to do that. Maybe the review of the legislation that is to be conducted, to be concluded by 31 December 2013, would be an appropriate opportunity to do that. It should be said that, when the bill was first introduced, it proceeded on the basis that we were talking about, where it applied to a very small group of employed firefighters, but that should not preclude those who feel they are in a position to make a similar, science based case coming back with that at some later stage. But they will not be included in this amendment, as I think everyone understands.

The amendment that has been circulated in my name, amendment (1), gives effect, broadly—with one exception—to one of the recommendations of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill. The report of the committee noted that the number of cancers to be covered by the bill was substantially less than what is covered in other jurisdictions and, in particular, in Canadian jurisdictions. The Senate inquiry recommended that, were the bill to proceed, Australian firefighters should have the same—no less but certainly at least as much—cover as is given to firefighters in other jurisdictions. The science has advanced, and all of the cancers that I propose be included, as per my amendment, are supported by the science, according to the Senate committee inquiry and as reflected by the legislation in other jurisdictions.

The one exception I mentioned is lung cancer. Lung cancer will not be covered by this bill, and the primary reason for that is that there is not yet in Australian law an adequate definition of 'nonsmoker'. The Senate committee recommended that the reversal of onus and the presumption that this bill would enact only apply to nonsmokers who get lung cancer, but there is as yet no suitable definition of 'nonsmoker' in Australian law. As the member for Calwell indicated, that is something that the government will enact by regulation when there is a suitable definition of 'nonsmoker'. All interested parties will have the opportunity to contribute to the framing of that definition because it may have broader implications.

I would like to conclude by commending the approach taken by the government and the opposition in this matter. Minister Evans's office in particular has devoted a good deal of time to making sure that we come up with a solution that addresses the legitimate concerns of employers but also provides the support that firefighters in other jurisdictions are entitled to, in line with the Senate committee recommendations, which ought to be put in place. I commend the opposition for their stance on this. I think it would be a fitting end to this year to pass, with the support of everyone in the parliament, a bill that will give greater protection to those who protect us.