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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12191


Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (13:19): First let me say that I recognise that the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 covers a very small group of people, comparatively speaking, in the ACT. I also recognise that, where it applies to certain diseases, it will have time limits imposed on each of those diseases. I also recognise that it may not be quite as generous as the Canadian model. I also recognise that there will be ongoing studies before a definition of 'lung cancer' will fit comfortably within this legislation. I join with the Greens and government members in saying, however, that the general thrust of this legislation is very important.

I want to reiterate some of the points we have made leading up to these amendments. We do not always readily appreciate that firefighters carry out a number of duties. It is not just firefighting in the conventional sense of the word. In Queensland, for example, they have primary responsibility for fast-running river rescues. They put out grass fires, go into burning buildings, clean up toxic chemicals and confine fuel leaks. As we have seen with the legislation for people who worked at Maralinga during the atomic tests and legislation we are now considering for the people who worked on desealing-resealing the F111s, there are a lot of hazards that go beyond simple fires.

Although this applies to a fairly small group of people—initially in the ACT because others are covered by state legislation—if we get this right it will become benchmark legislation. No doubt others will look to this legislation—perhaps the states will review their legislation against ours and perhaps volunteer firefighters, who this is not proposed to cover at this stage, will also start to look to it. We need to recognise the sort of work that firefighters do. It does not just stop with racing into a building, although that is where firefighters are most vulnerable.

It is also good to reiterate the point about their clothing. Their clothing needs to breathe because of the intense heat that the firefighters sometimes face but because it breathes they are exposed to benzene, styrene, chloroform and formaldehyde. The prospect of firefighters attracting certain forms of cancer is higher. According to Alex Forrest, who is the Canadian trustee of the International Association of Fire Fighters, studies have shown that firefighters have two to four times the level of some cancers compared with the general population. As the member for Melbourne said, the Senate committee 'is confident that a link between firefighting and an increased incidence of certain cancers has been demonstrated beyond doubt'. That brings us to this legislation that will apply largely in the ACT.

We need to recognise that there are a lot of Australians who have fought brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia. They are all deadly cancers that generally put a shudder through us. Firefighters meet those in their normal daily work. It is challenging. Having fought in other fields for people exposed to chemicals I support these amendments. I think they will go a long way to getting justice for a very important part of our community.