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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12193

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (13:29): I rise today to speak on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection For Firefighters) Bill. Before I discuss the legislation. I would like to start by pointing out the remarkable service that career firefighters and volunteer firefighters provide to all of us in the community. Their work is truly remarkable. In some cases they risk their own lives in the pursuit of saving the lives of others. Their courage and bravery in defending property and person cannot be underestimated and their dedication can never be questioned. It is important to understand and remember that point. This debate is not about being pro-firefighter or anti-firefighter; it is about the specific legislation that has been brought before the House and its implications.

I would like to highlight today three concerns I have with the legislation that is before the House. Most significantly, this bill seeks to break the causal link between the workplace and an illness that is acquired in the workplace. Instead it deems that if certain cancers are acquired by a professional firefighter and that firefighter has been a firefighter for a period of time, as prescribed in the schedule, then they acquired the specific cancer as a result of their professional duties—that is, that it is work related. I am concerned by this, because I believe a causal link is important. Under existing laws, it is something that all other professions are subject to. If the science is as strong as stated in the information that has been brought forward, it would not be difficult for the science to be proved under the existing legislation. This change in the onus of proof is a real shift in the foundations on which our legal system is predicated. I think it is concerning.

The second issue that I would like to raise today in relation to this legislation relates to the fact that this legislation covers professional firefighters only, not voluntary firefighters. Up until now, up until before the member for Melbourne spoke, it was said that this is critical because it is a significantly small, narrow and targeted piece of legislation—it was only for professional fire fighters. Yet the member for Melbourne himself said that it is something that could be expanded to voluntary firefighters and to anybody else who could demonstrate the science. Voluntary firefighters should not be in any worse position than professional firefighters. I find it curious that this has been brought forward for professional firefighters only. One can only question what the motivation might be behind that. I do not make any statements regarding that, but I do find it most curious indeed.

The third issue that I would like to raise in relation to this legislation is the precedent that it sets. It is very clear that there are very many professions that put themselves in danger for the rest of the community—emergency service workers, policemen and policewomen, ambulance workers and many others—the list goes on and on. This legislation will be used as a precedent to expand out to other professions. That should concern a number of us who perhaps are considering only the stories that they have heard in relation to professional firefighters. I must say, the stories are very moving. They touch my heart as I am sure they did the heart of the member for Melbourne and others who support this legislation. But it is my very strong and considered view that presumptive legislation is not the answer to this problem. Today I place on record my personal opposition to this legislation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): In accordance with the determination of the selection committee, the time for consideration of the bill has expired. The questions on the amendments moved by the member for Calwell and the member for Melbourne are adjourned until a later hour.

Sitting suspended from 13:34 to 16 : 00