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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12214


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (18:30): It gives me considerable pleasure to speak on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011. The starting point is that the House is united behind this quite extraordinary bill. It is extraordinary because it identifies a certain section of our society comprising professional firefighters and recognises that they expose themselves to a degree of danger and hazard which involves long-term risks to their health.

Numerous studies in the United States and Canada, and now in Australia, indicate that there is a correlation between service in the protection of our society against fire—in particular chemical fires and other major fires which cause hazard both in the firefighting process itself and in the long term—and the incidence of cancer. Firefighters as a group come in as a fit array of young people. Their general level of fitness is higher than that of the rest of the community, so in the ordinary course of events their natural disposition would be to have a lower rate of cancers in the long term. We see, however, that those leaving the profession have a higher risk of many cancers—including brain, bladder, kidney, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukaemia, breast and testicular cancers. This bill is born of these facts, and it has managed to win the support of those on all sides.

The bill reverses the onus of proof, and that is a significant threshold which should be viewed with caution because to change the onus of proof and to assume that a cancer is caused by a particular line of service is an enormous step. However, we have to consider the international evidence, in part related to the September 11 tragedy and the extraordinary rate of illness and significant disease which has been brought upon those firefighters over the past decade. This legislation has been brought about in part by the evidence from Canada and now the evidence from Australia. Against that background of considerable and significant evidence the coalition decided to allow this bill to pass and in effect to provide the support necessary for it to do so. I was part of the joint cabinet discussions, and I acknowledge that Senator Abetz was a particular champion of this legislation. Many others have been supportive of it. It recognises the role of firefighters in protecting our community, and it also recognises that there is significant evidence that they place themselves in harm's way.

So this bill wins our support. It is a particular step in relation to about 2,800 firefighters, the majority of them in the ACT. ACT firefighters represent about eight per cent of the total number of Australian firefighters. I have given an undertaking to the volunteer brigades in my own community at the CFA level to put the case that they also wish for consideration of the safety and long-term health of volunteer firefighters. They include people within the Peninsula group of the CFA, including Boneo, Dromana, Flinders, Main Ridge, Mt Martha, Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento; within the Western Port group of the CFA, including Balnarring, Baxter, Bittern and Crib Point; within the Hastings group, including Langwarrin, Moorooduc, Mornington, Red Hill, Shoreham, Somerville, Somers and Tyabb; within the Bass Coast group, including Bass, Corinella, Dalyston, French Island, Glen Alvie, Kernot, Kilcunda, Phillip Island and San Remo; within the Casey group, which includes Clyde, Pearcedale, Warneet-Blind Bight, Devon Meadows, Tooradin; and within the Cardinia group, which includes Bayles, Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang. That is an additional step. We would need to look at the data. We need to approach this with an open mind. If the data stacks up, then their case becomes equally strong.

On this day, we have the evidence in relation to the safety of long-term professional firefighters and the correlation between their job and risks to their health. On that basis, I am delighted to support this legislation and I note that is now our duty to look at the long-term health of and risks for our volunteer firefighters.