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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12216

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (18:35): I am very pleased this evening to stand in support of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, along with the amendments that have been agreed to after fairly detailed and extensive consultation. I know very well that firefighters dedicate themselves to protecting our lives and our communities. They do extraordinary work in extraordinarily tough circumstances. So I am very pleased to be able to speak on this bill this evening, because it will go some way towards supporting our firefighters when they need it most—in times of illness.

I know that there has been ongoing consultation about the bill through the Senate's deliberations and the Senate committee inquiry, and I know that those processes have been informed by members of the UFU, by a range of firefighters and experts and by others who contributed to those very important and appropriate deliberations.

The work of both career and volunteer firefighters in my electorate of La Trobe is, I know, very much valued by our local community. I should note that I have heard from a number of my own constituents about their support for this bill, and I am sure that they will be glad to see the legislation passed, once it eventually makes its way through this place.

The Dandenong Ranges, which are within my electorate, are particularly exposed to the risk of bushfire, but I note that one of the federal government's most recent initiatives in protecting against the risk of bushfire is the contribution of over $800,000 towards building disaster resilience in the Dandenong Ranges. So the work that firefighters do is very well known to me. As it stands, the legislation before us will generally apply to career firefighters, since scientific knowledge has identified a generally higher incidence of cancers among those who attend structural fires. However, should new evidence emerge suggesting a comparable link between bushfire fighting and cancer, then I believe that that should, appropriately, be considered as part of any future review of the legislation. Career firefighters risk their health and safety each and every day in order to protect the community, and the government wants to ensure the removal of any unnecessary barriers that would prevent them from having their workers compensation claims recognised.

I particularly note that the government is moving an amendment to allow for further conditions that might be added over time, through regulation. For example, the government intends to prescribe the inclusion, in future regulation, of primary-site lung cancer, consistent with the recommendations of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee and consistent with comparable North American legislation. However, also in line with North American firefighter legislation, the addition of primary-site lung cancer will be given to nonsmokers. The condition would be included through a proposed amendment which the government intends to develop in close consultation with experts and key stakeholders. The amendments that have been made to the bill, I hope, give further clarity to the legislation in ways that the government hopes will ultimately be of benefit to firefighters.

It was initially unfortunate to read in our national press that, at first blush, members of the opposition, including a number of Victorian Liberal MPs, had expressed concerns about supporting the legislation. I gather, however, that those MPs have not prevailed. I particularly commend the member for McMillan for his personal and very steadfast support for this bill.

The government supports the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 and will table several technical amendments to ensure that it operates in a fair and sustainable way and that it is consistent with the requirements under the rest of the act. This government appreciates the endeavours that firefighters make, both career firefighters contemplated by this bill and the amendments to it and also the very many volunteer firefighters who put themselves at risk in fire prone areas of my electorate and in parts of the Australian community where there is considerable risk. The resulting risks to their health should be reflected upon and appropriately dealt with in legislation. It is particularly pertinent that we are doing it through this bill and the detailed amendments today.