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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12220

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (18:55): I feel very privileged to be speaking here in this place on this day to this bill and the amendment. It is very timely that we discuss these matters given that many of us are wearing a little grey ribbon to help signify that it is Brain Tumour Awareness Week internationally. It is very important to address the consequences of cancer in any person, and in particular in firefighters when we think about the lack of choice of workplace which firefighters have to attend to. You cannot choose the sort of fire that you are going into; if you are going into a fire, you are going in to find what is there. You are going to be breathing the air that is generated there, and the evidence is very clear that firefighters, essential workers in our community on whom we rely for our very lives, are going into toxic contexts. So it is important that this bill comes before the House to improve the outcomes and access to workers compensation for these vital people in our community.

I cannot say that I ever dreamed of being a fireman when I was young, but I certainly have watched my son have dreams of becoming a fireman. I have practised 'get down low and go, go, go' with the kids. We have probably all experienced the fireman's healthy and sustaining reach into our lives. Recently I was very privileged to spend three days on HMAS Stewart in the Red Sea, where I underwent a small example of firefighting onboard. The conditions of a trial run in which I was fully covered gave me a very short experience—and, hopefully, the only experience in my entire life—of having to be in a suit. But our firefighters find themselves in real-life crisis contexts.

It has been put on the record in this place today and through the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, which investigated this matter in its international context, that there is very significant, deliberate information which states that firefighting is one of the most studied occupations in the world, especially when it comes to cancer, and that many studies—in fact, dozens of major studies—have been made around the world over the last 20 years. They have absolutely confirmed that there is a definite connection between firefighting and elevated cancer risk. Given that reality, the amendments that were put forward to the bill by the member for Calwell and the member for Melbourne this morning are important legislative tools to ensure that we provide the best access to workers compensation for those critical workers in our community. The Senate committee inquiry into the bill recommended that the number of listed cancers be increased, and that seems absolutely appropriate. Now it will include multiple myeloma, primary-site lung cancer in nonsmokers, primary site prostate cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer.

There is science underpinning this bill, but there is also good acknowledgement of the real-life risk that firefighters face, and I want particularly to mention Billy McLean, who is a larger-than-life character in our local community. He works at the Umina Fire Station in the seat of Robertson, which I am privileged to represent here. In addition to his courage and that of his colleagues in going and fighting the fires in our area, we often find that—although they are overrepresented in work related injuries and illnesses—our firefighters are among the most generous people in our community. When the floods took hold of Queensland, I was able to go to an event—they called it 'the 000 emergency fundraising event'. Billy McLean and many of the firefighters from the Central Coast were there doing their bit to help out other Australians. With the generosity that they showed and their bravery, they certainly deserve our recognition and accolades today. They also deserve our support through the very practical measures in both the bill and the amendments which are before the House for consideration on this day.

I will close with a happier thought. We are talking about men and women who give their lives to—and lose their lives way too early because of—the work they do. But I was pleased to spend Friday night with Reg Brown, aged 82, a former firefighter who received a McKell award for his services to the Labor Party. They are all good people there and I am sure our amendments will make a big difference to their life outcomes and to their families.

Debate adjourned.