Fire and emergency services (volunteer charters)

In Parliament - Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (10:51:40): I rise this morning to briefly speak on the Fire and Emergency Services (Volunteer Charters) Amendment Bill 2015. This bill was introduced by the member for Morphett, a man who is a life member of the CFS and a tireless advocate for the CFS and emergency services more generally. When the member for Morphett speaks about the CFS, this government ought to sit up and listen.

What this bill seeks to achieve is to place the CFS Volunteer Charter into legislation. The reason for this is that this government is not abiding by the current charter in letter or in spirit. This bill will formally compel the government to respect the charter. This will be achieved by inserting section 58A into the act which states:

The Parliament recognises that SACFS is first and foremost a volunteer-based organisation, in which volunteer officers and members are supported by employees in a fully integrated manner.

Another important point of the charter is to recognise the vital role played by the CFS Volunteers Association in advocating on behalf of the many thousands of CFS volunteers across the state. It is crucial that this role be recognised in legislation. The Victorian government recognises their CFA charter in legislation, so I say to the house that if it is good enough for the Victorian volunteers it is good enough for our South Australian volunteers as well.

Furthermore, this bill seeks to make mandatory a requirement that the government consult with representatives of fire and emergency service volunteers in respect of matters which concern them. It is right that the government be required to do so. Fire and emergency service volunteers are at the heart of every rural and peri-urban community, including my own. Their deep value and commitment cannot be overstated, and at times of great need, such as the recent Sampson Flat fires, we depend on them in so many ways that cannot be properly enumerated in such a short speech.

As I mentioned in my maiden speech to the house some months ago, a constituent of mine who is a CFS member said to me, 'Sam, you can't mess with the CFS.' It is high time that the government heed this advice and support this bill today. I am deeply proud of the Sturt CFS group which has brigades stationed throughout Davenport. The group protects many thousands of homes, particularly homes near the Belair National Park and the native forest throughout the electorate from—

Dr McFetridge: Hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

Mr DULUK: —absolutely—Coromandel Valley, the Sturt Gorge, and beyond. The Sturt CFS group recently raised funds for a new water tanker to continue their volunteer contribution. I am glad that in the recent Davenport by-election the state Liberal Party promised the upgrade of the second water tanker for that Sturt group, which has now been delivered.

I am also deeply proud of the many emergency service volunteers who live and volunteer in Davenport and who helped homeowners and businesses recover from the damaging winds in recent weeks. Without their assistance, and if not for their support, many residents would be left threatened and vulnerable to much greater damage to homes and businesses as a result of water damage. The summer bushfires throughout the Hills community this year are a clear reminder that on the very worst days the lives of our fire and emergency service volunteers are at grave risk. They place themselves in harm's way for the benefit of all of us.

A 2009 parliamentary inquiry found that in the event of catastrophic bushfire a mass evacuation of the Hills area using the current roads would be impossible. Presently, the only thing standing between complete devastation of our peri-urban environments—and, in particular, in the case of the seat of Davenport, the electorate in that peri-urban environment—the devastation caused by catastrophic bushfire, is the CFS and the volunteers. The CFS is the last line of defence against destruction by this devastating fire.

The SACFS Volunteers Charter, which was originally signed in 2008, represents an agreement that the government, the South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM) and the CFS will commit to, and I quote:

  • consulting with volunteers and the CFS Volunteers Association (CFSVA) about all matters that might reasonably be expected to affect them, and
  • considering their views when adopting or approving new practices and policies or reviewing current practices or policies.

Unfortunately, this government has completely failed to uphold their end of the charter. The government has ignored the views of CFS members and provided little or no consultation in matters affecting the CFS. The government's proposal, at the behest of the firefighters union or the UFU, to merge the CFS, MFS and SES together is complete anathema to rank and file CFS members.

It is of great concern to me and to many on this side of the house that the State Emergency Services volunteers have, and I quote, 'lost complete confidence' in minister Piccolo. It is an indictment on the failure of the minister that the PSA—of all organisations—has passed a no-confidence motion in the minister. If the PSA has no confidence in the minister, I believe it is fair to say that the rank and file members of the CFS hold the minister and the state government in which he serves in utter contempt, which is a real shame.

The massive and unfair increase to the emergency services levy last year was a shock not only to many South Australians but especially to many CFS volunteers. The CFS lost many volunteers due to the increase in the ESL, and some brigades across the state stated that they would not fight fires on crown land in protest. This is a most unfortunate situation which has been caused by this government. The question most frustrated CFS volunteers asked was: why were they, the volunteers, putting their lives at risk while the state government was doing everything they could to make their lives more difficult?

A further example of this unprecedented deterioration in relations between the CFS and the state government was the fact that hundreds of CFS volunteers came to the steps of the parliament in January this year to signal their discontent with the proposed merger between the emergency services. Of course, the minister refused to be at this rally and, when asked afterwards if he knew the concerns of CFS volunteers, minister Piccolo answered that he did not know what their concerns were. This minister and this government are out of touch with the Country Fire Service, and this is of great concern to me and many on this side of the house.

Of course, it goes on. The minister does not like to be criticised by his CFS volunteers or the PSA and is trying to silence many of his critics by attempting to sue The Advertiser over its investigation into how, in the middle of the Sampson Flat bushfires, the minister diverted five trucks and up to 30 firefighters away from the front line for a photo opportunity. We believe he sought to obtain all records to identify who those CFS volunteers were who spoke out about what they saw as a dangerous waste of resources during the middle of a crisis.

This is no way to treat volunteers who put their lives on the line for the defence of this state against the devastation wreaked by bushfires, not to mention the countless car accidents and other calamities that CFS volunteers take care of on our behalf. It is incumbent on us as parliamentarians to protect those who give so much to our communities. We must look to protect their interest wherever we can. I commend the bill to the house.