Fire Services Bill Select Committee: final report

Like my colleagues who have spoken previously, I will also speak on the same report, which is the report of the inquiry into the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017, which was handed down in August 2017.

As we know, this report came about through the legislation that was brought into this house by the government, got through the lower house and came up to this place. At the time it was referred off to the Fire Services Bill Select Committee, which I was a part of. We know the controversy throughout the community that went with that piece of legislation. I got to experience that firsthand with the other members of the committee as we went right around the state listening to all the people who are involved, whether that be volunteer firefighters, career firefighters, the union, the departments and so forth. The report is very clear in terms of what it says in relation to that legislation. As we know, since that report was finalised the legislation has been sitting on the notice paper and we have been waiting anxiously for it to be brought onto the floor for a full debate. We have had a couple of speakers on it, but we have known that that debate was adjourned off some weeks ago. It makes its appearance on the notice paper but never actually gets brought forward for a resolution, which I think is quite disappointing. I think a lot of people would like to see that dealt with one way or another.

One of the issues that came out of the select committee was the cultural issues that the fire services were facing. I think it is fair to say that the fire services in Victoria is one of the last domains of the ultimate boys club, and that plays out in terms of the females that are in those organisations, particularly in front-row positions as firefighters. It is only 2 or 3 per cent I think that we have in those fire services, which is not good enough in this day and age. We should definitely have more people, and particularly women. What has happened is that a few people have actually tried to change those cultural issues. Certainly former emergency services minister Jane Garrett, former CEO of the Country Fire Authority Lucinda Nolan and the former Country Fire Authority board tried to do something about it. And for trying to do something about it, because it is an ultimate boys club, they were no longer welcome and were dismissed from their positions.

Even more recently Professor Caroline Taylor, as we have seen in the media in the last couple of days, was brought in to try to see if she could come up with some sort of scenario in terms of addressing those cultural issues. That has been unsuccessful because she herself was bullied for coming up with a report uncovering what was really going on in those fire services. We have heard about the bullying, harassment, abuse and sexual harassment. A rape was reported and a whole range of other elements as well. The government has even referred the matter to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission for them to have a look at it, and we as part of the select committee were very interested to see what was in that report, because clearly that was going to give us an insight into what was going on with those type of issues. But the United Firefighters Union, to its discredit, fought tooth and nail to prevent that from being released. In fact they went to the extent of going to the Supreme Court to try and suppress that report. I think we can all look at it and realise after what we have seen in the newspapers in the last couple of days that there is obviously some material in that which is very disturbing. The public has a right to know what is in that report.

One of the things that we probably need to call out is that the Labor Party has championed the rights of people in a whole range of areas. I just do not understand why they will not do it in this space as well. They say they are the champions of women and that they are the champions of equality, but for some reason they have just let this one slide right through to the keeper. In fact they are doing everything they can to not be a part of it — because there is something here that needs to come out in public. There is something here that has been covered up. There is something here that needs to be understood so we can address these issues. Unfortunately this government is squibbing it and will not address it. Daniel Andrews needs to do something about it.

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