Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:44:41) — I would like to speak briefly to this bill, as I was intending to do last May, I believe it was. These notes and these thoughts have been around for a while. I have looked at this legislation. I looked at it back in May. I looked at it prior to that. I was very supportive of the referral to the select committee. I think that process was actually a good process, and it showed what a parliamentary committee can do. While there were two separate reports, I know the recommendations were largely bipartisan. From the advice that I have had around the amendments, the amendments go to those recommendations, and I believe that they will improve this bill.
I am not going to speak about the rhetoric of the unions and the speculation there. This bill is around introducing a presumptive rights scheme for firefighters, and let us not forget that. This is about introducing a presumptive rights scheme for firefighters who suffer from certain diseases. This is incredibly important, and this is what I received a lot of emails about. When I went out to the fire stations in my region and when I spoke to them, this was what this bill was about. It was about the fact that their fellow firefighters on the same shift as them were suffering from cancer and were suffering from all varieties of illnesses that they have had to prove were related to their work. We have seen this presumptive rights legislation go through in a bunch of other jurisdictions, and I am pleased and I am hopeful that here we will see this presumptive rights scheme offered here.
I am not opposed to the new statutory body that this bill introduces, Fire Rescue Victoria, and the office of the fire rescue commissioner. I was not on the select committee. I have looked at the report, but in my view our current legislation is largely outdated. It does not match the Victoria of today. It does not match the needs of Victoria today. Things like the boundaries are completely out of kilter with the development that we have seen in this state, and certainly in the north I have seen that. Certainly the select committee’s report actually gave me some faith that we had found a way forward on this bill, but listening to the debate from my office this afternoon I know that obviously is not the case.
I have got a bush property, and I understand the absolute importance of our volunteer fire brigades. For many years up until probably this year, if I have been able to, my Australia Day has been spent at the volunteer bushfire brigade of the Brindabella Valley, holding a barbecue and a fundraiser with them. It is one of the highlights of my summer, and I was very sad to miss it this year. With the selflessness and the passion that our volunteers and our professionals have, it is like it is a calling. It is more than a profession. People who do this work love their work.
It does put a strain on their families. My brother-in-law is a firefighter. I know that he rarely speaks about some of the pain of being a firefighter, of turning up to those jobs and — particularly for him and other regional and rural firefighters — of turning up to those jobs at places that he knows, where he knows the children, where he knows the family and where he knows the generations of the family, and the trauma that that brings. I have so much respect for the firefighters, both volunteer and paid.
It seems like it was in the dim distant past, but I, like everybody else, received hundreds and hundreds of emails from volunteers and metropolitan firefighters. I understood what they were saying and their feelings that they were not consulted. After the select committee I actually felt that we had responded to that, that we had responded to the fact that people had not felt consulted around this bill, but we have now gone through this process and I have to say I actually did get a number of calls particularly from people in Northern Metropolitan Region working in the integrated sites who are entirely supportive of these changes.
When I have tried to analyse this legislation and the amendments that have been attached to it as pragmatically as I can as to whether they will benefit the state of Victoria and whether they will benefit Northern Metropolitan Region, I have fallen on the side of thinking this is worthwhile legislation. I just look at what happened recently up in Tathra, New South Wales, in the Bega Valley, where my family had a property for many years, and the dispute that happened between the two fire services out there. Actually 69 homes went down and there will be an inquiry into this, but it may be that some of those could have been saved if there had been better communication between the two services.
I appreciate that we do things differently in Victoria and I appreciate that this legislation is not mirroring the New South Wales legislation, but I make the point that it was that lack of communication and that lack of understanding between the two services that caused this confusion and caused a situation where professional firefighters were calling and saying, ‘Can we come out and help?’, and the rural fire service was saying, ‘No, not on our patch’.
This, I think, was probably a misunderstanding, but I believe that this legislation and the amendments do help clarify that in Victoria. I am not suggesting that it may not be repeated, but I think under this new structure it will certainly be far more likely that we will avoid that type of tragedy.
I listened to Mr Purcell during question time today talk about the fires in his electorate in the south-west, where nine houses were destroyed, where we saw 1400 hectares of land burnt and where we saw the tragic death of hundreds of head of livestock. This is going to continue to occur —
Ms Lovell — We’ve seen thousands of volunteers go down to fight those fires, and this piece of legislation will destroy them.
Ms PATTEN — I will take up Ms Lovell’s interjection. I do not concur with you, Ms Lovell. I think this legislation will assist and will clarify. I have spoken to volunteers, Ms Lovell. I have met with firefighter management. I have met with career and volunteer firefighters, and as I mentioned before, I have visited fire stations. I have considered the 700 emails that I have received on this. I have gone back to the minister. I have clarified this legislation. I have looked at the amendments. Given the conversations that I have heard to date on this, I believe that allowing for the presumptive right to compensation for cancer claims arising from the service that firefighters give is paramount to this bill.
Further funding for the Country Fire Authority is also part of this bill. Shifting the fire boundaries to take into account the growth that Mr Ondarchie and I are seeing in Northern Metropolitan Region is a positive thing. It means quicker response times.
I have looked at this legislation, and I have taken the view —
Ms Crozier — You have swallowed the Labor line, hook, line and sinker.
Ms PATTEN — Ms Crozier, if you were in government, I would be as respectful of legislation you in government put forward. I am respectful of the government of the day, and I look at the government’s legislation as pragmatically as possible. I would do the same if the Liberals were in government.
Despite this, I take comfort from the amendments because I watched the select committee process. I saw the recommendations that came out of that that were bipartisan and that were supported by both sides of this house — by all sides of this house. As I have stated for the last year and a half, I am in favour of fire services reform. I am in favour of these amendments, and on this basis I will support this bill as amended.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:27:23) — I rise to say that I oppose this motion. Seriously, the words that went through my head as I was listening to you talk about this adjournment motion were, ‘The boy who cried wolf’. We have been filibustering. We have hardly got any piece of legislation through in the last six months. Despite there being no objections to the bill, we will sit through 8 hours of committee process. I have no doubt that on this bill we will sit through far more than 8 hours of committee process. I expect that, and I think this is a bill that is worthy of it, unlike some other bills, like the Racing Amendment (Modernisation) Bill 2017, for which we sat through 6 hours of committee process when you had no objection to the bill. You supported the legislation, and you had no amendments. This just seems to be constant.
Honestly, I had hopes that I would come into this house and that we would pass legislation and debate it like grown-ups. I do not feel that this is occurring. I appreciate some of the arguments around this proposed adjournment, but frankly, given the last six months and the filibustering that has gone on during committee processes, I am up to my neck with it. I do not support any further adjournments or time wasting on legislation.