Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (15:06): My question is to the Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services. How many CFS employees and volunteers are currently suspended with or without pay from the organisation? With your leave, sir, and that of the house, I will explain.
Mr PEDERICK: The Advertiser has recently reported that paid CFS staff members are among hundreds of firefighters and employees who have been subjected to suspension.
The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS (Cheltenham—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services) (15:06): I don't have that number in front of me. I will endeavour to seek that information for the member to the extent that I can within privacy considerations, but what I can absolutely say for the member's satisfaction is that, unlike the former minister, I won't be politically intervening and directly intervening to ensure that charges are brought against the individual. What I won't be doing is making—
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA: Point of order, sir.
The SPEAKER: There's a point of order, which I will hear under 134.
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA: I absolutely take offence to that assertion and ask that the minister withdraw and apologise.
The SPEAKER: Order! I—
The SPEAKER: Order! I have the point of order. I must confess and apologise to the member for Hartley: I'm not certain that I necessarily have the point of order clearly in my mind but, in any case, I am going to turn to the minister to give him an opportunity.
The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS: I can confirm that, unlike the former minister, I won't be politically intervening to ensure that charges are brought against individuals.
The SPEAKER: No, minister, that's not what I had in mind; in fact, I had in mind 126 or 127. There has been an invitation to withdraw and apologise. The invitation hasn't been particularised, and that is what I had in mind when I said that it hadn't been, but you might want to take the opportunity in any case. I note that we are in the dusk of question time.
The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS: I withdraw and apologise for any offence to the member for Hartley. As I said—I might change the text—there simply will not be political intervention by me to ensure that charges are brought against individuals. The member for Hammond would no doubt be aware—or at least I hope he would be aware; I'm not sure if he was a former member of the caucus in 2021—when the regulations in their current iteration regarding disciplinary committees—
Mr Pederick: Give us the numbers.
The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS: The member interjects, 'Give us the numbers.' I think I have already undertaken to try to find those numbers for him. I don't have the numbers, but I can give you some further information if privacy considerations for those individuals are sufficient. Every organisation has at various times individuals suspended. The CFS, like any other public sector agency, are not immune from the very rare but occasional circumstances where an individual may be charged with a criminal offence. There is certainly that situation at the moment, where a member is stood down due to a criminal offence.
Mr Telfer: Charges.
The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS: Criminal charges, I should say. Thank you, member for Flinders. There are also Public Sector Act employees, those employed across the public sector more broadly, who may from time to time have management plans or be stood down due to impropriety or other investigations, but this is not new.
What I have confirmed openly, and I reconfirm now, is that my strong expectation—and it is demonstrated by the extraordinarily warm, frank and open conversations I have had with volunteers this week—would be that volunteers do speak to me as minister. They do speak to other ministers as well. I saw firsthand the warmth with which the Premier was invited in and welcomed by CFS volunteers this week.
I think at the crux of this is me as minister absolutely putting a line in the sand. When I became minister, when I was briefed in as minister and spoke directly to volunteers, it was very clear that there were investigations taking too long. There were processes that were encumbered by legislation and regulations that meant that things were taking too long.
Notwithstanding previous political interference in charges being brought or people being stood down, my view was and remains that the processes which the regulations prescribe are burdensome—I don't believe deliberately—as brought in by the former government. Not for one moment do I think that was a deliberate approach, but having heard directly from volunteers—and about six weeks ago, I chaired an internal review of processes—my strong view is that I want to take for consideration by my cabinet a series of reforms that will not undermine natural justice but will bring processes to a conclusion quicker. It is good for the CFS, it is good for volunteers and it is good for the community.