Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (15:05): I rise today to speak about the Country Fire Service, an organisation that is close to my heart as I am a member, as are other members in this house. A committee was proposed to be set up in the other place late last year. When that select committee was proposed, it was initially thought that we had support to get that committee up. That fell away so we held our ground, and I must congratulate the Hon. Ben Hood for getting that committee up the other day, through another forum

I note that what was called for was:

That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into the Country Fire Service (CFS), with particular reference to:

(a) assessing support mechanisms available to volunteer firefighters throughout the state;

(b) examining the processes, procedures, criteria, and timeliness of investigations into volunteer conduct;

(c) examining the adequacy and state of facilities at CFS stations across regional South Australia, with an emphasis on change rooms, bathrooms, and other essential amenities;

(d) determining the transparency and effectiveness of the CFS's capital programs, including facility and appliance replacement programs;

(e) evaluating the communication channels and procedures within the CFS, especially concerning volunteers' ability to voice their concerns and the organisation's responsiveness;

(f) assessing the role and responsibility of the minister in addressing and supporting the concerns of the CFS volunteers;

(g) exploring the adequacy of proposed investments into station upgrades, equipment provisions and other support mechanisms for the CFS volunteers; and

(h) any other relevant matters related to the functioning, governance, and support structures of the CFS.

The other place was asking that a select committee be put up, but an amendment was moved and it is now going through to a standing committee.

I have certainly had contact from many CFS volunteers and staff who are afraid to speak up for fear of being suspended or dismissed. This is a major issue. A referral to the standing Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation will allow all stakeholders—volunteers, the CFS Volunteer Association and CFS staff—to raise issues on all matters whether about structures and processes, disciplinary matters, capital programs, equipment and training, or any other matter. This inquiry has been supported by hundreds of current volunteers, former volunteers and staff of our Country Fire Service who have signed a petition.

The opposition believes that over 100 CFS volunteers and at least four CFS staff members have spoken out about the disciplinary process and shared their personal experiences of being the subject of investigations, suspensions and terminations, and that is just over the last six months. These volunteers and staff have told of a lack of procedural fairness and denial of basic rights. Regulation 21 investigations have also had a big impact on the mental health of volunteers and their families and friends, and damage to their reputation in their communities.

These issues need to be brought to the surface and ventilated. We need to listen to our volunteers and make sure we retain their great service and their confidence in the organisation. In Victoria, we have seen thousands of volunteers leave the Country Fire Association in great numbers over recent years and we cannot afford for that to happen here. We already have many people serving with farm fire units—and some of us do it concurrently with our CFS service—which are a great help when fires erupt, but we still need people volunteering for the CFS. I commend the Hon. Ben Hood in the other place and the other members who supported this motion. I look forward to seeing volunteers and staff have their opportunity to raise their issues.

I note, as was stated in the other place, that the minister launched an inquiry in August, pre this inquiry, but that discussion was mainly internal between the CFS, the CFS Volunteers Association and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment. We have not seen anything come out of that.

I commend this cross-parliament committee. I want all volunteers, all staff, all former staff and volunteers who feel aggrieved to make submissions either in writing or personally. If they are still concerned, and they should not be because they get parliamentary privilege in this place, they can do it in camera.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.