Labor’s Minister for Emergency Services, Lisa Neville has today revealed the Andrews Labor Government’s has failed to prioritise the state’s fire preparedness and fire services.
Appearing before the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, Minister Neville confirmed the wholesale reclassification of some 4,000 operational CFA volunteers to support roles over the last financial year was largely a result of a lack of training.
The Minister confirmed that the Andrews Labor Government’s COVID-19 restrictions had prevented CFA volunteers from completing essential training in order to maintain their operational status, and was largely the reason behind this reclassification.
In addition to this reclassification, the CFA’s 2019-20 Annual Report (p 27) revealed the Andrews Labor Government failed to meet its overall CFA volunteer target by 8,155 volunteers.
In October, the Inspector-General of Emergency Management observed (p 94) the vital contribution volunteers make to Victoria’s surge capacity.
Unfortunately, the Andrews Labor Government’s failure to meet volunteer targets and its reclassification of operational CFA volunteers is only one of many areas in which Labor has failed to ensure Victoria is prepared for the 2020-21 fire season.
In the CFA’s 2019/20 Post Season Debrief Program Report, the CFA reviewed various aspects of its response to the 2019-2020 bushfires. Out of the 98 areas reviewed, the CFA only found its performance satisfactory in 18.
In addition to these areas for improvement, COVID-19 restrictions have also impacted the carrying out of CFA planned burns and the ability of Melbourne residents to prepare their regional properties for the 2020-21 fire season.
Minister Neville also confirmed the Andrews Labor Government continues to have no plan for a redress system for those exposed to hazardous chemicals at the Fiskville training centre.
The Parliamentary Inquiry into the CFA Training College at Fiskville handed down its Final Report on 24 May 2015 with the Government providing its response to the report on 24 November 2016.
In its response (p 22), the Andrews Labor Government provided in principle support to the establishment of a dedicated redress scheme for Fiskville-affected persons.
Four years on, when asked during today’s Budget Estimates hearing about the status of the Government’s implementation of this scheme, Minister Neville confirmed that no model for the scheme had yet been determined and that she “hoped” this would be put to Government early next year.
The Parliamentary Inquiry’s report (p 275-276) found that Fiskville firefighters, staff, residents, visitors, and local children were potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals as a result of the unsafe burning, burying, storage and handling of these materials, as well as contaminated firewater.
The Inquiry also noted the findings of the Monash University Fiskville Health Study, which found the risk of developing cancers was significantly higher for full-time trainers and practical area for drill (PAD) workers at Fiskville than the expected cancer rate among firefighters.
Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Emergency Services, Nick Wakeling:
“The Andrews Labor Government has categorically failed to ensure Victoria is adequately prepared for this fire season.
“Labor’s failure to meet its CFA volunteer targets, together with its reclassification of some 4,000 operational CFA volunteers due to COVID-19 restrictions on training, is only one of many areas where Victoria’s fire preparedness is not up to scratch.
“The Andrews Labor Government’s failure to balance its pandemic response with Victoria’s fire preparedness has left Victoria dangerously exposed this summer.
“Labor’s delay in establishing a Fiskville redress scheme for those suffering serious ill-health is heartless and unacceptable.
“Addressing the serious effects of what occurred at Fiskville should have been among this Government’s top priorities, instead the UFU’s shopping list of demands has taken precedence.
“Many of those exposed to hazardous chemicals at Fiskville have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting our state. Daniel Andrews must explain why his Government has treated these individuals as a low-priority.”