Government could move to split CFA

A Western Victorian MP, whose vote would hold the key to any state government attempt to restructure the CFA and extend the MFB’s boundaries, believes an announcement on the divisive issue is imminent. 

There has been growing speculation that the state government will overhaul the state's fire services by redrawing the boundaries of the city fringe fire-fighting zones and creating two new firefighting services: one wholly volunteer and one paid-only service.

Emergency Services minister James Merlino is expected to make an announcement on Friday which would resolve the protracted professional firefighters’ EBA dispute.

Vote 1 Local Jobs upper house MP James Purcell said he understands his vote would be key if the government attempted to change the MFB boundaries, but said he did not have in-depth knowledge of the legislation. 

“I understand I will be a key vote. I am a supporter of the CFA in its current model … before I made any decision on the way I would vote I would want to look at the legislation, discuss it with the government, discuss it with the Liberal party and discuss it with firefighters,” he said.

Mr  Merlino said he remained focused on resolving this dispute which “has gone on for far too long”. Currently the CFA's firefighters patrol the vast majority of Victoria, while the professional fire fighters of the MFB cover almost all of Melbourne.

There are more than 30 "integrated" stations staffed by paid firefighters in built-up areas of suburban Melbourne and major regional centres including Ballarat - but the vast majority of brigades, over 1000, are volunteer.

Splitting volunteers and professionals would allow the workplace deal for staff CFA firefighters to be approved, because laws rushed through by the Turnbull government to "protect" volunteers could be bypassed. 

Mr Merlino told The Courier on Monday the Turnbull government’s legislation had made any EBA “impossible to get through”.

“The federal government's intervention has left the parties at a point where it’s very difficult to find a way forward,” Mr Merlino said. 

“The government is looking at a range of options to end this dispute.”

Ballarat City Fire Brigade Station Officer Brenton Smith said the imminent split was the best way forward for both firefighters and the community. 

While Mr Smith said no one really knew what the government’s proposed changes looked like, the current federal legislation made it impossible for important EBA clauses that would increase community safety and response to go through. 

“(Currently) it’s unworkable. It would be quite detrimental if we were to continue to that path that we are on,” Mr Smith said.

Ballan volunteer Ian Ireland said until the government explained the proposed model volunteers would not know how any changes would impact them.

“All the government is going is dividing the CFA further by procrastinating and taking it out for so long – pitting their career staff against volunteers,” Mr Ireland said. 

  • With The Age