VICTORIAN Premier Daniel Andrews has made an impassioned plea to Country Fire Authority volunteers on another turbulent day in which the chief executive quit and a replacement board began to be assembled.
Mr Andrews has rejected an invitation to speak at a rally of volunteers beginning in his hometown of Wangaratta on Saturday, but defended his government's handling of the crisis amid claims he had bowed to the firefighters' union.
"There is no disputing the fact that this industrial dispute, which has gone on for nearly 1200 days, is far too long," he told The Border Mail.
"What happened at Fiskville and the mess down at Hazelwood tells us there is big change that needs to be brought about culturally and at an operational sense at the CFA.
"I wasn't going to have another fire season where significant elements of CFA management are locked in with lawyers down at Fair Work Australia fighting their own staff while volunteers and career staff are out on the fire ground keeping communities safe.
"It should have ended a long time ago, but didn't."
Mr Andrews stressed the respect his government had for volunteers.
"I acknowledge there are legitimate concerns out there among volunteer firefighters and communities, but what is equally true is the many completely false claims being made.
"It is a political game using the very best of our Victorian community.
"The facts are very different to things they've been told."
CFA chief executive Lucinda Nolan quit on Friday soon after a new board to be chaired Greg Smith was installed by the government.
Mr Smith will be joined by Michelle McLean, Dr Gillian Sparkes, Pam White and Simon Weir with volunteer board representatives to be appointed at a later date.
Asked whether the dispute, which has claimed his emergency services minister Jane Garrett, the CFA board and Ms Nolan, was payback to the United Firefighters Union, Mr Andrews said: "The answer is no.
"This is about ending a bitter dispute we inherited from the previous government.
"I wasn't prepared to go into another long, hot, dry and dangerous summer in 2016-17 with the CFA unable to make the changes that are necessary because they are at war with themselves."
Mr Andrews noted Wangaratta CFA station volunteers and paid firefighters weren't taking part in the rally on Saturday.
Benambra MLA Bill Tilley was scathing of the government.
"The saga continues doesn't it?" he said.
"What we've seen today is more of the bullying and arrogance from this government with a terrific Victorian in Lucinda Nolan, who has life-long experience in emergency management, forced out of her appointment by a board which has only been appointed because they agreed to sign up to this unlawful EBA.
"If the Coalition is returned at the 2018 election it will sack this board and go through a process of putting a board in place which has the best interests of volunteers, the CFA and the community of Victoria, at heart."
Mr Tilley also said he wanted to publicly recognise the contribution of Wodonga's Ross Coyle on the former CFA board.
Late on Friday, Indi MP Cathy McGowan said CFA volunteers could count on her support if legislation presented to federal parliament helped resolve the ongoing EBA issue.
“As a CFA member for more than 15 years, I understand how CFA volunteers play a fundamental role in keeping our communities safe,” she said.
“It’s disappointing the situation has got to this point and must be resolved urgently.
“In principle I am supportive of the Prime Minister’s proposal to change the Fair Work Act to protect the role of the CFA and other volunteers in our community."
Earlier this week at Victorian Farmers Federation political forum in Wangaratta, Ms McGowan said the CFA dispute was "very much a state issue".