The chief fire officer of Victoria's Country Fire Authority has become the latest victim of Premier Daniel Andrews workplace deal with the firefighters union.
As first reported by The Age there had been significant pressure on CFA chief officer Joe Buffone to endorse a new deal with the United Firefighters Union, something he resisted because of fears he would be in breach of his legislated duties.
Mr Buffone follows the sacked CFA board, and former emergency services minister Jane Garrett and CFA chief executive Lucinda Nolan who both resigned.
They all objected to the deal because they believe it would hand undue control to the militant union, be in breach of equal opportunity laws and undermine the ability of the CFA officials to run the authority.
On Thursday morning Mr Buffone stepped down, saying: "I believe the agreement will tie the hands of those who are obliged by law to protect the safety of Victorians."
"In my opinion I am now in circumstances where my ability to effectively carry out my role is compromised by an industrial agreement," he said in a message to CFA members
"In addition, it impedes my vision for CFA as a modern, contemporary and inclusive emergency service."
But newly appointed Emergency Services Minister James Merlino insists that Mr Buffone's "decision to resign was his and his alone".
Emails between the CFA and Mr Buffone show that he was prepared to withdraw his resignation if he was given a $85,000 pay rise.
After tending his resignation on Tuesday, Mr Buffone then said he would change his mind should he be given equal organisational status as the chief executive; payment of salary equal to the chief executive and if he resigned or was sacked within the next five years he would receive a 12-month payout.
"He was prepared to implement the agreement if he was given more money and more power," Mr Merlino said.
"This was a good agreement if he was given around $85,000 more."
The Minister repeated the government's mantra that the dispute had gone on too long and that for the sake of public safety it had to be resolved.
He also hosed down concerns about the legality of the deal, saying the Fair Work Commission would not sign off on anything that was in breach of the law.
"I think Victorians can absolutely see the difference between state issues and federal issues," Mr Merlino said.
The Minister also accused the Liberals of peddling lies about the deal and stirring up division among the state's firefighters, which was taking a toll on some members.
Community anger, particularly in areas with volunteer fire brigades, has been burning over the Premier's intervention in the long-standing workplace dispute between the union and the CFA.
A tribute to Mr Buffone came from his counterpart at the MFB Peter Rau, who said that he had showed principles.
The MFB is also in the midst of a dispute with the UFU over a new workplace deal.
The issue has also been a major distraction from Bill Shorten's attempt to win Saturday's federal election, with volunteers out campaigning against Labor in key marginal seats, including Corangamite and McEwen.
Mr Andrews' has previously said he intervened in the dispute because he did not want Victoria to enter another bushfire season with the workplace dispute unresolved.
His involvement in the dispute, just before a federal election, has left many inside the state government and the wider Labor movement scratching their heads.
The pay deal is for the 800 paid CFA firefighters who run 34 out of the authority's 1200 fire stations, including many in Melbourne's suburbs and Victoria's regional centres.
Opponents of the deal argue that the EBA delivers veto powers to the union, which would undermine management's ability to run the service.
Other concerns centre on a view that the role of volunteers would be undermined.
Mr Buffone and the board have been resisting the deal because it takes control out of their hands. Some insiders have warned that the deal risks public safety.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said it was clear that no one was safe in Victoria's fire services.
"The chief fire officer along with Lucinda Nolan, the former CEO, the board of the CFA, the minister Jane Garrett, 60,000 volunteers they all can't be wrong," Mr Guy said.
"They are sending a loud and clear message to Daniel Andrews; get your hands off the CFA
"Everyone is giving the same message to Daniel Andrews. At what stage does this guy not realise that him and his own pig-headed ideals to pay back a union are going to destroy the CFA?"
He said the government's actions would have a long-standing, generational impact on the CFA.
"It is going to smash around what has been a strong united body of men and women across Victoria."
Union members met on Thursday morning with UFU secretary Peter Marshall calling for an end to the animosity between volunteers and career firefighters.
He said it was "sad" when anyone left an organisation.
"The fight is not with volunteers, the rhetoric that has actually created that perception has got to stop," Mr Marshall said.
He said there has been an awful impact on firefighters, with children of staff bullied at school.
More to come
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