The new board of management of the Country Fire Authority has enforced a ‘no speech’ rule for Opposition MPs at functions including medal presentations, station openings and dinners.
In an interview on Melbourne radio, the new CFA chief executive officer Frances Diver said the ban was a “reinforcement” of a “long-held protocol that is trying to protect the CFA from being used for political purposes.”
“Brigades are welcome to invite local Members of Parliament, Opposition and Government to their events,” said Ms Diver.
“We welcome their input and we welcome their contribution, but standard Government protocol, really uneventful really, is that it’s usually up to Ministers and the Government of the day to take responsibility for that kind of openings and ribbon cutting… [the] handover of trucks, that the Government of the Day that provides that investment.”
Ms Diver said the ban, sent out by email, was not issued or ordered by the government.
“It was an initiative… to respond to lots of requests for clarification about this, because there are some concerns by brigades about what the protocol is, and it was a pretty standard reminder.”
The CFA management has said Opposition MPs could apply to take part in events on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, if they made a written request.
State member for Ripon Louise Staley said the decision to restrict Opposition MPs for speaking or presenting medals flies in the face of decades of bipartisan practice.
“This has never been past practice. In the last term of government, when the Liberal Party was in power, it was the 150th anniversary of the Maryborough Fire Brigade. The then member Joe Helper went to that event, he spoke at that event, and he spoke about it in Hansard,” said Ms Staley.
“For Ms Diver to downplay it as ‘it’s always been this way’ – that’s just not true. It’s well outside the bounds of acceptability, and they have specifically said we can’t do medal presentations, station openings, brigade dinners. I do a lot of those things, as do all country MPs.”
Ms Staley said she was genuinely shocked by the move to ban Opposition MPs from speaking at CFA functions.
“It’s so profoundly undemocratic. We don’t politicise these things. The CFA doesn’t let you get up and make a political speech. They want you to thank them.”
Both the CFA and the State Government have been contacted for comment.
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