After years of bitter disputes, inflammatory accusations and not a few political casualties, the CFA dispute certainly reached a milestone moment this week.
The CFA will essentially become a volunteer-only service and a new organisation Fire Rescue Victoria will replace the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. The Andrews government has taken the clever move of essentially sidestepping the imposition placed by the Federal workplace law implanted by the Turnbull Government. The good news for the 1200 stand-alone volunteer brigades across the state is, on paper at least, they will essentially be left unchanged.
The State Government has also thrown in a $100 million sweetener, specifically a $56.2 million CFA support fund to strengthen recruitment and training areas where volunteer brigades are often under strain.
But the interesting detail in operation and execution will emerge over the 35 integrated stations including Ballarat where career firefighters and volunteers work alongside. The key aim of public safety was always the critical underpinning of any operational or structural change and despite some distracting and highly erroneous claims so far, is still the measure of its success.
The minister has repeatedly claimed the model of the old structure hailed from the 1950’s and was outdated. The metropolitan fire brigade was confined within a bizarre and anachronistic boundary while the outer suburbs including 60 percent of metropolitan Melbourne and all the suburban areas of the regional cities rested under its country counterpart.
Creating an updated structure, specifically in regard to specialisations and equipment, seems to make sense and so far the NSW model, which precedes the Victorian battle by decades, has shown how this can work well.
But that leaves the cultural issue and the long running antipathy between the firefighters union and the volunteers association. How this affects the functioning of integrated stations and the morale of firefighters may be the bigger test. It is interesting to see how reserved those at the working end of the service are about the decision. While this may be because they have yet to see the detail, it may also be indicative of the level of fatigue at the whole name calling, political hijacking and subsequent division and poor morale. If at heart they just want to get on with their job, I am sure most Victorians would wish for the same thing.