Friday 30 October 2020

Labor fails to protect forest firefighters and country communities

In the Victorian Parliament this week the Andrews Labor Government had to make changes to legislation in order to fix holes in its new fire services reforms in relation to new Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) fire districts.

The Government sought to amend the Forests Act to allow Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) firefighters to fight fires and carry out fire management activities in new FRV fire districts, and to provide immunity to these forest firefighters when doing so.

Labor confirmed that forest firefighters are responsible for fire prevention and fire suppression in State forests, National Parks and on protected public land, but conceded that under current legislation they don’t have the authorisation or appropriate legal protections to operate in a new FRV fire district, which has left them severely exposed should any fire spread from public land.

 

This is a major oversight by Labor after ramming through controversial fire services reforms that are just a few months into operation and has left forest firefighters and country communities exposed.

 

Perhaps Labor is worried FRV personnel won’t be available or able to get out to country areas quickly enough. That gives little comfort to local country communities that have had an FRV fire district imposed on them and have unacceptably put FFMV firefighters at risk. 

 

This is particularly troubling as Victoria is heading into another fire season. Local communities may wonder if this is the real reason that a lack of preventative planned burns are occurring.

 

Labor has confirmed that Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) and the United Firefighters Union (UFU) are in active negotiations with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning for an MOU.

The Liberal Nationals moved an amendment to require these agreements and arrangements to be made public on the Government’s website to improve accountability and transparency, but Labor denied any ability to debate this in the Parliament’s lower house.

Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Bridget Vallence:

 

“It’s unforgivable that Labor’s controversial and botched fire services reforms have left forest firefighters at risk and country communities exposed.

 

“Labor has admitted that forest firefighters are currently unprotected if they need to fight a fire that spreads into a new FRV fire district.

 

“Labor has denied making new agreements between FRV, the UFU and DELWP transparent to the public, again avoiding scrutiny.

 

“This is troubling as we head into another fire season and local communities are wondering if this is why there’s been a lack of planned burns.”