I have never shied away from speaking of my support for our fabulous fire services, unlike those opposite. This matter of public importance (MPI) has been proposed by the member for Gembrook. An earlier speaker said, ‘It was a consolation prize’. Those opposite must have thought, ‘He didn’t get a question today, so let us give him an MPI instead’.
Let us go through the MPI. It refers to condemning the Andrews Labor government for its handling of protracted Country Fire Authority (CFA) enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations. The last agreement expired in 2013. At that time there was another year, or maybe two years, of government for those on the other side. They did not seal a deal, did they?
The same thing is true of the handling of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade EBA negotiations. That EBA expired in 2013. Were those on the other side able to seal the deal? Those on the other side are very good at being commentators, but when it comes to getting their hands dirty and getting the job done, they go missing in action. That includes being at the tennis while there are serious fires going on in this state.
The member for Gembrook signed up to be a member of a parliamentary committee that had one of the most important references ever with regard to firefighters in this state, but the attendance record for that inquiry will show that his attendance was almost zero and that he gave up. For a shadow Minister for Emergency Services supposedly on the rise, what did he do? He pulled the pin! Now he wants to criticise this government and say that there is ‘disrespect shown to Victoria’s hardworking volunteer firefighters’. Well, Earth to Gembrook: in Fiskville, that PFOS did not discriminate between career and volunteer firefighters.
We have the member for Bass over there, who actually represents a very fire-prone area, chuckling while I am talking about the deaths and injuries of firefighters who had their lives ruined through exposure to PFOS at Fiskville. I know quite a bit about this because I happened to be at Fiskville, representing the then opposition, at a passing out parade. I do not think that the then minister, Peter Ryan, ever attended one, but I happened to be there when this matter hit the press, and it could not have been more serious.
But what did those opposite do? It happened on their watch, while they were in government. Did they immediately close Fiskville? No, they did not. Did they inquire into it? Did they ask for a list of people who could potentially have been impacted? If they had asked, like I did, they would have discovered that the record keeping, particularly in relation to volunteers who have trained there, had only been in existence for a very short number of years. Did they put out a call statewide saying, ‘Who’s been injured there?’. Did they go and talk to the neighbours? Did they go and talk to the postman or the office workers who worked at Fiskville or those who had been trainers at Fiskville or the children who had gone to the school on the grounds of Fiskville? No, and the member for Gembrook walked away when this government initiated the parliamentary inquiry.
I have no respect for the member for Gembrook, and I have no respect for the matter of public importance that he has put before the house, because if he was fair dinkum about fire services and fair dinkum about supporting career and volunteer firefighters, he would not have walked away from that inquiry. He also would not have been part of a government that cut the fire services budget by $66 million. He would not have been part of a government that tore up the list of 250 stations to be upgraded that we had created while in government. I know that list intimately because I worked on it as the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services.
Peter Ryan, the then Deputy Premier and minister, was moved out of that portfolio, just like the Liberal Party always do. They give something to the National Party for them to play with. He messed around with the priorities of that list. The priority was no longer safety. They said they were going to upgrade 40 stations. There were only 40 listed in the budget. When I questioned them, he said, ‘Oh, no, there’s 250’. I mean, that is just an absolute, out and out lie.
But one of the fire stations on that list to be upgraded was in a place called Mount Helen that the member for Buninyong knows very well. It is actually at the Ballarat university. They messed with the priority list, and the member for Buninyong had to fight tooth and nail. Not only did he have the Fiskville disaster in his electorate; he had to fight tooth and nail for a local fire station in Mount Helen to be built to protect a very fire-prone community — one of the 52 most fire-prone communities in Victoria at that time.
Not only did that endanger the member for Buninyong’s community; it stood to endanger every Victorian community at risk of fire, because that is where the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) call centre is. Not only were they failing to protect that community; they were failing to protect the ESTA call centre — the 000 call takers who would have been looking after the rest of Victoria. How dare they come in and say that they care about our volunteer firefighters and our fire services?
Finally on the Fiskville matter, my uncle Allan Radford was the captain of the Port Campbell CFA. I lost him about three years ago. He was a much-loved uncle of mine. He was a volunteer. He believed until his death that the reason for his cancer and early death was his exposure at Fiskville. Do not tell me over there that it was only about career firefighters and that you have got an excuse for the lack of action, because you do not.
In my community, I know that Wattle Glen and Plenty fire stations were on the list to be upgraded. But it did not matter, because they were not in National Party territory. Not only did they not upgrade the Wattle Glen fire station; they in fact tried to shut down the whole brigade. Stephen Gaunt and all the volunteers there fought tooth and nail, and I had support from the member for Bendigo East, who was then the shadow minister, and the member for Williamstown, who was also a shadow minister. Together we fought that, and I am pleased that the Deputy Premier and Minister for Emergency Services came out and opened that fire station only last year.
Those opposite did not do anything about the Plenty fire station — a road accident rescue brigade wholly staffed by volunteers not only looking after the area of Plenty but, like Wattle Glen, taking their place on many strike teams all over Victoria. They do road accident rescue along the M80. The coalition did not do that. We are doing that along Yan Yean Road, and along with the upgrade to that road, we are building that station, which those opposite never did.
The member for Ripon gave a sterling Institute of Public Affairs rant. You just know the people from that stable. If there is anything to do with unions, she will be out there and bagging it. She disrespected every volunteer in Victoria, including people like me who served for over 12 years, when she called career firefighters ‘professional firefighters’. I will have you know that those of us who have done our minimum skills and turned out are professional firefighters too. If you are going to speak on these matters, make sure you know something about it, you Jilly-come-lately from the city who pretends she was a grain farmer. She is just someone who could not get a seat in the city and tried her luck in the bush. She is as bad as the member for Gembrook, and I condemn the lot of them.