Queensland Presumptive Legislation for all Fire Fighters and Fire Wardens – What’s the go?
Friday, 12 Jun 2015
A bit of history
The position of the RFBAQ is the same as the national position of the Council of Australian Volunteers Fire Associations (CAVFA = 257,000 volunteer fire fighters nationally) which is that there should be no discriminatory qualifying periods for volunteer fire fighters.
The first example of why volunteers deserve the same level of support is that a number of Rural Fire Brigades are co-located with Auxiliary stations, and to have a part time fire fighter and a volunteer standing side by side in the same smoke at the same fire with two different levels of coverage is discriminatory.
Another example is Greenbank RFB which in the 12 months from March to March this year attended 173 call-outs.
- 60% were grass/bushfire
- 10% were structural fires
- 10% were car fires
- 10% were large animal rescues
- 10% were road traffic crashes
This volume of call-outs for Greenbank RFB compare to or exceed those of some Auxiliary stations in Queensland and the carcinogens released from structural fires and car fires are well documented. These figures also show that Rural Fire Brigades do far more than just bushfire, and do defend their communities from all hazards.
The third example is of Auxiliary Stations that have been transitioned to Rural Fire Brigades. This is where a towns like Mungallala have had their Auxiliary Station shut down and replaced by a Rural Fire Brigade. Restrictive presumptive legislation requirements would see the former Auxiliary firefighters not covered for presumptive legislation now that they are fighting the same fires due to them now being volunteers and riding a yellow truck instead of a red one.
The position of the RFBAQ is that the smoke does not discriminate between the colour of your truck or your pay status, so why should presumptive legislation.
In regards to the Tasmanian legislation, the two bodies that represent part time and volunteer firefighters in Tasmania are both members of CAVFA and are now in discussions with the new Liberal State Gvt to have the discriminatory legislation removed.
The South Australian presumptive legislation initially had discriminatory qualifying periods for volunteer fire fighters, and as was always going to happen the South Australian Government has had to amend the legislation to a non-discriminatory model.
The number of claims from volunteer fire fighters in South Australia has been 3 in the last 2 years - so not the tidal wave that the Gvt in South Australia used as an excuse to initially discriminate against volunteers in the initial legislation.
The one hurdle that the South Australian Country Fire Service Volunteer Association will change in the future is that there is a 10 year sunset clause where you will not be covered once you cease being a volunteer fire fighter, this clause does not exist for paid fire fighters who can always claim. This discrimination was identified in March 2015 by the South Australian Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (below)
REPORT INTO THE REFERRAL OF THE WORKERS REHABILITATION AND COMPENSATION (SACFS FIREFIGHTERS) AMENDMENT BILL
CONCLUSION The Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation (SACFS) Amendment Bill which was introduced into Parliament on 7 May 2014 has since been superseded by a commitment by the Deputy Premier and the Minister for Emergency Services to provide SACFS volunteer firefighters with the same automatic entitlements to compensation to 12 prescribed cancers as career firefighters, without the need for them to prove how and when they may have contracted the cancer. Since the Ministerial announcement, amendments have been made to section 31 of the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986 and to Schedule 3 of the Return to Work Act 2014 (which has not yet commenced). SACFS volunteer firefighters and SAMFS firefighters now have the same presumptive protection in the event that they contract any one of the 12 prescribed cancers. However, volunteer firefighters have a 10 year time limit within which to make a claim after ceasing operational activities, while career firefighters are not prevented from making a claim at any time in the future. This time restriction imposed on volunteer firefighters is likely to preclude some retired volunteer firefighters from making a claim for cancers of extremely long latency, unless they can prove a connection to their previous work as a volunteer firefighter. The Monash University research confirms that volunteer firefighters are at an increased risk of dying in a fire and of contracting some cancers and this risk increases with more time served. Therefore, the prescribed qualification periods should be sufficient to establish a connection to work as a firefighter without the need for further barriers such as time limits. There is a need for ongoing research into this area and as the knowledge associated with this dangerous work increases through collaborative scientific work, legislative protections may need to be amended to reflect the emerging knowledge.
Another consideration that the South Australian Country Fire Service Volunteer Association is pursuing is that the fire fighting vehicles need to be classified as a part of the fire ground, as a fire fighter can be exposed to carcinogens through contact with a contaminated vehicle in the fire station.
What's happening here?
During the lead up to the last Queensland State election, the RFBAQ wrote to, and received written undertakings from all the major political parties.
The LNP, Labor, Katter's Australia, The Greens and One Nation all supported the RFBAQ in calling for the introduction of legislation that protected all fire fighters irrespective of pay status or the colour of the fire engine.
Post the 2015 Queensland State Election, the RFBAQ approached again the three political parties represented in the Queensland Parliament and reinforced the call for Presumptive Legislation for all fire fighters without discriminatory qualifying periods for volunteers.
On Thursday, 7 May 2015 the Hon. Jo Ann Miller Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services and Minister for Corrective Services stated to Parliament that -
'The Palaszczuk Labor government will move quickly to provide protection for our hardworking and dedicated firefighters, both full time and auxiliary, and also to some members of the rural fire brigades.'
Subsequent to discussions with the current government, the Ministers Office wrote to the RFBAQ that their preferred model is the Tasmanian model that sees volunteer fire fighters required to attend over 150 fires over 5 years before qualifying for presumptive legislation. This same legislation would see full time and part time firefighters covered immediately.
The RFBAQ has made clear to all political parties that by bringing in discriminatory legislation would disenfranchise volunteers and lead to a campaign whereby the Government would need to amend the legislation in the future to fully cover volunteers as was the case in South Australia, and that they should adopt a best practice model initially and cover all fire fighters.
On Wednesday 3rd June 2015, Mr Jarrod Bleijie Shadow Minister for Police, Fire, Emergency Services and Corrective Services presented to Parliament a Private Members Bill to amend the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003.
This landmark draft legislation will provide the highest level of support in any Australian State or Territory, and will cover all fire fighters and Fire Wardens with no discriminatory prerequisites for volunteers such as the Tasmanian model and no discriminatory sunset clauses for volunteers as identified by the South Australian Parliamentary Committee.
What happens next
Now that the Bill has been before Parliament it will move to the Committee stage where 6 Members of Parliament who form the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee can choose to call for submissions regarding this Bill and will make recommendations to Parliament as to whether the Bill should be supported or not or that the Bill should be amended. This must be dealt with by the Committee within 6 months of the Bill being sent to Committee.
Members of the Committee are:
- Mr Mark Furner MP, Member for Ferny Grove, Chair - ALP
- Mrs Tarnya Smith MP, Member for Mount Ommaney, Deputy Chair - LNP
- Mr Jon Krause MP, Member for Beaudesert - LNP
- Mr Jim Madden MP, Member for Ipswich West - ALP
- Mr Tony Perrett MP, Member for Gympie - LNP
- Mr Mark Ryan, MP, Member for Morayfield - ALP
This means that it must be returned by the 1st week in December.
Once the Committee submission guidelines and dates are made available, the RFBAQ will provide this information to Brigades and volunteers so that your opinions can be voiced to the Committee.
Once the Bill has transitioned out of Committee it can be brought to the house for a final reading and vote.
This is where the Bill gets over 45 votes, under 45 votes or is amended to be something different from what it was originally intended to be.
If it does not come out of Committee until December then it cannot be voted on until sometime in 2016, as the Parliamentary sitting dates have not been set for next year. Although the Committee can recommend that it is dealt with sooner, and if this happens then it could potentially be voted on this year.
The RFBAQ will continue to produce updates on the progression of this Bill, as it is a matter of vital importance to all 36,000 volunteer fire fighters in Queensland who through their 1,440 Rural Fire Brigades defend over 93% of Queensland.