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Speech: Country Fire Service

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this select committee motion, noting, as other speakers have done, that we will be moving an amendment to refer it to the appropriate standing committee. In doing so, I do note that I did a count yesterday of how many current select and standing committees we had yesterday, and we had one for every single member of this place if you included the standing and the select committees put together. We have just passed another select committee, so now we actually have one for every member of this place plus one. It is like musical chairs in reverse.

For those of us who are on committees and take them seriously, it can actually be quite a stretch not just for us but for the staffing, resourcing and appropriate running of those committees. While it is not yet on the Notice Paper, I do note that there is a bill coming before this place that takes on board the previous recommendations of the select committee on committees, which looks at streamlining and giving a portfolio basis to committees to ensure ongoing expert research and resourcing and the ability of members to have more flexibility and be better supported to look at these important matters.

Volunteer firefighters put their lives and their health on the line each time they go out to protect their communities and other people's communities right across our state and right across our nation. Just over the SA border, 60 per cent of a 1,400 square kilometre cattle station has been burnt by bushfires from late 2023. That station, which has been owned by the same family for more than a century, is now blackened. To quote the manager of the station, Ben Hayes:

There's not a lot left there now… trees are just skeletons on the ground.

This comes also as the Northern Territory reports 33 million hectares of land has been burnt this bushfire season alone. That is five times the state of Tasmania and far surpasses the area burnt in the devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20. Tragically, these bushfires are killing people, destroying property and ravaging our fragile ecosystems rich in natural and cultural values.

The government does have to get serious about building a disaster response capability in this state and a very large part of that are our volunteers. I want to be clear that the Greens have absolute faith in our volunteer firefighters, and we thank them for risking their lives to help keep us safe.

We do of course need to ensure that the level of resources these highly skilled people are being provided with is of the highest quality possible and that the support they need to do their jobs under threat of increased fires and floods and driven by a changing climate is paramount. As the climate crisis continues to fuel these disasters, South Australia must ensure that we do have an emergency response capability to respond to what is becoming our new reality.

I indicate to the chamber that the Greens have received feedback from the CFS Volunteers Association concerning the terms of reference with some trepidation and it was disappointing that the CFS Volunteers Association was not adequately consulted prior to this motion coming before this place. The association and its members do not wish for this inquiry to be a platform for self-promotion, political pointscoring or witch hunts and I am comforted by the words of the Hon. Nicola Centofanti where she has just given a commitment that that will not be the case. Certainly, neither do the Greens.

It is not our place to put unnecessary mental stress on these volunteers. It is our place to ensure that they are well resourced and supported while protecting our state. That is why the Greens put on the agenda last year the facilities paucity issue and will continue to work for better supports, respect and resources for our volunteers in emergency services.

As such, the Greens will also move today to have this motion referred to the appropriate standing committee to deal with these matters—the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation—for inquiry and report. With that, I move that the motion be amended as follows:

Paragraph 1. Leave out the words 'That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into' and insert the words 'That the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation inquire into and report on'

Leave out paragraph 2. Members who have been here for some time would know that I have long worked with CFS volunteers, in particular on the cancer consultation presumptive approach to ensuring that our volunteer firefighters were afforded the same workers compensation and respect that career firefighters were able to access, and indeed putting that issue itself on the agenda for all firefighters in this state.

In that spirit, certainly the conversations and the correspondence that I have received quite rightly pointed out that the role of volunteer firefighters in this state is already recognised under our various pieces of legislation as employment rights because while they may not be paid it does not mean that these volunteer firefighters are not expert. While they may not be career firefighters, or they may well be, certainly their skills, expertise, training, health and safety deserve and demand and are already delegated the same rights as those of employees.

So certainly, when you are looking at issues of grievances, when you are looking at issues of resourcing of facilities and of safety, this occupational safety, rehabilitation and compensation standing committee of the parliament is a very appropriate place for this committee's work to be undertaken. 

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