Emergency Services

Ms Garrett (Minister for Emergency Services) — I stand with colleagues on this side of the house and I grieve for the people of Victoria. I grieve that shadow Treasurer Michael ‘Side Deal’ O’Brien thinks he can lecture this side of the house about economic responsibility, vandalism and sabotage. This from the Treasurer of the government that brought you the worst and most secretive side deal in history.

I say to the good men and women of this house that there was a train called the people of Victoria. It was at the station and it was about to leave on 29 November. What did this mob do? It went and bought some spray cans at the local supermarket and tagged that train.

An honourable member interjected

Ms Garrett — No, this is a good analogy. The former government tagged that train and said ‘Micky O and Matty G was ere’ and left the people of Victoria with an almighty and disgraceful act of economic vandalism. Absolutely it did. The messages were ‘Big Ted was here’ and ‘DJ Denis was here’. That was the political suicide note. The former government knew the train was leaving the station. They knew the people of Victoria were voting. Opinion poll after opinion poll said the people did not want this east–west road. And what did the former government do? It put a millstone around the necks of Victorians — or tried to. It did the most dodgy side deal in history. It vandalised that train as it left the station, and the people of Victoria will not forget.

Here we are again, back in this house. The day the government changed, 29 November 2014, was a significant day in Victoria’s history, yet listening to question time last night, and indeed to the shadow Treasurer’s speech today, one would not have thought the government had changed in the minds of the coalition. Here coalition members go again, still banging on about the union movement and still banging on about east–west link.

The people of Victoria spoke and said they also grieve for how badly Victoria fared under the coalition government. The previous government had four years — four dark years. We have already heard during this grievance debate that what the previous government did to education, the environment and the health system was extraordinary. Let us talk about vandalism. Let us talk about sabotage. Let us talk about irresponsibility. These people were the absolute masters of that.

I now grieve for the people of Victoria for what this mob did to emergency services while they were occupying the government benches. One of the first acts the Andrews Labor government did upon coming to power was to announce a parliamentary inquiry into Fiskville. This is a very important and serious issue. Earlier this year the Premier and I released the Monash University study into cancer clusters at Fiskville. We had to request documents through FOI. Time and again we had to raise in Parliament the issue of injuries suffered by firefighters who trained at Fiskville. What did the previous government do? Absolutely nothing. It ignored the issue. It dismissed the concerns of firefighters based on claims that they were somehow members of unions. It failed to address the issue. What has the Labor government done? It has asked question after question.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms Garrett— I understand why the shadow minister is agitated. I would be agitated too at the record of his government when he held that portfolio. We had 606 people who worked and trained at Fiskville as part of this study, and a total of 69 cancers were discovered that resulted in 16 deaths. We know our firefighters work very hard to protect us, and it is our turn to act to protect them — and this government will. We called the inquiry in the first few weeks of taking office. That inquiry will do its work this year and will report back by the end of the year.

This brings me to the other failings of the previous government around the health of firefighters — which I grieve for and certainly members of the emergency services grieve for — and that is on the issue of presumptive legislation. I am very glad that I am joined here by the Minister for Finance, who spent an enormous amount of time in opposition doing the work to ensure that when the Andrews government took office it would act to give firefighters the protection they deserve on presumptive legislation. I remind members of this house — and I think members of the community would want to hear these issues raised — that the former Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the member for Rowville, was quoted in the Age on 21 August 2014 as saying:

We are not convinced that there is a direct link between cancer and the firefighters.

This was from the former Minister for Police and Emergency Services. We had international study after international study. We had local studies. The federal Parliament acted. The Tasmanian Parliament acted. The South Australian Parliament and the Western Australian Parliament were in the process of acting. They were all in the process of acting to introduce presumptive legislation for firefighters because we know about the toxins and chemicals that firefighters are exposed to in the day‑to‑day line of their work and the protective equipment they wear and how that interacts with the toxins — not only what they are pumping out of the hoses but because they are also dealing with industrial waste and contaminated land — and because it is so difficult to pinpoint when an injury may have occurred when firefighters have fought so many fires. We know all that. Other parliaments had acted. The federal Parliament had acted with cross‑party support because people felt we needed to protect our firefighters.

What did we get from the previous government? I repeat:

We are not convinced that there is a direct link between cancer and the firefighters.

This exemplified the previous government’s approach to the hardworking men and women of our fire services. In 2013 the former government blocked legislation in the Legislative Council that would have put this scheme in place. It blocked the capacity for presumptive legislation to give firefighters certainty and comfort. Instead it introduced a massive new hurdle called the firefighters assessment panel, which just added to bureaucracy, added to uncertainty, added to concern and added to fear.

The Andrews government came to power, and I am not surprised that because of the litany of failures and the destructive actions of the previous government we now find ourselves with a clear and cohesive plan. Part of that clear, cohesive and costed plan is that the government will introduce presumptive legislation to protect the men and women of our fire services. It will follow other jurisdictions, both domestic and abroad, that have acted to give firefighters the certainty they deserve. Just days before the November election there was an insipid, heart‑not‑in‑it statement made by the previous government saying, ‘Maybe we will introduce presumptive legislation’. It was all too late. People simply did not believe it.

We will be covering those issues in our first term. On top of the previous government’s failure to introduce a parliamentary inquiry into Fiskville and its failure to act on presumptive legislation, we then had millions of dollars of taxpayers money spent on fighting our firefighters through the court system. There were so many pieces of legislation in train that went on and on. Instead of giving firefighters equipment, instead of giving them support and instead of making sure they were protected around the issues of cancer, the previous government went to war on firefighters. It went to war on paramedics. It went to war on teachers. It went to war on nurses. It went to war on the Victorian community.

It did so on the basis of ideological hatred. It did so on the basis of an ideological agenda that anything with the word union in it was somehow evil and dastardly and that the rest of the community would think so. Quite frankly that is a fantasy world. The nurses union is not some underground militant organisation. The nurses union is made up of tens of thousands of hardworking men and women who live throughout the community — similarly with firefighters, ambos and teachers. When people walk past a building site they do not believe the building site is filled with bikies juiced up on ice. They just do not believe that. They do not believe those bikies are somehow going to try to attack the white picket fences of Canterbury and Kew.

They do not believe that. This mob is still banging on about the unions, even though no‑one is listening. Members of the community do not share the blind ideological hatred of the former government. But what has that mob learnt from 29 November? We would have to say very little, because last night we had a re‑run in question time of what we had simply had for four years. Today those opposite have dusted off their speeches from October 2014 and re‑run the same tired old lines about the unions, tired old lines about the east–west link and tired old lines about the glorious things they did.

I note that those opposite went away for a love fest in the country where they said that they needed to face the reality of their election defeat, and we all hope that they did face that reality. We hope, and the people of Victoria hope, those opposite have come to terms with some of the reasons they were rejected after a first term. Their performance this week — in this house, including in this grievance debate — absolutely suggests that not only have they not reflected and not had a good look in the mirror but also that they are continuing the same old boring attacks, which obviously the Victorian community does not support, agree with or is not particularly interested in.

I return to emergency services and why I grieve for the people of Victoria and why we now celebrate what can be done. I would like to talk about additional firefighters, because we will recruit an additional 450 firefighters in this term of government — 350 for the Country Fire Authority and 100 for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

Mr Edbrook interjected.

Mr R. Smith— On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, the member for Frankston is making comment. He is out of his place and out of order.

The deputy speaker— Order! I uphold the point of order. I did not see the honourable member for Frankston, but if he is to interject and be involved in the running of the Parliament, then he needs to be in his seat.

Ms Garrett — I am sure the member can make a fine contribution from his own place.

As I was saying, the Andrews Labor government will employ 450 extra firefighters over the next four years. We know those firefighters are needed, but what did the previous government do? The previous government did not keep track of what the royal commission said was the number of firefighters that should have been recruited.

Mr R Smith interjected.

The deputy speaker — Order! The honourable member for Warrandyte is next on the list. I ask him not to interject.

Ms Garrett — I am sure those on the other side of the house may not have heard that I said some 450 extra firefighters will protect Victorians. In addition we are investing millions of dollars in new Country Fire Authority stations across the state. We are replacing outdated and unsafe radio systems, we are training and equipping our firefighters with the latest technology and we are assisting firefighters who suffer from post‑traumatic stress disorder. I note that the member for Ivanhoe was at the Austin Hospital when the then Leader of the Opposition made that announcement.

This government will provide 50 new fire trucks. As opposed to those who ruled this place for the last four years, we will make sure that we will not go to war with the working men and women of Victoria, and that we will listen to them and respect them. That way we will give those people the terms and conditions they absolutely deserve. They will get respect from this Andrews Labor government. They will get the resources that they need. They will get the stations that they need, the presumptive legislation they need and people who will be happy to sit down and talk to them and not drag them through the courts and waste taxpayers money. They will get people who would never, ever do a vandal side deal, as the shadow Treasurer and his team did prior to this election. We grieve for the people of Victoria and what they have endured over the last four years.

Mr Katos interjected.

Ms Garrett— The member knows I spend a lot of time with people in surf lifesaving, but I am here talking about firefighters. This government will give Victorians the respect they deserve and the government they deserve, which they did not get over the last four years.

Hansard, 11 February 2015