Inquiry into CFS

In order to expedite an inquiry into the significant issues and concerns aired by our Country Fire Service volunteers and staff, I am agreeable to the Hon. Ms Franks’ amendment

While it would have been more preferable for a committee without a government majority of members to inquire into this, it is better that an imperfect committee be established as soon as possible without further delay

I listened to the concerns of some of my parliamentary colleagues late last year that forming a Committee over the Summer bushfire period could impact CFS volunteers over this busy time

While I didn’t necessarily agree that the formation of the committee prior to the Summer break would drag our frontline volunteers away from fighting fires, I took on board their concerns to ensure it would not cause any distraction

I believe this is an important motion & it is crucial to investigate the issues and concerns of the brave individuals in the ranks of our Country Fire Service

I have heard the concerns of some Members in this Place who believe there has been a lack of consultation with the CFS on this issue and that the Emergency Services Minister’s own review will do the work of what is suggested in this Select Committee

What I have heard from many volunteers – as well as CFS staff members – is that they are terrified of speaking up for fear of being silenced or expelled

And this goes to the crux of the issue – that volunteers do not feel they have the agency to speak about the issues they see on the ground and that any review, conducted within the bounds of the organisation or by the instruction of Minister, will yield more of the same

A referral of this issue to the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation will allow all stakeholders, all volunteers and the CFS bureaucracy themselves to engage and ventilate the structures and processes, not just across disciplinary matters but also capital programs, equipment and training.

An inquiry such as this has now been called for by 100s ofcurrent volunteers, ex-volunteers and staff of our Country Fire Service, who signed a petition organised by Selina Laing

My sincere thanks and appreciation goes to Selina for her tireless advocacy on behalf of CFS volunteers and staff and for shining a light on this issue through the petition and the Fair Go For Firies campaign

In her fight for justice on behalf of those who have faced disciplinary regulations – referred to as Reg 21s or Regulation 21s – she has identified 101 CFS volunteers and 4 CFS staff members who have spoken out about the disciplinary process and shared their personal experiences with being the subject of investigations, suspensions and terminations

And that is only over the past 6 months.

These 101 volunteers and 4 staff members shared their stories because they believe they have suffered injustices and have been the subjects of incompetent and unprofessional investigation processes and were denied their basic rights – not only as Australians but as members of South Australia’s largest volunteer emergency service organisation.

Some of the accounts from volunteers I’ve heard are shocking and shameful.

The most frequent themes that arise are denials of procedural fairness and a complete lack of communication and transparency.

I have also heard of the significant impacts that bungled and unjustified Reg 21 investigations have had on the mental health of volunteers, and of their family and friends

In reading the South Australian Country Fire Service Volunteer Charter, it is worth highlighting that – after ensuring that the safety of the community remains a priority for all – the next most prominent intention of the Charter is to ensure that consultation occurs with volunteers about all matters that affect them

This is not only listed as a key intent of the Charter, but is also specifically applied to the relationships between the Government of South Australia, the South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission and the SACFS organisation

The responsibility to consult also applies to the CFS Volunteers Association

Mr President, it is clear that this requirement to consult with volunteers is not being adhered to

While my original Select Committee motion would have incorporated a balanced membership, the Hon. Ms Franks’ amendment now ensures that the government has a majority on the committee – something that I wouldn’t have preferred but you would think would be sufficient to garner the support of this State Government

Nonetheless, we should hope that it enables a genuine, proper & thorough investigation into the issues CFS volunteers have raised with the Opposition, Crossbench & aired extensively throughout the media in recent months

Those concerns have come direct from CFS volunteers, paid CFS staff and women volunteer fireys complaining about toxic cultures, secrecy over disciplinary action, gag orders and run-down or non-existent facilities

We’ve all heard of the concerning reports about stations being merely ‘sheds’ – with no access to change rooms or even toilets

Mr President, this is why we need this Select Committee

To enable open dialogue

To ensure transparency in how we deal with CFS volunteers and employees

To be assured our volunteers are being supported appropriately

To ensure they have adequate facilities at our CFS stations

And to provide taxpayers with the assurance that their money is being spent effectively

With that, Mr President, I commend the Motion to the Chamber.