Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:22): I am pleased to rise this afternoon to make a statement on the Country Fire Authority annual report 2021–22. Indeed it was one of the multiple, multiple reports dumped only recently in Parliament after the election. Before I discuss this report in detail I do want to put on record my solemn condolences on the 40th anniversary of Ash Wednesday, which has just passed us. Indeed I was a young girl at school at the time – in high school, admittedly, not that young. But I do recall friends from up in that Upper Beaconsfield area were CFA volunteers at the time and the mass devastation that they had to endure – the braveness, the courageous actions in fighting to keep people alive and their homes away from the inferno. I just want to put that on record not only to volunteers but particularly for those volunteers who were so selfless in these acts.
To this report now, the current report, I do want to concentrate on my concern for volunteers, noticing – and I did see that this got a little bit of press the other day – in terms of human resources the targets have not been met for volunteerism in the CFA. They have got a target of around 36,000 volunteers, and at the moment they are about 7,500 below that at 29,000. You can ask why. I think there are a number of reasons, and I am not going to go down into fine detail on this. One I think was the general fatigue at the end of the FRV bill and the fight against the FRV, and I know Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria put up a very strong opposition to that bill that is now the current act. So there was a fatigue there.
I think there is also a disenfranchised feeling out there from time to time, just in the lack of respect that volunteers have felt. However, I also know that volunteers are very stoic. They love their communities. They are passionate about fire prevention and safety within the community, and they still turn out and they still train. And that is the other thing. Certainly volunteers train to a very high degree now.
Sometimes people want to offer a couple of hours of volunteerism – and there are so many ways that we can volunteer in Victoria. But in terms of the CFA, there is comprehensive training and skills maintenance. That is a very large commitment, and we thank those people for doing that.
What I am interested in in part of that FRV bill, which is now the act, is the topic around the Fire District Review Panel. Now, it was purported to be an independent panel, and I will leave that for the moment, but it is about ready to present its first report to Parliament. I see the Minister for Emergency Services there, so it is probably about to very soon land on her table.
Some of the volunteers certainly conveyed to me their concerns around the methodology of this review panel, seeking to ensure that if this review panel finds risk – and this is about looking at the methodology of risk – then it is not going to be heavy-handed in the opposite direction of the volunteers, if they find a change in risk profile. This review panel, for clarity, is around the footprint of FRV – integrated FRV stations compared to volunteer, standalone stations. That is the concern that they have. They do not want to see that their footprint is going to be eroded. Their focus is always going to be on safety of life and property; that is their mantra and their key focus. But we want to ensure that this is not an opportunity for FRV, for those paid stations, to overtly increase their footprint. That is what I am putting on the table for the minister to be mindful of when this report comes in – that the methodology is sound around maybe making inroads into supports if there is a risk increase, rather than just carte blanche increasing that footprint of FRV.