Fire and Emergency Services (Volunteers Charters) Amendment Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 10:53 :34 ): I rise to support the member for Morphett wholeheartedly in the Fire and Emergency Services (Volunteer Charters) Amendment Bill and I refer members of this house, and others who might be interested, to a contribution I made on Thursday 2 May 2013. Many of the issues that we are dealing with are the same, but there are many more issues we are dealing with now that were not on the table back at that point in time.

For the benefit of the house and others who may not be fully aware, the charter that the member for Morphett refers to was originally signed in 2008. The charter is signed by the Premier, the Minister for Emergency Services, the Minister for Volunteers, the commissioner of fire and emergencies, the SACFS Chief Officer and the President of the CFS Volunteers Association. That agreement was actually required to be reviewed by all parties at the end of four years from the date of commencement, so that would then have been in 2012.

The government committed itself to consultation on ‘all matters that might reasonably be expected to affect [the CFS], and [consider] their views when adopting or approving new practices and policies or reviewing current practices or policies’. That just has not happened. The review did not happen, as far as I am aware, unless it was a secret review. It did not happen. I can give you my very strong opinion that the consultation with the CFS on all issues which might reasonably be expected to affect them certainly did not happen either.

So, what the member for Morphett is trying to do is actually formalise that relationship in legislation, because we already have an agreement signed by the Premier and two ministers, yet it has not been kept. What the member for Morphett wants to do is say, ‘Clearly a signed document has not been respected and abided by, so let’s put it into legislation.’ That is what he is trying to do, and let me say clearly: the member for Morphett is an absolutely outstanding ambassador and supporter of the CFS and emergency services more broadly. He is a life member of the Country Fire Service. His bona fides as a participant and as a doer are unquestionable, as are his bona fides as a representative and a leader of their cause, but not just the CFS but of emergency services now more broadly.

I said before that, when the member for Morphett brought forward this bill back in May last year, it was incredibly important, and it still is, but there is actually new information. It is even more important now, because since then we have seen the absolute debacle by this government of its attempt to reform, as it sees necessary, the emergency services sector. Nobody has been more penalised by that attempted reform than the CFS. There are other members of the emergency services sector who are not happy with it either, like ambulance and SES for example, but the CFS has really borne the brunt of it.

As the member for Kavel mentioned before and the member for Schubert before him, we have seen protest after protest from completely dissatisfied CFS members. While other professionals involved in the emergency services sector have not participated in those protests, I can assure you that an overwhelming number of them are also dissatisfied with the way the process has occurred.

A startling example of that was the resignation of the MFS Chief Officer, Grant Lupton. Presumably, under the government’s plan, the MFS would have been the agency to benefit most out of all of the emergency services sector agencies, and even Grant Lupton, their chief officer, was so completely dissatisfied with the way the government was handling the whole process that he packed up and left. Unfortunately, we have lost him to a very important, highly responsible and no doubt (hopefully for him) high-paying job overseas. South Australia has lost his expertise. So, you can only imagine how incredibly frustrated the people who lead the other emergency services agencies are.

This situation has got so far as to a public show of lack of support by the emergency services sector for the current minister. I have met with the current minister in various places talking about these various issues. I have been very forthright with him about my views and, to his credit, he has been forthright with me about his views. We can agree to disagree and, do you know what, Deputy Speaker? The reality is that he is the minister and he is in government so he gets to make decisions. We are in opposition so we get to comment on them; we do not get the make decisions, and I respect that.

The other people who are commenting on it are all from the other emergency services sectors, and they are completely dissatisfied with what the government is trying to do. The foundation of their lack of support is based on a lack of consultation, and that brings us right back to what the member for Morphett is trying to achieve through this bill. There is already a charter in place; there is already a signed document between the CFS and three ministers and other important players in this space, but the government has not respected that agreement. The government has not honoured or fulfilled that agreement, so we need something in law.

Is it not a great shame that the member for Morphett has to bring a bill like this to this parliament and, simultaneously, the emergency services workers from around the state are saying very publicly that they have lost confidence in the minister because of—guess what—lack of consultation? There is nobody out there saying that things cannot be improved. There is nobody saying that there is no better way, that there could not be a way of doing some sort of restructure or some sort of reform that would provide a better and more efficient service for the public of South Australia. As the member for Kavel said, this is all about serving the public, giving emergency service support to the public of South Australia.

None of the people involved in this is saying, ‘No, we’re perfect, don’t change us, nothing can be better’ because it is not true, and they know it. What they are saying is that the government and the minister have been derelict in their consultation with us about how to seek improvement, and that is the reason the member for Morphett has to bring this bill forward, and that is the reason the member for Morphett is doing this. He did it last year for very good reason—and we supported him on that. He is doing it this year for the same good reason, but not only is the opposition and a few people from the emergency services sector supporting him but they are all now supporting the member for Morphett. They all recognise that the government has not consulted properly.

Let me be very clear: I do not say that the government or the minister has not consulted at all because the minister will tell us, quite accurately, that he has travelled this state far and wide and been to an enormous number of meetings with emergency services representatives, and it is true. But that in itself is not consultation, that in itself is not what constitutes genuine consultation and taking the views of people onboard. The reason people are so dreadfully frustrated across the length and breadth of our state—from metropolitan Adelaide, to Mount Gambier, to Marla, to Port Lincoln—is that, while they have attended those meetings, they do not believe their views have been heard. They do not believe their views have been genuinely taken onboard with regard to the government’s intentions.

Let me say again: back when the charter was put in place in 2008, the government committed itself to consultation on all matters that might reasonably be expected to affect the CFS and consider their views when adopting or approving new practices or policies. That is not what has happened. There has been consultation with regard to attending meetings and talking with people, but there has not been consultation with regard to respecting their views and bringing their views into the decision-making process of the government.

So, I wholeheartedly support the emergency services people who have put forward those views, I wholeheartedly support the member for Morphett and, privately, as a CFS member and professionally, as a member for parliament, I endorse this bill.