International Firefighters’ Day | MOTION


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:51): Of course I support this motion and anybody who has heard me speak on this topic or similar topics over the last 10 years would know that. I thank the member for Elizabeth for bringing this. He and I have probably talked on this topic more often than anybody else over for the last 10 years since we were elected, and I note how important it is that his motion is actually about firefighters. It is not about MFS or CFS. It is not about professional or volunteer. It is about firefighters and, as other speakers have mentioned, it is about men and women as firefighters.

I would add to that that it is actually about bringing children through the ranks as well. The CFS, particularly, has a very positive cadet program, where children, with the permission of their parents of course, are allowed to participate in a cadet program. They love it, and many of them go on to be fully fledged members of local brigades.

Unfortunately, we have to highlight from time to time the very significant emergencies and natural disasters that firefighters battle on behalf of the community, but I think it is also very important to point out that there are many endless, not so notable jobs that firefighters do for us. In fact, from a CFS perspective, I think approximately 60 per cent of the call-outs for CFS brigades are actually to motor vehicle accidents across the state.

Quite appropriately, quite naturally, we think of firefighters and MFS and CFS being connected directly with fire, which of course they are, but it is not only fire. I know that in my brigade, the Wilmington brigade, we have dealt with a lot of fires. The Woolundunga fire and the Bangor fire have probably been the two biggest, but we have had a couple of others in the Wirrabara Forest and the Bundaleer Forest. We have had many crop fires over time, and even the Pinery fire and the Sampson Flat fire came into the bottom end of Stuart. As a country member, I am not alone in this, but I suspect the electorate of Stuart has had more serious fires in the last 10 years than any other individual electorate, although we have all, of course, had serious ones.

But it is not just about the fires. It is about all sorts of call-outs. I have been to very tragic motor vehicle accidents. I should say, just for accuracy, I used to be a relatively active member of our brigade, and it would be important to point out that at the moment I am a relatively inactive member of our brigade, purely by virtue of the fact that I am not home enough. There is a huge amount of work that is done by firefighters.

We can also think of the sort of stereotypical, old-style, slightly amusing picture of two or three fire trucks in an urban environment somewhere to rescue a cat out of a tree for a little old lady. That is a nice comical image that we would have all grown up with, but it does demonstrate the breadth of very important work that firefighters do on our behalf. They do it in collaboration with other emergency services. They do it in collaboration with the police. They do it in collaboration with the SES, another incredibly important emergency response group, and others.

Another thing I would like to say in regard to my support for this motion is that CFS and MFS firefighting is a team sport. It really is a team sport. If you are a member of a brigade, you are a member of a team—a close member of a close team. If you are in one of those services, you are also a member of a very important and very tight-knit broader team and that should not be forgotten. I mention that for two reasons: firstly, it is necessary for those brigades and those services to be able to operate as well as they possibly can. If you do not have good team members in a good team, you are not going to be a very effective firefighter or other emergency responder.

The other reason I mention this is that being part of a team is another very important thing that these services offer to their members. It is an indirect outcome. It is not why people join, but it is an incredibly valuable outcome. I know so many people who are in both the MFS and CFS whose lives have been changed not purely because of the work they are doing, whether volunteer or professional, but because they are part of a really positive, really proactive, really constructive team. That is a very significant contribution that firefighting services offer to their members, which often can go unnoticed not by the members but by the broader community.

There are about 15,000 firefighters across the state in both services. Many of those people would not have experienced that close bond of working together before joining that service and I suspect that is very important in regard to why people stay with their brigades and stay with those services and keep doing the really good work that they do. There is a very important and positive human strength that comes from being part of a good team and these firefighting services offer that.

As one member mentioned, it used to be overwhelmingly male-dominated. There are now an enormous number of women and girls as cadets in the CFS. It is not to the same extent, but there are certainly women in the MFS as well. The percentage is not as high in the MFS as it is in the CFS and that is for quite understandable reasons, but they are both growing. They are both getting better and they are both very welcoming organisations for men and women who have the capacity and the right approach and want to be among their ranks.

If somebody else was going to pick their dream truck crew, I do not believe I would be in it, but if I were to pick who I would want to go and fight a serious fire with from my Wilmington brigade there would be one or two women in my brigade out of the four people in that truck without a doubt, so I am fully sold on the fact that women can contribute in this area equally, and sometimes better, than their male counterparts.

Both firefighting services are fantastic services. They contribute an enormous amount to our community well beyond just fighting fires. They welcome a wide spread of people to be part of them. I thank the member for Elizabeth for bringing this motion to this house and I wholeheartedly support it on behalf of the people of Stuart.