Forest firefighters left in limbo

Days before Christmas and in the middle of bushfire season, forest fighters have been left handcuffed and prevented from fighting fires after the botched fire services reforms of the Andrews Labor Government.

The Government’s Chief of Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) has issued a directive to all green shirt forest firefighters that they cannot fight fires or carry out planned burns in new Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) zones because they will not be protected from personal liability. This means forest firefighters will be prohibited from fighting fires because of bureaucratic lines drawn on a map.

Earlier this year, the Andrews Labor Government was left scrambling after it realised its union-driven FRV legislation had gaping holes.  The legislation has caused complete confusion about who has authority and legal protection to fight fires that cross into new FRV zones in regional areas near Crown land and State and National Parks.

The Andrews Labor Government rushed changes through in Parliament in October to allow FRV and FFMV to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to ensure there were clear lines of authority to allow FFMV to fight fires in FRV zones when required. The Labor Government confirmed at the time that the United Firefighters Union (UFU) were in active negotiations with FRV and FFMV over the proposed MOU.

Shadow Minister for Environment, Bridget Vallence, moved amendments to ensure any MOU made between FRV and FFMV was made publicly available. The Labor Government voted against the amendment, but it was successfully passed in Parliament’s Upper House, meaning the MOU must be posted on the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s website. 

However, on the eve of Christmas, Labor has failed to ensure any MOU is in place to ensure our fire fighters have the ability to fight fires, wherever they may occur.

This is deeply concerning as Victoria heads into another fire season, and gives little comfort to local country communities that have had new FRV fire districts imposed on them and unacceptably puts FFMV firefighters at risk. 

Local communities may wonder if the Labor Government’s determination to appease the UFU by placing one of Victoria’s largest emergency response agency into a bureaucratic tangle is the real reason that a lack of preventative back-burning is occurring.

Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Bridget Vallence:

“After the devastation of last summer’s bushfires, it’s unforgivable that on the eve of Christmas and the fire season, forest firefighters have no legal authority or protection to fight fires in country communities which cross into new FRV district boundaries.

“Forest fighters have been left handcuffed by the Andrews Labor Government’s botched fires services reforms, leaving rural and regional communities at risk.

“Labor has known for months that its new FRV reforms stripped away legal protections for FFMV firefighters when back-burning or fighting fires that may cross into new FRV zones, but has done nothing to fix the mess it created.  Instead, our men and women green shirt firefighters have been ordered to not undertake any back-burning or fight any fires in new FRV zones.

“This gives little comfort to country communities that have had a new FRV fire districts imposed on them and unacceptably puts FFMV firefighters at risk. 

“Labor has again chosen to side with its UFU mates in making dodgy deals, rather than protect our communities, native vegetation and wildlife, and FFMV firefighters.”

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