Well let me say how honoured Michaelia and I are to be here with you, with your federal Member Tony Smith and the Victorian Opposition Leader Matt Guy, your state colleagues and councillors, but above all with you the CFA volunteers.
You - time and time again, over generations, Don since you were 16 – you’ve been putting your life on the line, your big heart, your big heart and your love of the community you serve. That’s driven you to defend Victorians and their property from fire. As Don was just saying, as the city has grown, we have more people living in areas that are, in summer, potentially very dangerous as we’ve seen. As you’ve seen again and again, and will see in the future. Between those Victorians and the fire, stands you, the volunteers of the CFA, 60,000 of you across the state.
We were as shocked and horrified as you were to see this Labor state government seek to subordinate you to a militant union as an extraordinary action which showed, demonstrated beyond any doubt, of how beholden the Andrews Government is to militant unions.
Now we are dealing with it. What we are announcing today is that we will be bringing forward the changes to the Fair Work Act and I’ll ask Michaelia Cash the Employment Minister, to go through them in some detail. We’ll be bringing them forward as soon as Parliament returns in a week, to ensure that there is a change that renders unlawful or objectionable, any term in an enterprise agreement which undermines or limits the ability of a firefighting or state emergency service like the CFA to manage its volunteer services.
Let’s not forget you are a volunteer organisation. The Country Fire Authority Act requires, under the law of this state, requires the CFA to ensure that it respects and supports the volunteer charter. The volunteerism of the Country Fire Authority is it’s very spirit. We will ensure that the federal legislation which any enterprise agreement has to comply with, ensures, determines that your position cannot be undermined in the way that has been contemplated and proposed by the Andrews Government.
So I’ll ask Michaelia to go into some more detail about that, but in short, we are with you. We have pledged our absolute solidarity with you and now returned to Government, we will be presenting that legislation as soon as the Parliament resumes.
MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:
Well ladies and gentleman I think both Tony, the Prime Minister and Mathew would agree with me; as a member of Parliament you get to do some pretty amazing things. But I have to say in meeting members of the CFA across Victoria throughout the recent federal election campaign, I don’t think I have ever been more privileged in my life.
To be able to stand here today with the Prime Minister of Australia, to say to you that we made a promise to each and every one of you during that election campaign, we have worked with you on that promise and today we are formally able to say to you, we have drafted the legislation and we are releasing it for all to see.
As the Prime Minister has said it is a very simple change, it is a very simple change to the Fair Work Act. It is amending section 12 of the Fair Work Act to add to the list of what are called ‘objectionable terms’ and as the Prime Minister has already said, we will ensure that the Fair Work Act protects each and every one of you. We will not allow the UFU and Daniel Andrews to use the Fair Work Act to undermine volunteer fire fighters in Victoria.
So our change will render unlawful any attempt to do that in an enterprise agreement and because it is such a simple change, I would hope that Bill Shorten is able to put politics aside, put politics aside, even if it’s just on this issue and say to the volunteers, not just in Victoria but across Australia: “we respect you, we stand by you.” We understand that if it was not for each and every one of you in this room today, the photographs and history that we have seen laid out before us today - listening to Don, who fought the fires back in 1962 - goodness knows where Australia and Australian’s would be.
I don’t know the next phone call any of you are going to receive as we head into what is going to be another long, hot summer. But what I I do know and what the Prime Minister and I learned and Tony and Matthew, in particular throughout the eight weeks where we stood side by side with you, is that regardless of what that phone call is, you are there. You answer the call. You put your lives on the line. Why? Because that’s just what you do. You’re volunteers. You don’t think twice. You are there to protect, you are there to ensure that if there is a fire, if there is another emergency you are the first people to put your hands up and say: “I am there to help.” And because you are there to help, the Prime Minister is here today honouring his election commitment to help you. So ladies and gentlemen, I am just delighted to be here. As the Prime Minister said we will introduce our legislation as a matter of priority when we return next week and I would hope that Parliament puts politics aside and on this issue we stand as one.
TONY SMITH MP:
Can I just say a few words. I want to say thanks to the Prime Minister and to Michaelia for coming here today for this announcement.
The Prime Minister has been to the Yarra Valley many times and he understands the CFA. He understands that here and right across communities like this in Victoria, you are the backbone of the community. As we’ve said, service and sacrifice – that’s what is the CFA’s motto. You don’t just give of your time, you risk your lives. You go into the most dangerous of circumstances and you do it for your community. The history of every brigade is different in some respects but its identical in the most important respect; and that is when the brigades began, volunteers rang a bell to get everyone to jump on a truck who could and from there it has grown. Created by the community, sustained by the community, of the community and I never thought Prime Minister of all the times I’ve had you out here, 2009, 2011, 2012 that we would need to stand here and have a Prime Minister save the CFA. But we do and we are acting and you’re the backbone of the community in so many respects.
The focus is naturally on your core business to the community. Prime Minister, in this room you’ve got representatives right across the 2,500 square kilometres around the Casey electorate. But it’s not just fighting fires, its clearing up from storms, its attending the road accidents and it all happens at a community level because they’re best placed to know what to do, when to do it and to do it without any hint of bureaucracy.
If there is an accident here in Coldstream, the CFA will be there. If there is a storm, they’ll be there. And we need that to continue and that’s why I was so glad during the election campaign that you had such an immediate focus on what was at stake. You announced a strong policy and everyone in this room is thrilled that you’re back here to announce the legislation so thank you very much.