Firefighters

Ms THOMAS (Macedon) — Before I commence speaking about this matter of public importance today I advise the member for Ripon that I will also be in her electorate on Friday as I will be representing the Minister for Police at the Ararat Blue Ribbon Foundation ball. I look forward to — as I always do on trips to Ripon — meeting with the very many people there who are somewhat dissatisfied with their representation in this house at this time. I look forward to the people of Ripon being better represented come 2018.

I do commend the Deputy Premier for bringing this very important matter of public importance to this house. In this place we hear a lot from those on the other side about respect for firefighters. It seems to be one of their favourite topics, but I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to you about what respect really means. Respect for our firefighters — what does it look like? It looks like swift action on Fiskville so that our firefighters, paid and volunteer, are not exposed to toxic chemicals that cause cancer. This is about taking swift action and closing down Fiskville. Respect is about introducing presumptive rights for firefighters with the 10 cancers that we know are caused by exposure to chemicals that firefighters are commonly exposed to. We are very proud to be bringing this legislation to the house.

I do take the opportunity to note that the member for Euroa, as is her wont, made some pathetic quip today on Twitter:

Daniel Andrews promised to implement presumptive legislation within 100 days. 909 days later …

I say to the member for Euroa and all of those on the other side that you had four years. You had 1460 days, and what did you do? I will tell you what you did: your then minister, the person who purported to represent the interests of emergency services workers, the now member for Rowville, said this:

We are not convinced there is a direct link between cancer and firefighters.

So I say to the member for Ripon: talk about making politics out of cancer. You need to take a good look at yourselves and the behaviour of the former Minister for Police and Emergency Services when you were in power. You need to look at the assessments that he made and the great hurt that he caused firefighters by his failure to recognise this proven link between cancers and toxic chemicals that our firefighters are exposed to. So that is what respect looks like. Respect is about introducing legislation into this place in this term of government to give justice once and for all to our firefighters.

I want to commend my friend the member for Frankston on his extraordinary contribution to this debate today. The member for Frankston reminds us of what it is like to have been a firefighter and to live, as he says, with a potential time bomb and have to undertake blood tests on a monthly basis to see whether or not he has fallen victim to exposure to cancer‑causing chemicals. I pay tribute to the member for Frankston.

I also pay tribute to the member for Yan Yean. The member for Yan Yean is a passionate advocate for her communities. She is a passionate advocate for the people of Ripon. She is a passionate advocate also, I might say — always has been — for volunteers and for the Country Fire Authority (CFA). As we know, the member for Yan Yean was right there in the midst of that firestorm on Black Saturday. Her communities were directly impacted. I want to take this opportunity to commend the two brave firefighters on this side of the house. I feel personally for them for the way they have been insulted by the member for Gembrook, who has proven himself to be unworthy of holding the title of shadow Minister for Emergency Services. His actions in this place are nothing short of disgraceful. As I was saying, they like to talk about respect on that side of the house, but we see nothing but contempt from them.

Respect of course is shown in many small ways as well. I am very proud as a member of this place to represent 38 volunteer fire brigades in Macedon and three State Emergency Services (SES) units — all fantastic outfits with people that are passionate about participating in their community and protecting their community. It is always my pleasure, in the many small ways that I can, to support them — be that attending and participating in the awarding of medals, tanker handovers, fundraisers, Christmas parties and so on.

But let me tell you a little bit more about respect. In October 2015, as we know, my community was impacted directly by the Lancefield fire. I will tell you this: the Premier, on many occasions after that fire, joined me in Lancefield — without an entourage, and no media were in tow — to meet with all of our volunteers and our paid emergency services workers who were there throughout that period — be they members of the CFA, SES, Red Cross, the chaplaincy program, the Department of Health and Human Services or the local council. The Premier was there showing his support, and the support of this government, for all the fantastic work that our community did in, firstly, fighting that fire and then looking after the community in the long, slow process of recovery. That is what respect looks like.

The member for Gembrook has demonstrated by his actions, as I have said, that he has no respect for our firefighters and as such it is untenable for him to continue as the shadow Minister for Emergency Services. This is self‑evident.

We all know, of course, that the member for Gembrook posted about his ‘error’ on Facebook, but I say, ‘Not good enough, Brad’. I was here in the house when the member for Gembrook was seeking — unsuccessfully, I might add — to goad the Minister for Emergency Services. I heard what you had to say on that day, member for Gembrook, and they were lies. This is what firefighters have had to say in response to the member for Gembrook on his Facebook page. Adam Shearer is a man — —

Mr Edbrooke — I know him well.

Ms THOMAS — I do not know him, but I am pleased to hear that the member for Frankston does know him. This is what Adam Shearer had to say in response to the member for Gembrook’s apology:

No apology could excuse the comments you made in the public forum that is the Victorian Parliament. Many career and volunteer firefighters are still living the Black Saturday fires through their PTSD and you have just brought it back to the raw surface through your intentionally deceitful comment. Career and volunteer firefighters were out at the Black Saturday fires as soon as was possible, just like they are at every fire. Your comment, no matter what fire you are talking about, creates the illusion that career firefighters for some reason didn’t respond for 5 hours. Are you questioning their commitment, bravery, professionalism, or work ethic? You are not, and never will be, anywhere near the quality of person that these firefighters displayed on that day, and every day since. Your ex brothers and sisters in the Victorian police force must be very ashamed to have associated with someone who can make those comments. Forget about ever being the emergency services minister, as you will never understand the people you are trying to represent. Keep your apology, Mr Battin.

Acting Speaker, there is nothing more that I can say. You have got the words directly from one of our brave firefighters. The actions of those on that side of the house with regard to everything to do with the CFA have been nothing short of disgraceful. I say to them this: where is the money you stole from the Victorian people under the banner of ‘Hands off the CFA’? You took that money; you stole it, just like your former branch secretary stole $1 million from your — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — Order! I call the member for Bass.