Bulletin No: 75 Volume: 23 Wednesday 31 May 2017
To: All UFU MEMBERS
PROTECTION FOR VICTORIA’S FIREFIGHTERS BEFORE PARLIAMENT
With the political controversy surrounding the announcement of presumptive legislation being coupled with the fire services reform, the UFU wishes to correct the record and outline the UFUA’s campaign for presumptive rights for firefighters.
On Friday the 19th May 2017 the Andrews’ Government announced it would deliver “the long- awaited presumptive rights to cancer compensation for both career and volunteer firefighters”.
The UFUA has however actively campaigned for more than a decade to have every professional/career firefighter in Australia protected with presumptive legislation recognising the accepted occupational cancers.
In 2011, the campaign escalated to a Legislative Conference in Canberra when 14 UFUA Branch Secretaries and officials spent two days lobbying Federal Members of Parliament and Senators with 5 issues on the UFUA Legislative Agenda.
On 4 June 2011 Greens MP Adam Bandt introduced the “Fair Protection for Firefighters” Bill seconded by Independent Bob Katter and co-sponsored by Labor’s Maria Vamavkinou and the Liberal’s Russell Broadbent. About 80 firefighters were in Parliament to witness this historic moment – including bus loads from the Victorian Branch.
The Bill was then scrutinised by a Senate Committee with hearings in Melbourne, Canberra and Perth. Firefighters at Geelong Fire Station and Tullamarine Airport demonstrated the career firefighter skills and specialist training to visiting Senators. Senators also personally experienced hot fire training in Queensland.
The UFUA public campaign included a website and social media which resulted in more than 95,000 letters being sent to politicians by the public.
The Victorian Branch was actively involved and instrumental in the campaign for the Federal presumptive legislation that would protect ACT and Aviation professional career firefighters. On three occasions the Victoria Branch sent bus loads of members to Canberra to witness the historic passage of the Bill including the passing of the Bill on 24 November 2011.
Nine of the 27 submissions received by the Senate Committee were from Victorian firefighters diagnosed with cancers. Victorian firefighters Paul Henderson, Ross Lindley, and the late Scott Morrison, appeared before the Senate Committee giving powerful and moving testimony at the Perth hearing in September 2011. Their experiences were specifically referenced in the final Senate Report.
MFB Victorian personal protective equipment and clothing, and exposures experts Commanders Phil Taylor and Brian Whittaker provided expert evidence to the Senate Inquiry.
From May – November 2011 Victorian Branch Secretary Peter Marshall in his role as National Secretary visited Canberra 45 times, and every other state at least once to lobby with more than 220 politicians – some he met with more than 10 times.
The resulting Senate Inquiry Report findings are now internationally accepted as demonstrating the basis for the implementation of presumptive legislation to recognise occupational cancer for career firefighters.
In the Report the Senate Committee expressed its recommendation that similar legislation be implemented in every Australian State and Territory.
“The committee has conducted its analysis in the hope that similar legislation will be introduced across state jurisdictions in future as part of the harmonisation of workers’ compensation laws. If this Bill is passed, the committee encourages state jurisdictions to engage in a dialogue which will eventually see a positive, and fair, outcome for firefighters across Australia.”
[Senate Inquiry Report, paragraph 4.42]
FEDERAL LEGISLATION CANCER – primary cancers
- Non-Hodgkins lymphoma,
On 29 September 2013, the Tasmania Parliament unanimously passed a Bill recognising same 12 cancers and qualifying periods as the Federal Legislation for career firefighters and extended the presumption to volunteer firefighters who could demonstrate 150 exposures over 10 years.
On 29 October 2013, the WA Parliament unanimously passed a Bill replicating the Federal legislation covering career firefighters. In 2016, the WA Parliament extended the presumption to volunteer firefighters who had attended at least 5 hazardous fires per year.
On 10 March 2014, the SA Parliament unanimously passed legislation based on the Tasmania model. This was later amended in 2015 to remove the 150 exposure requirement for volunteers.
In March 2015, the Northern Territory Parliament passed legislation based on the Federal legislation for the career firefighters and Tasmania model for the volunteer firefighters.
In September 2015, the Queensland Government passed legislation based on the Federal legislation for the career firefighters, and a new model for the volunteer firefighters. The Bill as introduced was based on the Tasmania model requiring volunteers to demonstrate a specific number of exposures to the fire ground.
However, the Queensland Rural Fire Brigade volunteers would not have been able to comply as the fire service did not keep accurate records of volunteer turn-outs.
Instead the Queensland Government introduced a two-step process whereby the volunteer claims are considered by a special administration committee to consider evidence including fire service records and other information demonstrating the volunteer’s fire scene exposures.
On 19 May 2017, the Andrews’ Government announced presumptive legislation in the following statements:
“Administered through WorkSafe, the new scheme will apply to career and volunteer firefighters who have served as firefighters for the relevant number of years, depending on the cancer type, and have been diagnosed since 1 June 2016.”
“Rules that require volunteer firefighters to have attended a specific number of fires are problematic, so the scheme will instead be modelled on the scheme in Queensland, which has no specific incident requirements.”
The Bill has since been released and confirms the Queensland model has been applied:
- The presumption for career firefighters is modelled on the Federal model where for career firefighters who have been diagnosed with one of the listed cancers and have the requisite years of service (qualifying period) for that cancer, it will be presumed it is an occupational disease.
- For volunteer firefighters who have been diagnosed with one of the listed cancers, their claims will be first dealt with by an expert committee to advise Worksafe on whether the volunteer has met the qualifying period of service.
The Bill includes additional features:
- The presumption legislation will be backdated to include claims of firefighters who have been diagnosed from 1 June 2016.
- The presumption will apply to current firefighters, and for those diagnosed with one of the listed cancers within 10 years after the firefighter ceases to be employed as a firefighter.
- There is to be a new “exceptional exposure event” provision for firefighters who do not meet the required qualifying period for the relevant cancer, but can demonstrate that in addition to their service they have attended an exception exposure event as a firefighter – such as the exposures at the Fiskville Training Ground.
- The “exceptional exposure event” claims will also be considered by the expert committee who will advise Worksafe accordingly.
The UFU applauds the Andrews’ government for taking action on this vital measure. The Federal Parliament Australia acknowledged that firefighters forego quality and quantity of life in protecting the community:
“When a person spends their professional career inhaling and absorbing known- and probably some as yet unknown – carcinogens in the course of public service, it is the moral duty of the community to enable them to seek compensation should they fall ill as a consequence.”
[Senate Inquiry Report, paragraph 4.41]
The Andrews’ Government has now introduced this vital legislation also recognising the personal sacrifice firefighters make when protecting the community.
Strength in Unity
READ OUT AT MUSTER AND PIN ON NOTICE BOARD
Authorised by Peter Marshall, Branch Secretary