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Government will amend the stalled fire bill

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September 14, 2017

‘‘Everyone agrees that our outdated fire services need to be reformed, and that is why we are taking the action we are,’’ Victorian Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said.

More power for the CFA chief officer and greater support for volunteers are among changes the Victorian Government is willing to make so it can get its controversial fire reforms through parliament.

The Andrews Government says it is still negotiating with the crossbench to get its changes through parliament and is set to make four changes to its bill.

‘‘Everyone agrees that our outdated fire services need to be reformed, and that is why we are taking the action we are,’’ Victorian Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said.

‘‘We want to modernise our fire services while also giving volunteers more support, more funding and more independence.’’

Under the reforms, the CFA would become volunteer-only and merge paid firefighters with the MFB to create a larger metropolitan service, Fire Rescue Victoria.

The proposed amendments include giving the CFA chief fire officer veto powers on inter-service secondments, and allowing external recruitments.

An independent monitor will be created to oversee the proposed changes and keep an eye on volunteer training and funding.

The role of volunteers will also be enshrined in the laws, with an obligation for both fire services to work together, and ensure volunteers brigades are given more support to effectively respond to fire before any fire boundaries are changed.

The laws have stalled in the upper house after a parliamentary inquiry was split along party lines.

The lone crossbencher needed, James Purcell, said two weeks ago he would not support the bill in its current form.

The government says the changes will improve community safety and revitalise a 50-year-old system.

But it also needs the restructure to break a deadlock over a CFA pay dispute that has resulted in a minister resigning, a board being sacked and federal laws changed to protect the role of emergency volunteers.

Many of the bill’s opponents were angry over the lack of consultation and wanted to see the widely supported presumptive cancer compensation rights in a separate bill.

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