Firefighters mobilise on polling day

July 8, 2016

United Firefighters Union (UFU) members handed out leaflets at polling booths in Victorian marginal seats on election day, in an attempt to counter a Liberal scare campaign against a new enterprise agreement for UFU members employed by the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

The Liberals falsely claim that the agreement gives the UFU the power of veto over CFA management decisions, and that it would prevent volunteer firefighters from fighting fires unless seven professional firefighters were present. They claim that the agreement endangers public safety.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that if re-elected, his first item of business would be to introduce legislation to “protect” volunteer firefighters from the UFU.

Labor leader Bill Shorten failed to challenge the Liberal lies, merely saying that the dispute was a state matter.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria tried to mobilise its members to campaign against the agreement on polling day. But as Age journalist Josh Gordon reported: “In the end there was no army of 10,000 angry CFA volunteers at polling booths urging people to vote Liberal”.

The UFU, however, did succeed in mobilising its members. Benjamin Preiss, another Age journalist, reported that: “On Saturday men in yellow firefighting pants and blue UFU t-shirts were manning polling stations across Corangamite [a marginal electorate near Geelong] handing out campaign material”.

Nevertheless, the Liberal scare campaign — backed by the Herald Sun, which published numerous alarmist front cover stories on the dispute — may have had some effect on the election result. The swing against the Liberals in Victoria was less than the national average swing.

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