Vic fire fighters protest budget cuts

The Vic government is cutting $41 million from the County Fire Authority. Photo: Sue Bolton

One thousand firefighters from around Victoria descended on parliament house on July 1 to protest Premier Denis Napthine’s cuts to the fire services budget.

United Firefighters Union (UFU) state secretary Peter Marshall said that as of July 1, the Napthine government’s fire services levy collection will increase “from $322 million [in 2009] to $654 million [last year].

“The government is collecting more, but it is putting $157 million of the fire services levy in a bank account to help the government’s coffers”.

The UFU is demanding that all of the fire levy money be spent on firefighting services, as the government has implied.

The union has revealed that the state government is cutting $41 million from the County Fire Authority (CFA) budget and another $25 million from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) budget.

UFU president David Hamilton pointed out that “our firefighters will have to put up with antiquated fire trucks in the future”.

Peter Marshall listed some of the impacts of the cuts to fire fighting services:
- Hoppers Crossing needs a new radio network,
- Mornington station needs more fire fighters,
- Volunteers are told to buy their own uniforms,
- Mildura had two scares at the airport last week – there aren’t enough firefighters, stationed there to deal with emergency landings,
- The Napthine government is allowing parts of Victoria to have no fire cover,
- A volunteer was told to pay for their own first aid course,
- The government policy is to not replace fire trucks.

In addition, a leaflet distributed by the union says that firefighters face:
- incompatible hose couplings,
- three systems of breathing apparatus,
- radios that don’t work on the fireground or inside buildings like shopping centres and hospitals.

Brand new fire trucks for community protection have stood idle for up to two years because there are no staff for them or they won’t fit in the fire stations they’re intended for.

Marshall said the Bushfire Royal Commission recommendations haven't been implemented. “The government hasn’t employed an extra 342 extra firefighters for the CFA, as promised.”

The UFU says that under the old scheme — and the first year of the new scheme — the state government pays for 22.5% of the CFA budget and 12.5% of the MFB budget. But the legislation does not show what will happen after 2013-2014 — the government could cut its contribution and increase the levy paid by ratepayers.

The old scheme mandated that money collected from the Fire Services Levy had to go to the fire services. There is no such requirement under the new Fire Services Levy.

Victorian firefighters are demanding that: the Fire Services Levy be spent on fire protection, the budgets of the CFA and MFB be restored, and the recommendations of the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission be implemented without further delay.