Disagreement over who pays for firey help
AFTER starting so promisingly, The Morning Bulletin’s ‘Fair go for our fireys’ campaign to better compensate our firefighting volunteers has crashed into political gridlock over who should make the first move.
Politicians on both sides of politics, at both the State and Federal level, have acknowledged the worthiness of financially supporting volunteers who are making incredible, selfless sacrifices during this unprecedented fire season to help not only locally, but all in other states.
These included setting up the tax system to allow for volunteers to receive tax deductions (paid as a percentage of tax per fire), employer compensation (similar to army reserve), a direct payment per major fire/deployment to the volunteers, or creating a new form of leave.
It’s a daunting task for governments to come up with the comprehensive plan which included volunteers from all walks of life including the employed, self-employed, unemployed and retirees.
Federal Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford were unable to agree on who was responsible for fixing the problem with both believing the other had the necessary constitutional levers to make the changes.
Mr Crawford said the country was experiencing an unprecedented fire season.
“As I have said previously, fires do not stop at state borders,” Mr Crawford said.
“This is a national issue and like other states, we want to work closely with the Prime Minister to get a better outcome not only for Queensland firies, but their colleagues around Australia, who are also called upon to fight fires outside of their home state.”
He continued to insist that a COAG meeting planned for December, which would have provided all states the opportunity to discuss a solution to this important issue, was cancelled by the Prime Minister - an assertion denied by a Federal Government spokesperson.
“The most practical, effective and consistent solution to this Australia-wide matter would be amendments to the Federal Government’s Fair Work Act to provide a fair go and paid leave for volunteer firefighters, regardless of where they live,” he said.
“The Howard Government turned industrial relations on its head in 2005, leaving the state’s industrial relations jurisdiction limited to the public sector. We already provide up to five days paid leave for volunteer firefighting within the public service.
“If the Morrison Government was serious about supporting volunteer firefighters, they would stop treating this as a political hot potato. It is entirely within their power to bring forward amendments to the Fair Work Act to provide paid leave for volunteer firefighters. Instead, they choose to shirk all responsibility and accountability.”
Mr Littleproud said the Federal Government was profoundly grateful to firefighters and the businesses that support them. While there was merit in the idea of compensating firefighting volunteers, he said the responsibility for volunteer firefighters was clear.
“State governments have responsibility for this issue,” Mr Littleproud said.
A spokesperson from the Attorney Generals Office explained the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act included an entitlement to community service leave, which was generally unpaid.
“Employers can provide more generous leave provisions, such as paid leave, in agreements, common law contracts or workplace policies,” the spokesperson said.
“The NES provisions are also not intended to exclude State or Territory laws that provide employee entitlements in relation to engaging in eligible community service activities, to the extent that those entitlements are more beneficial than the NES.”