PM Moves To Protect Firefighters From 'Hostile Union Takeovers'

Turnbull says volunteers are being 'demoralised'.

22/08/2016 1:06 PM AEST | Updated 22/08/2016 7:10 PM AEST
Penny Stephens, Fairfax
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull back volunteer fire fighters from hostile union takeovers

CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused the Victorian Premier of demoralising volunteers and risking the safety of Victorians to a "militant union", as he wades back into the bitter state firefighters dispute.

Turnbull has unveiled federal legislation Monday to protect volunteer organisations like the Country Fire Authority (CFA) from "hostile union takeovers."

The Daniel Andrews Labor Government has been negotiating a controversial enterprise bargaining agreement for the state's 800 paid CFA firefighters. Many of the state's 60,000 volunteers fear they are going to lose control of fighting some fires in certain built up areas to the paid firefighters.

Penny Stephens, Fairfax
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is moving to protect volunteer firefighters from what he terms a "militant union".

Turnbull told volunteer firefighters in Coldstream that the Andrews Government was "beholden to a militant union" in the United Firefighters Union.

"Can I just say to you I think there is a sinister purpose here from the State Government," Turnbull said.

"There is a very deep long-term risk here with what Daniel Andrews is proposing, a very deep dangerous long-term risk to the safety of Victoria."

"If you drain away from a volunteer organisation the autonomy, the sense of self-respect, the sense of self-control of those volunteers, then you will discourage recruitment."

"You demoralise a volunteer organisation and over time it will decline. Now that is something that every Victorian should be very, very concerned about."

The proposed amendment to the Fair Work Act is due to enter parliament next week as one of the first items of business.

"What it will do, in a nutshell, is it will make it unlawful to include a term in an enterprise agreement which undermines or disables the ability of that organisation to work with its volunteers," Turnbull said

The Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has admitted she misspoke in a newspaper editorial where she stated the proposed EBA requires seven paid fire-fighters to be present at a fire before CFA personnel are able to be deployed.

"I think there was the use of the word "deployed" and "dispatched." It may have been an incorrect use of wording," Cash said.

The Minister for Emergency Services, James Merlino, has accused the Prime Minister and Minister Cash of lies and fear-mongering.

"The proposed enterprise agreement has a specific clause that protects the role of our volunteers," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"So it is not necessary and it is based on lies, misinformation that they just continue to spread."

The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has dismissed the federal intervention, saying it is a state matter.

The protracted CFA dispute has led to the resignation of the minister responsible for the CFA, Jane Garrett, the sacking of the CFA and it has adversely impacted on the Victorian Labor vote in the July 2 federal election.

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