Feds step in to CFA dispute

The Federal Government has promised to introduce legislation to protect CFA volunteers from “union industrial interference” when parliament resumes next week.

On Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash announced draft legislation to amend the Fair Work Act to “protect the Victorian Country Fire Authority and similar volunteer organisations from union takeovers”.

They criticised the State Government for “seeking to hand control of the CFA’s volunteers to the United Firefighters Union” through the new enterprise bargaining agreement.

The proposed federal legislation would cancel any parts of enterprise agreements that interfere with an emergency service organisation’s ability to manage volunteers.

“As enterprise agreements are governed by federal legislation – the Fair Work Act – we are intervening to amend the act to ensure that these agreements cannot be misused to undermine volunteer emergency services organisations,” a Coalition statement read.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said federal intervention was necessary as the State Government had “lost control” of the CFA crisis.

He said both paid and unpaid firefighters played a critical role in protecting the Gippsland community.

“However, we can’t tolerate any employment agreements that affect the CFA’s ability to engage or deploy its volunteers,” he said.

Mr Chester said CFA volunteers had raised legitimate concerns about the proposed EBA, yet Daniel Andrews had “stopped listening to them”.

“The introduction of new legislation is evidence the Federal Government will listen, and act, in the best interest of Gippsland CFA volunteers,” he said.

State Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said the Liberals were running a campaign of “lies and misinformation”, accusing Mr Turnbull and Ms Cash of “fear mongering” tactics.

“Michaelia Cash and the Prime Minister haven’t read the agreement; they continue to spread lies about how the agreement will work,” Mr Merlino said.

He said the Fair Work Act am end ment was unnecessary as the proposed enterprise agreement included “a specific clause that protects the role of our volunteers, the vital role our volunteers play in our communities right around Victoria”.

It is unclear what clause he is referring to.

Mr Merlino declined to comment on the specifics of the federal legislation.

“We’ll deal with federal legislation if and when it becomes legislation and so I won’t deal in hypotheticals,” Mr Merlino said.