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Opposition in the firing line

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April 04, 2018

An upper house Labor MP has questioned the tactics of the Opposition in voting down contentious fire services legislation, which Coalition MPs have labelled as a victory against splitting up the Country Fire Authority.

Jaclyn Symes visiting the Benalla Migrant Camp exhibition.

An upper house Labor MP has questioned the tactics of the Opposition in voting down contentious fire services legislation, which Coalition MPs have labelled as a victory against splitting up the Country Fire Authority.

The Victorian Opposition is ‘‘proud’’ to have broken from convention to vote down the State government’s Country Fire Authority bill, a move described as unprecedented.

Two Liberal MPs were provided a pairing by Labor to be absent from parliament on Good Friday for religious reasons, but they walked back into the Legislative Council at the 11th hour to vote against the legislation.

The pairing agreement meant two Labor MPs had already abstained from the vote. The bill was defeated 19-18. The Victorian Government wants to make the CFA volunteer-only, merging paid firefighters with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, to make a much larger Fire Rescue Victoria.

Nationals Member for Northern Victoria Luke O’Sullivan said ‘‘saving the CFA is a great outcome’’, stressing the importance of the CFA remaining intact.

He said the Opposition was going to do whatever to save the CFA even if that meant ‘‘argy bargy in parliament’’.

Mr O’Sullivan anticipated disquiet and resignations from the fire services reform, a prospect he believed would have endangered communities.

‘‘When there’s a fire, you want a fire truck to turn up,’’ he said.

‘‘This legislation would have put that at risk and I just would not support that.’’

Labor Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said the legislation being defeated was disappointing for the state’s firefighters.

She said the reform was aimed at bringing about ‘‘much-needed improvements’’ to fire services, ‘‘giving them the support they need’’.

Ms Symes said holding back the modernisation of fire services was ‘‘a really poor outcome when being driven by political motivation’’.

‘‘The way it was voted down was unprecedented,’’ she said.

She said trust between the parties would be compromised and added the move made it difficult to ‘‘take (the Opposition) at their word again.’’

While conceding the reform had raised some concerns initially, Ms Symes said the legislation had broadly been well accepted in the community.

Ms Symes said it would offer increased support, access to training and that ‘‘most accept that reform is necessary’’.

She argued the legislation would ‘‘unshackle’’ firefighters from pay issues.

‘‘(It would have) limited impact on volunteers, it’s positive impact,’’ she said.

Liberal Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said there had been a ‘‘tremendous amount of carnage over this bill’’, but said she was ultimately ‘‘proud that the Liberal party voted to save the CFA’’.

It was the first time the state parliament sat on Good Friday.

— with AAP

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