Premier Palaszczuk – please stop the Government sacking over 18,000 Rural Fire Brigade volunteers.

Monday, 21 Oct 2019

Premier Palaszczuk – please stop the Government sacking over 18,000 Rural Fire Brigade volunteers.

 

The lunacy of bureaucracy will see 86% of 22,000 Rural Fire Brigade members sacked in the New Year in Blue Card round 1.

 

Over 35% of Fire and Rescue Officers will also have to go in Round 1 as they haven’t applied for a Blue Card, and over 65 % of SES volunteers will also be sacked in 2020. (percentages supplied by QFES Friday 18th October 2019)

 

Blue Card round 2 will be rolled out to the 11,000 Rural Fire Brigade members in Primary Producer brigades, so the Government can sack them in 2021.

 

102 Fire Trucks responded to the Peregian Fires on the first night; if this goes ahead communities will go defenceless.

 

And you can’t count on full time, part time or volunteer firefighters from other states or territories coming to help in Queensland, as even if they had a Blue Card in their own state or territory, it appears that it does not meet Queensland requirements.

 

How did this happen? – We will need to start from the beginning and work our way to now.


Blue Card commenced on the 1st May 2001 and there has been consistent correspondence backwards and forwards about whether QFES Officers and SES volunteers provided a ‘Health Service”.

 

This led in 2015 to advice being sought from Crown Law regarding screening requirements for QFES and SES employees.

 

In the advice that Crown Law received from QFES it states that Both SES employees and volunteers and QFES employees and volunteers are trained in first response. Page 3

This advice is incorrect as Rural Fire Brigade volunteers are only supported in 1st Aid from QFES for 2 members in each brigade. Outside of that the Rural Fire Brigades need to organise or fund their own 1st Aid training. Most brigades in Queensland do not receive a Rural Fire levy through Local Government and many brigades do not have a bank account and so are unable to purchase 1st Aid training.

The RFBAQ has requested universal 1st Aid training for brigade volunteers on the back of this Blue Card direction and the RFBAQ has been informed that the QFES realise that brigade members do not receive 1st Aid training but QFES will not supply it universally. As late as last Friday (18th October)  the RFBAQ met with the acting QFES Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Volunteers and acting Assistant Commissioner Rural Fire Service Queensland regarding universal 1st Aid training to brigades without bank accounts with no positive outcome for brigades getting 1st Aid Training  - https://rfbaq.org/rc1staid

 

Page 3 of the Crown Law advice goes onto state - Section I30 of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (F&ES Act) specifically notes that it is a function of the SES to help injured persons (s 130 (c)(i)), Similarly s 53 of F&ES Act provides that an authorised fire officer may take any reasonable measure to protect persons, property or the environment from danger or potential danger caused by a fire. or a hazardous materials emergency, and to protect persons trapped in any premises or otherwise endangered.

 

This has led to the logic of Protect Persons + 1st Aid certificate = Health Service Provider.

Health Care Provider = Blue Card

 

A health service means any of the following:

  • service for maintaining, improving, restoring or caring for a person’s health or wellbeing, including, for example, the following:
    • a service providing personal care to a person who is ill, injured or otherwise infirm
    • a service providing respite care
    • a service provided by a practitioner of hypnosis, naturopathy, acupuncture or another form of natural or alternative health care
    • a massage service, including a massage service for relaxation
    • a service provided by a health student in the student's capacity as a health student
  • a service prescribed under a regulation to be a health service

link to page here - https://www.bluecard.qld.gov.au/definitions.html#healthServices

 

Of note in the instruction given to Crown Law by QFES and the advice Crown Law returned is that –

1 – Nowhere are Rural Fire Brigades mentioned.  None of the sections of the F&ES Act referred to relates to Rural Fire Brigades and their members.

2 – Nowhere in the Crown Law advice does it state that Blue Card is a requirement.

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This then led to the RFBAQ asking for a briefing on Blue Card from QFES which occurred on the 25th of May during an RFBAQ Management Committee meeting.

 

During this meeting the RFBAQ were informed that no card = no start and that any brigade member in round 1 without a Blue Card will be sacked. The RFBAQ pointed out that the QFES doesn’t have the power to sack a brigade member as brigades are unincorporated associations that reflect their individual community need and the membership is governed by the brigade itself. The RFBAQ also contested that section 82 of the F&ES Act states:

 

82           Functions of a rural fire brigade

(1) The functions of a rural fire brigade are fire fighting and fire prevention and such other functions as the commissioner may direct.

(2) The commissioner must notify a rural fire brigade of the area for which and the circumstances in which the brigade is in charge of fire fighting and fire prevention.

(3) In this section— fire prevention includes taking measures in readiness for fire so as to reduce potential danger to persons, property or the environment.

 

Here again is the QFES use of illogical logic to fit an outcome - fire prevention includes taking measures in readiness for fire so as to reduce potential danger to persons, property or the environment.

This link is to the QFES amended powerpoint presentation that resulted from the meeting. QFES would not supply the original shown at the meeting and this copy is one the produced later and differs significantly. 

 

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On the 11th July 2019 the RFBAQ sent an email to the Acting QFES Commissioner outlining the concerns raised in the Management Committee meeting and the concerns of the elected RFBAQ representatives across Queensland.

Please note that throughout this correspondence is the stated and agreed fact that the QFES cannot sack a Rural Fire Brigade member without the brigades’ approval.

On the 12th July, Australian Emergency Law posted a blog regarding Working with children check for QRFS and SES.

The RFBAQ requested an answer from the QFES regarding our letter of 11th July concerning Blue Card on the 16th September ahead of the RFBAQ General Meeting where Blue Card and Brigade requirements was an agenda item.

The response received on the 18th September states – One part of this is delivering on the Government’s election commitment to implement a ‘No Card, No Start’ system which will go live in early 2020.

This response was tabled at the RFBAQ General meeting where this resolution was passed unanimously.

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The exemption sought is that which Queensland Ambulance Service has that sees 1st Responders who provide response 1st Aid not requiring a Blue Card.

On the 14th October the acting Deputy Commissioner John Bolger sent an email to all Assistant Commissioners and the RFBAQ stating that Rural Fire Brigade volunteers who have not applied for a Blue Card will not be able to access uniforms.

This was then sent to the brigade members who have registered an email address with QFES which states - You may have heard that most Queensland Fire and Emergency Service volunteers are now legally required to hold a current blue card and need to submit a correct application form for one by 1 December 2019.

You will need to hold a current blue card to continue performing your role as a volunteer.

 

The RFBAQ has asked to see where this is a legal requirement for Rural Fire Brigade members.

To date no response has been received.

 

Many Rural Fire Brigade members are very distraught regarding this process and have dug their heels in as they do not see the need for a Blue Card nor do they see themselves or their brigade as a Health Service Provider.

 

They are also comforted by the fact that the QFES cannot sack a brigade member.

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The State Government has now decided to try and change this by introducing changes to the F&ES Act 1990 that would allow for the QFES to sack a Rural Fire Brigade member.

 

The draft legislative changes that the Government is proposing in no way empowers volunteers, rather it’s a series of proscriptive changes to Fire Wardens, Brigade 1st Officers and taking the powers of brigade membership from the local brigade and giving it to QFES.

Clause 22 - amendment to section 81 states – The FES Act is silent on who is responsible for the dismissal of RFB members. The amendment to section 81 of the FES Act creates consistency between the volunteer services operating under the FES Act to provide the Commissioner with the power to dismiss members.

 

This draft legislative change is seriously at odds with the RFBAQ submission on Legislative Change which empowers brigades to better defend their communities and also in conflict with how brigades see themselves as shown in the Legal Status of Brigades findings which was a result of another piece of Crown Law Advice regarding Rural Fire Brigades .

 

Previously we have seen Government propose bad policy that disadvantage Rural Fire Brigades, most notably the Deemed Diseases Cancer Coverage that saw a huge difference in workers compensation support between paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters.

 

Thanks to the Queensland Parliament and the Parliamentary Committee system this bad policy was changed to provide a fair and equal cancer coverage for all firefighters in Queensland.

 

Premier Palaszczuk – please stop your Government sacking over 18,000 Rural Fire Brigade volunteers.

If 86% of Rural Fire Brigade members aren’t complying with your policy, then the overwhelming majority of the brigade membership do not see that this as a requirement, rather a matter of choice.

 

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