Canberra’s fire-fighters do a tough job. They put their lives on the line, and help others in dangerous situations. They have my respect and admiration.
That’s why as Minister I have made sure Canberra’s rank and file fire-fighters are the best paid in the country. Why I have made sure we have a new state of the art fire training facility at Hume and made the investment in new trucks, equipment and stations to make sure they can do their job safely.
So the current dispute with the fire-fighters union is hard for me to understand. It was made especially hard when I asked the union leadership to meet with me last week to discuss their key concerns and they didn’t raise the issue which has led to the dispute this week. When you ask, in good faith, for someone to tell you their concerns and they don’t mention the issue which leads to a dispute, it’s hard to know what else you can do.
The Government remains open to discussing legitimate work and safety concerns, and working constructively and cooperatively on them. Fire-fighters doing training while on duty has been a accepted work practice for over a decade. While fire-fighters are training, at their station or at Hume, they are available for response. The truck is crewed, they are always ready to go to a fire or other emergency. Stations are not closed if the stations trucks are fully crewed and available for response. Fire trucks are constantly repositioned to maintain safe and prompt response times across the city.
This work practice does not present a safety problem, either for fire-fighters or the public. According to the Productivity Commissions Report on Government Services the ACT has the best response to containing fires to the room of origin in Australia, at 75.9 %. It has had the best response for years.
Yesterday the union secretary claimed the response to the house fire at Kambah this week would have been delayed if the Kambah crew had been attending training. For the record Kambah, Phillip and Greenway stations all arrived at the fire at 9.24am. In fact all three crews arrived within 20 seconds of each other. Even if the Kambah crew had been attending training, there would have been no delay in response. The union secretary’s claim is wrong.
I have no argument with our fire-fighters, but I do have concerns with how their union is approaching these issues. Yesterday the union had to back down and withdraw its unlawful direction to members after the Government took the matter to Fair Work Australia. I encourage the union to take a more constructive approach. My door is open.