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Russel Northe MLA:
Country Fire Authority Morwell Brigade

Hansard Speech from Mr Northe in Parliament

By Portal Admin - 2nd March 2020 - Back to News

Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (12:26): My question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Minister, last Monday the government announced that construction of the new Morwell fire station was due to commence shortly. Within the government’s media statement on this day you had noted that:

The new station will deliver a significant boost to volunteer and career firefighters in the Latrobe Valley.

However, volunteer members of the Morwell fire brigade—some of whom are in the gallery today—decided in 2019 that they wished to remain at the existing Morwell fire station in McDonald Street, Morwell, and not enter into co-location arrangements with career firefighters. The brigade’s volunteers have recently reinforced this position and subsequently written to yourself as minister stating that should they be forced to relocate then volunteer sustainability and service delivery to the Morwell area would be severely compromised. So, Minister, will you support the Morwell fire brigade and its volunteers in their desire to remain at their current McDonald Street, Morwell, site?

Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine—Minister for Water, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12:27): Can I thank the member for Morwell for his question and can I acknowledge members of the Morwell brigade who join us today and thank them for their service to the local community and to the Victorian community.

As the member has indicated, in fact it was both I think the previous LiberalNationals government as well as ourselves in 2014, going into the election, that committed to building a new integrated station. This has been an integrated station for a very long time—40 years—so career and volunteers have worked side by side all along.

Mr R Smith interjected.

Have you apologised to those?

Members interjecting.

Ms NEVILLE: I am trying to answer this question specifically with respect to the Morwell brigade who is represented here today, so it would be nice not to have interjections of that nature.

Members interjecting.

Ms NEVILLE: I apologise to the member for Morwell. I will get back on track.

We committed to an integrated brigade. Since 2016 there has been extensive consultation, including with volunteers and speaking to both the deputy chief fire officers, the operations managers, the acting chief officers who had been working with the brigade, and I understand that the brigade would prefer not to go into that station, but for the CFA it has always been the intention that this would remain as an integrated brigade, at least to commence with.

I understand that there has been over the last few years quite a toxic environment that has been created in some parts of Victoria on both sides, from volunteers and career, and in those relationships. Some of that has been led by politicians, and I think it has been a disgrace.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister has the call.

Ms NEVILLE: What I do know and one of the things that has been clear to me, having been involved now in over five different fires in Victoria in different roles I have had, is that where people work side by side together we get the best response, whether it is SES and CFA, whether it is volunteers and career, whatever that is, we need people working together.

I want to try and work with all volunteer, with all career, to try and mend those relationships, because that is what is going to deliver the best outcome for the Victorian community. I know the brigade only has at its heart the interests of that local community. I am committed to meeting with you if you would like that to discuss if there is a way we can make that facility—as I understand it, there is a lot of volunteer space, but if you think there needs to be a better way to improve that I am very happy to work with you and the CFA to achieve that. But at this stage it will remain an integrated brigade.

Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (12:30): Minister, the Morwell fire brigade volunteers have been advised by the CFA that they will not be allowed to remain at their current site and will be forced to co-locate if they wish to have a future. I understand that in some communities, such as Moe or Latrobe West, approval has been granted to establish multiple firefighting capacities, including having a fire station and appliances for career firefighters and a separate fire station and appliances for volunteers. Minister, can you advise why the Morwell fire brigade and its volunteers are being forced to co-locate when only 15 kilometres away the complete opposite is happening?

Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine—Minister for Water, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12:31): Again, I have actually made it really clear to Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria and to volunteers when we have been talking about the reforms that it is my view that, yes, ultimately we will enable volunteers to make a decision. I do not want that decision to be made in the heat of what has occurred. I want people to see the arrangements and how those integrated stations operate. This has been 40 years where people have worked side by side. I am sure there have been good and bad years in that period. But what I still know is that people working together is going to deliver the best outcome for our communities. The CFA—and I have spoken to both Steve Warrington and Gavin Freeman on a number of occasions about the Morwell CFA—believe this is the best outcome for community safety. I will meet with the brigade to make sure they have got the facilities they need there. I am assured they have, but if we need to look at something in addition, I am very happy to do that. But at the heart of this we need everyone working together, and I want to try and heal those wounds that exist.


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