Help our Rural Fireys: Push for volunteers to get paid leave
BUSHFIRE seasons are starting sooner, continuing longer and are more intense, sapping not only the strength of firefighting forces, but also their means of providing for themselves and their families.
Recognising that Queensland's Rural Firefighting volunteers are being taken away from their jobs, sometimes across the state or interstate, a conversation has begun to find a way to better financially support them.
In late November, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese wrote a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison requesting he call an urgent Council of Australian Government meeting, including state and local government leaders to firm up Australia's natural disaster preparedness.
As part of the meeting, Mr Albanese wanted to discuss new measures to recruit and reward volunteers, including a new category of annual leave for people involved in fighting fires.
Advocate for Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland in Central Queensland Robert Lang regarded financially supporting our firefighting volunteers as critical for maintaining depth of their volunteer brigades.
"We should have a system in place, particularly for those young people, the ones with families who forgo, and if they're away for two weeks, you can do the mathematics for yourself," Mr Lang said.
"It should be part of the job criteria.
"If a corporation says it supports the Rural Fire Service and you work for them and tell them you've got to go, that you will be given X amount of hours and you will be paid for those hours.
"And then they will be seen as supporting the community themselves which is a good thing, a win-win situation."
Unfortunately, he said there were plenty of corporations that did not see things that way and were more concerned about limiting the economic impact of paying worker's leave.
"That's pretty tough on the blokes who are leaving their place of employment to go and chase a fire on someone else's property for nothing," he said.
Mr Lang called for a uniform policy across the different industries and employment types.
Capricornia MP Michelle Landry said with the bushfire season getting fiercer and longer, it made sense to do more to financially support volunteers on the front line who often have to fly to other parts of the state and take significant chunks of time off.
She said Mr Albanese's leave support idea would need to be considered carefully; along with the potential effect it could have on small businesses in regional communities that were likely to employ people who gave up their time to be volunteer firefighters.
When The Morning Bulletin raised the issue with Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud's office, his spokesperson said it was an issue that needed to be sorted out at the state level.
Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford supported Mr Albanese's efforts to do more to financially support volunteer firefighters.
While there was discretionary special leave already available to public servants under the Public Service Act 2008 (Queensland) when they were called out for emergencies, he recognised the need for something to be done to support people working in private industry or who were self-employed to ensure they were not out of pocket.
"I think that is a conversation that we need to have as a nation and I think it would be great if the Commonwealth would certainly lead that," Mr Crawford said.
"What we're having at the moment is a lot of volunteers and firefighters moving interstate to help other states out and I think we're going to see more and more of that over the coming years.
"We do need to ensure that we pick up all the areas of where our volunteers come from."
"I think there is an appetite there to seriously look at that."
He said Queensland could not go it alone on this issue otherwise the system could become lopsided with excessive demands placed on them to provide firefighters.
"I think it would probably be this thing would go to COAG where Premiers and the Prime Minister and everyone agree or sign up to some memorandum of understanding or agreement says let's do this," he said.
"I'm not saying it's the Commonwealth need to necessarily, fund it or do anything like that but it is a natural conversation that I think needs to be had.
"It's something I think the Prime Minister and all the Premiers could certainly lead on.
"If we are going to maintain strong volunteer workforces into the future that are going to be doing more and more large scale work, and all the evidence says that we're going to have more events, more frequently and of higher magnitude and we're going to see more people crossing state boundaries to go and do this, it needs to be a Commonwealth conversation.
"But I think a good place to start would be obviously in Canberra and then maybe put on the COAG agenda for the Premiers and see what the appetite around the country is."