Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.L. Brokenshire:
1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into—
(a) the government establishment of the commissioner to replace chief officers in the proposed emergency services reform;
(b) the process involved in consultation and what consideration was given to matters raised during consultation in developing the reform proposal;
(c) the business plan;
(d) cost- benefit analysis and probity regarding the proposed reform;
(e) consideration and consultation with volunteer organisations affected by the government proposal;
(f) the establishment of legal requirements for the chief officer and chief executive officer of emergency services and SAFECOM and the SAFECOM board; and
(g) any other relevant matters.
2. That s tanding o rder 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.
3. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.
4. That s tanding o rder 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.
(Continued from 11 February 2015.)
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 16:54 :05 ): I rise on behalf of the opposition to indicate that we will support the motion introduced by the Hon. Robert Brokenshire. The Liberal Party has been quite vocal in its opposition to the government's proposed emergency services reform agenda. Much to the dismay of almost the entire emergency services sector, the government is seeking to amalgamate the CFS, MFS and SES under one commissioner. It is because of this strong and vehement public backlash that the opposition will be supporting the proposed select committee to inquire into the establishment of the commissioner and the consultation process (or lack thereof) undertaken by this government.
It is interesting to note that the minister has said he is perhaps not going to press ahead straightaway, and I think that will be a very good short-term outcome to have this select committee, and at least the select committee can do its work and report to parliament and, although it rarely happens, the government minister might take some note.
Under the government's proposed restructure, there will be no chief officers for the CFS, MFS or SES as is currently required under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005. The MFS has been advised by the minister that there will be a state control fire centre located at the State Communications HQ with the state fire and rescue commissioner as the state fire controller which will be a uniformed commissioner directly responsible to the Minister for Emergency Services.
The MFS has also reported that the commissioner will be supported by assistant commissioners allocated from each of the Metropolitan Fire Service, CFS and SES and a number of others for corporate areas, and meetings of a sector consultative forum will occur with details such as criteria and regularity yet to be established.
The South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM) will be dismantled and the SAFECOM board will be dissolved and abolished. The government proposes that there will no longer be a CFS state HQ and a shared services model will be applied for CFS volunteers across the sector supporting all other agencies, that is MFS, CFS and SES.
The details of the proposed restructure I have just listed have been met with a lot of resistance from our community. On 28 January we had about 500 CFS volunteers protest here on the steps of Parliament House. These CFS volunteers want to maintain their autonomy. They feel that a one size fits all management system will not work. It is clear that the majority of our volunteers and the members of the MFS, CFS and SES as well as other associations such as the Country Fire Service Volunteers Association and the South Australian State Emergency Service are strongly opposed to the proposed changes or will only provide conditional support for a few of the proposed measures.
The government proposal in effect abolishes the existing independent agency SAFECOM and just replaces it with another bureaucracy, the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner. Consistent with other insightful Labor proposals, this bureaucracy will no longer be independent but is directly responsible to the minister. We saw some issues recently with the minister in relation to coming up to the recent fire and being there to have photographs taken. Maybe we would have been better off to have those CFS personnel continue to fight the fire.
The government would in effect create a new centralised bureaucratic model when the overwhelming majority of the emergency services sector is publicly advocating the existing model is working well. The devastating Sampson Flat fire which occurred only last month highlighted the efficiency, coordination and effectiveness of our current structure. It should be noted that the efforts and response of our brave emergency services throughout this time have been widely commended by all sides of politics—a testament to the current model.
I am reminded of a couple of sayings. If it is not broken, why fix it? One of the gentlemen I used to do business with in The Netherlands many years ago said, 'If you don't have a headache, don't take Panadol.' I think this is a good example of that; we have a system that works very well and it has served this state for some significant amount of time.
It is also interesting to note that an independent review in May 2014 by Ernst and Young, entitled 'Independent review of shared services in the fire and emergency services sector', identified that it is the Labor government's cuts in funding to SAFECOM which is the principal reason why emergency services have experienced difficulties in recent years, not the structure of the emergency services.
We have seen the government remove the remissions for the emergency services levy which no other state has done. They claim it is because of some cuts that the federal government has made, yet no other state has done that. It is interesting how they continue to try to blame the federal government for funding shortfalls. It has always been somebody else's fault. It is something I have noticed about them for the more than 13 years I have spent in this place. With this government, it is always somebody else's fault and it is time they took some responsibility of their own.
However, I am digressing slightly. Given the overwhelming disapproval towards the government's proposed emergency services restructure and the lack of any substantial reason, the opposition will be delighted to support the Hon. Robert Brokenshire's motion to establish a select committee into the establishment of the commissioner.
Adjourned debate on motion of the Hon. R. L. Brokenshire:
That this council calls on the state government to immediately—
1. Withdraw the calling of applications for the position of c ommissioner for e mergency s ervices; and
2. Not further proceed with foreshadowed changes to the structure of emergency services pending consideration of the report of the select committee of the Legislative Council, should it be established.
(Continued from 11 February 2015.)
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 17:16 :33 ): I rise briefly to make some comments on the motion which calls on the government to withdraw calling for applications for the position of commissioner for emergency services and not proceed further with the foreshadowed changes of structure to the emergency services pending consideration of the report of the select committee. It is very self-explanatory and, as I indicate, we will be supporting this motion of the Hon. Robert Brokenshire. I gave obviously a reasonable contribution on his select committee just—
The Hon. S.G. Wade: And it was an excellent contribution.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Thank you. My colleague the Hon. Stephen Wade interjects. I know it is out of order, but he says it was an excellent contribution. Thank you. For the same reasons I outlined, we will certainly support this motion. It does not make sense if you have a parliamentary inquiry and the minister has said he is probably not going to pursue any of his potential changes for about 12 months, so it seems crazy to pursue this appointment and any of the reforms. We are certainly very happy to support the Hon. Robert Brokenshire's motion.