Vol­un­teers need tar­geted aid, not hand­outs

Mansfield Courier - - Opinion Piece - By Adam Bar­nett, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Vol­un­teer Fire Brigades Vic­to­ria (VFBV)

OUR CFA vol­un­teers are among the best fire­fight­ers in the world.

Ev­ery day they put their com­mu­ni­ties first, from highly com­plex bush­fires to spe­cial­ist re­sponse and struc­tural fire­fight­ing in highly ur­banised ar­eas.

They are well trained, well ex­er­cised and are sought af­ter across the coun­try for their knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence.

They are true pro­fes­sion­als in ev­ery sense of the word, only as vol­un­teers they do it without pay.

As their peak rep­re­sen­ta­tive body, my or­gan­i­sa­tion wel­comes and ap­pre­ci­ates the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tion to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port for vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers.

But we are wor­ried that this ini­tia­tive is mis­placed and may have un­in­tended and last­ing con­se­quences.

There are far bet­ter ways to sup­port vol­un­teers, re­im­burse ex­penses and sup­port their em­ploy­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties.

What we want is for the Fed­eral Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud, State Min­is­ter Lisa Neville and our CFA vol­un­teer rep­re­sen­ta­tives to work to­gether to en­sure state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment sup­port and as­sis­tance can be tai­lored and tar­geted to best sup­port our in­cred­i­ble vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers in Vic­to­ria.

Vol­un­teers are proud to be vol­un­teers; that is the ethos they live by ev­ery day.

They work, train and de­ploy out of love for their com­mu­ni­ties.

Their brav­ery and self­less­ness lie at the very heart of the enor­mous re­spect for and trust in them.

Vol­un­teers, their fam­i­lies, em­ploy­ers and friends all pitch in to sup­port emer­gency man­age­ment vol­un­teers, fi­nan­cially and in kind.

We work as a team with like-minded vol­un­teers be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter dis­as­ter strikes.

The vol­un­teer ethos de­fends mil­lions of Aus­tralians, pro­tect­ing lives and prop­erty from the rav­ages of fire and other emer­gen­cies, year af­ter year.

And if we look af­ter it well, it will con­tinue to do so long af­ter this fire sea­son is over.

There­fore, it is vi­tal we sup­port and pro­tect it in a way that does not un­der­mine the very sys­tem and think­ing on which we rely.

Long af­ter an­nounce­ments of new schemes, it is those on the ground who then have to make it work.

Sad­dling brigades and vol­un­teers with ad­di­tional ad­min­is­tra­tive bu­reau­cracy while they sort out who should and shouldn’t re­ceive pay­ment is an un­wel­come dis­trac­tion.

In­stead, it is time we recog­nise and re­spect the in­cred­i­ble con­tri­bu­tion that all emer­gency vol­un­teers make to our com­mu­ni­ties.

The most com­mon com­plaint I hear is about the un­fair­ness of CFA vol­un­teers hav­ing to pay for a fire ser­vices levy that funds the very ser­vice they are pro­vid­ing to the state for free.

Adding in­sult to in­jury is the ex­pec­ta­tion they then must fundraise for es­sen­tial trucks and equip­ment to make up the dif­fer­ence be­tween what the gov­ern­ment funds and what they ac­tu­ally need to keep us all safe.

Long-term in­vest­ment in more fire trucks, equip­ment, per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment and cloth­ing is needed des­per­ately.

And from a Com­mon­wealth per­spec­tive, how about recog­nis­ing emer­gency man­age­ment vol­un­teers as a spe­cial oc­cu­pa­tion that would al­low any per­sonal ex­penses in­curred dur­ing the year to be tax de­ductible just as em­ploy­ees can claim them now.

In Vic­to­ria alone, the CFA vol­un­teer con­tri­bu­tion is val­ued at more than $1 bil­lion dol­lars a year.

Why not recog­nise part of that con­tri­bu­tion as a taxd­e­ductible do­na­tion?

And let’s not for­get the em­ploy­ers and business sec­tor who are of­ten among the un­sung he­roes dur­ing th­ese mas­sive cam­paigns.

Many em­ploy­ers con­tinue to cover wages for many of their staff de­ployed as vol­un­teers, not just for fire but in re­lief and re­cov­ery.

The es­tab­lish­ment of fed­eral emer­gency ser­vice leave that would al­low em­ploy­ers to claim for ad­di­tional en­ti­tle­ments for their em­ploy­ees to take leave dur­ing de­clared emer­gen­cies would in­ject much needed sup­port to grow and sus­tain Aus­tralia’s proud and en­dur­ing vol­un­teer move­ment.

Our mes­sage is sim­ple:

We are not say­ing no to ad­di­tional fi­nan­cial sup­port. We are grate­ful for it. But please give CFA vol­un­teers the cour­tesy and re­spect of in­volv­ing them in the de­ci­sion and work­ing with us to de­liver a more ap­pro­pri­ate pack­age that re­spects and pro­tects our mem­bers and the pre­cious vol­un­teer ethos that Vic­to­ria re­lies upon.

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