Overnight the Bill intervening in the Victoria’s Country Fire Authority dispute was passed in the Senate and on Country today, we’re very privileged to have the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, joining us. Welcome to the program Prime Minister.
Thank you very much. Yes it’s been a very big win for the CFA volunteers. These are the men and women – 60,000 of them – who in Victoria, put their lives on the line, between Victorians and their property, and the inferno of the bushfires. They’re courageous, they’re selfless, they’re volunteers and their volunteer status, their autonomy, their dignity was being undermined by the Andrews Government. Now what we’ve been able to do is amend the Fair Work Act to ensure the clauses which restrict or limit the ability of volunteers to serve will not be acceptable in the new EBAs.
So this is an important promise that we made during the election. We said; “we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the volunteers”. We have done so and we have changed the law and that happened last night. It’s a great credit to the determination of the volunteers and the hard work of our Minister Michaelia Cash who has steered this through the Senate.
This certainly was a huge issue right across Victoria. People were absolutely appalled that this was going to be happening to our local volunteers in the Country Fire Authority. Can you believe that it got to this situation - that it got so extreme?
It shows how the modern Labor Party is captive of, and beholden to, these very militant trade unions. You know, if you think back to the Labor Party of Hawke and Keating, can you imagine them offending, affronting, 60,000 volunteers? The men and women that actually keep us safe when nature throws her worst at us? Can you imagine them doing that?
You can see that the Government in Victoria - and the same applies to Mr Shorten, who has backed the Victorian Government in by voting against these amendments - Shorten and Andrews are absolutely committed to supporting these militant unions. Whether it is the Transport Workers Union – you remember what they did with putting all those owner-drivers off the road? We managed to abolish that tribunal which Mr Shorten had set up under the Gillard Government. Now we’ve been able to stand up for the volunteers of the CFA.
Well it’s great news that it’s going to be business as usual as we head into our bushfire season for the Victorian CFA. But we did have those governing the CFA - we had people stand down, we had the board disbanded and so how do we get it back up and all running efficiently again?
That is a tragic demonstration of how extreme the Victorian Labor Government has been. The idea that the Minister, the Labor Minister herself resigned over this. The idea that they had to sack the whole board to get them to agree to this EBA, it just shows you how extreme the Andrews Government approach has been.
Now what we have got, fortunately, is with these amendments to the Fair Work Act, the clauses that the Labor Government wants to put into the EBA, that will diminish the autonomy and the responsibility of the volunteers, will not be acceptable and will not be able to be registered. So that’s the objective of the amendment. It enables us to protect the volunteers but of course, their ultimate protection is going to be in the return of a Liberal Government in Victoria and we look forward to Matt Guy being able to do that at the next state election.
And no doubt that as Prime Minister of Australia coming through in your words there, it shows how much you respect the work of our CFA firefighters and volunteers.
I certainly do. Lucy and I remember with great pride, it was a privilege to visit Wye River late last year just around Christmas time, just after those shocking fires. We saw the way in which the local brigade, volunteer brigade, had mobilised the community, had planned for the fire, had – because of they are a grassroots volunteer brigade - they were able to ensure that even though this shocking fire swept through their community, no lives were lost. Now that’s what those men and women, of that brigade, what those volunteers do, and of course, tens of thousands of others doing exactly the same thing across Victoria.
Now, they serve because of a selfless spirit of characteristically Australian volunteerism. It a spirit of service and their morale had been shattered by this assault from the Victorian Government, backing up, beholden to, acting for, a militant trade union.
You look at that case over the Warrnambool Fire Station, that was a classic case. There was an opening of a new fire station in Warrnambool. It was blocked, because the union complained that there wasn’t a separate door for the paid career firefighters to enter and they objected to going through the same door as the volunteers. Yet if you look at the CFA Act, it states quite clearly that it is a volunteer organisation. The CFA ACT says plainly that the Country Fire Authority is first and foremost a volunteer based organisation, in which volunteer offices and members are supported by employees in a fully integrated manner.
Now what the Labor Government was doing, was turning it on its head and putting the unionists in charge, obviously with the desire to promote the interests of the union at the expense of the volunteers. That is wrong. It undermines the dignity, the autonomy, the effectiveness of those volunteers. It disrespects them for the service, the vital service they give in keeping Victorians and indeed Australians all around the country safe.
Well it certainly is great news that common sense has finally prevailed and CFA will be left alone to run as they have done for many, many years in a very organised way.
Now, Mr Prime Minister, I would just like to ask you a couple of quick questions. Federal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, does a great job for our region. I am sure he has briefed you on the appalling conditions of roads across regional Victoria, some of them are just crumbling and really quite in bad repair. Is there any federal funding coming our way to fix this issue?
Well, we as you know, we do, we have a substantial amount of money being spent in Victoria. Indeed Dan and his Victorian colleagues have been working closely with Darren Chester, the Infrastructure Minister, who of course is also a Victorian, to ensure that we have a substantial portion of the $1.5 billion we’ve allocated most recently, the most recent allocation to infrastructure in Victoria, allocated to regional roads and indeed to regional infrastructure.
And just finally there, the dairy farmers of course across our region, very tough time right across Australia over the past twelve months, milk prices plummeting. What can we expect now for the next twelve months in support from the Federal Government for our dairy farmers that are really – got their backs to the wall?
Well as you know with Barnaby Joyce and I have met with a number of the dairy farmers groups and Barnaby of course as the Agriculture Minister has been very focused on this. We obviously have concessional loans available. We have household support available. There is a considerable amount of work being done by the ACCC and other agencies to look at the way in which Murray Goulburn set that price and kept that price as high as it did for as long as it did.
As you know the practice had always been in the past for – at the beginning of the year – for the price to be set at a conservative level and then to be able to be stepped up if conditions enabled. This was a very, very poorly managed process in which you had a very high price which appears to be at odds with global conditions, and of course which resulted in the situation where dairy farmers are now have obligations to, one way or another, to repay money to the producers.
Well Mr Prime Minister it has been an absolute privilege to have you on our program today and great news overnight about the CFA. Thank you very much for giving us your time.
Thank you very much indeed.