Protesting firefighters including south-west delegates marched to Parliament House Melbourne yesterday in a protest campaign later described by Treasurer Michael O’Brien as dishonest. They claimed revenue from a new compulsory insurance levy would not be spent on improving fire services.
Warrnambool’s long awaited aerial pumper truck, still sitting idle in a metropolitan storage shed because the Warrnambool fire station is too small, was used as an example of frustration over fire service expenditure delays. An estimated 1000 members and supporters of the United Firefighters Union marched from Trades Hall to Parliament House where Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews and Greens MP Colleen Hartland addressed them.
Their protest centred around claims revenue from the previous levy had soared yet the Coalition government was slashing Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade budgets. They demanded all money collected from the new levy system, which started yesterday, be spent on community protection and not banked. An annoyed Mr O’Brien later accused the union and Opposition of distorting the facts.
“Every single dollar of the levy will go to fund fire services and we will top it up from the central budget,” he said.
“These claims are wrong. “Peter Marshall (union secretary) said we were cutting $40 million from fire services, but we are actually increasing it by $61m during the next two years!”
Warrnambool-based union delegate Troy Cleverley, who accompanied other members from his station and volunteers from Hamilton in the rally, said there was growing frustration over fire services expenditureln Warrnambool we are still waiting for the promised aerial pumper and extra crew:’ Mr Cleverley, said yesterday.
“It’s sitting and rusting in a Dandenong warehouse and there’s no sign of either an expansion at the Warrnambool station or a new station with room for the truck and extra crew.
“We only have four staff dormitories, but we need a minimum of six. “Warrnambool is the only staffed brigade in the whole CFA network which is self supporting, but we sometimes struggle to meet our obligations.”
Other new pumpertrucks funded by the previous government for Mildura and Corio are also yet to be delivered. The CFA has earlier told The Standard it had identified Warrnambool as in need of a larger regional station and would be seeking to purchase a suitable site. It said evaluations were still being conducted on the pumper truck.