October 22, 2019
The Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (RFBAQ) has called on the State Government to rethink its policy of forcing rural fire brigade volunteers to have Blue Cards from January 1.
The RFBAQ, which represents more than 22,000 Rural Fire Brigade volunteers, says the policy could result in up to 18,000 of the State’s rural fire-fighters being sacked if they don’t apply for the cards.
It says up to 35 per cent of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) staff and up to 65 per cent of SES volunteers could go as well.
According to the RFBAQ, the State Government’s insistence that QFES and SES members have Blue Cards can be traced back to Crown Law advice in 2015.
That advice said QFES Officers and SES volunteers provided a “health service” because some SES and QFES members were trained in first aid.
The RFBAQ says this advice is incorrect, because Rural Fire Brigade volunteers only receive support for two members to be trained in first aid.
When the RFBAQ requested universal first aid training in light of the State Government’s direction on Blue Cards, QFES ruled it out.
In its latest ‘Fireline’ newsletter, the RFBAQ reports the State Government is insisting it will implement its “No Card, No Start” policy from January 1.
This is despite 86 per cent of rural fire brigade members, 35 per cent of QFES staff and 65 per cent of SES volunteers not applying for a Blue Card by mid-October.
The RFBAQ says the State Government intends to modify the Fire and Emergency Services Act to give the Commissioner the power to sack Rural Fire Brigade members.
This is because most rural fire brigades are unincorporated volunteer organisations at present and members can only be sacked by their own brigade.
RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux told southburnett.com.au the government has been warned it is heading towards an iceberg and should slow down.
He said any sackings of rural fire brigade members would come in the middle of this year’s fire season.
Mr Choveaux has written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk asking her to change course.
“The government wants to protect children and we understand that,” Mr Choveaux said.
“But we think there are better and less expensive ways to achieve the policy outcomes the government wants.”
Mr Choveaux said people applying to join rural fire brigades were already subject to a police check, so it would be easy to refuse membership to anyone convicted of an offence against a child.
It would also be easy to bring in a rule that anyone convicted of an offence against a child would automatically be barred from rural fire brigade membership.
“A system like this would be easy to introduce, much less costly for the government and achieve the same policy outcomes,” he said.
Mr Choveaux said to date, discussions about the Blue Cards had been held “behind closed doors” so it was entirely possible Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was unaware of the situation.
But he hoped once the Premier was informed, she would inject some common sense into the issue.