Matter of Public Importance - Emergency Services

21 February 2024

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (17:22):

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance (MPI) submitted by the member for Hawthorn today. Before I do so, I want to applaud the contribution of the member for Monbulk. I know how hard she has been working in her electorate, driving around groceries to people and giving generators to single parents. She has done a phenomenal job, and I sincerely want to thank her. She is a fantastic member for Monbulk. I also want to thank the member for Lowan. We are neighbours and have different stripes, but again I know how hard she has been working on the ground. I have heard really great feedback from people saying just how much she is doing. Fantastic work by the member for Lowan.

On this MPI specifically today, I truly consider the assertion by those opposite that our state’s emergency services are badly run a total slap in the face to the thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly day in, day out to protect our properties, our livestock and our lives across Victoria. Our emergency services members and volunteers are the best trained in the nation. They go up to Queensland to train up the Queensland fire brigade members. We have the best volunteers in the nation right here in Victoria. They are at the top of their game, and to suggest otherwise is just shameful.

What we saw last week during the catastrophic weather events was nothing short of remarkable. We saw an emergency services system that swung into gear and put Victorians at the centre of everything that they did. Incident control centres were stood up instantly. Members of the CFA, SES, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, Parks Victoria, Emergency Management Victoria, Agriculture Victoria and local councils all worked hand in hand. Relief centres were set up within hours, including in Ararat and Haddon in my electorate. Our CFA volunteers banded together as one big family, backing each other with local strike teams deployed to wherever they were needed. This was extremely evident in the Ripon electorate, where almost every brigade from districts 15 and 16 supported each other and sent volunteers to Stockyard Hill, Pomonal, Dadswells Bridge, Newtown and the Ross Creek state forest. Brigades from Lexton, Barkly, Beaufort, Glenorchy, Snake Valley, Burnbank, Redbank, Amphitheatre, Ararat, Avoca, Smythesdale, Ross Creek, Haddon, Napoleons and beyond did not waste a minute in responding. They were aided by hardworking CFA leaders in the region, including Brett Boatman, Fire Rescue Victoria members, firefighting aircraft from the Ballarat Airport and incident control centre staff, who helped coordinate crews and logistics.

Our firefighters work nonstop around the clock to protect our communities, and to suggest that they are poorly managed is frankly offensive. It is so offensive. Our government has backed our emergency services members and volunteers with countless amounts of money and support since 2014, while those opposite have only stood to fearmonger and politicise them. It is laughable for those opposite to come in here and try and act like the heroes of Triple Zero and ambulance services when all they ever did when they had the chance was go to war with our paramedics. We all remember those days, and they were grim days. They were extremely grim. On this side of the chamber we have backed our paramedics and given additional supports to Triple Zero Victoria. On Tuesday and Wednesday last week we rostered extra Triple Zero and SES call centre staff, with over 250 people taking calls. There were an extra 50 people put on. Claims that we did not adequately resource Triple Zero Victoria are simply incorrect, and it is insulting to those amazing staff who turned up in huge numbers to work longer shifts that day.

We also worked hard to reconnect communities whose phone lines were down, and as the member for Monbulk very articulately said earlier, we will be fighting for telco providers to do more to support communities in the future. The Minister for Government Services shared with us yesterday and today that she will be meeting with her federal colleagues about these issues, and our government is calling on the Commonwealth to better regulate our telecommunications industry, as it is primarily a federal responsibility.

More broadly across Victoria we have also boosted our paramedic workforce, including developing the next generation of paramedic practitioners, who will graduate in 2026 and be deployed to rural and regional Victoria. Since 2014 our Labor government has invested more than $2 billion to recruit more than 2200 additional paramedics. We have delivered 35 new or upgraded ambulance stations with construction on another 16 underway. We have upgraded the Ararat ambulance station in my own electorate. We have built brand new stations in St Arnaud and Inglewood. We are also building a new ambulance station in Avoca as we speak, and I am working closely with other communities across Ripon to advocate for more upgrades into the future. This is all in stark contrast to the gloomy Kennett–Baillieu–Napthine years, when those opposite did next to nothing to deliver for our emergency services.

I find the member for Hawthorn’s point about power supply very rich too, coming from a mob who sold off Victoria’s energy supply to private multinationals. Those same private multinationals increased the prices, and they sacked the workers, and we are still left with the damage decades later. The member for Bulleen has said in the past that the privatisation of energy was good for consumers and that Victoria did very well out of it. It was fantastic to privatise our energy market, wasn’t it, even though those decisions sent $23 billion of profit to private companies. Those opposite cannot now feign outrage, as they are now, that our private energy providers did not fix things quickly enough after last week’s catastrophic events.

Our government is working hard to fix the miserable legacy of those opposite and the mess that they left our energy network in by bringing back the State Electricity Commission. We have already invested an initial $1 billion towards 4.5 gigawatts of new power, and this will increase over the coming years to help power our public hospitals, schools, police stations and government buildings. Bringing back the SEC will reduce power bills and create 59,000 jobs. That is right: 59,000 jobs, including at least 6000 apprenticeships. We have also announced an independent review into the energy distribution system’s response to last week’s storms. It will be led by a panel of independent experts, not a panel of politicians. It will focus on the preparedness of energy companies to respond to these extreme weather events, including those who manage transmission lines.

Another important point to make about last week’s extreme storms is that our government is supporting impacted Victorians. The Australian and Victorian governments will provide a prolonged power outage payment, with eligible households to receive $1920 per week for up to three weeks. It will help families buy basic items and find alternative accommodation. Generators are also being distributed, with priority to go to the most vulnerable who are in homes with prolonged power outages. And the waste levy – as you, Deputy Speaker, were talking about earlier – has been waived for storm-impacted residents across 21 local government areas until 30 April so that locals can take their waste to the local tip free of charge, which is fantastic.

We are working hard to ensure families get the support they need to recover as quickly as possible – and it would be nice if those opposite took a leaf out of the member for Lowan’s book and actually helped with practical solutions and support on the ground rather than just throwing cheap jabs for political points. In moments of crisis we see people’s true colours and people’s real leadership or lack thereof. The Premier was a leader last week, visiting communities and pulling up her sleeves to help wherever she could. We did not see the Leader of the Opposition in Ripon, in Lowan, in Monbulk, in so many electorates that were impacted. Our Premier made us all proud, and our rural and regional communities felt supported with her by their side. Meanwhile those opposite were focused on their donor-funded legal defence and not on Victorians in need.

I want to thank our emergency service members and our volunteers again from the bottom of my heart for their tireless work, and my thoughts are with them for tomorrow’s total fire ban, especially in the Wimmera. Our volunteers are the best of us.