CITIZENS' RIGHT OF REPLY

ACT Volunteer Brigades Association take offence at remarks made in the Legislative Assembly by Simon Corbell, Minister for Police & Emergency Services about the Association during parliamentary debate on the 15 March 2007 as reported in the EDITED PROOF TRANSCRIPT.

Our Association wishes to use the process of Citizens' Right of Reply to respond to those remarks and to ask for our response to be published in the parliamentary record.

Below is the relevant section (page 630)
or see here Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 3 Hansard (15 March) . . Page.. 630..

Emergency Services Agency-consultation

MR MULCAHY: My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. Minister, on 6 March 2007 the new Commissioner for Emergency Services and you announced a new management structure for the Emergency Services Agency. In the business plan for the agency for the period to 2009-10 it says that the agency will "engage and value our people through careful and considered consultation and acting in an ethical way to all". The Volunteer Brigades Association today issued a media release stating that the restructure was "made without any meaningful discussion" with them. Minister, why did you and your commissioner fail to implement the requirement to engage in effective consultations before the new management structure was finalised?

MR CORBELL: We did not. What occurred in relation to the restructure is that a briefing on the restructure and the new business plan was provided to representatives of the volunteer brigades, to brigade captains and to SES commanders the day before the announcement, and the invitation was made for further discussion on the details of that in the coming weeks. The response, regrettably, of the volunteers in this regard was not to come back with further comments, not to seek further meetings, but to hold the rally they did today.

That is their decision. They are entitled to approach it in that manner. But the offer was made at the time for further discussion. That offer remains and that will be reiterated by the commissioner in the coming day or so, when he will reiterate his offer to sit down and discuss these issues in more detail. I think the issue that we need to address in particular is that, if the volunteers have concerns about how the management structure will impact on their operational affairs, we need to have that discussion. We stand ready to have that discussion and the invitation will be made again to the volunteer groups to invite them to engage in that discussion.

MR MULCAHY: I ask the Minister a supplementary question. Minister, why have you not provided sufficient time to the four services to consider and comment on the changes to the structure of the ESA?

MR CORBELL: I think I have just answered that question.

In response to Mr Mulcahy question Mr Corbell responded " and the invitation was made for further discussion on the details of that in the coming weeks. The response, regrettably, of the volunteers in this regard was not to come back with further comments, not to seek further meetings, but to hold the rally they did today."

There were 5 people at that briefing the ESA Commissioner, Mr Pat Barling (President of the ACT Volunteer Brigades Association) Mr Val Jeffery (representative of the ACT Fire Controller Group) Mr Kevin Jeffery (Chair of the ACT Bush Fire Council) and Miss Vicki Munslow (representative of the ACT SES Senior Leadership Group).

No such invitation was ever made by the ESA Commissioner or for that matter by the Minister. Up to the time of the volunteers protest on the 15 March no correspondence was received by our Association with respect to further discussions on the restructure. We believe that the Minister has misrepresented the ACT Volunteer Brigades Association and mislead the Assembly on this matter.

Our Association notes that very little notice was given to the us to attend this briefing, less than 12 hours. This lack of notice in itself (which is also at odds with the Governments own ACT Government Community Engagement Service Charter) shows a complete lack of respect for our Association on such an important issue and is further evidence that no consultation was ever intended.

Further to this the position for Deputy Commissioner was advertised in the ACT Government Gazette on 15 March 2007 again suggesting no consultation was ever intended.

The Media Releases put out on the 6 March by the ESA Commissioner states

The draft ESA Three-Year Business Plan also includes a new structure for the ESA. "After reviewing the current structure and considering budget overruns for the previous two years I have determined some changes are necessary," Commissioner Manson said.

There is no reference to a Draft restructure or any suggestion that it is up for any consultation Community or otherwise.

There are 3 "injured parties" that have been adversely affected in reputation by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Simon Corbell. Firstly the Rural Fire Service volunteers of the ACT, secondly the ACT Volunteer Brigades Association and me, personally, as the President of the VBA.

In a future interpretation of the Hansard of 15th March, 2007 any reasonable person would assume from Mr Corbell's reply to Mr Mulcahy from the following transcript -

" ... and the invitation was made for further discussion on the details of that in the coming weeks. The response, regrettably, of the volunteers in this regard was not to come back with further comments, not to seek further meetings, but to hold the rally they did today.

That is their decision. They are entitled to approach it in that manner. But the offer was made at the time for further discussion."

- that the volunteers were offered an opportunity for further discussions, that they refused an invitation to have further discussions on the restructure and that they chose to have a rally as an alternative to further discussions. The transcript implies that the volunteers were unreasonable and uncooperative over the issue of the restructure.

The truth of the matter is that no invitation for further discussion regarding the restructure of the ESA was ever given to me personally, as President of the VBA, or to the other delegates present for further discussion; in fact the door of consultation was slammed in our faces.

Bushfire volunteer's pride themselves on their commitment to the ACT community and to have the Minister imply that they are unreasonable and uncooperative, from a future historical view of this issue, adversely affects their reputation.

The Minister states previously in Hansard of the same day:

"My door has always been open to volunteers. I have never refused a meeting. I have always sat down and talked to them. I have met with the VBA on numerous occasions."

For the Minister to claim that the VBA refused "to come back with further comments, not to seek further meetings" is offensive as the Minister knows full well that no invitation was made to the VBA. Again, he implies that the VBA are confrontationist and unwilling to discuss issues on the restructure, and that from a future historical view of this issue adversely affects the VBA's reputation.

The Minister knows full well the countless hours that I, as President of the VBA, have put in unpaid hours, in attending meetings with himself, the CEO of JaCS and the ESA Commissioner and Acting Commissioners to resolve issues relating to RFS & SES volunteers. He knows that I prefer to work with the various level of management/bureaucracy and I have always tried to avoid "media events". For the Minister to imply that I would refuse to have a meeting on the restructure issue and would rather hold a "media event" does my reputation a great disservice. I have never contacted the media, except in the case of official media releases as President of the VBA. The only exceptions to this have been when the media has, in fact, contacted me in response to statements and actions of the Minister, the Government, JaCS and the Commissioner.

The Minister has mislead the Assembly in replying to Mr Mulcahy and in doing so has adversely affected the reputation of the ACT RFS volunteers, the VBA and Pat Barling (President of the VBA).

I request that this response on behalf of the RFS volunteers, the ACT VBA and Pat Barling (President of the ACT VBA) be included in the parliamentary record in Hansard.

Mr Pat Barling
(President of the ACT Volunteer Brigades Association)

Last updated 4 November 2014