Local tragedy used in SES takeover, MP says

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By Shelby Brooks For Pakenham Gazette

Gembrook MP Brad Battin has condemned the United Firefighters Union (UFU) for dragging the tragic death of a Kooweerup woman and her unborn baby into a political fight against volunteer SES services.

The United Firefighters Union has filed action in the Fair Work Commission alleging Fire Rescue Victoria is failing to provide a safe workplace for its members, sparked by reported alleged misconduct of SES personnel at the 4 February crash which killed Tess and Asher Clark on Healesville-Kooweerup Road.

Mr Battin, who served as the Shadow Minister for Emergency Services for six years, described the move as “woeful”.

“Our thoughts are always with the family first and it’s frustrating that a local accident has been brought in as an excuse for the UFU to effectively do what we said they would do months ago, and that is take over the response zones of the SES,” Mr Battin told the Gazette.

As reported by The Age, UFU’s Fair Work Commission complaint says that there was “widespread and frequent occupational health and safety issues impacting FRV operational members when turning out with Emergency Service Organisation volunteering crews to (road crash rescue) scenes.”

UFU Victorian branch secretary Peter Marshall said there was a clear threat to worker and public safety.

“There is no doubt that the same old rhetoric that this is a UFU takeover will be the expected response. Allowing this to continue will be more about trying to keep peace between the agencies – it will not be focused on what is the best outcome for the community or the person trapped in the car,” Mr Marshall told The Age.

But Mr Battin called it how he saw it.

“If it looks like a takeover, it is a takeover,” Mr Battin said.

“We were all praising the SES recently for their response to the storms, so to have something like this in the media effectively questioning them is really disappointing in my view.

“We knew the UFU eventually wanted to take over or remove SESs so they can have the road rescue part of it, because they’re more interested in their union numbers than anything else.”

A VICSES spokesperson said as per agreed protocols, a review was undertaken into the 4 February Pakenham incident response, which included Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), and highlighted no significant issues with the VICSES response.

“No safety protocols were violated by VICSES at this incident,” they said.

“No VICSES photos of the Pakenham victim were captured or exist. No apology was issued nor required and VICSES strongly refutes any claims otherwise. We sympathise with the victim’s family following what was a tragic event.

“VICSES will continue to proudly service the Pakenham and surrounding communities and work hand-in-hand alongside our partner emergency agencies.”

Mr Battin said his thoughts also went out to local volunteers.

“I say to the volunteers we thank and praise the work you do, the community stands with you,” he said.

“If there is ever a time that we need people to come to our aid, we know that volunteers, together with career firefighters, have turned up.

“You can’t have them at war with each other.”

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