Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Country Fire Service Volunteers

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:58): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Primary Industries, or the minister representing the Minister for Emergency Services, a question about supporting CFS volunteers.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: For almost a decade, we have had a commitment to gender diversity across our emergency and firefighting services. Women have long been frontline firefighters in Australia, indeed for at least three decades, but there is still a long way to go to reach gender parity, with representation believed to sit at about only a third, at best, in many services.

Some barriers to gender equality are cultural. We know stereotypes are pervasive, and ongoing systemic work is quite rightly being done to challenge that sexism. The 2016 Statement on Workforce Diversity by the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services is spearheading that.

However, some barriers are simple and could be solved literally overnight. Due to historic and current lack of funding, CFS stations themselves can be a barrier to attraction, recruitment, and retention of an inclusive and diverse firefighting service. The lack of funding has seen the identification of some important structural issues, specifically taps, toilets and a place to change with dignity and privacy.

Consider this: the siren calls you in in the middle of the night, you rush to service but you have no underwear under your pyjamas. Due to the lack of appropriate changing facilities, you are required to change into your turnout gear in full view of others in your brigade. This is uncomfortable or embarrassing at least, and a dealbreaker to serving, at worst. This is entirely unnecessary as a barrier and is stopping women in particular from getting involved or staying involved with the CFS.

I will acknowledge that it is not the case in every station across our state. Indeed, I note some online feedback to the 2022 upgrades at the CFS station in Yahl, Mount Gambier, which revealed great excitement that they now had 'access to a tap and a toilet'. In 2022, they finally had access to a tap and a toilet. Again, picture if you will, the need to use the bathroom—a basic human need—and the expectation that one will be able to take a slash behind the shed rather than avail themselves of a bathroom, which currently in many CFS stations is not there. My questions to the minister are:

1. Can the minister confirm how many CFS stations do not have the basics of a tap and a toilet?

2. How many have no private change spaces and so require volunteers to potentially strip off in public in cases of an unexpected callout?

3. Will the minister commit to an urgent audit of these structural barriers that also include the broader areas of concern raised by the CFS Volunteers Association about workplace safety hazards such as electrical and other issues or the presence of asbestos?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:01): I thank the honourable member for her question, and, as the minister today representing the minister who represents the minister that the honourable member refers that question to, I will refer that on to refer that on to bring the honourable member back a reply.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I was being accurate.