Victorian Fire Service Reforms: Rebuttable Presumption for Firefighters Claiming Compensation for Cancer

Wednesday 28 June 2017 @ 10.15 a.m. | Legal Research

The Victorian government is currently considering the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017 [VIC] (‘the Bill’). The Bill’s two key amendments are to provide a rebuttable presumption for career and volunteer firefighters suffering from specific cancers to claim compensation, and improve the administration of fire services in Victoria through establishing a variety of authorities and offices.

Compensation Scheme

The Bill provides for the rebuttable presumption in Part 2. The presumption is in favour of firefighters who wish to claim compensation under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013. This presumption only applies to diseases that occur from 1 June 2016, during a period in which the individual has provided their services as a volunteer or career firefighter; or within ten years after that time period of service; or within a specified period prior to that time period; or if the disease occurred outside of that time period, but the individual attended an exceptional exposure event in their capacity as a firefighter. The disease will be taken to have occurred on the earliest day of diagnosis, or death by reason of that cancer. Mr Merlino, Minister for Emergency Services, said in the second reading speech:

‘This will ensure public safety, deliver safe systems that work, provide certainty and stability for our firefighters — volunteer and career — and instil community confidence in the readiness of our fire services.’ 

The list of specified cancers are included in Schedule 1 of the Bill, and include, among others, brain cancer, breast cancer, leukaemia, and prostate cancer.

Establishment of New Authorities

The second key amendment, which is contained in Part 3, will be to the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958 and the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 with the goal of modernising Victoria’s fire services relating to metropolitan areas. In the statement of compatibility which accompanied the Bill, it was noted that this goal is to be achieved through:

  • The establishment of a statutory authority Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV);
  • The establishment of the office of the Fire Rescue Commissioner;
  • The reinstatement of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to a volunteer based organisation with responsibility for rural Victoria;
  • Establishment of the Strategic Advisory Committee; and
  • Establishment of the Fire District Review Panel.

Current Status and Future directions

Currently, the Bill is to be debated in the Legislative Council, after introduction and Second Reading on 8 June 2017. Mr Merlino also noted that a separate bill will be introduced later this year for a scheme for workers undertaking critical fire prevention and suppression work in the department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. An expert committee will be established to advise WorkSafe, through which the scheme will be administered. The Government is also considering the creation of a dedicated assistance fund to support the people who may not fit the relevant criteria. The Legislative Council has also elected to refer the Bill to a committee for further consultation before Second Reading debate.

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Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017, Bill, Second Reading Speeches, and Compatibility Statement as published on LawOne. 

Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act 1958, as published on LawOne. 

Country Fire Authority Act 1958, as published on LawOne. 

Premier of Victoria, 'Delivering Firefighters Cancer Compensation,' (media release), 24 May 2017.

Roma Brittnell, Member for South West Coast, 'Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2017,' (media release), 22 June 2017.

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