Victoria’s new urban firefighting force would not have a board or chief executive, raising concerns that its new commissioner would simply act as a rubber stamp for government.
Under the controversial overhaul of firefighting, Fire Rescue Victoria will be set up to replace the MFB and take control of 35 CFA stations in built-up areas that currently have paid firefighters.
Legislation to create FRV is due in parliament in next week, with its fate set to be decided by the crossbench in the upper house.
Much of the bill subsumes the MFB act and critically includes provisions to abolish the role of chief executive and an independent board and reinvest the powers in a commissioner.
The government says the arrangement would be similar to other Australian emergency services and Victoria Police.
The plan to remove the board has the full backing of the United Firefighters Union, with national secretary Peter Marshall saying the current structure meant fire services were being run like a corporation rather than an emergency service.
“A board with the power of direction actually interferes with the running of the fire service and has been shown to have historically done so,” Mr Marshall said.
But senior sources in the field say removing the board removes an important level of independence and scrutiny.
Under the radical firefighting reforms, the CFA would become a volunteer-firefighter-only force but retain an independent board.
Other sources say that an independent board also provides the minister with protection from political exposure especially in the case of major problems, as well as pressure from central agencies trying to push an agenda.
The current MFB board has opposed the United Firefighters Union’s workplace agreement proposal and has criticised existing consultations as giving too much power to the union over key decision making.
Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said the use of a commissioner was consistent with recommendations from the Fire Services Review and emergency management best practice.
This article was originally published by The Age.