That is the heading of a press release from the Queensland Premier, the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services and the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (the RFBAQ) issued today, the 11th December 2014.
The Press Release is reporting that the Newman Government has announced that it will introduce legislation to ensure that volunteer firefighters who contract certain cancers will be entitled to compensation without having to prove a direct link between their firefighting and the illness. The RFBAQ welcome this announcement and say this will ensure ‘volunteer firefighters in Queensland will have the same rights to presumptive legislation as any other firefighter without any discriminatory qualifying or attendance prerequisites.’
The Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) s 7(8) includes a statutory presumption that a person who has been employed as a firefighter for the ‘qualifying period’ and who develops a listed cancer, then their employment as a fire fighter is deemed, without further proof, to have ‘contributed, to a significant degree, to the contraction of the disease’ which would make them eligible for compensation (ss 5A and 5B). The problem is that this this is a Commonwealth Act and the Commonwealth does not employ Queensland fire fighters, Queensland does and presumably the right of Queensland firefighters to get workers compensation is governed by the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld).
The Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) has no similar presumptive rule. The RFBAQ has been pushing for this ‘Presumptive Legislation’ (see 2015 Rural Fire Brigades State Election Policy support offer) so they may be able to point to equivalent provisions applying to fire fighters employed by QFES, but I can’t find them.
The United Fire Fighters Union has been pushing for this legislation and in March 2014 they said ‘To date the Australian Parliament, and the Tasmanian, South Australian and Western Australian state governments have all introduced presumptive legislation recognising the same 12 occupational cancers.’ The Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation says ‘The Queensland Government has not indicated any intention to introduce presumptive legislation for Queensland firefighters with a cancer diagnosis’ Presumably today’s announcement means that they are now intending to introduce this legislation, but it confirms that such legislation does not currently exist for employed firefighters in Queensland. Without presumptive legislation,
… the Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia negotiated arrangements with the QFES and WorkCover Queensland to make gathering the required evidence much quicker and less onerous. The Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia can now gather this evidence on your behalf allowing you to focus on your treatment…
Workers’ compensation claims for occupational cancer are being accepted by WorkCover Queensland. The work of the Firefighter Cancer Foundation Australia has resulted in WorkCover establishing a special unit dedicated to managing claims made by firefighters who have developed cancer.
All employed fire fighters are entitled to workers compensation and the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) does provide that WorkCover ‘may enter into a contract of insurance … with the authority responsible for management of a rural fire brigade under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990’ (s 14) and ‘may enter into a contract of insurance … with the authority responsible for the management of the State’s fire services’ that covers ‘a volunteer fire fighter or a volunteer fire warden’. Where there is such a contract then it would entitle those volunteers to compensation in the terms of that contract that, one would expect, would mirror the compensation available to employees. It does not, however, say that WorkCover must enter that contract nor is there an obligation on anyone to take out that contract (compare that to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 154C which requires the Commissioner to take out WorkCover insurance to cover members of the Queensland State Emergency Service).
Queensland’s Rural Fire Brigades are established in when a ‘group of persons … apply to the commissioner for registration as a rural fire brigade’ and that application is accepted (Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 79). As the fire service is not formally part of QFES (see Status of Queensland Rural Fire Brigades (September 10, 2014)) it follows that it must be up to that ‘group of persons’ to obtain that insurance subject to any direction or requirement from the Commissioner (s 80).
So what’s been announced?
It’s really hard to tell but I infer that what’s intended is that the Parliament will introduce presumptive legislation so that all ‘firefighters will be entitled to compensation if they suffer certain work related diseases’. The RFBAQ say ‘volunteer firefighters in Queensland will have the same rights to presumptive legislation as any other firefighter’ which implies that employed fire fighters currently have the benefit of presumptive legislation and that is now being extended to volunteers, but as far as I can tell, that is not correct. Rather this law, if I read the announcement correctly, will introduce presumptive legislation for all Queensland fire fighters. This is not however giving to volunteers a right that employed fire fighters currently enjoy (which the press release suggests) rather it is giving all firefighters that right.
Alternatively, perhaps what’s being announced is a law reform that will ensure that all volunteer firefighters are entitled to workers compensation under the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld). In that case the Bill would ‘ensure ‘volunteer firefighters in Queensland will have the same rights [to Workers Compensation] … as any other firefighter’ but if there is no ‘presumptive’ legislation for employed firefighters, there wouldn’t be any for volunteers and they would have to follow the procedures explained by the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation.
Presumably all will become clear when a Bill is introduced to the Parliament and we can then see exactly what impact the proposed law will have.
Since writing the above I’ve seen the website of Mark Robinson MP. He says (emphasis added):
Fire and Emergency Services Minister Jack Dempsey said the State Government would move to automatically assume that firefighters with cancer developed the disease as a direct result of their firefighting work…
The new laws will apply to all of Queensland’s urban, auxiliary and rural firefighters…
The new laws will be drafted in consultation with employee representative groups such as the United Firefighters Union of Queensland, Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland and the Queensland Auxiliary Firefighters Association.
That makes the position clearer. The Queensland government is intending to introduce presumptive legislation that will cover all fire fighters whether volunteer or paid. This will, when passed, give all fire fighters the same entitlement regardless of their employment status. The laws are not, as suggested by the RFBAQ/Premier/Minister’s joint press release, extending to volunteers with some right that paid firefighters already have.