The Victoria Emergency Service Association (VESA) is supposed to take the concerns or ideas of Victoria SES (VICSES) Volunteers to VICSES management and board. Although VESA can start an open dialogue with VICSES and put forward Volunteer concerns, they don’t actually have any powers to help create change or provide a positive outcome for Volunteers. From what I can see VICSES don’t have any obligation to listen to VESA. The only reference I can find of VESA is the Volunteer Accord which I have been told has now expired. To add to this further and I’m no expert but I believe this accord would be invalid since VICSES became a statutory authority in 2005.
My question is: Would it be possible/legal to push for a “Volunteer Association” within VICSES legislation that has the ability/power within the organisation to voice Volunteer concerns or ideas? To provide an independent system outside unit leadership teams and paid staff? An alternative to allow any issues or disputes between Volunteers to be kept in-house without the need to take matters externally?
I always compare VICSES to CFA. Both agencies are statutory authorities, both work under Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), both have a board of directors that are required to report the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. However once key difference aside from the roles each agency is responsible for, the CFA have their Volunteer Association established under the Country Fire Authority Act.
I’m unfortunately not versed enough in any of this legal jargon to confirm to myself whether a: I am talking total nonsense or not and b: If the powers enacted to the CFA Volunteer Association provides them with the powers I believe they should have. So I was hoping you may be able to shed some light on this for me? I suppose to summarise is there a legitimate and constructive way to tip the scales so that volunteers have a voice for the valuable work they perform to keep their communities safe.
And a quick note, I wish to confirm to you that my views and opinions don’t represent that of the Victoria Emergency Service Association.
I have been provided with a copy of the Victoria State Emergency Service Volunteer Accord that was signed on 6 May 2004. That accord ‘recognises that Volunteers operate under the Victoria State Emergency Service Act 1987…’ The 1987 Act has been repealed and replaced by the Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005 (Vic). The accord further says (emphasis added) ‘To ensure that there is ongoing commitment to the principles of this Accord, the Service will facilitate a review four years after its commencement or upon request by any of the parties to the Accord.’ I do not know whether that 4 year review occurred.
The Accord does not, however, have an ‘end date’ that is it is not expressed to be only for a fixed period. There is no reason to think that it does not reflect the ongoing relationship between the VICSES and the VESA. Even though the 1987 Act has been repealed anything ‘created’ under that Act continues to apply under the 2005 Act and any reference to the 1987 Act must now be read as a reference to the 2005 Act (see Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005 (Vic) s 56).
I will however, for simplicity sake, assume for the sake of the argument, that the 2004 Accord is not relevant because, whether it is or isn’t, it doesn’t answer my correspondent’s questions.
My correspondent says that the Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV), ‘the voice of CFA Volunteers’ (http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/volunteer-association/) is ‘established under the Country Fire Authority Act’. Under the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) the CFA ‘is first and foremost a volunteer-based organisation’ (s 6F). The Government, the CFA and the VFBV have agreed to a volunteer charter (s 6G) that:
(a) is a statement of the commitment and principles that apply to the relationship between the Government of Victoria, the Authority and volunteer officers and members; and
(b) requires that the Authority recognise, value, respect and promote the contribution of volunteer officers and members to the well-being and safety of the community; and
(c) requires that the Government of Victoria and the Authority commit to consulting with Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Incorporated on behalf of volunteer officers and members on any matter that might reasonably be expected to affect them.
The CFA is required to ‘have regard to the commitment and principles set out in the Volunteer Charter’ (s 6H). Further, the CFA ‘has a responsibility to develop policy and organisational arrangements that encourage, maintain and strengthen the capacity of volunteer officers and members to provide the Authority’s services’ (s 6H).
The VFBV is given a specific role. It is ‘to enable members of brigades (other than industry brigades) to consider and bring to the notice of the Authority all matters affecting their welfare and efficiency (other than questions of discipline and promotion)’ (s 100). Section 100 has been in the CFA Act since it was enacted in 1958. (In 1958 the section referred to ‘(a) an association of members of urban brigades to be known as the “Urban Fire Brigades Association”‘ and ‘(b) an association of members of rural brigades to be known as the “Rural Fire Brigades Association”‘. Today volunteers are represented by the VFBV regardless of whether they are in an urban or rural brigade.) Sections 6F-6I were inserted into the Act by the Country Fire Authority Amendment (Volunteer Charter) Act 2011 (Vic). There are no similar provisions in the Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005 (Vic).
Let me now turn to the questions asked:
Would it be possible/legal to push for a “Volunteer Association” within VICSES legislation that has the ability/power within the organisation to voice Volunteer concerns or ideas? To provide an independent system outside unit leadership teams and paid staff? An alternative to allow any issues or disputes between Volunteers to be kept in-house without the need to take matters externally?
The answer is ‘of course’. The law is whatever we want it to be. It’s one of the challenges trying to explain legal research in the context of a University. My colleagues in the physical sciences try to understand the way the world works. If they discover something that can be described as a ‘law’ of physics (such as that E=MC2) then E does in fact equal MC2 whether we like it or not. If the formula E=MC2 really is correct, then it is correct. Discover a law of human making however, and if we don’t like it we can change it.
The Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) provides for a volunteer charter and a statutory role for the VFBV, but the Victoria State Emergency Service Act 2005 (Vic) does not. Is it possible to change the SES Act? Of course it’s possible. The parliament of Victoria could easily put sections, akin to ss 6F-6I and 100 in the SES Act if it wanted to. The issue becomes convincing the parliamentarians that it’s a good idea and they should do it. That is not so easy. To get the parliament to change the law I would imagine the members and the VESA would have to lobby the Minister and the Premier, and if they couldn’t be moved the backbenchers and perhaps the opposition. No doubt the Minister and Premier would ask VICSES whether they thought enacting something like s 100 of the CFA Act was a good idea – would it help their work or not? What problem would it fix? So is it possible for that to happen? Of course. Will it happen? That depends on the political will, the perceived problem and whether that’s a useful solution.
Do ‘the powers enacted to the CFA Volunteer Association provide them with the powers [my correspondent believes]… they should have?
That’s hard to say. Of course it requires one to infer what powers my correspondent thinks the VFBV should have, but the reality is that s 100 doesn’t give very specific powers. It creates a role for the VFBV but whether they are successful in that role will depend on much more than just the legislation. It allows the VFBV ‘to consider and bring to the notice of the Authority all matters affecting [the]… welfare and efficiency …’ of members of the Brigades. It doesn’t allow the VFBV to insist that the CFA respond to those concerns in any particular way. The Act does not give the VFBV particular authority to resolve or mediate ‘issues or disputes between Volunteers … without the need to take matters externally’ (by which I infer my correspondent means to the regional and other staff of the CFA). If they do that sort or work they do so by virtue of the willingness of the VFBV to take on that role and the terms of the Association’s rules.
Is there a legitimate and constructive way to tip the scales so that volunteers have a voice for the valuable work they perform to keep their communities safe.
That I can’t answer as I don’t know whether VICSES volunteers do, or do not ‘have a voice for the valuable work they perform’ nor do I want to enter into that debate. Whether the scales need to be ‘tipped’ is a question I cannot answer and will not attempt to do so. If however a volunteer, or a group of volunteers, think that they do not have the voice that they want to have then of course there are ways to change the world. Whether that is lobbying the VESA leadership to take a different approach, running for office with the VESA, lobbying government to change the law or running for Parliament, there are ways to ‘tip the scales’.