Joe Buffone ex CFA Chief Officer (resigned today) – Interview with Tom Elliot

Mr Joe Buffone, the latest and most significant casualty in the Premiers war on the CFA

Link to Audio File:

Transcript – MELBOURNE RADIO 3AW 693

THURSDAY 30 JUNE 2016, 3.10pm

Issues: His resignation as CFA Chief Officer


Joe I have in front of me a press release from the new Emergency Services Minister, James Merlino, he claims that you resigned because of an argument over money and seniority.  Is that correct?


That is absolutely incorrect Tom.

I just want to make a couple of things fairly clear but before I do that Tom, could I just first of all acknowledge the fantastic work that the volunteers, the career staff and the support staff that they do in making Victoria safer.  I just want to acknowledge that.

The next thing I want to touch on Tom is that my position has been very clear about the EBA and the potential impact on the role, on my legislative role, or not so much my role anymore, and the role of the Chief Fire Officer and how that is discharged.

I’ve made that clear in the Commission.  I’ve made that clear in public, I formally wrote to the Minister and I formally wrote to the new Chair, so the new Minister and the new Chair, outlining my concerns.

Well basically when they first came online.  So that’s been my absolute focus.  My commitment has been about doing my job, being apolitical, unbiased and discharging my duties.

Now what has been released Tom, is concerning to me.  And it is concerning because I submitted my resignation because I got to the position where it was untenable for me to continue in my role where I had a different of where I would be going and discharging my role.

So I made that very, very clear.

I had discussions with the new CEO.  I had discussion with the new Chair.  I had discussions with the Emergency Management Commissioner and they were all encouraging me to stay.  So much so that that was continuing.

I wasn’t’ staying and then they continually made offers of what could encourage me to stay on.

Now I want to make a couple of things really clear Tom around how this has been betrayed.

The first thing is, my position about equal standing is not about status.

If you go to the Royal Commission, or if you go to Fire Services Review, it makes it very, very clear that the role of the Chief Officer needs to have the right standing within the organisation.

Now I was being asked to continue in a very, very difficult environment where I still have very strong, a very strong position and I also have legal advice that the facts that they are putting around the current EBA did not remedy my concerns.

Now I haven’t had any formal replies to any of my formal correspondence and therefore I made a decision that it was untenable.


So you put your concerns about the EBA in writing to James Merlino, new ES Minister and you received no formal response from him?


That’s correct.

And also to the new Chair.


I find that astonishing.

You were until a few hours ago, the senior CFA firefighter.  You put your concerns about the EBA to the Minister and the Minister does not get back to you?


That’s correct.

Um, in addition to that Tom I do want to clarify that point about the status.

And then at the end of the day this is not about money because I have walked away from a job that I love.

I’ve walked away from a career that I have dedicated my life to and I have walked away even from my notice period, so this is not about money Tom.  This is about wanting to be able to discharge my legislative role and being able to look after everybody in the CFA and Victoria.


Well let’s just focus on that.  Because one of the big issues I’ve had with the EBA *

Is that the CFA ACT * says that the  Chief Fire Officer has complete discretion to deploy assets and personnel as he or she sees fit.

And yet the EBA says that no you don’t have that discretion you have to consult and agree with the UFU.

Was that one of the big sticking points for you?


That’s correct.  That’s one of the sticking point.

The other one is that the Act clearly says that the Parliament recognises that the Authority is first and foremost a volunteer based organisation, in which volunteer officers and members are supported by employees in a fully integrated manner.

I’ve also got a whole range of others which are around order and control all CFA so the order and control all CFA and brigades, groups, officers and members.  The practice requires a permanent and volunteer brigade.

All the apparatus, the control and direction of brigade, the purpose of the preventing,  extinguishing or restricting the spread of fire throughout Victoria and taking any reasonable measures for the protection of life and property.

Now all the advice, and bear in mind Tom, this is not just I sought best possible advice to come to this position and there is nothing to give me the confidence that it’s going to remedy it so therefore I have no option but to resign.


You felt you had no option to resign.  Lucinda Nolan resigned.  The former board was sacked.  Jane Garrett resigned.

Why do you think the Government is being so pig-headed about this when so when senior people like yourself feel they have no choice but to resign?


Tom I wish I actually understood that and I wish that I could actually answer it.  I can’t answer that.


Does the UFU have some sort of secret power over the government that the rest of don’t know about?


Oh Tom, that’s not a question for me to answer I’m sorry.


You do sound emotional, you say that you love the job, it’s not about the money.  How are you feeling right now?  *


Tom to be honest I feel absolutely guttered at the moment, I have walked away from a job that I love.  I’ve walked away from an organisation that is incredible and it is hurting at the moment.  The organisation is hurting.

And that’s why, yes I do sound a little bit emotional but I’m actually level headed.  I’m actually OK, I’ve thought very, very carefully about this.  This is not an emotional reaction.

I’m also hurt that the is an attempt to discredit me when in actual fact I have discharged my duties in a professional manner.

I’ve brought on a new board, I’ve brought on a new Chair, I brought on a new CEO and in that period I have been absolutely committed to making sure that the organisation remains stable and I had do it the best interests in the people of Victoria and people of CFA.  That is both career and volunteers.

So yes I’m guttered.


Until a few hours ago you were the Chief firefighter of the CFA.  What does your resignation mean for all those volunteers out there?  Do you think they might resign on mass as well?


OH Tom, I would not be asking them to do that.  I would want everybody in the CFA to keep doing the work that they do.  That’s been my consistent message.  Focus on our common purpose and common purpose is about service to the community.  That’s what CFA is about.

CFA is the community Tom.  Some of those volunteers are generations of serving the community.  If you go into some rural areas they will tell you I do not volunteer because it’s a hobby I volunteer because it is a duty to protect my community.


OK, I know the new temporary Chief Officer has been appointed.  Steven Warrington [sp?]

Do you think it will be possible to find a permanent replacement for you, given what’s happened?


Ah look, I think that’s for the individual to work through what’s needed.   I was seeking to get information and advice and comfort that the remedies that were being looked at would mitigate any of those concerns.  I couldn’t get that comfort, that’s the reason for my resignation.


What message would you like to give to Premier Daniel Andrews, right now?


Oh, to be honest, I probably not want to comment on that at the moment.  I’m focussed on just trying to do the right thing.

I will continue to do that and I prefer not to comment on that.


Would you like to say something to James Merlino who has attempted to besmirch you via a press release?


No, I don’t want to do that either.  I’m focussed on doing the right thing.


What are you going to do now?


Um, I’ve just got to get focussed on the next couple of days and then I’ll just have consider what my future holds but I have, I have nothing immediately planned.