JOHN PEBERDY, SACKED CFA BOARD CHAIRMAN

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MITCHELL

MELBOURNE RADIO 3AW 693

MONDAY 20 JUNE 2016, 9.08am

Issues: CFA board sacking, EBA, union influence

MITCHELL

In simple terms, tell me why you didn’t want to sign the EBA

JOHN PEBERDY

Well basically Neil there’s been a long process as we all know trying to get this EBA signed off but our view was the EBA was unsatisfactory document, there were many clauses in there that were unsatisfactory to us and we didn’t believe that we would be acting in the best interests of CFA, which is our first responsibility as board members, we are an independent board and when we look at the document there’s no way we could sign that document.

MITCHELL

Why? What does it do overall to the CFA?

JOHN PEBERDY

First thing Neil, we were very keen not to have veto type clauses in our EBA.

The CFA is a very different organisation to the MFB in that we have a mixed workforce of volunteers and career firefighters and therefore to put in veto changes the whole nature of CFA.

The Act says that we’re a volunteer based fire & emergency services organisation and with the way veto could be used that wouldn’t be the case going forward and we think that fundamentally changes CFA to a very detrimental affect to the state.

MITCHELL

Did it mean, as has been speculated upon, that effectively the UFU would be running the CFA?

JOHN PEBERDY

It would mean that management could made decisions that could be overturned or disagreed with and we’d be down at Fair Work.

We felt we would be living at Fair Work, our senior management would be there every day pretty well, trying to deal with the many veto clauses that are there.

Because it gives the UFU the opportunity to say no we don’t agree with management, we want that changed.

MITCHELL

So you actually would be losing control of the organisation

JOHN PEBERDY

Oh very much so. Very much so.

MITCHELL

And who would be controlling it?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well it, it would become a very frustrating process and that’s one of our concerns, already we’ve spent a lot of time in recent years at Fair Work trying to sort out very minor disputes and there wasn’t, there were clauses that were similar to veto but not full veto as per the agreement that’s now been put forward and it really would be very, very difficult for management to actually be in control and certainly for our two current, well Lucinda’s no longer current, but for Lucinda and Joe Buffone, particularly Joe Buffone, he would lose control of the resources which is the firefighting complement which is both career and a lesser extent volunteers, but there’s clauses in there that change the very nature of we are CFA, we are one CFA.

MITCHELL

Is it correct there were 50 clauses with power of veto?

JOHN PEBERDY

Yes, there were about 50 clauses of power of veto, yes.

MITCHELL

mmm.

Do you think that, the bottom line in the CFA is we want it to do the good job it’s done.

JOHN PEBERDY

Correct.

MITCHELL

In protecting people and fighting fires.

Did what was happening with the EBA, possibility of undermining firefighting capability?

JOHN PEBERDY

I think there are some concerns over the clauses around 7 on the fire ground for example.

Now there’s a little bit of misunderstanding, this really only applies in areas where there are the integrated stations but currently there isn’t a distinguishing way of thinking of an incident controller.

It could be a career firefighter if they’re there first. If it was a volunteer brigade gets there and they set up the incident control then the volunteer would be the incident controller.

Well we’re getting to the stage where the EBA really says, no, career firefighters only report to career firefighters. They don’t report to volunteers.

If a volunteer is running an incident and the career people arrive then the volunteer would have to hand over to the career firefighter.

MITCHELL

Well that sounds potentially dangerous.

JOHN PEBERDY

It is potentially dangerous and certainly not the way that, I mean the career firefighters do a fantastic job, they are well trained but so are the volunteers and we have incident controllers within our volunteer ranks who are very experienced in particularly in some of the areas where, we’re not talking about structured fires here, we’re more talking about bushfires and things like that.

You really want the first people there to take control and get on with the job. And that may be a volunteer brigade, even in an area where there isn’t integrated station. Now, we think there are safety issues around that that are important.

MITCHELL

And the integrated stations are spreading aren’t they?

JOHN PEBERDY

There will be more integrated stations, I mean we don’t hide from the fact that as you know we have 342 new firefighters out of the Bush Fire Royal Commission, that was a recommendation from the Commission and now we have another 350 firefighters being added.

Most of those firefighters will be station staff. So we will have more integrated stations and we’ll need that Neil.

The peri-urban area of Melbourne and bigger cities and towns around Victoria do need integrated stations, there are big issues for CFA going forward, we’re well aware of that.

MITCHELL

What about cost? I mean there’s been widely varying estimates of what this EBA will cost the CFA, will cost the tax payer if you like, what do you think?<span “=””>

JOHN PEBERDY

Well I challenged our management on the numbers because the numbers are varied between $140m and $1.2b and the figure that I’ve been given by our Chiefs at the CFA has been about $6 to700m.

One of the things with the integrated model is that it is quite a high cost model simply because it’s not just the cost of firefighters of course we have to build a new station, new stations have to have accommodation and as you know as soon as you start putting in accommodation and bathrooms and so on the whole cost goes up considerably and there’s a lot of hidden cost in the CFA that isn’t seen as part of base budget [?]

So the CFA is already struggling to manage its budget because of things like overtime and so on that are simply what happens when you have a lot more career firefighters, but Neil we will need them going forward.

All the CFA is asking is to make sure that we are properly funded for them when they come along.

MITCHELL

So the government estimates $147m, your estimates were $6 to 700m.

JOHN PEBERDY

Correct. Yes.

MITCHELL

mmm. OK. And there are others saying over billion.

The other thing that puzzled me is, there was an injunction which prevented you from signing the EBA right?

JOHN PEBERDY

Correct.

MITCHELL

Were you in fact sacked for not signing the EBA?

JOHN PEBERDY

We..

MITCHELL

Because if you were its contempt of court, surely?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well, let’s put a lawyers to really sort out.

We.. the action all happened Friday a week ago, of course we were aware that, we had been working quite significantly, there had been attempts made both with Fair Work and also within Government to get us to a point where we would agree to sign the agreement that week.

We report to a Minister as a board.

There had been discussion with Minister Garrett and Minister Garrett certainly wasn’t prepared, had not changed her view on really asking us to sign the agreement and then when Minister Garrett resigned, with no real changes to the EBA.

That was our problem, nothing was changing, all the clauses were there, the words that Commissioner Roe gave us in that negotiation down at Fair Work, which was, they were always going to be non-binding recommendations, that was simply an attempt to move the thing forward.

But the contentious clauses weren’t being removed from the EBA and so at the end of the day, we had legal advice saying some of the clauses are just straight out of legal.

We’d already had some work done by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and they were very concerned with fire emergency services as far as meeting the requirements of initial [?]employment standards, and so nothing was changing Neil.

So how could we, to do that would be backing down. We would lose our integrity as a board if we had changed that, I mean obviously the volunteer association was very concerned about the impact on volunteers, and they were talking regularly with us, so we were being asked to sign basically a document that had been around for about a month and a bit but they’d been nothing withdrawn from it.

MITCHELL

But were you sacked because you wouldn’t sign it?

JOHN PEBERDY

Definitely. Yes. Yes.

MITCHELL

But you’ve got a court injunction saying you can’t sign it?

JOHN PEBERDY

There is a court injunction, that’s right taken out against CFA by the VFBV to say that we couldn’t sign the document, we had to have further negotiation with the volunteers.

MITCHELL

The new board can’t sign it either then, can they?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well that injunction, believe it or not, runs out on Wednesday so

MITCHELL

[inaudible]

JOHN PEBERDY

Well Neil, the one thing I’d say, and it’s not for me to comment on the new board, that’s the Government’s business.

But at the moment we have 5 board members of a board of 9, the 4 that are not there are the volunteer association members.

And I would hope that the agreement doesn’t get signed before the board has it’s volunteer association members because I think that would be very, very poor form for the Government to actually push it through when there are no volunteers on the board when the Act specifically says the board will comprise 9 people of which 4 will be volunteers.

MITCHELL

Lucinda Nolan, a good Chief Executive?

JOHN PEBERDY

Excellent Chief Executive.

MITCHELL

Jane Garrett a good Minister?

JOHN PEBERDY

Very, very impressive Minister. Learnt so much without and about, highly respected by certainly by a lot of people in the CFA.

Both of those people have spent a lot of time in the field meeting with firefighters whether they be career or volunteer, visiting stations, attending events.

MITCHELL

Do you know what’s happened here, does Daniel Andrews not understand the culture of the CFA?

JOHN PEBERDY

I think we probably have an ideology issue Neil.

That’s how I’d describe it. I think we’ve got ideology versus governance taking place here and at this stage ideology is winning.

The CFA is a very complex organisation because of the natures you’ve already heard.

There are other unions involved with CFA as well. And within the EBA there’s an attempt to get firefighters into roles that are currently not firefighter roles, they’re actually roles that are filled by people from other unions for example, our peer support people, our volunteer support officers and brigade administrator support officers.

So Mr Andrews clearly is aligned with the unions, we know that, we don’t hide from that. Mr Andrews is quite public about that.

But the CFA is a much more complex organisation, we have 800, around 800 firefighters, career firefighters and 60,000 volunteers.

Therefore as a board, we just can’t roll on this one.

MITCHELL

What’s the future of the CFA?

Now you’re gone, Lucinda gone, the Minister gone, the EBA will be signed it would seem. What happens?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well the CFA is essential for Victoria. It’s a very important part of the safety of Victoria and I think it has to be worked out.

I think over time Neil, as it happened in many other areas, we just have to reduce the role of the union in this and that’s different to our career firefighters because I’ve already said there will be more career firefighters going forward but I think the union has to have some of its power withdrawn so that we can, the CFA can get on and function.

It’s really important

MITCHELL

But what if that doesn’t happen. At this stage it’s not going too. What’s the effect that has on the CFA?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well morale is down. And when moral is down you’ve got problems, even in the field.

I mean one thing that has not really been evident, in the field, our firefighters fight together and they do it extremely effectively, but my fear is that this can actually lead to class wars if you like within the CFA and that would not be helpful and it would put peoples’ lives in danger, including firefighters themselves.

MITCHELL

People’s lives in danger?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well simply, if people are not cooperating.

I mean there are incidents that have happened in Victoria and they’ve been inquiries into what happened between say the CFA and DEPI for example, in the old days in one of those alpine fires.

So we do need all of the agencies working together and that’s the role Craig Lapsley plays as Emergency Management Commissioner, to bring that together and that for Craig, inter-operability, is absolutely key to the future.

MITCHELL

Would it be fair to say that you’re nervous about the future?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well I’m certainly nervous, simply because I think that we in the last 6 months, since Lucinda and Joe went into those roles, we’ve been working on a brand new strategic plan, we’ve started to really focus a lot longer term into the future and I’d hate to see that work get lost because I think it’s essential that the CFA gets more flexibility into it, we’ll need different models.

At the moment the career model is a bit of a one-size fits all, but we have no part-time work, we don’t have day shifts generally, everyone works within 14 shift other than the [inaudible] senior officials of course and there are a lot of inequities in CFA.

There’s a lot of work to be done in this organisation to get it fit for purpose for the future and I hope that we don’t now lose some of that great works that’s been done because that would be shame for Victoria.

MITCHELL

Yeah but you’re worried we will because the union is in control?

JOHN PEBERDY

Well, I worry that we will, but also, we’ve lost some time as well. We’ll lose time.

I mean when a new board comes in they’ve got to really pick up pretty quickly, obviously, we haven’t had a proper handover or changeover, they just come in and they are now the board and they’re going to have to pick it up.

Lucinda’s not there. And it’s a big job for Joe at the moment he’s got Chief Executive Officer and Chief Officer responsibilities so it’s a tough time for CFA.