New firefighters compensation Panel a cynical bid to kill off laws


Further to our article titled “New Panel to consider compensation for firefighters” whereby the Victorian State Government has recently announced that a “specialist panel” will be created to consider claims for compensation from firefighters who have contracted cancer as a result of their employment, it has come to our attention that this “Panel” has been described as a cynical bid to kill off laws acknowledging the link between firefighting and cancer.

New firefighters compensation Panel a cynical bid to kill off laws acknowledging the link between firefighting and cancer

Panel a hurdle for sick Victorian firies

by: By Melissa Iaria    From: AAP    August 21, 2013

A Panel set up by the Victorian government to help firefighter compensation claims has been described as a cynical bid to kill off laws acknowledging the link between firefighting and cancer.

The government announced the panel on Tuesday, on the eve of state parliament debating a Greens motion on a bill recognising the link between the profession and cancer.

The Firefighters Assessment Panel will be managed by the Victorian Workcover Authority with the support from the CFA and comprise expert medical, technical and claims specialists.

The Greens have introduced a bill aiming to make it easier for Victorian firefighters who contract cancer from their job to obtain compensation by reversing the onus of proof, so if a firefighter suffers from one of 12 specified cancers shown to be common among firefighters, it will be considered work-related, unless proved otherwise.

But Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells says the government will not be introducing presumptive legislation until it considers a Monash report, due next year, and other studies.

“We’ve brought in this other system which we think is a step forward, but we’ll look at the studies that come on board,” he said.

But the opposition, the Greens and the firefighters union say the links between firefighting and cancer are clear.

A small number of firefighters employed by the commonwealth, mostly at airports, are able to claim government compensation after a federal law was passed in 2011.

Greens MP Colleen Hartland says the state government’s decision to set up a panel is disappointing.
“Considering it’s going to be CFA and WorkCover, one is an employer and WorkCover denies there is a link,” she told reporters.
United Firefighters Union spokesman Mick Tisbury says the government should hang its head in shame.

“This is no fix, this is designed to derail Colleen’s motion,” he said.

“We’re only asking to get access to our WorkCover entitlements if we get crook.”

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One Response to “New firefighters compensation Panel a cynical bid to kill off laws”

  1. Government stance on firefighter cancer risk ‘insulting’

    The Napthine government says it is not convinced there is a link between firefighting and certain types of cancers, despite international research and state government-commissioned studies finding a direct link.

    Late on Tuesday night the government announced it would set up a Firefighters Assessment Panel to assist in the management and assessment of professional and volunteer firefighter cancer related claims.

    Elsewhere we’re progressing strong protection enshrined in law; here in Victoria the best Dr Napthine can do for our firefighters is a panel. It’s insulting.

    The panel, to be managed by the Victorian Workcover Authority, comes in the face of continued pressure for the government to back presumptive legislation that gives firefighters easier access to compensation for cancer, by removing the onus of proof on firefighters who contract specific cancers.

    In 2011 the Federal Parliament, with the support of all parties, passed similar laws following international studies. An inquiry by the federal Senate has also found that firefighters have a higher rate of cancer due to the chemicals they are exposed to. At least three other states are pursuing similar laws.

    Greens MP Colleen Hartland is pushing for similar laws in Victoria, that would also cover volunteers – the plan has the support of the Labor Opposition.

    “We are not convinced that there is a direct link between cancer and the firefighters,” Emergency Service Minister Kim Wells said on Wednesday morning.

    Monash University is currently conducting a study into the effective prevention of cancer and other adverse health outcomes in firefighters. Mr Wells and the government are keen to see the result of that study, due in September next year, to further inform its view on presumptive legislation.

    But recent advice from the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research for the state government found there was a good reason to mirror the Commonwealth laws.

    “The draft opinion concludes that there is a reasonable basis, from a scientific perspective, for the Commonwealth changes,” the study said.

    In October, Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips asked WorkSafe to investigate firefighters’ presumptive legislation and its potential costs.

    The report also shows that state treasury was concerned about setting an “undesirable” precedent if presumptive legislation was adopted.

    The report said that Treasury had “significant concern that shifting to a ‘weight of evidence’ approach, which might be required if the Cth [Commonwealth] list were adopted, would be likely to set an undesirable precedent.”

    A Workcover analysis of the proposal showed the Country Fire Authority would have to fork out an extra $130 million a year in claims if firefighters with certain cancers were given automatic access to workers’ compensation.

    In June the Monash researchers, Associate Professor Deborah Glass and Professor Malcolm Sim, wrote to politicians saying there was already enough evidence to proceed with the presumptive legislation.

    “We believe that there is already good evidence from a very large number of previous human studies that work as a firefighter is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer,” they wrote in June.

    Unlike the Commonwealth laws, the proposed laws also cover the nearly 60,000 volunteer firefighters in the CFA. The state government is worried about the potential huge cost of compensation.

    It is understood that there are government MPs who want to support the plan, especially those from the bush who are under pressure from local brigades.

    The United Firefighters Union and the Greens condemned the panel, which was announced the night before Greens MP Colleen Hartland was due to introduce a motion – with firefighters watching on – calling on the government to introduce the plan.

    United Firefighters Union spokesman Mick Tisbury told Fairfax Media that the proposed panel was a cynical attempt by the state government to avoid its responsibility to firefighters with work-related cancer.

    “Instead of allowing firefighters with work-related cancer to access WorkCover – like any other injured worker in this state – they now propose new hurdles such as this vague panel with unspecified accountability,” Mr Tisbury said.

    “It’s clear today that they cannot rely on politicians to care for them when they’re battling work-related cancer.”

    Ms Hartland said the government was offering a second-rate option.

    “Elsewhere we’re progressing strong protection enshrined in law; here in Victoria the best Dr Napthine can do for our firefighters is a panel. It’s insulting,” Ms Hartland said.

    Shadow Emergency Services Minister Jacinta Allan said governments around the world and around Australia had already recognised research and inquiries that showed a direct link between firefighters and cancer.

    “It appears Denis Napthine and Kim Wells are the only ones who are ignoring the science, ignoring the expert advice and in doing so they’re turning their back on firefighters at a time when they need support the most,” Ms Allan said.

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