A Dictator in a Banana Republic


The people of Victoria want their fire services supplied by people who are subject to the orders of people they elect into government – and not by people who are subject to the orders of unelected agents of the federal government.  The people in Victoria outside of Melbourne – the people in what we call country Victoria – want their fire services provided by people who are dedicated to the cause of country Victorians – the Country Fire Authority – and not by people who are dedicated to the cause of the City of Melbourne – the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

The MFB and the CFA have as much in common as Venus and Mars.  They are separated by far more than history and geography.  There is a huge and irreconcilable difference in character – or, if you prefer, soul.  The difference can be stated this way.  The CFA are givers; the MFB are takers; the CFA volunteer themselves for their families, friends, and neighbours; the MFB do it for money.

And what money!  MFB firefighters enjoy pay and conditions that most other workers can only dream of.  This is because they play in a sandpit under the umbrella of an Enterprise Bargain Agreement that is enforced by their protectors in the Fair Work Commission.  They are the people who really run the MFB.

The act of the Victorian parliament that regulates the MFB provides for disciplinary action to be taken by the CEO.  I was the Disciplinary Hearings Officer for the MFB from 2002 until 2016.  The MFB declined to give reasons for the termination. The present CEO and his predecessors have effectively discarded the statutory discipline procedure – they have only applied it on about three occasions in six years.  What drove management to down tools – to go on strike?

What does this tell you about discipline in the MFB?  What does it tell you about the management of the MFB?  In what may be the last case ever heard under that act, senior counsel for the accused said that they were applying to the Fair Work Commission to get it to hear and determine the matter – and so perform a function given by the Victorian parliament to the CEO of that statutory authority.  So much for the parliament of Victoria!  How long will it be before the Fair Work Commission officially takes over running the MFB?  When in trouble the firies run off to them every time.  The UFU and the FWC are very close.

You should get hold of the EBA – it will be about ten times as long as the Australian Constitution, and it is a gift from God for casuists and urgers.  The EBA is a thicket to entrap management, and a dead weight of red tape that annihilates initiative, leadership, and loyalty.

In truth, the whole life and work of the MFB has been blighted by a class war that has gone on for generations – as can happen in a closed shop.  Both sides blame each other.  The lawyers have been on a gravy train for decades.

Whether you blame management or the men – women are in substance banned from the MFB – might depend on where you come from.  But does it matter?  Both sides feed off conflict, demarcation, bush lawyers, and a contempt for women.  The whole body is infected by congealed hate, and you can take your pick for the saddest apostle of hate.

For things to get better in this permanent war zone, there will have to be a sea change in both management and firefighters.  Government must rise above the class war.  At the moment, there is a revolving door for senior management, but the leader of the men appears to have been afflicted with a form of life tenure.  And he looks to have friends in high places.  And after all these years, he still sounds like the loudest boy who cried wolf in Christendom.

There is one step that the government could take right now to start to dispel the class war and put some sanity back in the war zone.  They could start drilling some sense into these men by bringing women up to equal numbers.  That would give us a real chance of breaking the inbred generational chain of hate.

And don’t take my word for just how poisonous this outfit is.  Just ask Sharan Burrow, the former head of the ACTU.  She thought that it was about the worst case of industrial poison that she had seen.  People in the country know all about this poison – it’s in the papers all the time – and they don’t want to be infected by it.

Now you will have some idea of why people in the country are outraged at the suggestion that the MFB might have some say in the fire services that they get.  People in the country like and respect the CFA – at least those who live and serve in the bush; they neither like nor respect the MFB – and that is putting it softly.

Why then are so many in this government so intent on acting against the wishes of so many men and women of Victoria?  Can anyone think of a clean reason why Victoria has been reduced to an adjunct of the Philippines and why the hirelings put into the CFA board will learn the meaning of the word scab?

Which management do you think should go?

2 thoughts on “A Dictator in a Banana Republic

  1. Not sure I agree wth that.

    Rampant culture and behavioural issues evident in CFA. Board has had 3 years to settle an EBA, have failed and they are an arm of an elected government. If they refuse to comply with a direction from their appointors they should resign, then they would be free to explain their reasons for doing so.
    They are, after all, public servants serving at the pleasure of the government.

    If you’re looking for a government to slot for mistreating the CFA, take a look in Canberra, which ripped out $300m since the 2014 Budget.

    I appreciate and enjoy your writing, but feel obliged to challenge your broad-brushed statements and conclusions here.


    • Thanks, Simon. There is plenty more to come. You can have no idea of the anger in country towns like mine. It is red hot. The directors of the CFA were fired for not agreeing to do something unlawful. Why haven’t the directors of the MFB been dealt with for not applying their own law. if you look back to posts about the Most Exclusive Men’s Club in Melbourne, you will get an idea of the problem.

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