Workers Compensation (Firefighters Presumptive Rights)

I will make a brief contribution to debate on the Workers Compensation (Firefighters' Presumptive Rights to Compensation) Bill 2018.In doing so, I acknowledge that once again Labor and its shadow ministerial team are leading the way from Opposition, within a policy and legislative vacuum created by the laziness of the Government.

Labor has been engaging with and listening to the community on this and many other matters. The Fire Brigade Employees Union [FBEU] and the Rural Fire Services Association have both pledged their support for this legislation and have been at the forefront of the push to protect firefighters in both agencies against the long-term health impacts of the vital work they perform.

To this end, Leighton Drury at the FBEU has been leading the charge and advocating for the health and wellbeing of his members and he should be commended for his contribution to getting this bill before the House.

This bill seeks to introduce amendments to the Workers Compensation Act 1987, the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 and the Workers Compensation (Bush Fire, Emergency and Rescue Services) Act 1987 to provide employed and volunteer firefighters with the appropriate protections should they contract a cancer known to be caused by exposure to hazardous substances while performing firefighting duties. This is especially pertinent as we learn more and more about the health impacts of dangerous firefighting equipment and suppressants such as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid [PFAS].

This bill will bring New South Wales in line with other Australian jurisdictions.

I note that when Labor's shadow Minister for Emergency Services, Guy Zangari, introduced this bill in September, the New South Wales Liberals indicated they were willing to move on the issue. If that is the case, I look forward to them voting for this bill.

Just as Labor was out in front on new legislation to protect emergency services workers and first responders by the roadside, and the Government followed our lead in that respect, we are leading the way on worker health in the emergency services sector and the Government is being shamed into action.

Unlike Labor, however, the New South Wales Liberals have not engaged in a consultative process with the people who matter most in this debate—the firefighters on the frontlines protecting our communities. Labor has engaged with these people, and the bill we are debating today enjoys firefighters' support.

The need for legislation to enshrine in law essential protections for full-time, retained and volunteer firefighters has been acknowledged in every other Australian jurisdiction.

New South Wales remains the only jurisdiction in the nation that is lagging behind without protections for firefighters at risk of contracting certain cancers as a result of their role as firefighters.

Numerous studies have conclusively proven that firefighters are at much greater risk of developing certain cancers as a result of being exposed to hazardous substances in their job. Therefore this bill will ensure that any firefighter who is diagnosed with one of the listed occupational cancers is eligible for compensation without needing to go to excessive lengths to prove a direct cause of the disease.

As the member for Blue Mountains, I know how important it is that the community at large protects firefighters at a time in their lives when they need it. Many of my local firefighters have approached me very humbled and supportive of Labor's move to introduce this bill.

I acknowledge the contribution of Zone Commander Blue Mountains at Fire and Rescue NSW, Selwyn Mathias, and District Manager for the Rural Fire Service [RFS], David Jones, as well as their executive teams and all their crews, every Fire and Rescue station in the mountains and the retained and permanent firefighters who work there, and all of our RFS volunteers who keep our community safe during bushfire season, and the other seasons, who lead us into preparedness and resilience month in and month out.

Fire and firefighters are synonymous with the Blue Mountains.

My community relies on the dedication and bravery of Fire and Rescue firefighters and Rural Fire Service volunteers because of the unique risks of living in a bushland setting.

But we need to acknowledge that at times these workers will need our support and assistance in return, and Labor offers that to the firefighting community today.

I thank all firefighters across this State for dealing with hazardous material in dangerous and unpredictable situations on a daily basis. That is why we are here today, and that is why we are putting forward this important legislation.

I commend the bill to the House and I implore the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government to support it.

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