Residents from the fire-affected township of Morwell have joined hundreds of firefighters in a march to the Victorian parliament to protest fire service cuts.
Holding placards and chanting “no ifs, no buts, no fire service cuts,” the protesters marched through city streets from Trades Hall to the steps of Parliament House on Tuesday.
The United Firefighters Union (UFU) accuses the government of slashing $66 million from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) operating budgets.
It also says firefighter safety was put at risk during the recent coal mine fire at Morwell when crews went in without breathing apparatus.
Fire stations are also understaffed and the CFA is waiting on the government to deliver 342 extra firefighters.
“I have not seen an attack on fire services like we are seeing under this Napthine-Wells government ever before,” UFU secretary Peter Marshall told the rally.
Morwell local Howard Williams told the rally he couldn’t believe the community was being put at risk by government cuts to the fire budget.
“I’m staggered to find this government is actually reducing your resources,” he said.
Mr Marshall said the union was looking forward to an independent inquiry into the blaze at Morwell, which he said was deserted by authorities and required fire crews to come from interstate to fill firefighter shortages.
“Explosive documents leaked to us show they knew that you shouldn’t have been deployed into the pit without breathing apparatus,” he told the firefighters.
But Premier Denis Napthine said that issue was fixed immediately once it came to the attention of CFA and MFB management.
Dr Napthine also said the CFA and MFB budgets are both more than when the coalition came into government.
Dr Napthine said the board of inquiry into the Morwell mine fire will address the issues raised.
Retired Supreme Court judge Bernard Teague, who headed the Black Saturday bushfires royal commission, will lead the independent inquiry into Morwell’s Hazelwood coal mine fire and report to government by the end of August.