CFA crisis continues: Jane Garrett resigns

RELATED: Wimmera volunteer speaks out about CFA disputeWimmera firefighters battle to be heardEMBATTLED emergency services minister Jane Garrett has resigned from cabinet because she was unable to support the cabinets proposal to end the bitter CFA enterprise agreement dispute.
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Premier Daniel Andrews released a statement accepting Ms Garret’s resignation.

“Despite all concerns previously raised by Ms Garrett being addressed, she had indicated she refuses to support Cabinet proposals to end the long-running dispute over the CFA enterprise agreement,” Mr Andrews said.

Ms Garrett has been vehemently opposed to the government’s proposed deal with the firefighters union.

She has shared the CFA and volunteers’ concern that the deal, as it stands, would undermine the role of volunteers and management to do their job.

​What this means for the CFA board, who have opposed the agreement, and their fears the Andrews’ government will capitulate to the demands of the United Firefighters Union is yet to be determined.

Ms Garett’s resignation comes as asenior government minister wasforced to mounta humiliatingretreat after claiming in Parliament key elements of its industrial dealwith the firefightersunion had been cleared by the Fair Work Commission boss.

In the latest debacle capping off a shambolic week for the Andrews government,Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins was forced admit to Parliament thatshe “mispoke” after claiming Fair Work president Iain Ross had said the deal would improve diversity in the fire services.

“In an attempt to summarise complex issues for the benefit of the house I paraphrased in a way that unintentionally overstated the President’s comments,” Ms Hutchins said.

After a crisis meeting in Premier Daniel Andrews’ office on Thursday afternoon,Ms Hutchins has written an apology to Mr Ross, which he has accepted.

And in a sign that the industrial standoff with the CFA continues, the board said it hadlegal advice from a senior counsel that “unlawful terms” remain in the latest version of the deal and it would not sign.

That followed a finding from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that key elements of the deal breach diversity laws.

Cabinet is set to meet on Friday to discuss the finalised role of Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley’s role overseeing the implementation of the controversial deal.

But others in caucus are angry at the government’s handling of the entire chaotic week.

“What does it look like to volunteers? The IR minister has had to recant. A minister can’t even read a two minute statement and get it right,” a caucus source said.

“It is pretty poor to see ministers taking pot shots at each other,” another said.

Labor is hoping that the dispute will be resolved this week. Otherwise, the government will be forced to resort to a “plan B” option likely to involve sacking the CFA Board.

Following question time where Ms Hutchins said she had been given assurances that the agreement would not damage diversity,Opposition industrial relations spokesman John Pesuttospoke to Mr Ross and was told nosuch assurances had been given.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy accused the government of trying “every tactic in the book” to force the CFA board – including verballingMr Ross. He said under the precedentsof the Westminster system Ms Hutchins should resign.

Ms Garrett was grilled in parliament by the Opposition.

“The board and the CEO agree with me and this government that we want a resolution to this dispute that supports both career and volunteer firefighters,” she said.

Before question time Mr Andrews said he was “very, very positive” the government was making progress.

“We are making real headway, real progress and I am just so determined, so determined, to make sure that we get a good outcome for volunteers, for the career firefighters, because unless we do that, we’ll be compromising the safety of our state,” hesaid.

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