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Senate inquiry to look at CFA dispute bill

AAP logoAAP 15/09/2016 Elise Scott

Federal draft laws aimed at protecting Victorian volunteer firefighters from workplace agreements that limit their work will be investigated by a Senate inquiry.

Labor on Thursday allowed controversial government legislation that intervenes in a bitter dispute involving the Country Fire Authority to sail though the lower house so it can be looked at by a Senate committee.

The government wants to amend the Fair Work Act to prohibit enterprise agreements that limit the CFA's ability to deploy its own volunteers.

It maintains the United Firefighters Union is trying to take control of the CFA.

Cabinet minister Greg Hunt insists the legislation will protect in perpetuity CFA volunteers from a "clear and present" danger.

"This is something that is fundamental to our communities, to our culture, to our sense of who we are," he told parliament.

"And it is fundamental to our safety and to our values."

But Labor accused the government of dividing Victorian communities for political gain.

Bendigo Labor MP Lisa Chesters said bargaining had been ongoing for more than 1000 days but the government only jumped on the issue in the lead-up to the federal election.

"I was outraged then that a prime minister and a workplace relations minister could divide my communities in the way in which they did," she said.

"Communities who work really hard to support one another."

But she said volunteers continued to put the community first.

CFA and State Emergency Services volunteers were on stand-by to provide sandbags and rescue people caught up in Victorian floodwaters.

The opposition also fears the legislation could unintentionally affect other volunteers, such as those working in ambulances.

Liberal Victorian MP Sarah Henderson accused Labor of putting "union mates" before volunteers.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said the bill was a naked political attempt to override bargaining between the Victorian government and volunteers.

"It will be on your head when people don't get the standard of fire cover they deserve."

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