POLITICIANS are welcoming the defeat of the controversial fire services bill, but Upper House representative James Purcell says he wishes it had been voted down “on fairer terms”.
The state government’s plan for a restructure of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Country Fire Authority was voted down after a marathon Parliamentary sitting ending on Good Friday morning.
The result was made under controversial circumstances after two Liberal members, who said they did not want to sit on Good Friday for religious reasons and had been “paired” with two Labor MPs, returned to the chamber for the vote.
A “pairing” is an unofficial agreement that, when an MP is unable to attend a vote, a member from the opposing side of politics will also withdraw, so numbers remain matched.
Mr Purcell said the surprise return of the two MPs went against Parliamentary convention and changed the course of the vote.
“They (the Liberals) would have lost,” he said. “It would have got up by one vote.”
Mr Purcell said the way the result had been achieved “put a big dampener on it”.
“At the end of the day we have to play by the rules,” he said. “I’m happy with the result, but I would have liked to see it won on fairer terms.”
Mr Purcell said he had voted against the changes himself as the community made it clear it “didn’t want it to go ahead”. “The CFA volunteers felt that they hadn’t been consulted enough,” he said.
Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell, who sits in the Lower House, said the vote had occurred in the Upper House and she had no knowledge of what went on.
Mrs Britnell described the result as a win for the community.
“It’s extremely good for our community. We’ve worked so hard,” she said.
Mrs Britnell said the strength of the region’s CFA volunteers could be seen in the 1000 firefighters who put their hands up to fight the St Patrick’s Day fires.
“If ever there was evidence we saw it two weeks ago. I was evacuating and driving up Caramut Road all I saw was headlight after headlight coming from Warrnambool, they were volunteers… coming to get the trucks out.”
Shadow Attorney General John Pesutto said the public was unconcerned with the pairing convention.
They cared about “community safety and the ability of our fire services to operate well”.
He said Labor had set its own precedent this week by denying a pair to Australian Conservatives Upper House MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins when she had to withdraw because of illness.
The state government said it was now “considering all parliamentary avenues" to push the legislation through.
– The Standard with The Age