Message from George Verry, Chief Executive Officer
The last few weeks has seen a burst of activity on the fire services reform front. I thought it was timely I update you on progress and indicate what is ahead in terms of process and where we intend to focus our efforts.
Our recent actions
So looking back over the last month:
1. On 21 June, UFBA Chairman Rick Braddock met with New Zealand Fire Service Commission (NZFSC) Board Chairman Paul Swain.
They discussed our concerns including the lack of clarity around the proposed direct engagement model, the uncertainty surrounding the future status of volunteer brigades and the future status and funding arrangements of the UFBA.
The key message was that unless these matters were clarified to the satisfaction of the UFBA very shortly, the UFBA would have difficulty supporting the forthcoming Bill at the Select Committee stage.
Paul Swain responded to the effect there was no predetermined agenda on any of these items and that his Board was looking to the UFBA and other stakeholder groups for constructive proposals.
2. On 27 June, we convened a UFBA Board workshop in Wellington to discuss a range of options for direct engagement of volunteers, the future status of brigades and the future status and funding of the UFBA. The meeting was attended by Bruce Kitto the deputy chair of FRFANZ who contributed to the positive debate.
All agreed that the fundamental relationship between the community, the individual volunteer and the local brigade/rural fire force must be retained.
Paul Swain and Paul Baxter attended the meeting for an hour over lunch during which time we presented a high level ‘wiring diagram’ that depicted how we thought the various relationships could be configured in the future.
Both Paul Swain and Paul Baxter considered this approach a very constructive contribution and asked us to progress it through the FENZ Transition Team being established under a sub-committee of the NZFSC Board.
We also proposed a Memorandum of Understanding to address the future status and funding of the UFBA and FRFANZ. Paul Swain invited us to draft a document for the NZFSC Board’s consideration.
3. On 30 June, the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Bill to repeal the two Acts governing New Zealand’s fire services (the Fire Service Act 1975 and the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977) and to give effect to a single unified fire services organisation (FENZ) was introduced to Parliament.
As previously foreshadowed, the Bill takes a contemporary approach to legislation and does not prescribe how the organisation is to be structured or managed. Instead it takes an enabling and permissive approach.
At a very high level, the Bill can be described as setting out the objectives and functions of the organisation and then vesting the power and authority necessary to achieve those objectives in the Board. The Board is then expected to design the detailed systems and structures to deliver the results and delegate such of its powers as it considers necessary to management.
We aim to provide a more detailed analysis of the Bill from a volunteer perspective shortly so I will not dwell on it here except to emphasise:
- Numerous positive provisions contained in the Bill are there as a direct result of our advocacy and intervention
- We are well positioned to secure the interests of volunteers, their brigades/rural fire forces and the communities they represent when the FENZ Board comes to consider the detailed design of the systems and structures to achieve the objectives of the Bill.
4. On 4 July, Chairman Rick Braddock, Director Bill Butzbach and Murray McKee met with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Peter Dunne.
The Minister was well briefed on our concerns and was anxious to allay our fears concerning any possible intention to disturb the primary relationship between a volunteer and their brigade or that the UFBA and FRFANZ would be left high and dry as a result of the reforms.
The Minister was aware of our intention to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Board of the new unified organisation and he thought this was entirely appropriate. He particularly welcomed our advice that we were about to enter into a formal agreement with FRFANZ to work together on matters of mutual interest.
Rick, Bill and Murray came away with the strong impression that the Minister has a deep regard for the work of the UFBA and FRFANZ and fully expects the existing relationship to be carried forward in the new organisation albeit that the role will not be prescribed in statute.
5. On 5 July, the FENZ Bill had its first reading in Parliament.
Amongst other things the Minister had this to say in the course of his speech at the first reading of the Bill:
“Volunteers will move to a direct relationship with Fire and Emergency New Zealand, although they will not become employees as such, and there will still be an important role and place for the United Fire Brigades’ Association.
This bill enables the provision of independent advocacy services and support for volunteers, at no charge to them—the role the UFBA has played for more than a century now.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand will develop a framework for supporting volunteers, based on modern volunteer principles.
Increased support for volunteers recognises their contribution, while not detracting from the support given to the paid workforce.
The bill states that the existing paid and volunteer workforce will retain their entitlements when Fire and Emergency New Zealand is established.
So local brigades will retain their Chief Fire Officers, and Deputy Chief Fire Officers.”
A small number of MPs from all parties in the House spoke to the Bill. There appeared to be a degree of cross-party support for the Bill and the few issues raised were more matters of emphasis than substance. Several speakers suggested they will look closely at submissions from volunteers for evidence of support.
At the conclusion of the first reading, the Bill was referred to the Government Administration Select Committee for detailed consideration. The Committee has called for submissions on the Bill—these close on 18 August 2016.
6. On 7 July, Rick, Bill, Murray, UFBA Communications Manager Loralee Hyde and I attended a FENZ transition stakeholder seminar/workshop in Wellington. Approximately 180 stakeholders from a wide range of organisations were invited.
The Minister and Paul Swain spoke and other members of the Commission, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Fire Service, National Rural Fire Authority and FENZ Transition Programme Team presented on a variety of subjects.
Partnership with FRFANZ
Prior to the start of the seminar, UFBA Chairman Rick Braddock and FRFANZ Chairman Kevin Ihaka formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the parties. Minister Dunne and Paul Swain attended the signing ceremony and expressed their congratulations.
The Minister referred to the joint UFBA/ FRFANZ initiative and to other constructive contributions our organisations have made throughout the reform process in his keynote speech to the seminar.
Click here for more about the UFBA and FRFANZ partnership.
What do I take out of all this busy-ness?
First, I know our interventions and contributions to the reform process to date have served the cause of fire services volunteerism well.
I can point to numerous positive provisions in the FENZ Bill that simply would not be there without our firm persistent advocacy.
The Minister, the NZFSC Board and their officials recognise we have made a positive difference and will continue to look to us for considered, thoughtful and constructive input.
Second, I am totally confident that the fundamental relationship that presently encompasses the community, the volunteer and the brigade will be preserved into the future.
I concede we have not yet pinned down exactly what a ‘direct relationship’ between volunteers and FENZ will look like.
The Bill does not help us in this regard—it simply says the direct relationship is intended to enable volunteers to communicate with the organisation. At the end of the day it will mean what the Board of FENZ and we (the UFBA and FRFANZ) agree it means.
Both Minister Dunne and Chair Paul Swain have urged us to formulate how we think the relationship should be structured and our model is already well advanced.
Third, I am equally confident that the rights and privileges fire services volunteers, their brigades/rural fire forces and the UFBA enjoy under the current legislation will continue into the future, albeit under different constitutional arrangements.
These include binding instruments such as a charter of volunteer rights, a regularly updated collective engagement agreement for all volunteers and a Memorandum of Understanding between the FENZ Board and UFBA/FRFANZ.
I am confident of this because the Minister’s continued public references to the ongoing role of the UFBA assures me that we are very well positioned to secure the interests of volunteers through engagement and negotiation with the incoming FENZ Board.
Finally, I am conscious there is still an incredible amount of work to be done and much to play for. What we have seen to date is about relatively straightforward matters of principle, structure and organisation. It is painting by numbers. It treats fire services like a machine—turn a handle at one end, the cogs grind and a widget drops out the other end.
As I said in my column in May, the whole exercise will have failed if it does not achieve a transformation of the dominant culture of the fire service. That is where we need to engage next.
Keep up-to-date with the fire services reform process
Download this one-page July 2016 update on the actions UFBA is taking on behalf of our members during the fire services reform and share with your brigade/rural fire force members.
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