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Firefighters union in legal battle with Victoria’s attorney-general

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Accusations of coercion and unlawful intervention

The United Firefighters Union has initiated legal proceedings against Victoria’s attorney-general, Jacylyn Symes, in the Federal Court.

The union alleges coercion and unlawful intervention by Ms Symes in relation to Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV).

The dispute revolves around letters sent by Ms Symes in August and September 2022, instructing FRV not to support a new fire registration board established by the union.

The heart of the dispute

At the centre of this conflict is the control over FRV’s operational member employment.

The board, set up by the union, was designed to have complete control in this area.

However, Ms Symes, who also serves as the emergency services minister, raised concerns about the board’s transparency and oversight.

She indicated that FRV’s agreement to collaborate with the registration board required her approval, which she refused to provide.

Legal arguments presented in court

Herman Borenstein KC, the union’s barrister, argued in court that FRV does not require the minister’s consent for this agreement.

Mr Borenstein said: “She’s taken upon herself a power she didn’t have.” He referred to the Fire Rescue Victoria Act, highlighting that FRV is authorised to enter agreements autonomously when receiving goods or services.

In contrast, solicitor-general Rowena Orr, representing the government, contended that the agreement involved FRV providing a service, necessitating Ms Symes’ consent.

Ms Orr argued: “There’s no suggestion there was any element of deliberateness. This is not heavy-handed … it has a good faith flavour.”

IFSJ Comment

The ongoing legal dispute between the United Firefighters Union and Victoria’s attorney-general, Jacylyn Symes, presents a complex situation concerning the governance and operational autonomy of Fire Rescue Victoria.

This case underscores the intricate balance between union rights, governmental oversight, and the operational independence of emergency services.

As the legal proceedings unfold, the outcome will likely have significant implications for the management and control of fire services in Victoria, setting a precedent for how similar situations might be handled in the future.

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