On behalf of the Board, I would like to report on the activities of CFA and the administration of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 for the year ended 30 June 2008.
The past year has been one of both change and consolidation as we embark on an exciting new chapter in CFA's evolution as a broad emergency management agency.
As Victoria begins to enter an era that is forecasting extraordinary growth, CFA has turned its attention to the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead. It will require CFA to remain flexible with a focus on innovation, new technology and education to meet the growing demands on our service both in Greater Melbourne and regional Victoria.
The challenge for CFA will be potential changes to our risk profile that will occur as a result of metropolitan and provincial centre growth. This will impact on volunteer availability, capacity and skill sets. Part of the challenge will be the inevitable costs that will come from the growth. CFA will need to plan for appliance-equipment upgrades, mechanical service support, station operating costs including additional staffing in some cases, more training, administration and education-awareness program delivery.
The Board expects this growth to open up opportunities for CFA. Partnerships will be crucial to ensure a cohesive approach to the future delivery of fire and emergency services to match the growth in the years ahead. CFA will contribute to the development of social cohesion in these new communities. Importantly, it will also open the opportunity to attract a new generation of CFA volunteers.
Set against the challenge of the State's future growth, the Board resolved to reset CFA's strategic direction around six key themes for the immediate years ahead. These themes are: volunteerism, environment, financial sustainability, industrial relations, organisational health and partnerships.
The Board recognises volunteerism is crucial to the future delivery of fire and emergency services to Victoria. Our service delivery model will continue to be largely built around volunteers with support from career staff. We continue to be cognisant of the demands we place on our dedicated members. Changes in brigade risk profiles which will occur as a result of urban growth will likely impact on volunteer availability, capacity and skill sets. Volunteer brigades may require support as their communities change. Increased urban risk will also create a ripple effect in adjacent brigades with an increase in support call activity.
CFA volunteers continue to add enormous value to the communities of Victoria. Research conducted by the by Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre indicates CFA volunteers provide economic benefit by a value of $840 million per annum. Volunteers also provide wider support to their community that is often unrecognised. In many remote and rural communities, particularly those under stress of drought, CFA volunteers create social cohesion in the absence of other community services. CFA members are not immune from economic hardship and CFA welcomes the State Government's provision of one-off funding of $2 million in support of the volunteers welfare fund.
To further support our volunteers, CFA continues its important equity and diversity programs. The Women's Leadership and Development Program has been particularly successful for CFA. We have also sought to recruit more women as career fire fighters. The Board seeks more diversity of volunteers especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This will be essential as CFA will need to attract a new generation of CFA volunteers in the growth areas of Greater Melbourne and regional centres that are being populated by immigrants. Volunteer retention, recruitment and satisfaction will remain central to CFA's future planning.
CFA's activities are fundamentally linked to the natural environment. Climate change is already having an impact on CFA - creating more risk and longer fire seasons. Lack of water caused by drought is becoming critical for CFA, particularly in places like northern Victoria. Climate scientists are predicting more frequent extreme weather conditions with a 25 per cent rise in risk of bushfire by 2020.
Our principal environmental focus includes water conservation, waste reduction, and minimising fire management impacts on the environment. Essentially we need to understand more about our overall carbon footprint. Therefore the Board has directed that an environmental sustainability committee be established to assess and identify the most serious risks our operations may have on the environment and develop action plans to minimise these risks. We are actively adjusting operations and business practices to reduce our impact on the environment. 'The Way Forward' is our principle environmental strategy and this underpins a range of environmental priorities to ensure CFA is protecting and conserving our environment for the future. Greenhouse gas reduction initiatives have been introduced into our climate change strategies.
Financial sustainability will become increasingly important to CFA in maintaining its immediate and future service delivery obligations to the community of Victoria. The State Government has been very supportive in creating a statutory funding stream that has allowed CFA to modernise its infrastructure, appliances and equipment.
The surge in population growth that is now emerging in Victoria will compel CFA to recalculate the future dollar cost of providing fire and emergency services to new housing estates, transport hubs, industrial precincts and major roads that are now being built or planned over the next ten years. This is likely to include the need to establish new volunteer fire brigades, re-locate some stations, and introduce appliances that support a changing fire risk environment. With this comes the need for more volunteer recruitment, training and fitting-out of stations and firefighters.
Industrial relations is an essential business tool to enable CFA to effectively achieve its mission and business objectives. The Board has therefore sought to take a more collaborative approach taking into consideration all our key stakeholders - employees, volunteers, unions and government. A key industrial relations strategic issue for CFA is to find ways to manage stakeholder's interests and involvement which allows for CFA to pursue identified future directions. This approach reflects our policy of 'One CFA' where all of our people - whether volunteer or career - are valued and feel a sense of purpose and direction as part of the CFA family.
The Board aspires that CFA be a 'healthy organisation'. We believe that a healthy organisation can only exist when the work climate, culture, values and practices facilitate health and well-being among all career and volunteer members.
Our objective is to become a flexible organisation where people of both genders are provided the opportunity to develop to their full potential. The Board seeks to create a culture where we can draw on diversity of our people to position CFA at the forefront of change and innovation. We also believe it's vital that the Board be attentive to the expectations of CFA members particularly in terms of behaviours, rewards, recognition, policies, and practices.
The Board recognises that partnerships are crucial to ensure a cohesive approach to the future delivery of fire and emergency service to match the State's growth in the years ahead. We continue to build on our close relationships with other emergency service providers, while extending and strengthening CFA engagement in the broader government and business sector. In recent years, CFA has forged closer ties with its traditional partners the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Victoria State Emergency Service, and the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard - Victoria.
CFA has begun working with a range of key government departments and industry to participate in the early planning of services to the growth corridors of Greater Melbourne and the expanding urban areas of the major regional cities. We have established strong ties with the Department of Planning and Community Development, the Growth Area Authority, and VicUrban to ensure we are on the ground floor in planning future community services.
Minister, the Board is confident that the six strategic themes established this year will set CFA on a course that will further enhance our service delivery to the people of Victoria. In reshaping our priorities I would like to acknowledge my fellow Board members for their sustained dedication this past year
Finally, on behalf of the Board I wish to thank you, Minister, for your personal attendance at many brigade functions this year and also assisting CFA to gain much needed resources to enhance delivery of our service to the Victorian community.
Kerry Murphy PSM AFSM