Code 5 – FBEU President no more

The NSW Electoral Commission has now formally declared the 2018 FBEU election result, with a copy of that declaration and the FBEU SITREP statement here. My congratulations also to the successful candidates. I stand united with our new State Committee of Management.

After 13 years on the Union’s State Committee, I thought it incumbent upon me to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we are going.

Firstly, there were a few reasons I didn’t stand for re-election this term. I still have a lot to offer the Union, but I’m of the view that leaders can hang on too long. Secondly, my own health and resilience has taken a battering over the years, and it’s time to give my family all of me for a while. Lastly, the membership is changing, society is changing. Our Union needs fresh ideas and new approaches. Creating and maintaining a strong and united State Committee of Management was important to us, and leaving it that way even more so. Job done on that front, which also means that now is the right time for me to step down.

In regards to the future of the FBEU I’d like to reflect on some of the challenges we face.

Medical First Response
It is worth noting that in 2012 the FBEU membership voted to do this work if the training, support, and payment is addressed, and that any proposal be put back to members. I’m of the view that it is both inevitable and valuable for us as workers to take on a role that we can do well, that can save lives, and which has potential as a long term industrial advantage. Saying no only works for so long. Control the outcome, don’t become a victim of it.

The push for eVoting is ill considered if rushed. It may have a place in areas like elections and perhaps eventually plebiscites, but we have other avenues to pursue before we get to eVoting for Awards and and general meeting decisions. Station based voting is something I wish we’d had more time to incorporate in my time, and it’s something I think the Union should pursue before rushing into eVoting. More research and testing is warranted after trialling station based voting for all members – at all stations.

A plebiscite asking members to support the 50/50 quota and recruitment policy provided that the same minimum selection standards apply for all, regardless of gender can still be done. However, my message to members who remain opposed to Fire and Rescue’s policy on this is: we could hold an SGM opposing this and publicly reaffirm our status as the whitest, middle-aged anglo-saxon male industry in the nation, we could march on Parliament, and we can keep fuelling radio shock jocks, but the Government and Opposition are both in lock step with the Department on 50/50 and nothing the FBEU says or does is going to change this. Members who hate so-called “political correctness” and who see 50/50 as an opportunity to strike back need to recognise the futility of their cause in this instance, and the serious damage they will cause to our Union and future members by attempting to prosecute it. Your officials need trust and support to make considered, strategic decisions sometimes, and this was one of them. I was proud to welcome our first woman onto State Committee at my final meeting as President. The Union is on the right side of history on this issue.

Presumptive Legislation
Our careful approach on presumptive legislation for cancer has proved correct – we’re on the brink of achieving it without jeopardising either our WC (best in the country) or D&D (only one in the country). FBEU members enjoy the best protections of any firefighter in Australia, and rightly so. I’m confident the new committee will finish this off with our hard working industrial officers already working on the legislation for the Union to put into Parliament this year. PTSD should also be considered if possible.

In 2010 we updated the Union’s Registered Rules and added more representation to the State Committee of Management by reducing some of the larger branches and adding more officials. A more thorough re-structure was considered and in my view still needs attention. This should also incorporate station based voting across the state, not just in country areas. I urge the new committee of management to put some time into this, to ensure our union remains modern and relevant.

We have done much over the last few years to strengthen our governance to ensure that our Union does not make the same mistakes other unions have. We’ve improved our finance policies, invested our money better, and put new structures in place to protect the Union and our finances. Our new officials need to continue to build on that strong governance, and keep the trust and security that former officials worked so hard to keep strong.

NSW Fire Services
The recent Tathra fire disaster occurred with media raising issues that the FBEU has been highlighting for decades – response issues and turf wars. Our handling of this achieved the highest level of scrutiny into NSW fire Services in a generation, and paved the way for real reform over the next few years. Automatic (GPS) vehicle locators on all fire appliances (incl RFS), a centralised mapping and response system, and changes to the Rural Fires Act (S44 in particular) should remain our focus in the short to medium term. Any changes will come with a perception of wins and losses from both sides, but improvements for firefighters and the community (and a reduction in needless duplication) can and should be secured.

Five terms as an official of the FBEU is a lot to reflect on. Jim Casey and I developed a lot of political capital over our first five years as Secretary and President. We gained a lot of trust with members and won some great campaigns. Then we entered a very difficult period of industrial relations under a hostile conservative Liberal government. Finding a way through all of that to get good outcomes for members and achieve important reform meant spending what political capital we had – and I’m ok with that. It’s no good having that amount of capital and doing nothing with it – anyone can stay popular and achieve nothing. Sacrificing popularity for what you believe to be right is harder and remains a key challenge for officials going forward. I’m proud of the outcomes and legacy we leave for the future, particularly the defense of our worker’s comp and D&D, as well as the successful campaign to stop station closures.

I’d like to thank rank and file FBEU members for their trust and support during my time as an official, as well as the other officials who stood side by side with us. In particular I must mention some comrades who had a major influence on me (in chronological order) – Darryl Snow, Mark Paloff, Jim Casey, and Chris Read. Darryl and Mark identified me as an up and coming activist in the 90’s and pushed me in the deep end, confident that I would do good things for the FBEU. Jim backed me as his President giving me the opportunity to carry out that prediction with him. Chris became a key adviser and mentor throughout my time as President and remains in my view as the single most effective FBEU member, official, and staff member the Union has ever had. Given our history that’s saying a lot – he stands among giants in all three areas.

Thank you – stay united.

Darin Sullivan
Illawarra Sub-Branch Secretary 2005-2009
President 2009-2018

About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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