This is the Fire Services Implementation Monitor’s (FSIM’s) third annual report on the progress of the Victorian Government’s Fire Services Reform implementation. The report delivers on FSIM’s obligations under section 131(1) of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (FRV Act) to monitor and review the progress of the Country Fire Authority (CFA), Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) and Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) in carrying out the updated May 2023 Year Two to Five Fire Services Reform Implementation Plan (Year Two to Five Plan).
FSIM assessed CFA’s, DJCS’s and FRV’s Year Two to Five Plan action progress from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023 and makes one recommendation relating to a comprehensive review of the Year Two to Five Plan. FSIM has also reported on the progress of four recommendations made in the Fire Services Implementation Monitor Annual Report 2021/22 (FSIM’s Annual Report 2021/22).
Potential barriers impacting reform implementation
As part of the Fire Services Reform, all CFA career firefighters were transferred to the newly established FRV, reinstating CFA as a volunteer firefighting agency. To support the CFA and its volunteers, a Secondment Agreement was established. This agreement outlines the secondment arrangements for FRV Assistant Chief Fire Officers (ACFOs), Commanders, Instructors, Practical Area for Drills (PAD) Supervisors and PAD Operators to provide operational and management support, including administrative, training, community safety and fire safety support, to CFA. FSIM considers that the intersection between the Secondment Agreement and the Fire Rescue Victoria Operational Employees Interim Enterprise Agreement 2020 (FRV Operational EA) may hinder the CFA’s Chief Officer’s (CO, CFA) ability to manage seconded staff. For example, under the FRV Operational EA, secondee performance and conduct management must be referred to and managed by FRV. This provision affects the ability of the CO, CFA to oversee the performance and appointment of seconded staff under their command. Limitations such as this restricted CFA’s ability to investigate and address possible performance, occupational health and safety, or disciplinary issues of FRV staff in seconded roles.
The reform also transferred some legislative functions from CFA to FRV. FRV is now able to deliver end-to-end structural fire safety services and conduct structural fire investigations in the Country Area of Victorian (CAoV). However, as of 30 June 2023, CFA cannot delegate some legislative powers to FRV for end-to-end service delivery of functions transferred in the CAoV for dangerous goods and caravan parks. As a result, CFA and FRV share service delivery roles. Shared delivery of land use planning services following the transfer of resources on 1 July 2020 also continued to cause challenges for the agencies. Since the inception of the reform, there has been a declining trend in referral compliance with statutory timeframes where these services are shared.
These barriers have affected the delivery of several reform activities, particularly actions 3.9, 5.1 and 5.4 and their interdependent actions. FSIM considered these barriers to reform implementation will impact whether the reform will achieve its stated outcomes of creating a modern, integrated, and sustainable fire services model for a safer Victoria.
FSIM plans to conduct a more in-depth evaluation on these issues in financial year (FY) 2023-24 and will seek specific, verifiable, measurable and documented evidence from the agencies to assess and demonstrate the impact of these potential barriers to reform implementation.
- 13 actions were completed
- 10 actions were progressing and on track
- 8 actions were progressing and experiencing minor delays
- 5 actions were progressing and experiencing significant delays
- 3 actions had not yet commenced.
As at 30 June 2023, four actions (2.3, 3.6, 4.6 and 5.1) did not meet their Year Two to Five Plan completion dates. At the end of the reporting period, agencies had not yet requested an extension to the delivery date for these actions.
In FY 2022-23, FSIM did not undertake effectiveness assessments of the 13 completed implementation plan actions against their intended objectives, as these actions were being completed during the reporting period. FSIM considers the effectiveness assessment as a longer-term proposition given that embedding implementation plan actions is complex, with multifaceted impacts that emerge over time.
Summary of progress
Year Two to Five Plan actions led by a single agency are progressing well. Actions requiring joint agency delivery have led to complications and delays in implementation.
Individually, CFA and FRV have each progressed work to recognise volunteers and staff and shape their respective organisation’s cultural and strategic directions. FRV released their inaugural FRV Strategic Plan 2022-2032 (FRV Strategy) in FY 2022-23. Developed through engagement with all FRV staff, including seconded staff, it outlines FRV’s vision, priorities, and values, including a roadmap to achieve its intended outcomes.
CFA released its Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2023-2025 (D&I Strategy), which promotes, supports, and enables diversity in CFA. Notably, the D&I Strategy outlines actions to improve diversity and inclusion data, which will help CFA better understand its membership and uncover potential barriers to creating a more diverse organisation that reflects the community it serves.
CFA and FRV completed work to recognise the contribution made by both volunteer and career firefighters. The agencies collaborated to support nominations for national awards, and CFA expanded the CFA Service Awards to ensure seconded staff can be recognised for their service and contribution to CFA.
Jointly, CFA and FRV continue to face significant challenges to progressing the Secondment Agreement supplementary instruments related to leave, performance and misconduct management, relief, and vacancy management. These challenges are due to the intersection between the Secondment Agreement and the FRV Operational EA and the time required to run consultation processes between CFA and FRV and between FRV and UFU Victoria. These challenges have not been resolved since the establishment of the reform and while some progress has been made, FSIM observes that the extended timelines put forward by the agencies to complete the remaining schedules and supplementary instruments are ambitious.
CFA and FRV improved collaboration on issues requiring consultation (e.g., Service Level Deed of Agreement (SDLA) schedules and Secondment Agreement Supplementary Instruments). CFA and FRV also developed a workflow approval process that outlines the entire consultation and approval process, endorsed by the CFA/FRV Heads of Agency Steering Committee (HoA) in April 2023. While there are further opportunities to improve the application of the workflow, clarifying consultation stages and responsibilities between agencies has been a positive step.
FSIM observes that the CFA Capability Statement (action 5.1) and FRV Strategic Workforce Plan (Operations) 2022-2027 (FRV Workforce Plan) (action 5.4) are reliant on each other. The CFA Capability Statement outlines the technical skills, competency, and support requirements for staff seconded from FRV to deliver services effectively in the CAoV. It is essential that FRV understand CFA’s capability and capacity requirements and that its workforce planning enables the provision of secondees that meet CFA’s operational and capability needs.
FSIM notes that FRV reported action 5.4 – the draft FRV Workforce Plan – as complete, as FRV had transitioned the workforce forecast and gap analysis, including work to consider CFA’s requirements, to business-as-usual (BAU) activities in 2024. As a result, there is now no requirement for FRV to include updates on its workforce planning and gap analysis work in its quarterly reform progress report to the Minister. It is critical to the reform’s success that FRV’s draft workforce plan transparently forecasts changing workforce requirements through to 2026 and accurately accounts for its secondment obligations to CFA.
CFA and FRV continue to face challenges implementing actions to achieve harmonisation and interoperable service delivery (actions 3.9 and 3.10). The Fire Services Operational Committee (FSOC) identified several issues that impact its effectiveness in supporting interoperability between CFA and FRV, such as the availability and consistency of key personnel, requirements for external stakeholder engagement, and the ability to develop and deliver on clear work plans with defined objectives and activities. FSIM has not yet been able to quantify the impact of these issues on the community as several operational actions (e.g., harmonisation activities, developing interoperability procedures (IPs) and finalised schedules and supplementary instruments) are not yet complete.
FSIM also found no agreed acceptance criteria for capital works programs delivered between CFA and FRV under actions 3.5 and 3.4 that aligned to the Year Two to Five Plan action objectives. Under the Victorian Government’s integrated fire services infrastructure delivery arrangements, Community Safety Building Authority (CSBA) project manages some station builds on behalf of CFA under action 3.2. At the end of the reporting period, FRV was consulting with the UFU on the integrated fire services infrastructure arrangements and the MoU for the delivery of specific capital and infrastructure works on behalf of FRV had not yet been signed. As a result, FRV capital works in action 3.4 have not yet transferred to CSBA. Agreed acceptance criteria and clarity on consultation requirements are needed throughout the life of these projects to ensure the objectives of the actions are met.
Assessing impact of reform on the financial sustainability of CFA and FRV
As noted in the FSIM’s Annual Report 2021/22, there are significant gaps in understanding many of CFA’s and FRV’s service delivery costs and cost drivers, as well as identifying emerging cost pressures that could potentially pose risks to the agencies’ ongoing financial sustainability. CFA and FRV continue to work with DJCS to focus on uplifting their respective financial planning and forecasting capabilities.
Given the early stages of work to address data gaps, quantify costs, cost drivers and uplift forecasting capabilities, FSIM considers there is currently insufficient information to make an informed assessment of the impact of reform on the financial sustainability of CFA and FRV. FSIM will continue to monitor these work programs, noting that an impact assessment on financial sustainability is a long-term proposition.
FSIM’s Annual Report 2021/22 recommendations
Government and agencies have acted on FSIM’s Annual Report 2021/22 recommendations one and two by establishing a senior executive governance body capable of addressing broader strategic reform challenges. FSIM has seen clear progress, with CFA, DJCS and FRV initiating positive and constructive actions to address these recommendations.
Agencies have progressed recommendation three and have provided performance measures as part of their evidence summaries to FSIM where possible, which will support FSIM in undertaking effectiveness assessments in future years.
DJCS progressed recommendation four (financial sustainability governance body) by analysing and identifying the interdependencies between Year Two to Five Plan actions and establishing oversight arrangements to identify, understand and resolve strategic financial issues across the reform.
FSIM’s Annual Report 2022/23 recommendation
Over the past three years, CFA, DJCS and FRV have accomplished substantial reform efforts. These three years have also provided valuable insights and lessons on practical challenges encountered in delivering actions, especially where multiple agencies are responsible for delivering an action.
Over the last twelve months, FSIM has witnessed proactive and collaborative engagement between CFA and FRV, with some joint training and joint exercises undertaken across the state, and both agencies are developing procedures to ensure consistent and more regular joint exercises across the state. Volunteers and career firefighters continue to respond to incidents, demonstrating the continued on-the-ground commitment of volunteer and career firefighters to keep Victorians safe.
FSIM recommends conducting a comprehensive review of the Year Two to Five Plan and remaining implementation plan actions (Table 1), given FSIM’s FY 2022-23 action implementation progress assessments and to assist Victoria’s fire services to make the most of their progress so far. This review should consider which remaining implementation plan activities most significantly contribute to the intended success at year five for each priority area and be updated with pragmatic and achievable timelines to focus on those activities. The review should be guided by the broader outcomes in the Fire Services Statement, leverage a shared definition of complementary fire services and consider the impacts of other enabling instruments (e.g., Secondment Agreement, legislation).
Table 1: FSIM’s Annual Report 2022/23 recommendation
Review of Year Two to Five Plan actions to more accurately reflect achievable timeframes and leverage three years of reform implementation knowledge and experiences
Victorian Government, in close consultation with fire services agencies, should conduct a comprehensive review of the Year Two to Five Plan. This review should be informed by the practical implementation challenges to embedding reforms over the past three years, FSIM’s observations, and be guided by the current Year Two to Five Plan success statements and the outcomes of the Fire Services Statement.
The review should:
This review should take advantage of the strengthened governance arrangements established in FY 2022-23.
 Fire Services Implementation Monitor, 2023, Fire Services Implementation Monitor Annual Report 2021/22, Victorian Government, viewed 21 September 2023 https://content.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-03/FSIM-Annual-Report-2021-22.pdf, pg.129.