First Reading Speech: Fire and Emergency New Zealand Bill

  • Peter Dunne
Internal Affairs

I move, that the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Bill now be read a first time.

I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill.

This bill repeals and replaces two pieces of legislation – the Fire Service Act 1975 and the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977, and instigates the biggest change to the fire services of New Zealand since the response to the disastrous Ballantyne’s fire in Christchurch nearly 70 years ago.

This bill reflects the views and desires of New Zealand’s fire services, their communities, and wider stakeholders on the future of the nation’s fire services.

Last year’s consultation process on what was needed to maintain and build our fire services, received over 230 submissions and the message for change was clear.

This bill is another step in the journey of change, transition and future proofing.

It represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to enable New Zealand to have a ‘fit for purpose’ fire organisation that is flexible, modern, effective and efficient.

It will enable fire services that work well, are funded appropriately for the work they do, and will value the rural and urban, the paid and the volunteer workforce.

This bill creates a unified fire organisation that brings together the urban and rural fire services spread throughout New Zealand.

The new organisation will be known as Fire and Emergency New Zealand which reflects that the activities of the fire services of New Zealand have changed considerably in the past 70 years.

Today’s firefighters face a wide range of fires from forest and other vegetation fires to fires in homes and commercial properties.

While fighting fires remains at the core of the fire services their role has expanded far beyond this – their  functions now include responding to vehicle accidents, urban search and rescue, and dealing with hazardous substances incidents.

Fire services also have a key role in assisting other agencies and organisations with a variety of other incidents including animal rescues, maritime incidents and technical rescues.

The bill reflects these expanded roles in the main and additional functions of Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

This bill formally recognises the flexibility and agility New Zealand’s fire services have displayed for many years, and will continue to show in the future.

Firefighters are a passionate and committed group of people – whether they are urban or rural, paid or volunteer. 

They serve their communities, to protect and preserve life, property and the environment.

Their communities in turn support and encourage them – something which is consistently identified as key to the success of New Zealand’s fire services.

It is critical that this strong community support is recognised and maintained.

The bill enshrines this support and reflects it through the establishment of local committees.

These local committees will be appointed by the Board from representatives of the local area and will serve as the area’s voice to the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Board.

They will advise on local risks and issues, consider and promote the interests of the local area’s volunteers and provide feedback and guidance to the board on local fire and emergency planning.

Over 80% of the firefighters of New Zealand are volunteers.

As a significant portion of the workforce, 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.

The way that the fire services of New Zealand are funded will change.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand will be funded through the fire levy, which is paid on insurance for contents, property and motor vehicles.

This will replace a variety of funding sources for rural fires services, and allow the new organisation to be adequately funded for the work it will do.

The bill will allow the fire levy to be broadened to include insurance on material damage, not just fire damage, to better reflect the range of functions Fire and Emergency New Zealand will perform and to make levy avoidance more difficult.

The fire levy on motor vehicle insurance will be extended to include third party insurance ensuring that more motor vehicle owners contribute.

There will be public consultation at least every three years on the level of the fire levy, making the funding of the fire services more transparent and requiring the funding of the new organisation to be aligned to its strategic and business planning processes.

The bill also includes anti avoidance provisions to ensure compliance with the new levy regime.

The bill includes an updated offences and penalties regime which will provide appropriate penalties that punish and deter unwanted behaviour through a combination of significant fines or terms of imprisonment upon conviction.

The bill removes cost recovery for rural fires and establishes an infringement notice scheme which will be designed to address low level offending.

These updated offences and penalties will be supported by a comprehensive compliance and enforcement strategy, which will help guide the new organisation and the public to encourage compliance, and will make clear the penalties for unsafe behaviour.

It is important that firefighters have the tools to appropriately respond when they identify behaviour that could have, or has had serious consequences.

The bill clearly sets out the powers firefighters may exercise in the course of performing their functions.

It includes modernised powers of entry and inspection to investigate the cause of fires, and to support Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s regulatory role in ensuring compliance with the bill.

There are appropriate safeguards in place for the exercising of these powers including the production of identification, the requirement for warrants in line with the Search and Surveillance Act, and for marae, taking into account the kawa of the marae as far as is practicable in the circumstances.

The bill includes new powers for dealing with hazardous substance incidents, and powers to take samples or objects for testing or analysis.

The bill includes provisions for evacuation schemes and measures to ensure there are adequate firefighting water supplies for emergencies and training, including the development of a code of practice for firefighting water supplies.

The bill sets out fire control measures for when the starting of fires or activities likely to cause fires can be prohibited or restricted.

These measures are necessary to protect life, property and the environment, to describe fire seasons, and to establish the responsibilities and requirements on individuals and commercial operations to limit the risk of fires in open areas.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand will continue the important relationships that the fire services have established with the Department of Conservation as the guardians of New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage, and the New Zealand Defence Force as protectors and defenders of New Zealand.

The bill sets out that Fire and Emergency New Zealand can enter into operational service agreements with these departments as is the current practice, as well as with the Ministry of Education and industry fire brigades.

The bill requires that a new dispute resolution process be established so the new organisation can resolve disputes consistently and fairly.

The bill contains transition provisions to begin the establishment of the new organisation, and to provide clarity on the unification of the fire services.

This includes making the assets of the current fire services available to Fire and Emergency New Zealand to perform its functions.

How these assets are transferred will be determined using a principle based approach and in collaboration with the owner of the asset.

Overall this bill supports the invaluable and varied work of the fire services of New Zealand.

It will, as of 1 July 2017, establish Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

It recognises the importance of community, volunteer and paid firefighters alike.

It enables the tools, powers, and measures that are needed for Fire and Emergency New Zealand to perform its functions, to protect and preserve life, property and the environment, and to serve the communities in which our firefighters live and work.

This change has been a long time coming, and the time is right.

Our firefighters, their communities and stakeholders all agree that this change is needed, supported and overdue.

This bill represents the continuation of a journey, and provides a solid foundation for Fire and Emergency New Zealand to build a future proofed, fit for purpose organisation.

It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to bring this bill here and it is with pride that I commend this bill to the House.