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Transcript ABC interview Tuesday, 17 October

By: CFA Media

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  12.25 PM 17 October, 2017


Location: General

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Transcript of CFA Chief Executive Officer Frances Diver's radio interview with the ABC’s Jon Faine on Tuesday, 17 October. 

JON FAINE:                            Frances Diver, good morning to you.

FRANCES DIVER:                   Good morning, Jon.

JON FAINE:                            And thank you indeed for coming in on a day when the headline in the newspaper must express pretty much your feelings: feeling the heat. First of all, why is this report being kept secret?

FRANCES DIVER:                   We've acted on the findings in the report and we've implemented a range of actions within CFA. CFA's taken this matter very seriously. I think, as you'd be aware and your listeners would be aware, that there is new management - new board, new chief executive, new chief officer - at the CFA. And Steve Warrington and I - the chief officer and I - have made an absolute commitment to make the workplace safer and zero tolerance for the kind of behaviour that was identified by some of the respondents to the report.

JON FAINE:                            But my question specifically was why was it kept secret?

FRANCES DIVER:                   So I wouldn't call it being kept secret; what I'd say is that we then commissioned the Victorian Public Sector Commission to do a survey for us - the People Matter Survey - it's done across the whole of the public sector. That gave us the capacity to benchmark our performance against other organisations and gave us a baseline to do that survey each year. So we have acted on the findings of the survey and we've put a whole lot of new processes in place. The important thing, I think, about the response to the survey is that CFA management take this seriously. CFA management and the board are the ones that set the culture in the organisation, it's our responsibility. We think we've got a problem, we know we've got a problem and we're acting on that problem.

JON FAINE:                            So you're not surprised by any of these findings?

FRANCES DIVER:                   So some of the responses I was surprised at. You've got to remember that this survey was undertaken 18 months ago in the heat of the moment in terms of the dispute at the CFA. The most important lesson, I think, that we can take out of the response from the survey is that CFA management have to take responsibility for acting on the culture in the organisation. This is a longstanding problem within the CFA. It's an organisation that has got quite a divide between management and its workforce and what I'm interested in doing and what the board's interested in doing is building bridges with our workforce - be that volunteer, be that career staff or professional technical administrative staff - we need to rebuild the trust in the organisation. Sitting in trenches, throwing rocks at each other is not going to work. We need to actually partner with our workforce and with our representative bodies to make sure that we can improve the culture and improve the experience for people coming to work at CFA.

JON FAINE:                            Do you blame the internal culture on the union?

FRANCES DIVER:                   Not at all. The culture of an organisation is set from the top, absolutely. And so, from my point of view, the board and management are the ones that set the culture of the organisation. Individuals who experience bullying, or who experience bad behaviour or sexual harassment in the workplace, it's management's responsibility to address that, both in a prevention sense and also in a responsive sense. We've put in place a number of things. So we've put a new assistant chief officer dedicated to diversity and inclusion. We had an external review of our complaints mechanisms arrangements. We've established a new team to deal with complaints.

JON FAINE:                            But at every point in both the MFB and the CFA when there have been concerted attempts by manager after manager, CEO, boards, even ministers in the Government to try and achieve the cultural change that you say you are committed to, it's been thwarted. This is not a coincidence, it's a pattern of behaviour.

FRANCES DIVER:                   Well, I think it's a longstanding cultural issue within CFA and it's not going to be turned around immediately. So I understand that. We have made significant inroads into making some of those changes within the organisation. There's certainly a long way to go. I think it's one of the reasons why we need broader reform in the fire services. I think there is some more investment that needs to be made in inclusion and fairness and all of those management and leadership issues that we need to deal with and we're doing that. I think the most important part is for the CFA to actually take responsibility, we need to take responsibility as management for the way we're managing the organisation and we need to step up to the plate and deal with our representative bodies effectively. And we've got mechanisms in place and we need to follow those.

JON FAINE:                            You may do all of that and it may not change things. There are people who have had power for a long time - unchallenged power. They now have a sense of entitlement and they're not going to willingly surrender what they take for granted.

FRANCES DIVER:                   Look, mostly the feedback I get these days is actually quite positive. I mean last week we had our pre-season operations managers' conference. So it's a conference that's held two days every year before the summer season of our operational senior staff. This year for the first time we invited the professional and technical administrative staff. So we had a forum that had both the professional staff and the operational staff in the room together, working as a team, that's what we want to promote in the organisation. And we had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the unified workforce that we're promoting in the organisation.

                                               So yes, there are problems. I'm not saying there's not problems in the CFA. That would be a foolish thing to say. But what I would say is that it's the board and it's management that need to address that and we need to work with our representative bodies; whether it's the volunteer's association or one of the unions. So there's the UFU and a number of other unions. We also need to work much more directly with our workforce to implement the programs we need to make sure that cultural change happens. We're not necessarily a workforce that reflects a modern Victoria and we need to do that. It's an organisation that's got very traditional practices, it's very historic arrangements and it's going to take some time to turn it around. But what you've got now is a chief officer and the chief executive officer who is absolutely committed to stamping out any bad behaviour in the organisation.

JON FAINE:                            As were your predecessors and they didn't last long.

FRANCES DIVER:                   Well, I guess there's a number of ways of dealing with the issue and I'm a pretty pragmatic sort of a person and I've got a chief officer who has got a long history within the organisation and a lot of respect in the organisation and our ability to form an effective leadership team. We've been able to really take responsibility for what's happening in the organisation and address these issues. In a way that's about a partnership. I think I said before, trench warfare doesn't work in the organisation and I'm interested in partnering with whoever it takes to make sure that we can move the organisation forward.

JON FAINE:                            And finally, if morale is as compromised as this report suggests and as you're almost conceding this morning; we are approaching yet another very dangerous fire season, how well equipped is the CFA to meet the challenge of keeping Victorians safe this summer?

FRANCES DIVER:                   So we're absolutely focused on the fire season.

JON FAINE:                            Well it doesn't sound like it. It sounds like you've focused on your internals.

FRANCES DIVER:                   No, I think what we'd say is we're focused on the fire season and we're ready for this fire season and as ready as we would ever be. That report's 18 months old. That survey was an internal survey done at the height of the dispute early last year. We've made significant inroads since that time and made a lot of changes within the CFA. And I think- I'm not saying it's sorted, I'm not saying that it's all rosy, but I am saying that we've made significant inroads. And whilst we've been debating the fire services reforms recently, our attention is absolutely now fully focused on the summer season.

JON FAINE:                            Thank you for your time this morning.

FRANCES DIVER:                   Thank you, Jon.

JON FAINE:                            I'm sure we'll get to speak again. The CEO, chief executive officer of the Country Fire Authority, the CFA, Frances Diver, responding to the story published in today's Age newspaper today. 

Last Updated: 17 October 2017