Economic and Finance Committee: Emergency Services Levy 2018-19
Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (11:42): I rise today to speak to the first report of the new Economic and Finance Committee, entitled Emergency Services Levy 2018-2019. As many of the contributions from this side have indicated, it has been a significant issue for many of our constituents, so much so that we announced early, going into the recent election, our most significant election promise, which was to reinstate the remission for the emergency services levy that the previous government removed in 2014 without any consultation.
It dropped like a bomb on many of our constituents. It significantly impacted homes, businesses, community organisations and farms, and it was the farmers in my area who particularly felt aggrieved by the previous government’s removal of this remission. As the member for Heysen quite rightly pointed out, many of these landowners and farmers are active CFS and SES volunteers. It felt very much like there was some double-dipping going on.
Not only do these landowners and farmers contribute through the payment charged to their property through the ESL but they also give their time—often, a significant amount of time through any given year—to the emergency services in their district. This aggrieved them so much that a number of CFS brigades in my electorate took the unprecedented step of making a decision not to respond to any fire call-outs that might occur on government land.
The Greenpatch brigade springs to mind, and they certainly led the charge on this, but there were other brigades. I think either Kapinnie or Brimpton Lake and one farther to the north took a very serious position on this. In some ways, it conflicts with what encourages and drives them to become CFS volunteers. I do not know for sure whether that position was tested in the end, but certainly they made it quite clear that they would not be prepared to respond to a call-out to any emergency or fire on government land, and that included national parks.
On Eyre Peninsula, there have been many fires in national parks over the years. I recall responding to one myself. There was a fire in Lincoln National Park many years ago. I jumped on my local brigade and the Edillilie truck. I was an active member for quite some years; I am no longer, but obviously I am still a supporter. We travelled down to Port Lincoln, and my job was to load the fire bombers, amongst other things. It was the early days of firebombing, and they were targeting the fire front in Lincoln National Park. All those extracurricular activities that landowners undergo were at threat because they felt so aggrieved.
As I said, the removal of the remission was a massive impost for people throughout our community, farmers in particular. I do not want to talk about farmers specifically, but I feel that they were caught up in this in a way that others were not for reasons I have already described. ESL payments increased often and by three figures in percentage terms. I heard reports of between 200 and 800 per cent. The previous treasurer was a bit glib in response to some questions by the opposition at the time, the now government. I got the sense that he thought, ‘Well, they’re pretty well off. They can afford to pay for it anyway.’ That is beside the point.
The real issue was that the previous government was dipping into the pockets of all South Australians. As the previous speaker indicated, that was money that could be better spent. Today, we are speaking on the emergency services levy 2018-19 and the report of the new Economic and Finance Committee, ably chaired by the member for Waite, who I am sure is enjoying his task. As a bit of background to the emergency services levy as discussed in this report, the total expenditure on emergency services was projected to be $302 million in 2017-18. Total expenditure is now budgeted to reach slightly more than that, about $900,000 more. The report continues:
Emergency Services Levy (ESL) rate settings for 2017-18 were set to raise $291.6 million with the balance to be funded from a cash rundown of $8.5 million and $1.9 million in interest earnings and revenue from the sale of certificates showing the ESL status of individual properties.
ESL receipts relating to 2017-18 rate settings are expected to be $1.7 million higher than originally estimated mainly due to higher than expected fixed property ESL revenue.
Ultimately, these levies are set against the value of properties. We all like to see the value of property increase in this state.
Cash balances in the Community Emergency Services Fund (CESF) are forecast to be $21.9 million at 30 June 2018.
It comes back to expenditure:
Total expenditure on emergency services is projected to be $318.4 million [this coming financial year]. This excludes the cost of election commitments which increase emergency service expenditure.
Of course, the election commitment mentioned here is the policy that we, the now government, took to the 2018 election to reinstate the ESL remission. It is a significant election commitment that amounts to some $90 million per year, or $360 million over the out-years, the four-year budget period, all of which will be returned to households, businesses and individuals here in South Australia. The report continues:
The 2018-19 target expenditure of $318.4 million is $15.6 million higher than the 2017-18 estimated outcome…In addition to standard growth in base expenditure, additional funding has been provided for several new measures including improved aerial firefighting capabilities for the Country Fire Service…and the cost of new enterprise bargaining agreements…
I must declare an interest here with regard to my daughter’s fiancé—that is a good old-fashioned word, fiancé.
The SPEAKER: Spell it. No, don’t, it’s okay.
Mr TRELOAR: I was going to have a go. I will check Hansard afterwards. I think it has a grave accent on the e; is that right? My daughter’s fiancé is an ag pilot and spends a significant portion of the summer period manning the station at Port Lincoln Airport and fire bombers which are on standby for most of the time. Having experienced this firsthand, I know when attending a fire, whether it be on a farm fire unit or on the back of a CFS truck, there is nothing more comforting than to see the fire bombers appear in the sky and drop vast quantities of water very accurately right on top of the fire front.
They cycle through with just minutes between them. It is a very effective, efficient way of managing a grassfire but also scrub fires. We have seen them used to great effect in recent years for the Pinery bushfires and others closer to Adelaide, so I can only be complimentary of the work they do. They are brave young men, I know, because they cannot always see where they are flying.
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: Because he is marrying your daughter and he is going to be your son-in-law.
Mr TRELOAR: That is not the reason, and I am not going to be tempted on that, member for Stuart. Remissions for general property will be introduced in 2018-19, reducing the effective ESL bills paid by property owners, so that is our election commitment coming into play as of 1 July this year. In the minute remaining, I might run through where some of the expenditure goes because constituents are interested in this, particularly those who volunteer for the various services.
Without identifying specific amounts, payments are made to the SA Country Fire Service, SA Metropolitan Fire Service, SA State Emergency Service, Surf Life Saving, Volunteer Marine Rescue organisations, SA Police, Department for Environment and Water, SA Ambulance, state rescue helicopter, the Attorney-General’s Department for emergency communications management, shark beach patrol, and there are, of course, a couple of million dollars for any other costs that may come out. I commend the report, I commend the work of the Economic and Finance Committee, and I also congratulate the incoming Liberal government on their election commitment.