ECONOMIC AND FINANCE COMMITTEE: EMERGENCY SERVICES LEVY 2018-19


Increases of hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the average household over that four-year period when Labor had jacked up the ESL hit households hard to take money out of their pocket and put it to the former Labor government's preference. At the last election, I was very pleased to stand up for the people in Morialta, who spoke to me about their issues in meeting their household living expenses. An average $145 for the median household being saved by those families will make a massive difference in those households. People are getting their ESL bills right now and, as a result of the measures identified in this report, those households are better off as a consequence.

This is why people voted for the Liberal Party at this election, amongst a range of other issues. This Liberal Party, this Liberal government, is delivering on the commitments that we made to the people of South Australia. In terms of politics around the world, the issue of trust comes up. When political pundits talk about unusual phenomena in certain jurisdictions' elections, this issue of trust always comes up. The cliché is that politicians allegedly cannot be trusted to keep their promises. I think that the former Labor government in South Australia has a lot to answer for in regard to this lack of trust in our community.

The increase in the ESL imposed by the former Labor government on the people of South Australia after the last election is a prime example of why the community's trust in politics and politicians was eroded. It was a clear identification that the faith with the South Australian people had to be met at the earliest possible opportunity by restoring the remissions on the ESL, as the Liberal Party committed to doing. In doing so, as this report notes, we have kept our faith with the South Australian people, returning money into their families' pockets so that they can meet the needs of their families. One critical component is that we have done so without impeding the opportunities for emergency services to be delivered in South Australia in the way that they must.

This report identifies the expenses required to fulfil the requirements of our emergency services. I will give an example of the sort of support that is needed. Morialta has a number of CFS brigades across the electorate, as do many of the electorates served by members on this side of the house and some of the electorates served by members on the other side as well. One of the CFS brigades that has always been in the Morialta electorate throughout the entire time I have been involved—10 years as a candidate and as a member—is Montacute.

We have changed our boundaries regularly, but Montacute has always formed part of the Morialta community. Montacute is a spread township—it is not a township; it is a community. Some 200 votes in the electoral polling booths suggest that about 300 people are living over a broad area of the Adelaide Hills. It is an area where the risk of fire is significant. It is served by Montacute Road, which becomes Marble Hill Road as it passes through Cherryville.

Montacute Road is its period in and period out. The risks here were highlighted 1½ years ago during the storms, where a significant section of Montacute Road was in fact washed out. I was grateful that the then government, at our urging, worked with the Adelaide Hills Council to repair that road as quickly as possible, because when there is a fire in Montacute you have to get out. The Corkscrew Road takes you down to Gorge Road. Anyone who has driven the Corkscrew Road knows that you would not want to be going there in an emergency. So Montacute Road is it, and it is critical that that be served.

The brigade has about 20 or 25 active members. Out of that tiny community, 20 to 25 members still turn up on Monday nights to train. They still turn up when there are issues with flooding, with cars, or motorbikes more often these days, going off the road. They still serve that community so well. In about 1987 or 1988—I forget the year but it was about 30 years ago—a report identified that the Montacute CFS station was no longer meeting OHS standards and was no longer fit for purpose. There was no hot water. It did not really have much capacity for the sorts of things that were going to be needed in a CFS station. So for 30 years the Montacute CFS has been endeavouring to improve their facilities.

Just before I became a candidate in 2008, the community was very pleased that the former Labor government said that they were going to fix it. They were going to use the money from the emergency services levy, through the CFS, to fix the Montacute CFS station, to give them a new site and to make it happen. Indeed, in 2009-10 during the election campaign the then Labor member for Morialta put out flyers of herself—she may or may not have had the CFS jacket on—standing in front of the CFS implements and the station, saying, 'We've fixed it.' The Labor government had fixed the Montacute CFS station and this was something that she should be credited for. We were only to find in 2010-11 that the then government, and through the CFS, decided that the site they had chosen was not suitable and cancelled the project.

But we kept pushing and pushing. I pay credit to the member for Light, who, when he was the minister, after years of years of pushing, finally put it back on the agenda. The money was thankfully able to be there. The brigade pushed so hard to have their new station. We were able to see that station opened the weekend before last by the new Minister for Emergency Services, Corey Wingard. The final touches put to it over the last few months were marvellous.

I am not giving credit to this new government. This is a project that has been fought for for 30 years and allegedly the money has been there for more than a decade. The people I give credit to in this instance are those volunteers in the CFS brigade who have a fantastic new station. The significance of this station in the Montacute community can be borne out by the fact that this is a community of about 300 people, as I said, and there were about 150 or nearly 200 people who came out for that opening day a couple of weeks ago, appreciating the new station's opening. The service for that local community is significant. It is a useful purpose to which the ESL funds are put.

There was so much pressure put on those CFS volunteers over the last four years when everybody's ESL rates were jacked right up, yet they were still trying to do their community fundraising as well. I note that the Rotary Club of Campbelltown, who supported that brigade, have given them a defibrillator and a stretcher. When they discovered that there was no TV in the brigade, they even brought in a LCD colour TV from the Rotary shed. That sort of community fundraising has been identified as much harder over recent years since the ESL level has been put up. Some people reported that when CFS people were going out to collect for their volunteer sales or their charity sales, people would say, 'Our ESL bills have gone up hundreds of dollars, so surely you've got more money.'

The point is that, despite the ESL bills going up so much four years ago, the CFS, those emergency services, never got any extra money. It was just the removal of the remission. What was previously paid for towards emergency services out of general revenue was never increased commensurate with the increase of money that then came from households. So this government has taken the course of what was sensible, what was in place 20 years ago when the ESL was brought in, of having this remission on households so it was at a reasonable level.

The benefit of restoring that remission is identified. The report, at page 10, says that these remissions will reduce ESL bills by $90 million, consistent with the government's election commitments. That will make a massive difference for those households and will better support the CFS and other emergency services because, while the money they get may be the same, a lesser proportion of it is coming from households so it increases the confidence with which they can do their own community fundraising. The household impact, the impact on the lives of everyday South Australians with their weekly bills, and particularly dealing with their annual ESL bills, is significant.

Cost of living matters. That is something our community talks about to us, their local members of parliament, all the time, and this government is listening. I am afraid the last government was found utterly wanting when it came to cost-of-living issues, and that is why this government has taken its election commitments to be more jobs, lower costs, better services. This week's budget is an example of us delivering just those things, and this report on reducing people's emergency services levy and returning money into the pockets of households and taxpayers across South Australia is also doing just that. I commend the report to the house.