Economic and Finance Committee: Emergency Services Levy 2017-18

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (11:42): Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I am sure they will all be glorious. Firstly, in terms of my local community throughout the Mitcham Hills, we rely on the CFS and SES to attend to all of our emergency services needs. I would like to make mention of the Belair, Blackwood, Eden Hills, Coromandel Valley and Cherry Gardens CFS brigades, who volunteer their time tirelessly, day in, day out, in my community, which, whilst it is fully serviced by a CFS brigade, is predominantly a metropolitan community.

The work the volunteer CFS units do in my community is of vital importance, so I congratulate them and Dale Thompson, who is the head of the Sturt CFS group. Of course, the Sturt SES group plays an important part in our community, and I would like to put on the record my congratulations to group officer Chris Shaw, who was the recipient of a Queen's Birthday honour, being granted a PSM earlier this year. Congratulations to Chris and all his volunteers on the work they do for my community.

We are talking about the emergency services levy report 2017-18. Total expenditure on the emergency services levy for 2017-18 is projected to be about $302 million, which is $10.3 million higher than in 2016-17. The committee was told that the increase in ESL expenditure reflects the growth in base expenditure and additional funding for new initiatives, including enhancement of the state SES and Metropolitan Fire Service 132 500 and 000 call response systems, purchase of new protective clothing for MFS firefighters, and delivery of training to volunteer marine rescue members and SA SES volunteers. We know the emergency services expenditure is to be funded by the ESL as well as some minor revenues from the Community Emergency Services Fund.

We all know that the ESL is an incredibly important part of funding our emergency services across the board, both in metropolitan Adelaide and in greater South Australia, but one thing that the committee report highlighted this year, and something that we have all known for quite a long time in our community, is cost of living pressures, and currently those cost of living pressures are being reflected in so many instances. We have the highest electricity prices in the world thanks to those opposite and their 16 years of hard Labor. In terms of the ESL, it was confirmed that, up to June 2017, 21,000 South Australians are yet to pay their ESL bills. Last year, there was almost $5 million in unpaid ESL bills that had still not been collected.

Families are forced to prioritise which bills they pay: electricity, water, council rates, ESL. Electricity is probably the number one bill that families in distress are prioritising, especially this time of year for heating homes, and then it is gas, water, council rates and the ESL. As we know, the ESL is levied on sporting clubs, community groups and organisations, churches and independent schools.

These are the organisations, especially some of our smaller community clubs, that struggle to pay their ESL bill as they face mounting costs in terms of their other energy needs. The government are very cognisant of this issue, that the ESL is on the increase and that families are struggling to pay, and rightly they have said, 'We know people are struggling to pay their ESL, so we are giving every household a $3 reduction this year to help them pay their ESL bill.' This year, in 2017-18 the ESL bill will reduce by about 1.1 per cent, which works out to be about $3 per annum for the average household, leaving the average household bill at about $260 a year. Those opposite understand that there is an implication for cost of living and they are going to give a piccolo of latte back to the average South Australian household in their ESL bill.

The Liberal Party and a future Liberal government will have a different policy position. We understand that cost of living is a huge issue for South Australians and we want to return a greater amount of the ESL to households, reinstating the remissions that were removed by the Treasurer in 2014 on the back of some spurious claims. By reintroducing the remissions we are going to bring in as a future Liberal government, we will see a saving of about $150 per year to the average household, and that is a tangible saving for South Australian households.

Together with our policy on capping council rates, it will see positive measures that will help South Australian mums and dads, families, pensioners and people on fixed incomes pay their bills. It will put a bit more money in their pocket, money they can spend in the economy, money that they can spend at the local shop and money that they can spend at the local cafe having a sandwich, as well as their $3 cup of coffee they are getting back under this current government, and that in itself will stimulate the economy because it is all about putting money back into the economy that is required.

It is not about government taking money out of the economy; it is about consumers putting money back into the economy that grows the economy. As those of us on this side of the house know, it is not the government that stimulates and it is not the government that creates; it is individuals who stimulate and create when it comes to economic growth. By having the Liberal Party policy of reinstating the remissions on the ESL, we will be able to do our bit to help stimulate the economy, which is most important.

One thing in the report I would like to talk about in the time I have left is that it was disappointing that funding could not be found in the 2017-18 state budget for the Adelaide metropolitan reserve CFS brigade. The CFS has been attempting to build capacity to support its existing brigades, and there has been a successful trial of the reserve brigade in the Adelaide northern suburbs. I think it is called the Para Reserve Brigade, and the member for Little Para probably knows a bit about it, and it is the first of its kind in South Australia.

Reserve brigades are not deployed on the first report of a fire but are deployed to support crews at major bushfires. They can be deployed to longstanding fires in the state or to support other existing fire services interstate. With this type of reserve, the CFS brigade would have been perfect in the Pinery fires that we had not that long ago, for example.

Expressions of interest were sought in October last year to potentially create other reserve brigades in other Adelaide metropolitan areas. A really good example would be in the member for Bright's new electorate—through the Hallett Cove area, down through Seacliff, as well as in the new parts of Davenport, through Happy Valley (as there is a CFS brigade there), up through Cherry Gardens and beyond, in my neck of the woods. It would be a really good innovation not only to be able to keep the community together but also to support local communities and support the MFS where they are and other CFS brigades.

To me, it seemed a very innovative way to capitalise on existing resources and, of course, there are many people who move from country areas into metropolitan Adelaide and greater metropolitan Adelaide who have previously been volunteers in their country CFS but who are no longer affiliated but still have those skills that can be utilised, as well as adding depth to existing resources by providing training support to crews, to add numbers in that severe crisis where necessary. There was a fantastic response to this, and CFS management are very supportive of it, but unfortunately there was no funding for this in the 2017 state budget. As usual, the government always talks the talk when it comes to supporting the community, but never, ever walks the walk.

Time expired.