Economic and finance committee: emergency services levy 2015-16

In Parliament - Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (11:45:04): I rise to speak to the Economic and Finance Committee 87th Report: Emergency Services Levy 2015-16. The increase to the emergency services levy, as outlined in this year's budget, is an absolute disgrace. South Australian households are again being slugged with an ESL increase for the second consecutive year, and the Treasurer is dipping into the South Australian householders and ripping money out of their pockets.

Last year, the ESL increased by about $150 for people with an average $400,000 home, and now in this year's budget the Treasurer has announced a further 9 per cent increase for most properties. Another 9 per cent—this is an increase of $23 per annum for the average property price of $426,400. That is an extra $23 at a time when many South Australians are already in financial stress: financial stress caused by increasing electricity bills, increasing gas bills, increasing water bills, increasing council rates and increasing land taxes. Property rates and charges alone increased by 17.3 per cent in the year ending March 2015.Let us not forget our deepening jobs crisis. South Australia's unemployment rate is 7.6 per cent—the highest in the nation. To increase the ESL at this time will push many families to the brink, and it demonstrates just how out of touch this Labor government is with the people of South Australia.

Unfortunately, the Treasurer is out of touch. Last year, he removed a general remission on the ESL sending bills soaring and generating anger: anger from residents, from landowners, from the CFS, SES and other volunteer organisations. So, in response to community disappointment, disenchantment and anger in terms of ESL increases last year, he increased the 2015-16 emergency services levy again this year.

Mr Gardner: You're saying what?

Mr DULUK: Increased—not decreased, but increased in this budget. The Treasurer once again is not listening to the people of South Australia. South Australians needs help, not further taxes. They need a government that will reverse the increasing ESL and put dollars back into householders' pockets.

The massive increase in the ESL tax does not just hit homeowners; it is also levied on sporting clubs, community organisations, churches and independent schools. The ESL has spiralled out of control and is being treated as an endless bucket of money. In total, property owners will funnel $285.7 million into the Labor government through ESL bills in 2015-16—an increase of almost $20 million on the previous financial year, and those on this side of the house say 'Enough!'.

The Treasurer claimed last year that the ESL increase was necessary to compensate for federal budget cuts. This year he claims the increase is necessary to pay for the January Sampson Flat bushfire. What will be the reason next year? Indeed, there is no justification for another ESL hike given the Labor government is set to receive an additional $857 million in unbudgeted GST revenue from the federal government. There is no justification for another ESL hike to pay for the Sampson Flat bushfires. Successive governments have always funded unbudgeted catastrophic events from a general Treasury contingency fund, until now.

The emergency services levy was introduced by my predecessor for Davenport, the Hon. Iain Evans, and commenced on 1 July 1999. The ESL replaced the fire service levy introducing a fairer and broader levy that benefits fire services plus other emergency services agencies such as the SES, surf lifesaving, the State Rescue Helicopter, and many others. Mr Evans spoke in this chamber last year about his support for the ESL stating that he was glad he introduced it. I am also glad he introduced it, and I think most South Australians are in favour of ensuring our emergency services are appropriately funded. But Mr Evans also noted his astonishment that the government had cancelled all the remissions. He was shocked that the government would remove its contribution to the ESL, essentially doubling the cost of ESL for households.

This massive and unfair increase to the emergency services levy was a shock to many South Australians, especially to many CFS and SES volunteers. The Sturt CFS group, which is my local CFS group, and local SES units act as the fire service for a large part of my electorate and they play a crucial role in protecting many thousands of homes. It is important to ensure they are always well funded, respected and supported.

The announcement that the levy will increase again in 2015-16 adds further insult to injury. South Australians are not happy with the year-on-year increases to the ESL. They are not happy with a Treasurer who will not rule out further increases. It is time to put a brake on the Labor government's abuse of the ESL. The increase in the ESL is no more than a tax grab—a tax on the family home—needed to prop up this government's poor budget choices and spiralling debt levels. It is time for the government to support the opposition's policy and restore the remissions and put more dollars back into the households of South Australians.