The Fire and Emergency Services Levy Bill 2017 will shift the onus of funding our emergency services from insurance companies to households and families.
The bill reforms the way we fund the essential work that fire and emergency services providers do in our community—including the State Emergency Service [SES], Fire and Rescue NSW and the Rural Fire Service. Currently, these services are funded largely by contributions collected through insurance policies. This bill introduces a levy for landowners that is collected by local councils. While it is clear that we must fortify our emergency services and support emergency services workers, I share my Labor colleagues' concerns that the bill is weakened by the Government's preference for the big end of town.
I am concerned that it will put working families on the hook for services that have been, until now, funded by insurance companies.
I am also concerned that there are not enough checks and balances to ensure residents who have already forked out through their insurance will not be hit again with this new levy.
I am concerned that WestConnex M4 Pty Limited has been excluded from paying the new levy, along with Transgrid and also New South Wales airports.
It is clear that the Government will always do its bit to help the big end of town, even if it comes at the cost of those who are doing it tough. Labor will put forward sensible amendments to restore some balance. That is not to say the bill will impinge in any way on the fantastic work of our emergency services personnel, and I take this opportunity to acknowledge the local emergency services in my electorate. The Ashfield-Leichhardt and Marrickville SES units are among the best in the State.
Locals rely on them time after time to protect their property during storms—to sandbag against floodwaters from the rising Cooks River that floods whenever there is a fair bit of rain, to tie down and tarp damaged roofs or to clear trees that have fallen across roads, particularly major local roads in the inner west.
These teams are made up of committed, passionate and hardworking locals who are prepared to slog it out in the pouring rain and howling wind while most of us are curled up in front of the television or with a good book.
The Marrickville State Emergency Service [SES] was recently awarded first place in the Sydney Southern Region Rescue Competition. This followed five months of extra training and hard work, all so they could be there for us when we need them most. Beyond the inner west, emergency services personnel in the New South Wales SES, Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Rural Fire Service work tirelessly to protect property and save lives in the event of storms, bushfires and floods. The battering in Queensland today is a stark reminder of how dangerous nature can be, and of course I send my best wishes to emergency services personnel and residents dealing with the very worst of Cyclone Debbie as we speak.
Members in this place are on a unity ticket in wanting to ensure that emergency services personnel in New South Wales are properly supported and funded. We must ensure that those fighting fires or floods, or whatever else nature throws at us, have the equipment and resources they need. They need to have access to the best technology on offer so they can do the job as effectively and as safely as possible. They need funding for training and support services so that their work for the community does not come at the cost of their personal health or wellbeing.
As the shadow Treasurer noted earlier, insurance levies make up roughly 74 per cent of the contribution to the emergency services budget, the State provides almost 15 per cent and councils contribute 11.7 per cent.
Under the Government's plan, insurers will no longer be asked to make this contribution and councils will instead collect the funding in the form of an emergency funding levy. Under this plan, the contribution made by those in the residential land component, in other words, households and families, will be 58 per cent.
This is despite the Government's own research showing that they account for only 35 per cent of emergency services usage. In comparison, business uses up to 55 per cent. There are too few protections in this legislation against what is effectively double dipping, with residents who previously contributed through premiums now being asked to fork out again the levy less than a year after the first payment is made. Labor will move an amendment to extend the Insurance Monitor's term to guard against residents being overcharged.
Residents have already raised concerns with my office about this issue. The amendment from this side of the House will provide balance and fairness and make sure that residents are not ripped off.
I am concerned that homeowners who have underinsured due to the high cost of premiums will now be levied at the same level as homeowners who are otherwise fully insured. They will lose out under this plan. It is clear that an increased burden for services is being imposed on these poorer, working families while the Government yet again is helping out the insurers.
For this reason, it is more important than ever that we act to ensure that there are adequate protections for households. But rather than do that, the Government has chosen to prioritise exempting WestConnex—a company it created to deliver its favourite project—from having to pay this levy.
While other businesses are subject to the levy charge, WestConnex and the Sydney Motorway Corporation have been given an exemption. The very reason this Government set up the Sydney Motorway Corporation was to establish it as a commercial entity, thereby shielding it from public scrutiny.
Now the Government is seeking to extend to it the same protections it offers government entities. As the budget continues to blow out and the business case that the Government put forward for this project makes less and less sense, it is trying to claw back any costs it can. This is another example of the Government's deviousness around WestConnex. There is no public scrutiny and it does whatever it likes.
Likewise, TransGrid has been exempted from paying the levy, as have airports including Sydney Airport, which is on Commonwealth land. Previously, airports likely paid contributions towards emergency services through insurance premiums; however, they will no longer be required to pay.
Labor is moving sensible amendments to make WestConnex and TransGrid pay the levy and ensure the Minister advises the House on negotiations with airport leasing companies to secure payments in lieu of a levy.
Above all else, Labor is moving to improve transparency around this levy. We want the levy to be clearly labelled on rates notices so that residents know that this is a State‑imposed charge.
People have the right to know why their payments to councils have changed, and councils should not have to provide an explanation to households and landowners when it is the State Government pursuing this change and issuing the charge. Residents also have the right to know when the State Government makes changes to the levy, as may well occur in the future.
As the impacts of climate change become ever more apparent, we will see more and more extreme weather events and greater pressure placed on our emergency services personnel. We on this side know that it is the families, the poor, the vulnerable, the uninsured who will suffer most as a result. I urge the Government to adopt Labor's amendments.
These are sensible amendments that will hold the big end of town to account. They will ensure that information about the charges is provided to households and they will ensure better oversight of insurance companies to the benefit of residents.