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Public input on Emergency Services Levy starts soon

Taelor PeluseyAugusta Margaret River Times

WA’s peak economic authority this week took preliminary steps in reviewing the State’s emergency services funding model the week after shadow emergency services minister Margaret Quirk claimed most funds were not making it to frontline bush firefighters.

The Economic Regulatory Authority said on Wednesday public consultation on the Emergency Services Levy would soon begin, marking the start of one of the key recommendations made by the special inquiry into last year’s deadly Waroona-Yarloop fires.

The ERA announcement comes just a week after the Opposition flagged concerns about the State Government’s delay in delivering fire reforms.

Ms Quirk told the Times last week the lack of action on the ESL review was particularly concerning and Labor, if successful in the upcoming election, would “review ESL expenditure as a matter of priority”.

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“Much of the money collected under ESL is not getting to frontline firefighters despite an over 80 per cent increase in the levy over the past eight years,” she said.

“(The review) has not begun and we still are waiting even for terms of reference.”

The following week, the State Government issued the terms of reference to the ERA, with public consultation set to begin soon.

In the 2015-16 financial year, $320 million came from the ESL, making up most of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ $360 million budget. The review of the ESL, which is collected by local governments through ratepayers and distributed by DFES among the State’s emergency services, will begin with public consultation, followed by a draft report mid-year and final recommendations to be handed down in September.

DFES executive director corporate services Frank Pasquale rejected Ms Quirk’s claims funding was not making it to the frontline and said the 80 per cent increase in funding was in response to the “unprecedented” spike in fire and emergency incidents.

“The magnitude, severity and number of incidents, and consequential inquiry recommendations have necessitated the important investment in a range of Government-supported initiatives,” he said.

“The ESL does not raise more money than is needed.”

In his response to the Waroona-Yarloop fires, special inquirer Euan Ferguson recommended a review into the management and distribution of the ESL.

The 2011 Perth Hills Bushfire Report — commissioned the same year bushfires destroyed or damaged 65 homes in Margaret River — headed by Mick Keelty, questioned the appropriateness of DFES handling and receiving ESL funding.

The Government responded in 2011, saying there was “no major benefit” in handing control to the Department of Finance, but it would revisit ESL management.

Yallingup Rural Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade captain Matt Muir told the Times his brigade had never struggled for ESL funding.

“We’ve had no problem ever accessing fund and the State Government has always been welcoming and … supportive,” he said.

“There is a lot (of fire reform measures) that need prioritising … but it sounds like it’s becoming an election issue.”

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