Emergency Services Levy
Thursday, 20 October 2016
IN PARLIAMENT: Mr GOLDSWORTHY (Kavel) (15:59): I am pleased to speak in support of the motion the member for Chaffey has moved in the house, and I commend him for bringing the matter to the parliament. There are some important points to make in relation to the emergency services levy and how this government over a period of time has treated the emergency services levy. Over its relative terms, the Labor government has a long history of using mechanisms to turn government instrumentalities into cash cows, and we have seen them carry that out in relation to the pricing of water. Recently, we saw the Treasurer and the government hive off part of the Motor Accident Commission to prop up their budget to put their budget into supposed surplus, 'a book-entry surplus', as I have referred to it previously in contributions on the Appropriation Bill and matters relating to that. What they have looked to do is endeavour to turn the ESL into another cash cow for this government by removing the remissions and also hiking the emergency services levy in recent times. A number of months ago, the Treasurer and others floated the idea of implementing a tax on the family home. From what this side of the house can ascertain in relation to that issue, it did not really get much airtime because I think what happened within the Labor caucus was that it got shut down very quickly. That is my take on it because there was very little support, if any, within the Labor caucus to implement a tax on the family home. But he got his way, the Treasurer got his way by hiking the ESL by 9 per cent, if my memory serves me correctly, in recent times—9 per cent. He got his way in the end by hiking the ESL. We see these increases go to the very heart of the issue of cost-of-living pressures on the South Australian community because everybody who owns a property, owns a home and other assets is charged with the ESL. I remember when the ESL was first introduced by the previous Liberal government, and it was necessary. The ESL was a necessary levy to be introduced. I will give the house a bit of a history lesson. I have done this before, but I will keep doing this because it is correct. Basically, a previous Labor government not only bankrupted the state through the State Bank debacle but they pretty much bankrupted the CFS. From memory, the CFS had a debt of $12 million. In today's terms, that is not a lot of money, but 25 or so years ago it was a lot of money. The CFS was struggling, and the local government had the responsibility for funding the CFS, and they were struggling, too, and could never get ahead of that debt. I will give you a real-life example. CFS volunteers, who were members of the Mount Barker Brigade, told me that they had two units—two fire trucks, two units, in the Mount Barker Brigade—and that they could only ever afford the diesel fuel to run one unit at a time. If there was an incident, if there was a fire out in a paddock and they needed all the resources they could muster, there was only one truck. They could only ever afford the diesel fuel for one truck to go out and attend that incident. That is a real-life example from a volunteer I know very well within the Mount Barker community who told me that, so I regard that as actual fact. That is one of the reasons why the ESL was first established by a previous Liberal government, but what we have seen is subsequent Labor governments rejigging it, abolishing remissions and hiking it to a point where it is becoming very difficult for many households and, as the member for Chaffey states in his motion, sporting clubs, recreational clubs and community-based organisations. As I said before, when the ESL first came out, it was relatively inexpensive. I remember getting the first notice, and I thought, 'If this goes to funding the CFS and the other emergency services to a satisfactory level of resourcing, I am happy to pay for it. I am happy to write out a cheque.' It was quite a number of years ago but, from memory, I think it might have been $90. I thought, 'I am happy to write a cheque out for $90.' I should have my cheque butts with me so I could advise the house by how much it has actually increased, but I can tell you that it is significantly more than $90. I should have brought my chequebook with me so I could have a look at the butt, but it would obviously be more than double $90. If I get an opportunity in the next few weeks to make a contribution, I will quote how much that most recent ESL bill was. The member for Chaffey is correct in saying that it is having a significant impact on sports and recreation clubs and organisations. A lot of the sporting grounds, parks, gardens and the like are owned by local government. I have asked some people and, according to my sources, local government does pay the ESL on their properties. So, if a sporting club or organisation leases an oval, tennis court or playing field and the council pays the ESL on that, you would think that maybe the council might pass that cost on to the sporting club or organisation. It has a direct, negative impact on the financial ability of those organisations to manage their budgets. From where do they get the money to pay an increase in the ESL if the local council is passing it on to them? They go to the members of their club and put their membership fees up. So, these people are not only paying the ESL on their home properties and other assets; they are actually getting hit with a compounding impact by having their club fees increased. I am not sure how a sporting club would manage to absorb the increase in the ESL, if they have to pay for it, by means other than putting their members' subs or fees up. The impacts of these increases on the ESL are broad-ranging. These increases impact on many aspects of activity within South Australia. The government really needs to have an extremely hard look at itself. They talk the talk about being concerned about this and that and reviewing this and doing that but, all the time, taxation is increasing. We have the pretty poor reputation of being one of the highest-taxed states in the country, and the ESL is part of that regime. The member for Chaffey should be commended for bringing the matter to the house, and I certainly, as I said, speak in support of it.