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CFS Volunteers Association calls for review of Emergency Services Levy



The Country Fire Service Volunteers Association (CFSVA) has called for a review of the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) as a critical step towards addressing sub-standard conditions in fire stations across South Australia and increasing CFS funding to more appropriate levels.

CFSVA President, Mr Roger Flavell, said an immediate funding boost of $14m, followed by an additional $30m over a 10-year period was needed to urgently address station maintenance and fast-track replacement programs that are falling further and further behind.

“CFS brigades were previously funded by a mix of local government bodies, which started to cut back on maintenance and capital works prior to the introduction of the Emergency Services Levy in 1999, and as a result we have been unsuccessfully trying to play catch-up ever since,” Mr Flavell said.

“It is not acceptable that volunteer firefighters spend their time saving homes, businesses and lives every day of the year but have to endure third world working conditions in buildings that are well beyond their use-by date or need urgent attention,” he said.

“Some stations don’t have separate change-rooms for men and women, others don’t have any toilet facilities, structural concerns, asbestos, water damage, termites, salt damp, and the list goes on and on.”

Mr Flavell said the ESL, which is indexed according to an annual CPI increase and matched with additional government revenue, is distributed among the State’s emergency services, including SAPOL, MFS, CFS, SES, Surf Lifesaving, SA Ambulance and the Volunteer Coastguard.

“It is farcical to see politicians praise the brave efforts of CFS volunteers on one hand and then turn a blind eye to them returning to a sub-standard operational base which is not fit-for purpose at best or dangerous at worst – and we want something done about that as a priority,” Mr Flavell said.

“We want a transparent and comprehensive review of the Emergency Services Levy so that the taxpayers of South Australia can better understand how much of the Levy actually reaches emergency services workers at the front line, and consider whether South Australia is best protected for its investment under the current arrangements,” he said.

“Most of us would be horrified working around these types of hazards, and yet it seems acceptable that volunteer firefighters are spending periods of time in these stations, ready to respond at a moment’s notice and help the community.”

In a submission handed to the State Government late last year, the CFSVA outlines three areas of concern regarding the current ESL arrangements, namely:

  1. The cost of operating emergency services was underestimated when first developed, which when combined with a reduction in maintenance and capital works activity prior to its introduction in 1999 has created an ever-increasing backlog.

  2. The ESL funds a far wider range of services than originally planned, causing emergency services to now compete against each other for available funding. 

  3. State Government’s reluctance to review the current ESL arrangements, for fear that the possibility of having to raise the Levy would generate voter backlash.

“Volunteers should not have to choose between a sub-standard fire appliance or a sub-standard fire station,” Mr Flavell said.

“When they were needed most, more than half of the fire trucks broke down on Ash Wednesday responding to calls for help, and we want to avoid our fire stations experiencing the same fate in months and years to come,” he said.

“Our volunteers cannot be expected to fill funding shortfalls through sausage sizzles and lamington drives, and we believe that insurance companies could also play a part in a solution – especially given that their annual profits are significantly bolstered because of the rapid response, commitment and professional training of our volunteer firefighters.”

About the CFSVA

Established in 1984, the CFSVA represents the interests and welfare of more than 13,500 Country Fire Service Volunteers across regional and metropolitan South Australia.

It is established in legislation and has become a significant stakeholder within CFS, the SA Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM) and the SA volunteer community.

Today, it advocates on behalf of its members and assists to deliver services in partnership with CFS and SAFECOM to provide for safer South Australian communities.