December 10, 2015

Firefighters slam unfair new emergency services tax

Firefighters have attacked the NSW Government’s proposed new emergency services tax, saying it will most impact those least able to afford it, while unequally benefiting big business.

The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union also criticised Emergency Services Minister David Elliott for calling those unable to afford home insurance “shirkers”, comparing the statement to former Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s infamous claim that poor people don’t drive.

FBEU secretary Jim Casey said that while firefighters had been assured funding levels for Fire and Rescue NSW would not be impacted, they remained deeply concerned that the plan would leave the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community worse off.

“The Baird Government is acting like a reverse Robin Hood, robbing from the poor and giving to the rich,” Mr Casey said. “This tax will hit the poorest homeowners the hardest while slashing the amount paid by the biggest beneficiaries of our emergency services.

“Emergency Services Minister David Elliott claims this tax was about cracking down on ‘shirkers’, but what he didn’t mention is that his plan will deliver millions of dollars to the business community.

“The biggest shirkers under his proposal will be the insurance companies, who stand to pick up $800 million per year.

“When Barry O’Farrell first proposed this model, government research found the funding share from business would plunge from 49 per cent to just 13 per cent, with residential property owners filling the gap despite more than half of emergency service call-outs being to business premises.

“It seems the only beneficiaries of this new tax will be big business and insurance companies.”

Mr Casey said there were also concerns about social equity, with families in rural and regional communities effectively subsidising emergency services in metropolitan areas.

“Homeowners in most metropolitan areas enjoy access to professional firefighters who are available to respond immediately, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

“But people in rural and regional areas rely on volunteers from the Rural Fire Service who are generally not able to respond as quickly, don’t have the same level of training, and don’t have access to the same firefighting resources.

“This tax doesn’t change what you pay based on the service you receive, so those families with access to reduced fire services will actually be subsidising people receiving greater service.”

Mr Casey said firefighters also wanted to ensure the powers, resources and penalties available to the new monitor were adequate to ensure insurance companies don’t simply pocket the savings.

“When this was introduced in Victoria, many insurers didn’t pass on the savings, so we know for a fact that without tough enforcement, many homeowners will end up out of pocket,” he said.