The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades welcomes the recent state government announcement of a review of the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).
In a somewhat surprising approach, the Treasurer, Hon Dr Mike Nahan MLA, asked the Economic Regulation Authority to undertake a review of the Emergency Services Levy. The Treasurer’s terms of reference for the review (reproduced below) are extensive.
The ERA will publish an issues paper in the coming month to help interested parties understand the issues that will be considered in the review, and provide guidance on how to make a submission. After considering the responses to the issues paper, the ERA will publish a draft report in mid-2017, which will provide another opportunity for interested parties to make a submission.
The ERA’s final report, including recommendations, will be provided to the Treasurer no later than 29 September 2017.
All Bush Fire Brigade Volunteers and other members of communities prone to bush fires should take a close interest in this review and send submissions when the Economic Regulation Authority calls for them.
The ESL review was one of the Ferguson Inquiry’s recommendations reflecting concerns with the current ESL management arrangements. One of those concerns to be addressed by the review is the question of whether the ESL should be managed by another agency as current arrangements effectively give the Department of Fire and Emergency Services complete control of the fund.
The Association, along with other voices in emergency services, has advocated for reform of ESL management for considerable time. Those who argued for change were encouraged by the initial Keelty Inquiry that recommended ESL management be transferred to another agency. The intent was for DFES to argue its funding case alongside other emergency services, just as it used to compete for budget funding against other agencies before the ESL was introduced. Currently, the FES Commissioner has the power to reject Local Governments’ estimates for their BFBs and SES and require the LGAs to resubmit their applications without any questioning.
There is no mechanism that gives the various services a chance to put their case for funding needs outside the FES Commissioner. This effectively makes the Commissioner the judge, jury and decision maker which hardly seems equitable when the Commissioner’s department is the major beneficiary of ESL funds!
Other emergency service groups may have sound points about spending or distribution decisions being made by the department and they should have some influence. After all, volunteers are the majority of our emergency front lines and thus are amongst the intended recipients of ESL funding, a public tax for most emergency services. As intended recipients and partners in the emergency sector, volunteer groups should have direct input, not just hold out a begging bowl.
EMERGENCY SERVICES LEVY REVIEW TERMS OF REFERENCE
I, Dr Michael Dennis Nahan, Treasurer, pursuant to Section 38(1) of the Economic Regulation Authority Act 2003, request that the Economic Regulation Authority (the Authority) prepare a report on the current arrangement for, and options to improve, the management and distribution of the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) in Western Australia. In conducting this report, the Authority will consider the following:
- The current ESL expenditure applied to managing the emergency services (prevention of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from natural hazard emergencies).
- The proportion of ESL funding directed towards each aspect of emergency management: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
- The extent to which the current allocation of ESL funds towards prevention and response reflects best practice in managing the risk of bushfire and other hazards.
- The extent to which the current methodology for setting the ESL is appropriate, now and into the future.
- The current transparency and accountability arrangements for the distribution of the ESL.
- Whether it would be more appropriate for the allocation of ESL funds to be the responsibility of an agency other than the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
- The extent to which the ESL should be available to fund administrative and/or operational costs of a Rural Fire Service.
- The extent to which the use of the ESL to fund a Rural Fire Service would impact on ESL rates.
The Authority must make a draft report available for consultation with the key entities involved in emergency management and complete a final report, including recommendations, no later than 29 September 2017.
The terms of reference can also be accessed via following link: