BOTH the WA Local Government Association and the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades have welcomed a draft report reviewing the emergency services levy, which is collected by local governments on behalf of the state government.
WA Local Government Association President Lynne Craigie said the draft report by the Economic Regulation Authority recommended emergency services operations and expenditure should become more transparent with oversight from an independent agency.
Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades president Dave Gossage said the Economic Regulation Authority statement declaring a need for greater transparency about how the money was spent on emergency services was a fantastic start.
“The AVBFB has listened to its tens of thousands of members and argued for years that the emergency services levy should not be managed by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services – the organisation that also receives the vast majority of emergency services levy grants,” he said.
Cr Craigie said the draft report addressed many concerns raised by local governments.
“We’ve been advocating for some time to get greater transparency and accountability around how money is spent on emergency services,” she said.
“This report brings to light many of the concerns of the local government sector and supports our call for a clearer process on both expenditure and operational priorities.”
Cr Craigie said it was pleasing to see the report acknowledge a need to separate the oversight and operational functions of emergency services levy funding, with a recommendation to give oversight responsibility to the Office of Emergency Management.
“The report noted that the agency advising the Emergency Services Minister on emergency services levy revenue and rates should not benefit from the emergency services levy, a point we support in full,” she said.
“Recommendations on preparedness activities are also in line with our position that emergency preparedness is a critical part of the process; and that activities supporting this should also be funded by the levy.”
She said WALGA had engaged in extensive consultation with members before their initial submission to the Economic Regulation Authority and would again consult the sector to identify any outstanding issues or areas requiring further clarification.
“The Economic Regulation Authority report will set out clear direction for the future of emergency management in WA, and it’s important that the government takes these recommendations on board.
“An inclusion of indicative figures for a rural fire service is also appreciated and should help in informing the government’s decision around possible structure and responsibilities.
“We look forward to working with the government as they consider the outcome of this draft report, and to providing more detailed feedback from our members.”
Mr Gossage said the association had been vindicated in lobbying for WA’s new rural fire service to be a conversion of the volunteer bushfire service.
“The Economic Regulation Authority has exploded the myth being propagated by the United Firefighters Union and others that fixing the current flaws in the Department of Fire and Emergency Services model would cost the state too much.
“The draft review clearly says what we have been arguing all along – properly resourcing WA’s existing 580 volunteer brigades is the most cost-effective solution.
“The ERA’s draft review is refreshingly open about many issues the AVBFB has been raising in what seemed like a vacuum for years.
“However, we know the government has inherited a number of serious challenges and will continue to work with Minister Fran Logan and Premier Mark McGowan to undo the mistakes of the Barnett Government and deliver an efficient volunteer-based rural fire service at the lowest cost possible.’’