Monday, 1 September 2014

The "Emergency Services Levy"

is another name for a tax which was introduced into this state in an attempt to get more revenue.
It is supposed to be our contribution to services like the Metropolitan Fire Service, the Country Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and the Marine Rescue Service as well as the state's Fire and Emergency Services Commission. The government told us, ever so nicely, that they were contributing to this to keep the cost down. (Yes, that's right - contributing with our taxpayer funds.) It also funds the rescue elements of the police service, the surf life saving service and the helicopter rescue service.
Our state government - which is run from a capital city which has been described as "Detroit with a festival" - is short of money. Our state is actually in serious financial trouble. So, among other things the government decided that it would no longer contribute to the Emergency Services Levy. We would have to pay for the entire cost. Weren't we already doing that? Apparently not - or not according to the government.
The money in the Emergency Services Levy can, by law, only be used to fund the Emergency Services mentioned above. What is more it only partially funds those. Our CFS is made up of many volunteers, so is the SES, marine rescue and the surf life saving service. Fund raising for these services is constantly going on.
Anyone who has ever needed to use any of these services will not doubt the value of them or the contribution the volunteers make. The vast majority of people do not object to contributing to ensuring those services continue and continue to be run well and safely.
But I think the government got the psychology wrong here. They have, for political purposes, tried to place the blame for the massive rise in fees (around 400%) on the Federal Government. It is actually an issue which has nothing to do with the Federal Government.  Of course many people are unaware of that so the strategy will, up to a point, work and work well. And yes, it will free up some money so it can be used elsewhere - on a project designed to shore up votes. 
But there is something more serious than that. By telling the taxpayer "we aren't contributing to this out of general revenue" they are sending a message that says, "we think so little of those who volunteer you can pay directly for the lot".
People who go out to fight fires risk their health and their lives. The people who volunteer for the emergency services are out in all weathers often doing very dangerous work. Like professional ambulance officers volunteer ambulance officers can find themselves handling a major emergency, especially in a rural area.
Oh yes, some people do it for the adrenalin rush but many - probably most - do it because helping others is something that is important to them. They do not want to see the hills behind me up in flames with nobody to fight the fire. They do not want to see a tree down on power lines or someone drown because a freak wave has turned a boat over. It matters.
So when the government tells us, however subtly, that volunteers do not matter it is not a good look. Volunteers do matter. We need them.

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