Changes to the Emergency Services Levy (ESL)
When the Commonwealth Government delivered its budget on 13 May 2014, the impact on South Australians was significant and immediate. In addition to the introduction of rising costs like a GP co-payment, the Abbot Government made significant cuts to Commonwealth Government funding to health, education and pensioner concessions.
Regrettably, South Australia will be financially impacted to the tune of $898 million over the next four years as a result of the Commonwealth Government’s cuts, with health, education, skills and concession funding all being significantly reduced.
Unfortunately, future cuts to education and health in our State will increase to $5.5 billion over the next 10 years.
At a national level, the total cumulative reduction in schools and hospitals funding over the next decade is over $80 billion.
The extent of these cuts, and their impact on South Australians, cannot be underestimated.
We will fight to have these decisions reversed, as they have the potential to have long term detrimental impacts on our State.
However, if the Commonwealth Government does not reverse these cuts, savings measures will be required. We will be forced to rethink the way we fund and deliver core services in South Australia, while trying to limit any further hardship on the most vulnerable members of our community.
Our Government was forced by these cuts from the Commonwealth to make a number of tough decisions in the recent State Budget. These decisions are necessary to ensure that the State does not face additional budgetary pressures which make our fiscal position unsustainable into the future and a burden on future generations.
Lamentably, given the magnitude of the Commonwealth Government’s cuts, the South Australian Government is no longer in a position to continue to provide most of the general remissions which have resulted in lower ESL liabilities in the past.
It is the case that when the ESL was introduced by the previous State Liberal Government, it was intended that the levy would fund the full cost of providing emergency services in South Australia. That is, the revenue raised from ESL liabilities of property owners for a particular year was intended to match expected expenditure on emergency services for that year. However, as indicated above, the Government has been relieving levy payers of a substantial amount of their ESL liability each year by providing general remissions on fixed and mobile ESL liabilities.
As a result, property owners have been contributing through the ESL around less than half of the total costs incurred in providing emergency services in South Australia each year. The value of the general remissions provided by the Government has been paid into the Community Emergency Services Fund from general revenue each year.
It is a lie that ESL contributions by households will be used for purposes other than funding our State’s emergency services.
Notwithstanding the removal of most ESL general remissions, all money raised by the levy will continue to be used to fund expenditure on emergency services, consistent with the requirements set out in the Emergency Services Funding Act 1998.
Under this Act, all money received in payment of the ESL must be paid into the Community Emergency Services Fund and can only be used for expenditure on emergency services.
Total expenditure on emergency services is projected to rise to $255.4 million in the 2014-15 financial year, allowing the Government to provide funding to a range of services critical to the safety and wellbeing of our community. These include:
• SA Metropolitan Fire Service ($123.9 million)
• SA Country Fire Service ($67.8 million)
• SA Police ($20.7 million)
• SA State Emergency Service ($14.9 million)
• South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission ($10.7 million)
Funds are also provided to the SA Ambulance, Surf Live Saving SA, Volunteer Marine Rescue SA, the Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources, as well as the State Rescue Helicopter and Shark Patrol.
I can assure you that the decision to remove the majority of ESL general remissions was considered a measure of last resort by this Government.
Although we consider the funding of our emergency services essential and are not prepared to cut funding in this area, I understand that the increased ESL which many families, businesses and organisations are receiving will be hard to cope with, and that is why we will lead a fight to have the Commonwealth Government’s cuts reversed.
For this reason, if Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Government overturn their cuts to South Australia, we will absolutely reinstate those remissions which we have previously provided.
Our Government has, however, tried to mitigate the impact of the Commonwealth Budget on those most vulnerable in our community, regardless of whether the Abbott Government reverses its cuts.
Accordingly, the Government will continue to provide a remission on the fixed property ESL for the principal place of residence of eligible pensioners and concession card holders. Owners who are eligible for the general remission will also be eligible for a concession of up to $46 on the ESL calculated on their principal place of residence.
In addition, the Government believes that it is appropriate for pensioners and concession card holders living in retirement villages to be treated the same for ESL purposes as those people who own their own home.
RevenueSA is working with industry to develop an appropriate scheme to ensure that eligible residents of retirement villages continue to receive a remission on their variable ESL liability and will, therefore, be unaffected by these changes to the ESL.
I would also like take this opportunity to reiterate the Government’s deep appreciation of the services that volunteers provide to the community.
You will no doubt be aware of the recent announcement with regard to the Government’s decision to review the Country Fire Service cancer compensation scheme. This will allow all current and future operational CFS volunteers to access the scheme under the same arrangements available to Metropolitan Fire Service firefighters. This decision demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting our volunteers and acknowledging the sacrifices that are made to serve our community in times of need, especially as we head into the bushfire season.
For further information regarding the calculation of your ESL, remissions or other details, please visit the RevenueSA website at: www.revenuesa.sa.gov.au or call the RevenueSA Helpline on 1300 366 150.
You can join the Federal Cuts Hurt campaign here: http://federalcutshurt.com.au/
If you would like to discuss this, or any matter further please contact my office.