This past week has been a gruelling time for all South Australians. We have watched as large parts of the Adelaide Hills and the South East faced the most testing bushfire conditions since Ash Wednesday over 30 years ago, and we have been united in our support for residents and volunteers.
Yesterday the Premier wrote an article championing the community spirit which has seen everyday South Aussies donating their time, money, homes and kindness to those directly affected. On this, I agree with him wholeheartedly.
However, I also believe that South Australian CFS volunteers have been treated unfairly by the Government. When I toured the fire front this week, I was blown away by the sheer scale of the CFS operation. CFS volunteers were sweltering into their fifth day of firefighting. They were covered in ash, exhausted, but continuing to fight for the properties and lives of their friends and neighbours.
Many of the volunteers had put their lives and businesses on hold to help others. Not only were they risking their lives, they also were out of pocket. This selflessness inspired me. Surely these people deserve the simple compensation of not being forced to pay the levy hike for Emergency Services, when they are the people out there during the emergency.
The Labor Government has treated CFS volunteers poorly. It was Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis who said when questioned about CFS brigades refusing to fight fires on government land due to these massive levy hikes, that “there are thousands of other volunteers who’ll take their place”.
SA’s fire service organisations have the lowest level of funding in the nation, at only $107 per person compared to the national average of $149. This is really not good enough for the driest state in the driest continent in the world. In fact, over the past three years State Government funding for the CFS has failed to keep up with inflation.
This means the budget for the CFS has actually fallen, leaving our volunteers with even fewer resources to fight catastrophic bushfires. All this to prop up the Labor Government’s appalling mismanagement of our state’s budget over the past 13 years. Fires are a horrific event for any person to experience.
The loss of property, the loss of stock, and the loss to communities is devastating. SA CFS firefighters have a proud tradition of defending this state against one of the greatest natural threats we face. I am calling on the Premier to show some compassion and immediately exempt these CFS volunteers from his ESL tax increases.