Emergency Services Levy - Impact on Farmers

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 15:33 :22 ): I rise on a matter of interest. I believe that the state government is viciously attacking the lifeblood of South Australia: our farmers. In doing so, this money-grabbing government is also threatening the community spirit in our state's regions. It is a spirit of selflessness and of helping each other out for the greater good. I am actually talking about the emergency services levy. I am concerned about not only the impact on the hip pockets of hardworking South Australians but also about what it is doing to their willingness and ability to participate in communities on a volunteer level.

In the last few weeks I have received some specific examples, as I am sure all of us have, of how these absurd ESL hikes are affecting our farmers and farming landowners. We have had lots of examples, I think of up to some 1,200 per cent, but one farmer has seen the total ESL payment due on his farming land and investment property increase by some 552 per cent from $231 to $1,278. As I said, this account is not unusual. I have heard of examples of it going up by some 1,200 per cent.

Livestock SA, a member of Primary Producers SA, contacted its members on the ESL matter. They have said to me that usually when they have an issue such as this they get between six and ten responses. They got in excess of 60 responses in a matter of days on the extreme hike in the ESL. One member said his home property payment has gone from $72 to $328. He had not yet dared look at his other properties.

The interesting thing is that he is a member of the CFS with his two teenage sons. He wanted to step up to be captain of his local brigade. In the last 12 months he had spent 100 hours on active callouts and his sons about 40 hours between them. This is a family that is building a culture of community service, but now he says with this levy increase he will need to reassess his commitments and his involvement in the community.

I ask this government: what is the dollar value that you would put on that collective 140 hours of service offered by the family in the last 12 months? Is it $1 less than the exorbitant levy increase that this family is up for? Disturbingly, there are so many accounts of CFS members being slugged with these increases and subsequently having to pull away from their voluntary commitments. One member, who was the brigade's only heavy tanker driver, has had to pull out. Subsequently, they will not have the facility available to them this season.

To slug our farmers with these increases is so unfair and inequitable. This financial year the spending on the metropolitan fire services is set to be some $191 million. The ESL collected on fixed property in the city areas will only be $171 million. Those in small country towns and farmers pay some $23 million towards the levy and their emergency services will only get about $9.4 million of direct funding. In other words, people in the city get an extra $20 million in services over and above what they pay as a levy. Meanwhile, the country towns and surrounding areas get $13.5 million less than what they have paid as a levy. It hardly seems equitable.

Of course, we have a government now that is focused on a number of economic priorities. One that we heard a lot about when the former minister was in this chamber is the premium food and wine from a clean environment initiative. But talk is cheap. How are farmers supposed to grow premium food and wine when they do not have any money? They are trying to run businesses, and what does any business do when it needs to cut costs? It looks for greater efficiencies, but with spiralling costs and stagnating farm gate prices, many of these businesses are running at maximum efficiency. Soon they will be forced to either cut corners or cut business. It is hardly a recipe for creating a premium product.

We are all aware of the particularly unpleasant seasonal conditions we are about to experience over the next few days, with three or four days at the end of the week and early next week well into the 30s, much earlier in the season than we would expect it. A combination of a tough season and ever-increasing costs, charges, taxes and levies on our farmers makes it very difficult to understand how this government can say it is supporting its premium food and wine from our clean environment initiative. I am sick of listening to this government trying to blame other people for the reasons that they have to put up this emergency services levy. I noticed this morning in The Advertiser a letter to the editor. Professor Richard Blandy summed it up well when he said:

The reason for these ESL hikes is said to be the cuts to state government funding by the Abbott government, but those cuts apply to every state, and no other state has imposed a wealth tax like South Australia has done.

The South Australian government has a budget crisis of its own making and that is single-handedly why we are leading the Australian nation in wealth taxation. That is why so many of our farmers have been forced to give up what is possibly the only economic bright light on our horizon, and that is our food production.

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