Operations costs fuel fire levy blow-out

Adjournment speech

August 6, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:30): My matter is for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

It relates to the details on page 19 of this year’s Victorian Budget paper 5 for the fire services property levy. That shows the ongoing significant projected increases that Victorians will bear for that levy over each of the next four financial years.

By 2024–25 the figure is calculated to rise to $807 million. I am happy to be corrected on this, but I assume that those numbers are being heavily impacted by very significant growth in the cost of operating for Fire Rescue Victoria. Indeed there has been also further evidence on this in an article in the Herald Sun on 1 August this week.

Sadly this is exactly what I foreshadowed would ultimately come to pass when I spoke about these issues in a debate in June 2019 on the formation of Fire Services Victoria. Even then blowouts in the fire services property levy were already apparent, and this suggests that there would be further large increases in the future once brigades became comprised of a far larger proportion of paid firefighters.

Two years on, those predictions are being proved accurate on a lot of practical evidence. They are also being reinforced by information I am consistently hearing from my constituents as well as seeing in various Weekly Times articles on this subject from journalist Peter Hunt. There was also a Herald Sun article recently by Shannon Deery that pointed to a 5.5 per cent pay increase from January 2020 going to commanders and assistant chief fire officers and a 2.5 per cent increase going to all other career firefighters.

Both Peter Hunt and I have reached very similar conclusions from the budget papers and the most recent Department of Justice and Community Safety, Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade annual reports. The relevant Department of Justice report reveals it spent more than $1.25 billion in fire-related grants in the year leading up to the creation of Fire Rescue Victoria.

The CFA and MFB reports, meanwhile, point to rises in annual wages and leave to totals of $374 million and $286 million, respectively, in some of the largest yearly spikes on record. These increases are even more perplexing at a time when so many other Victorians are losing pay, jobs and entire businesses because through COVID lockdowns.

In light of all of this, I seek an outline of what urgent action the government is taking reduce the massive costs of running Fire Services Victoria and to stop the substantial ongoing increases in the fire services property levy.