Firefighters Workers Compensation

Recently the Government tried to sneakily pass on the costs of its new measures to increase workers compensation coverage for volunteer and career firefighters to ordinary people across New South Wales, including those emergency service workers whom the Government's measures are meant to assist. Instead of funding its workers compensation package from Consolidated Revenue and the workers compensation scheme, the Government decided—without telling the public—that funding for the changes would be collected from the emergency services levy. 

This means that the costs of these measures will be passed on to ordinary people and to local councils, including through a 15 per cent increase to the home insurance emergency services levy, which will cost ordinary people—including those firefighters this package is meant to assist—approximately $100 million per year.

Local councils will also have to pay a 15 per cent increase, which will cost them approximately $15 million per year. This means that rural and regional councils, many of which are affected by drought, will have to find the money for levy increases through cuts to existing budgets and services. Unfortunately, when the bill were passed the Government made no attempt to explain how these new measures to increase workers compensation coverage for career and volunteer firefighters would be paid for. I fear that the Government has not been honest with the public. It has never once said how this package will be paid for and has sneakily passed the cost on to the people of New South Wales. This is a vital package for our firefighters—don't get me wrong—but instead of paying for it out of Consolidated Revenue and through a properly funded workers compensation scheme, the Government has decided to pass on the cost. It feels like a kick in the guts for local councils, especially those in regional and rural New South Wales. As we know, local councils are now looking for ways to cut services and jobs to pay these increased fees.

Because the Government failed to disclose the impact during debate on the bill last year, councils are now scrambling to consult with their communities. I am told that the impact is being felt very hard. For instance, Cumberland Council has been hit by a hike of an additional $83,500. That is a 19.5 per cent increase. Oberon Council will be forced to pay up to $70,000 more for this year's levy. The Upper Lachlan Shire Council has been hit with a 24.43 per cent increase—that is more than $108,000. In the Blue Mountains there has been a 16.9 per cent increase, amounting to a rise of $360,000 on the current financial year. This is not a matter of begrudging workers compensation; we support workers compensation when it is needed. But this is cost shifting at its worst: It is cost shifting by the State Government to everyday people via their local councils.

I thank the people who have worked hard in this place to highlight the deficiencies of what should have been a measure to assist the firefighters in our communities. I thank the shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Clayton Barr; the shadow Treasurer, Ryan Park; and the shadow Minister for Emergency Services, Guy Zangari, for their work in this space. I also thank my colleague in the other place the shadow Minister for Local Government, Peter Primrose, who has travelled the length and breadth of New South Wales, over and over again, to talk to councillors and whose address to the Legislative Council I have relied on heavily and referred to tonight. I thank the Fire Brigade Employees Union for its incredible advocacy over a long period in the lead-up to debate on this legislation. The union, particularly Leighton Drury and Michael Nairn, has shown outstanding support on behalf of all firefighters throughout New South Wales. I also acknowledge the hardworking, dedicated and selfless firefighters in the Blue Mountains region, the Rural Fire Service and Fire & Rescue NSW—including my son.

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