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ESL bills to rise - but Treasurer says it could have been worse

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Treasurer Rob Lucas says the State Government considered removing a $90 million remission on emergency services levy bills to offset a budget deficit expected to exceed a billion dollars.

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The Liberals campaigned strongly on reinstating a $90 million annual remission removed by former Labor Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis to return $360 million to the budget over four years.

After December’s devastating bushfires on Kangaroo island and across the Adelaide Hills, households will be forced to pay an extra 5.4 per cent on last year’s ESL bill, which Lucas says equates to “a modest $6.95 increase for a property valued at the median price of $480,000 in the metropolitan area”.

But he said the Government opted to stick with its election pledge and not reimpose the $90 million remission – which would have added more than $160 to the average bill.

“Given the financial problems the state confronted, the Government had to confront the situation as to whether or not it would continue to keep the promise made at the last election and that is to put an additional $90 million a year into the ESL bucket to keep ESL bills down,” he told reporters today.

“We had to consider whether or not we’d do that [and] the decision we’ve taken is we’ll continue to put in the additional $90 million in remissions.

“We had an option, given the financial circumstances [where] we’re looking at significant budget deficits and a big increase in the debt… [but decided] that was a promise we made at the last election.

“We’ve kept our promise.”

It follows last week’s admission by Treasury officials of a more than $2 billion writedown in GST flows since the December mid-year budget statement, coupled with a spending blowout of around $350 million.

Lucas said today the “almost unprecedented nature of the summer bushfires” had taken its toll on the emergency services budget, making the increase recommended to parliament inevitable.

“The drivers of that have been the massive increase in unbudgeted expenditure… we have to pay to fight bushfires,” he said.

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas argued the increase was “more than twice the rate of inflation, at the very time households are struggling amid the COVID-19 economic downturn”.

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