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Warning of more ESL pain after Pinery devastation

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Family First has warned of further rises in Emergency Services Levy bills to cover the cost of last week’s devastating Pinery bushfire.

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Legislative Councillor Robert Brokenshire said he feared “South Australians will be left picking up the bill once again for an underfunded emergency service sector”, and called on Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis to rule out any further increase.

The ESL has been a political millstone for Labor since Koutsantonis abolished a long-standing remission to free up general revenue.

The Weatherill Government recently resolved to increase its ESL take by $20 million in 2015-16, attributing the rise to this year’s Sampson Flat fire.

The Pinery fire has been significantly more devastating than that in Sampson Flat, with 87 homes razed and two lives lost.

“I have written to the Treasurer today calling on him not to raise the Emergency Services Levy to pay for this natural disaster like he did following the Sampson Flat fires in January,” Brokenshire said in a statement.

“This Government needs to realise it has to budget for extraordinary fire events rather than putting its hands in people’s pockets for a ‘once off’ tax grab every time we have a major bushfire and the budget falls short.”

He said recent fire seasons, and this week’s acknowledgment from Premier Jay Weatherill that SA would experience earlier and more severe fire events, should have warned the Government to budget accordingly.

“They should have learnt from recent fire seasons, both here and interstate, that it should fund our fire and other emergency services adequately and it should have contingencies in the budget to cover catastrophic events,” Brokenshire said.

“South Australians should not be left picking up the bill because the Government refuses to fund our essential services adequately.”

Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis responded with the observation that “the ESL was established by Robert Brokenshire himself”, as a minister in the former Liberal Government.

“(The ESL) ensures every dollar raised goes only to our emergency services organisations to protect life and property,” Koutsantonis said.

“We will ensure our CFS volunteers continue to have the resources they need to protect our communities.”

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