October 11, 1995
On average, insured residential property owners are contributing about 27 per cent more on their fire service levy than would be the case if all property owners were required to pay the levy, Emergency Services Minister Bob Wiese said today.
The Minister released the Western Australian Fire Brigades Funding Review Report, which has identified many deficiencies and inequities in the present arrangements.
Mr Wiese said under the current system not all property owners took out, or were required to take out, insurance over their property.
Opportunities also existed for the avoidance of payment of the fire services levy through insuring offshore and self-insurance and payment of premiums on a net basis through insurance brokers.
"In fact a staggering one in four WA households is not insured, yet fire fighters are required to attend promptly to any fire emergency which may arise on all properties," he said.
Mr Wiese said Fire Services within the board's permanent gazetted fire districts were presently funded by the State Government and local authorities (12.5 per cent each) and a fire service levy collected by insurance companies (75 per cent).
"Under the existing arrangement, many people and businesses are either making a disproportionate contribution, or avoiding any contribution to funding raised through insurance premiums," he said.
One of the biggest areas of non-insurance is vacant land, which actually generates the highest number of fire call outs in the gazetted fire districts.
"The report indicates if all residential ratepayers were insured and paid the fire service levy the reduction in the annual premium would be more than $12.30 per residential property," the Minister said.
The report identified these funding choices:
· Option 1 - Local Authority - a direct levy on property owners who benefit from the service with local authorities as the collection agencies.
· Option 2 – Utilities - a Government utility, such as the WA Water Authority, operate as an assessment and collection agency.
· Option 3 - State Government - 100 per cent funding from Consolidated Revenue for State Government to provide fire protection services as an essential public service.
· Option 4 - State Taxation Department - State Taxation Department act as a collection agency for the fire service levy with assessments based on information from a third party, for example the Valuer General's Office, SECWA, DOLA or WAFBB.
· Option 5 - Western Australian Fire Brigades Board - user-pay system to charge property owners after fire protection service has been rendered and to recover all costs in full.
· Option 6 - Retain Existing System with Amendments - closing loopholes being exploited by property owners and consumers of fire protection services.
· Motor Vehicle Registration Levy (Supplement Only) - cost of the WAFBB attending motor vehicle incidents including fire, rescue or hazardous materials to be met by the users.
The report, prepared by consultants Arthur Andersen, was funded jointly by the State Government, WA Municipal Association and the Insurance Council of Australia.
Insurance Council of Australia’s group manager (WA) Tony Carter said fire services were a whole community responsibility. The funding base needed to be broader and more equitable and not unreasonably hard on one section of the community.
WA Municipal Association executive director Tim Shanahan welcomed the report, saying the issue of funding of fire brigades had been long and drawn out.
Mr Shanahan said the matter had been closely examined and he believed the report would lead to improvements in the system.
Mr Wiese said it was important the proposed options were debated and discussed publicly and he invited public submissions for six months until April 30, 1996.
Copies of the report are available from the Office of the Minister for Emergency Services, 13th Floor, Dumas House, 2 Havelock Street, West Perth WA 6005 (Phone: 09 322 2311)
Media contact: Ian Hasleby 321 7333 / Pager: 480 9999 (94065)