Further Budget Cuts

The Napthine – Wells government has cut $66 million from Victoria’s fire budget

  • $41 million from the CFA
  • $25 million from the MFB

The fire budget should be growing, not shrinking because

  • The Royal Commission called for more resources
  • Victoria’s population is continuing to expand
  • To match this, the CFA was promised an 342 extra firefighters (it’s still waiting)
  • The weather experts are tipping a big fire season and worse in years to come

Cutting the CFA budget is an insult to the memory of the 173 people who died, the 414 who were injured, and the thousands who lost their homes in 400 separate fires on February 7 2009. It seems the State Government has already forgotten the tragic lessons of Black Saturday.

These cuts are false economy.

According to the Bushfires Royal Commission’s final report, the Black Saturday fires cost a “conservative” $4.4 billion. These costs do not include the financial and economic costs of devastated businesses, particularly agricultural losses, livestock, and production, let alone the incalculable human cost.

The government wants the community to pay after disaster, rather than insure in advance.

Power companies get handouts, consumers get bigger bills, fire services get cuts …

At the same time that the Government is cutting $66 million from firefighting, it is giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Victoria’s rural power companies.

They underspent on asset maintenance by 27% per year in the lead-up to Black Saturday. (The Bushfires Royal Commission found power faults responsible for five of the 11 main fires.)

Now the Victorian Government will invest up to $250 million of taxpayers’ money over the next decade. You may have missed this announcement – it was made on December 29 2011. In the 2012-2103 Budget the Government announced $62.5 million over three years to replace our most dangerous powerlines.

This is good. But rural communities still want a fire truck to turn up when they need it.

To add insult to injury, rural Victorians are being slugged with higher fees to help the power companies catch up. Household energy bills will be about one tenth of one per cent higher (0.1%) than they otherwise would have been. At the end of the 10-year works program, the total bill increase will reach 1.1 per cent, or around $13 per year.

And the power companies themselves? They’re OK. Singapore-owned SP Ausnet’s full-year profit to June 2012 rose to $253 million, largely due to higher electricity prices.

We’re paying more, for less

Higher power bills, taxes – and now an expanded fire levy. At the 2010 election, Ted Baillieu promised he would scrap the fire levy that is added to all building insurance policies. Instead, in August 2012, he extended it to all Victorians. Some will pay less than they used to, others will pay more. Some businesses are very angry at the huge increase they face.

It is impossible to find out what the net result will be. Will the government collect the same as previously, under the fire levy, or more or less? You can bet it won’t be less. It’s almost certain it will be more.

So every Victorian will be paying more for fire protection – and getting less coverage, thanks to the Napthine governments cuts.

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