The government’s $323 million emergency services levy, which is paid by ratepayers and landowners throughout Western Australia, has been criticised in a new report by the state’s competition regulator.
A review conducted by the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) also recommended money raised from the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) should be used to contribute to funding a rural fire service, a key finding of the Ferguson Inquiry into the 2016 Waroona-Yarloop bushfires.
ERA chairwoman Nicky Cusworth said the organisation advising the government on how carve up the ESL should be independent and not benefit directly from the tax revenue.
“Many stakeholders believe there is conflict of interest in the way the levy is allocated,” she said.
“Conflict of interest can be real or perceived, but either way it should be avoided.
“Good governance requires that the amount of the levy raised and how it is distributed should not be decided by the main recipient of the funds.”
Ms Cusworth said an independent organisation funded from general government revenue should be established to oversee how DFES allocates and spends the ESL.
“One of the biggest concerns raised by volunteer groups and local government was about how DFES makes its decisions on applications for ESL funding,” she said.
“To address these concerns, the ERA recommends that DFES works with local government and volunteer brigades to develop processes for applying for ESL funds.
“DFES will continue to decide whether applications for funds should be accepted, but its decisions should be based on a resource-to-risk approach, and local governments should have an independent avenue of appeal if they dispute DFES’s decisions.”
The ERA was also asked by the government to consider whether the levy should be spent on a rural fire service.
A new, independent rural fire service was recommended by an inquiry into the causes of the 2016 Waroona-Yarloop bushfires, but was not endorsed by a Bushfire Mitigation Summit held in Mandurah in June.
“If the government establishes a rural fire service, the ESL should contribute to funding it,” Ms Cusworth said.
“How this affects rates will depend on the model of a rural fire service.
“The cost of each model depends largely on whether it is staffed by volunteers or career firefighters, but also on the equipment required for each station, and head office costs.”
A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan said he would not comment on the ERA report other than to say the government would consider its recommendations.