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Tasmania fire levy reform plans spark local government anger

The Tasmanian Government’s proposed emergency services funding reforms, which include abolishing a levy on business insurance policies, have sparked anger from local governments concerned about rising taxes for property owners.

Local Government Association Tasmania President and Break O’Day Council Mayor Mick Tucker says there’s been a lack of consultation with councils, which would be collecting the funds from residential and commercial ratepayers, and the changes could include 1000% levy increases for farming properties.

“Unfortunately, we have no data, no modelling, no detail of what they are trying to achieve and how they want to get there,” he told “We have not been in the loop.”

Mr Tucker says also there’s no detail on how any overlap between insurance levy collection and a shift to higher property levies would be returned, and that the changes represent a new tax.

The Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) and the State Emergency Service (SES) will unite under the reforms, outlined in a proposed parliamentary bill, creating the Tasmania Fire and Emergency Service (TFES).

The funding reforms would see the insurance fire levy dropped, in a move welcomed by the Insurance Council of Australia when the proposals were released, while a motor vehicle levy would be extended to motorcycles. The current fire contribution levy on council rate notices would be revamped with a new formula.

United Firefighters Union of Australia Tasmania Branch Secretary Leigh Hills says the union is unconvinced that the proposed funding model is fairer or that it would provide adequate sustainable funding.

“It is unhelpful to examine this solely from the perspective of the Insurance Council, or property owners or vehicle owners,” he said. “This is something that needs to be examined wholistically if we are going to be able to find a reasonable outcome.”

Opposition Labor Leader Rebecca White says Police, Fire and Emergency Management Minister Felix Ellis “needs to go back to the drawing board” on the proposals and “dump his new fire tax”.

Information on the Tasmania Fire Service website says existing arrangements date back to 1979 and a previous review had highlighted that they are no longer fit for purpose, with insurance-based taxes widely considered inefficient.

The existing property levy model also means people with a premises near a “career fire brigade” pay more than someone living near a volunteer brigade, with rates also depending on the council area.

“This is significantly outdated – our fire and emergency services (career or volunteer) respond to everyone in our community equally and without hesitation,” it says. “They don’t take any boundaries into consideration when they respond. Ultimately it means that some people pay less than others but receive the same high-quality service.”

Submissions on the Tasmania Fire and Emergency Service Bill and an options paper on the funding model are due by December 1.