Queensland rural property owners will be hit with a $90 levy.
Queensland rural property owners will be hit with a $90 levy. Alistair Brightman

MP blasts new $90 fire levy as new tax for Queensland

A SUNSHINE Coast MP has blasted the introduction of a new $90 fire levy in Queensland, saying it is just another tax which would do nothing to help local brigades.

Independent Member for the Nambour-based seat of Nicklin Peter Wellington is himself a rural fire brigade volunteer in the small hinterland community of Belli.

Mr Wellington was one of the MPs who spoke against the introduction of the Emergency Management Fire Rescue Levy in Parliament overnight during what was described as a heated debate.

The Coast MP and former councillor said he was disgusted that local councils appeared to have just 'rolled over' and agreed to collect the levy.

He contrasted it with the revolt by local authorities over the collection of an ambulance levy by the Peter Beattie-led government.

"What we have seen is local governments become the tax collectors of the State Government,'' Mr Wellington told the ABC.

Mr Wellington said the Minister responsible had indicated the levy would raise $24 million in the next financial year and then $51 million in the following year.

"Governments are clever with words so it's not called a tax, it's called an Emergency Managment Fire Rescue Levy.''

Mr Wellington said there was an already a rural fire levy in Queensland.

Rural-based MP Shane Knuth, the Member for Dalrymble, which takes in Charters Towers, introduced a bill to block the levy.

"The sad thing about this is that rural residents are already out there fighting fires,'' Mr Knuth told Parliament.

"They are already out there raising funds. They are always out there putting their time, energy and effort into fighting fires.

"There are 35,000 volunteers. This is going to kick those 35,000 volunteers in the guts by forcing them to pay a rural fire levy.

"Those 35,000 volunteers are telling me right now that, if they are not valued, if the government does not need them, they will walk out and let the government put out the fires.''

Mr Wellington said he could have supported the levy if there was a guarantee from the government that it would go directly to rural brigades.

But he said there was no such assurance from the government.

"Rural property owners are going to be paying a new tax and the government has been trying to hide behind the claim it is going to support the rural fire services,'' the Coast MP said.

Police and Community Safety Minister defends levy

Minister for Police and Community Safety Jack Dempsey said the levy was needed to protect Queensland from a wide range of natural disasters.

"After five years of disasters costing billions of dollars, all Queenslanders are being asked to contribute to emergency management, hence the broadening and renaming of the urban fire levy,'' Mr Dempsey said in a statement.

"The funds will be used to place emergency management services on a sustainable funding course that ensures we are able to deliver the same and enhanced services into the future.

"This levy funds approximately 60% of the overall state cost for Emergency Services with the balance made up of consolidated revenue and will ensure the State Government can continue providing a first class emergency response for all Queenslanders.

"The Government has also retained the provision for councils, at their discretion, to continue to raise a Rural Fire Levy to supplement their local rural brigades.

"On an annual basis the Government provides more than $50m per annum to Rural Fire Services and the State Emergency Service.

The Bundaberg MP told Parliament: "The increasing number of disasters has also meant that the need for specialist equipment and expertise in these fields has grown.''

"In 2013-14, the estimated cost of providing emergency management, fire and rescue services delivered by the Department of Community Safety is $643.2 million.

The new levy comes in from January next year. A discount for pensioners will apply.

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