State MP Michael Kemp speaks out in support of Council and ratepayers on RFS funding

The South Arm Hall Rural Fire Brigade shed where two vehicles and other Rural Fire Service equipment are housed.

THE 2019 fires which hit the Nambucca Valley hard gave so many in the community a deep and lasting appreciation of the work done by the Rural Fire Service (RFS).

However, it is local governments’ funding of this State Government-managed body which has lately been scrutinised by councils as they struggle to balance their books amid increasing costs.

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State Member for Oxley Michael Kemp has come out in support of local councils’ efforts to prevent ratepayers ‘footing the bill’ for depreciation of RFS assets.

Mr Kemp says the cause has been regularly championed by National Party MPs in parliamentary debates since last year.

“The State Government must consider abolishing cost-shifting through an archaic rule within the Rural Fires Act 1997 that has local councils paying for the State’s Rural Fire Service assets,” Mr Kemp told NOTA.

“In the Nambucca Valley there are fifteen RFS Brigades, leaving Council to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for asset maintenance and management that were procured under the State Government.

“This is money not going back into our local community and impacts all councils’ abilities to deliver vital services and infrastructure,” he said.

This is a sentiment echoed by Local Government NSW (LGNSW), who in a recent statement accused the NSW State Government of trying to force councils to fully account for RFS assets they neither own nor control.

LGNSW described the move as “an accounting rort that makes council books look worse and State Government accounts look better”.

LGNSW president Cr Darriea Turley said the organisation learned that a change was made to the Local Government Code of Accounting Practice quietly over Christmas 2023 when councils were on leave.

This change means that councils can no longer make the choice to include or leave out depreciation costs from the NSW Government’s RFS assets such as fire engines and other equipment from their books.

“Even more surprising is that this change has been made while the NSW Government has announced the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee will inquire into who should have responsibility for the ‘Red Fleet’,” Cr Turley said.

“This convenient legislative fiction doesn’t ring true to anyone.

“Our communities know and understand the critical nature of the work carried out by the RFS, not only in rural and regional communities, but also in metropolitan areas where they are a first response emergency agency for houses and multi-storey buildings in our newer suburbs.

“For the NSW Government to continue to argue that councils are truly in control of these assets is laughable,” she said.

Announced this week, the NSW Government’s Public Accounts Committee has launched an enquiry into the effectiveness of the NSW RFS’ asset management and operations.

In particular, the parliamentary committee will examine the arrangements for the assets, premises and funding of the NSW RFS.

These assets and premises include the ‘Red Fleet’, firefighting aircrafts and equipment, buildings and fire control centres, and information systems and communication equipment used for operating emergency services.

“We understand that many firefighting assets are ‘vested’ with councils to operate and maintain.

“This inquiry will be looking at the current arrangements between the NSW RFS and councils and whether they are effective and fit for purpose,” said Mr Jason Yat-Sen Li, Committee Chair.

“The Committee wants to hear from people with first-hand experience, emergency service
organisations and their volunteer associations and unions, local councils, bushfire experts, community groups and the public,” said Mr Li.

The Committee will also consider service arrangements between the NSW RFS and local councils, the appropriate role of local authorities in providing emergency services and the sustainability of local government contributions to emergency service provision.

How the NSW RFS and local councils share responsibilities for bushfire management and hazard reduction is a key area of interest for the inquiry.

The closing date for submissions is 10 May 2024.


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