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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13267

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (10:33): Since the O'Farrell government came to power, New South Wales has been subject to a rollout of service cuts that have greatly reduced the ability of schools, hospitals, community services and other bodies to serve the people of the state. In particular, the cuts to emergency services, including the fire brigade, by Mr O'Farrell risk the reach and influence of these essential operations. Mr O'Farrell said his cuts would not affect the frontline, but since when were firefighters not frontline? In civilian life, you cannot get any more frontline than that. They are there when our buildings, our homes, our factories and our bushland burns. If a person is hit by a train or run over by a semitrailer, they are the ones that go in there to collect the body parts and literally hose the bodies off the bottom of these vehicles.

Things that most of us would not even dream of they do on a daily basis. When families are killed in car accidents and house fires, they are the ones that are there. When people are trapped in cars, they are there. They are there for chemical spills, toxic gas, poisons and explosives—stuff that kills you. They are there for rescue in high places, in caves and in swift water. The police, paramedics and firefighters in civilian life are as frontline as you can get. When you cut funding to these frontline services you risk not only the community that they serve but the health and safety of the firefighters themselves. Yet, the O'Farrell government has cut 420 firefighters from the state and rural fire service, removed $64 million from the budget of fire and rescue, and dozens of fire stations have been closed so far. The drop in funding will mean stations will be forced to temporarily close if a firefighter is not able to work their shift because, for example, he or she is sick. It seems that up to eight fire stations out of the 70 in Sydney will be closed on any given day and response times will undoubtedly blow out. But that is not all.

On the one hand the O'Farrell government is cutting frontline services and on the other hand it is charging us more. It plans to shift the major cost of the fire brigades from the insurance companies to the householder in the form of a fire tax of up to $300 on every household. This levy would be identical for every household. The owner of a one-bedroom unit would pay the same tax as the owner of a large mansion. Undoubtedly, as these costs would be passed on, a renter of a one-bedroom unit would pay the same tax as the owner of a large mansion.

Leaving aside the inequity, we pay more yet we get less. If we are going to pay more, I say to Mr O'Farrell, give us more. I am not saying here that the budgets of emergency services should be sacrosanct; obviously, they should not be. We should look for more efficiencies through training and fire safety audits, which all reduce the likelihood of fire. But those efforts also are affected by the budget with Barry O'Farrell taking the axe and halving the advertising budget for fire safety messages.

We are approaching the bushfire season and I call on the Abbott opposition to condemn the cuts by the New South Wales state government—cuts that will have a devastating impact on local communities and on the people who protect and care for us at our worse moments.