More firefighters join ESL protests

More firefighters join ESL protests

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Keilira CFS brigade’s Phil Clarke and Mark Bruce and Avenue Range CFS volunteer David Crawford are protesting the large increases in the emergency services levy in the past two years. The two brigades have vowed not to fight fires on government land.

Keilira CFS brigade’s Phil Clarke and Mark Bruce and Avenue Range CFS volunteer David Crawford are protesting the large increases in the emergency services levy in the past two years. The two brigades have vowed not to fight fires on government land.

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THREE SE-based CFS brigades have joined a growing number of units vowing to boycott fighting fires on state government-owned land.

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THREE South East-based Country Fires Service brigades have joined a growing number of brigades vowing to boycott fighting fires on state government-owned land.

Volunteer members at Keilira, Avenue Range and Woolumbool are contesting the government's huge increases in levies being imposed on rural residents, and more could join in coming weeks.

They say it has not been an easy decision to make but feel it is their only option to protest excessive fees that have hit rural landholders hardest and seen them pay thousands of dollars more on bills.

In 2014-15, the government removed a general remission on the emergency services levy, seeing bills rise up to 1000 per cent for farmers with multiple land titles. This financial year, the levy has risen 9-10pc more.

Keilira CFS brigade captain Mark Bruce said his ESL bill soared 400pc in the past two years but the hike was even greater for some members.

He said the Keilira truck would continue to respond to all call-outs but if the fire was in a national park the crew would wait on private land to defend it.

Mr Bruce said they were looking for a remission for all members of the community and for the levy to revert to 2010 levels and any subsequent increases capped at the Consumer Price Index.

"They keep wanting to levy us out of existence whether we are making money or not while showing no regard for their own out of control spending," he said.

Avenue Range volunteer David Crawford said the state government was "showing a total disregard for country people".

He moved a motion, unanimously carried at the brigade's AGM, that members would not attend to fires on government-owned land.

The Avenue Range brigade is seeking a remission of the annual levy for all active members of volunteer emergency services.

"Our rationale is members of the CFS and other emergency services volunteer their time and are on constant standby for no remuneration, which delivers considerable savings for the state government," Mr Crawford said.

"I don't like to protest like this but how else can we get a message to a cash-strapped government we are not happy."

"I had a 460 per cent rise in the first year and didn't even work it out for this year but it was another increase.

"When you look at all the national parks, reserves and conservation parks throughout the state it is obvious the state government does not have enough resources to manage them or fight fires without the CFS."

Despite this boycott the CFS insists it is well equipped and resourced to respond to incidents this bushfire season with more than 14,000 volunteers across the state.

"Volunteers have a choice when they attend an emergency call-out, and should a brigade not be able to respond to an incident the next nearest brigade will be called to respond," a CFS spokesperson said.

Emergency Services Minister Tony Piccolo said the government valued the contribution of its volunteer fire fighters and recognised the commitment required to protect their communities.

"We also respect their democratic right to protest and choose when they dedicate their time," he said.

Mr Piccolo said on a given day there were often many reasons why volunteers would not be able to fight a fire.

"The CFS considers all these factors when responding to emergencies. The community can rest assured the government will provide the resources required to ensure their safety," he said.

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