The Regional Capability Community Fund that provided grants for equipment to communities vulnerable to extreme weather conditions was cut by the state government, compromising preventative bushfire management plans, according to Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas.
The $500,000 fund was introduced by the Labor government in 2015 and offered grants from $500 to $5000 to buy new equipment to better respond to emergencies.
But Emergency Services Minister Corey Wingard said the fund was only formed in response to the Labor government’s decision to increase the Emergency Services Levy that “was hurting South Australians at the hip pocket”.
“We have returned that money back to South Australians and our ESL commitment returns $90 million per annum or $360m over four years,” he said.
Mr Wingard said there had been increased funding for frontline firefighting, highlighted by a commitment of $2.5m annually for the next two years to pay for Country Fire Service station upgrades and maintenance.
“A number of our farmers are CFS volunteers and providing more money to CFS brigades will ensure they are better equipped to protect properties and communities in times of an emergency,” he said.
Mr Malinauskas said community safety would be compromised if funding cuts continued.
“It makes a lot of sense to not just fund the CFS but to also fund other members of the community to gain access to the basic equipment needed to keep their families alive,” he said.
“We have farmers who are willing to contribute their time to community safety and we should be providing access to the tools they need.”
SA has about 10,000 CFS volunteers but they are assisted by a lot of people within the community, Mr Malinauskas says.
“The grants were the difference between a farmer making an equipment purchase or not, and it has compromised preventative bushfire plans in our communities,” he said.
Retired stockman Tony Fotheringham, Kingsford, has been a CFS volunteer for 60 years and applied for a grant through the program to buy a high-pressure firefighting water pump after the Pinery fire in 2015.
Mr Fotheringham said without new equipment, property owners had no chance of beating a bushfire.
“If we can manage to put out a small fire on our own properties first with quality equipment, then by the time the CFS arrive with larger trucks they have a chance at stopping it spread,” he said.
“If farmers and property owners cannot access additional funding then firefighting units will not be upgraded and that is dangerous.”