If you have young children or grandchildren, you may have been introduced to the episode of Thomas and Friends titled “Too many fire engines”. I am quietly suspicious that this episode may have been written right here in Noosa.
Noosa Council recently announced it was adding two fit-for-purpose Landcruisers to their light attack vehicles, taking the fleet to five, as well as “16 nationally accredited trained staff who can hit the ground running”.
Ratepayers were already paying the State Government through their rate notices for a 24/7 Fire & Emergency Service operation in Noosa, as well as auxiliary fire stations in Tewantin, Cooroy, Pomona and Cooran, and 10 Rural Brigades across the Shire.
On top of all that, the Federal Government provides huge funding from tax receipts to improve resilience and reduce risk. Like the Disaster Ready Fund of $1 billion over 5 years.
This Council was elected just six months after the bushfires of 2019 swept through our shire – first around Peregian Beach on September 9, followed by the Cooroibah and Noosa North Shore fires. The emergency services did a magnificent job.
With this fresh in their minds, a new Council Fire Levy with lots of ‘announceables’ like new “light attack” vehicles proved hard to question, hard to say NO to.
Now Noosa ratepayers are funding their own expanding fire department, as well as the much larger one controlled by the State Government. Increasing duplication and resulting inefficiency of government services has become a national virus, and we’re not immune to it here in Noosa.
Here’s the basis of the pitch contained in budget documents to justify more money from ratepayers for Council – as opposed to State and federally-funded – fire services.
Funding primary aim –
- delivering the Council bushland reserve controlled-burn program;
- ongoing creation, upgrade and maintenance of the fire access trails; and
- supporting volunteer fire brigade emergency response operations within the Shire.
Elected members should have known those functions were already being funded from general rates by ratepayers as follows –
- Rural and Auxiliary Fire Brigades do controlled burns where necessary in their areas, they need to do it for training purposes, and ratepayers have funded the Rurals for over 20 years.
- Fire trails have been funded from rate revenue for many years; a new levy is just a grab for more revenue and empire building.
- Ratepayers already support all firefighters who are controlled by the State Government and funded by an emergency services levy of millions each year from Noosa ratepayers.
In my view, the Council fire levy should not have got past first base. Council’s legitimate role in fire trails on public bushland and in maintenance of breaks was already being funded from general rates.
It may not be easy saying no to new toys, new ratepayer levies and bigger staff empires, but we elect Councillors to ask the hard questions. Even a five year old can tell you why it’s not always a good idea to have too many fire engines.