Photo caption: Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall formally introduced his Rural Fires Amendment (Red Fleet) Bill into State Parliament today, delivering his second reading speech.
Thursday, 14 September 2023
MEMBER for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall formally moved his Private Members’ Bill in State Parliament today, amending the Rural Fires Act 1997, to transfer the ownership of NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) vehicles, fire trucks and buildings from local councils back to the State Government.
The local MP delivered a second reading speech in the Legislative Assembly this morning to progress his Rural Fires Amendment (Red Fleet) Bill 2023 which he said would resolve an archaic and redundant anomaly buried within the current legislation.
“The ‘red fleet dispute’ has been an ongoing debacle – a political football – over the last 18 months between the State Government and local councils over who own and pays for RFS assets,” Mr Marshall said.
“This Bill remedies the situation, bringing the argy-bargy to an end, by making it clear that RFS assets belong to, and will be accounted for by, the State Government, via the NSW Rural Fire Service.”
Mr Marshall said the Rural Fire Service of today looked very different to when the Rural Fires Act 1997 was written.
“The Bill will vest all firefighting equipment, including apparatus, buildings, water storage towers and lookout towers with the State Government,” he said.
“As it currently stands, local councils are legally and financially responsible for firefighting equipment even though they don’t have any control over the procurement of those assets, how they are operated, stored, maintained or disposed of.
“This legislative amendment will bring the treatment of all these items inline with how the vehicle and building assets of all other emergency services in NSW are accounted for and remove an enormous and ridiculous cost burden from our local councils and their ratepayers.
“Why should a local councils use ratepayer dollars to account for a depreciate an ‘asset’ which they do not purchase, manage or have the authority to dispose of?
“And why do councils legally own these vehicles but not police cars or Fire & Rescue NSW pumpers?”
Mr Marshall told Parliament his Bill amended Section 119 of the Rural Fires Act 1997 to transfer the ownership of all NSW Rural Fire Service vehicles and buildings to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“This will ensure these assets are vested solely with the RFS, which will be required to account for these assets, and the associated depreciation and costs, on its books,” Mr Marshall said.
“Currently the Act and the NSW Auditor General requires all local councils to do this, costing them a small fortune, or risk having their accounts qualified.
“Last year 43 local councils had their accounts qualified for the 2021/22 financial year due to them not accounting for and depreciating all RFS assets in their local government areas on their books.
“The depreciation costs alone, cost each council and their ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is money which could be better spent delivering services or fixing local roads.
“In the Northern Tablelands, more than $4 million annually would be saved if this Bill were to pass the Parliament.
“This is a significant cost burden to our communities and is money that could be better used to fix potholes, reseal roads and upgrade play equipment.
“In essence, this Bill reverses a huge and archaic cost-shifting anomaly buried deep within the Act and puts the full cost back on the level of government responsible for the RFS; the State Government.
“It ensures the legislation accurately reflects what occurs today with regard to the procurement and operation of RFS assets, not what was things were like back in 1997.
“There has been so much talk lately of the financial sustainability of local councils moving into the future, so this Bill has come at a perfect time.
“I hope the government and opposition support my Bill so we can resolve this dispute once and for all.”
Mr Marshall’s Bill will be debated in the Legislative Assembly in the coming sitting weeks.