The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:35): It is a pleasure to follow the member for Morialta, the education minister, on this topic because we came into parliament at the same time, a little bit over eight years ago, and we have shared our views on this internally and externally. This is a very important issue.
The emergency services levy is money charged on properties and some other assets, but largely it is a property tax by state government which, it is fair to say, was implemented under a Liberal government. However, at the time of implementation the Liberal government of the day also put in what were called remissions. Remissions were there so that there was a nominal amount of the entire levy that represented money the government would collect and spend on emergency services funding, and the remission was a reduction in the amount of tax collected without—and this is very important—a reduction in the amount of funding that went to emergency services.
Essentially, it was a remission that Treasury absorbed. It was a discount given to the public—households and companies—who pay the emergency services levy, but that discount did not flow through to the emergency services sector; it did not at all diminish the funding they received. It was absorbed by Treasury.
Several years ago now, I think probably about four years ago, the former Labor state government started to remove those remissions. At the time they did it for some phony excuse; I cannot even remember what they said at the time, but I do remember that it was not true. They removed the remissions, and they tried to imply that removing the remissions meant that the public—being households and businesses—paid more (the discount on the emergency services levy they received that was taken away) for emergency services.
They tried to pretend that by the public paying more for the emergency services levy the emergency services sector would get more. That just was not true. It was a blatant tax grab by the previous government. The emergency services sector did not get one cent extra via the removal of the remission, via the increased net cost the public had to pay. That money just went straight back to Treasury.
I think it was wrong to do that, but perhaps it was even worse to let the public believe that if they paid a little bit more, if they copped it on the chin, if the remission was removed so they paid more, ‘at least the emergency services sector would get a bit more money, and I suppose that’s okay’. It was completely wrong of the previous Labor government to allow the public to think that because it was not true. It was absolutely not true. Understanding that it was not true, understanding that the sector was not getting any more by the removal of the remission, we said very early on in the last term of the previous Labor government, very early on in our last term in opposition, that we would return that remission to the taxpayers.
As other speakers have said, and as I know is in the report of the Economic and Finance Committee, exceptionally well chaired by the member for Waite, that was $90 million per year, $360 million over the forward estimates of the budget. We said that we would do that. I think it was at least three years out from the last election. There was a bit of concern about developing that policy. Would it be the right time? Should we wait? Who knows what else is to come? And we said, no. We said that this Labor government has done the wrong thing and that a future Liberal government will fix it up, a future Liberal government will do the right thing. We said three years out from the last election, the 2018 election, that if elected we would return that money to the pockets of households and businesses.
Those on the other side might think that $90 million per year, $360 million over the forward estimates, $145 on average per household, is not much. Well, they are wrong if they think that. Every dollar counts to every household. Think about what $145 can do. Whether that is just trying to make an early extra payment one fortnight on a new mortgage, or whether that means being able to buy the fuel for your car that might allow you to drive your family on a long weekend or holiday somewhere, if you think about $145 and what that might do for a dental bill for your children, it might mean that you could do something special for your children.
You might not perhaps otherwise take your children to the Royal Adelaide Show, which is on at the moment, but if you had $145 extra, you could take your children to the Show, and it might be the one and only time that your children have gone to the Show. It makes a difference. It makes a very big difference. It makes a difference particularly in the context of all the other pressures that the former Labor government put on people with regard to cost of living. It makes a very big difference.
We addressed those differences. As I have explained, we addressed the return of that $90 million worth of emergency services levy. We have also addressed the cost of living with regard to reducing NRM levies. We have addressed it with regard to council rates capping. We have addressed in many different ways. We are looking at reducing payroll tax, which of course is a business tax, but businesses which have payroll of less than $1.5 million will not pay any payroll tax under our government.
How does that relate to families and cost-of-living burdens? It means those small businesses are more able to employ people. It means those small businesses can be more productive, can be more successful. Do you know what, Mr Speaker? This is not about supporting the businesses. This is about supporting the employees. If you have a job, if you are an employee, you want to have a secure job. You want to know that you can get a mortgage, that you can get a loan to buy a house. The only way that you are going to get a mortgage and a loan to buy a house is if you have a job and it is a secure job. It must be a secure job. Mr Speaker, what is the only way that you can get a secure job? Work for a company that has a secure future.
That is why we are supporting those organisations—not for the employers but for the employees. We know that we need to put more money back into the pockets of regular South Australians. This commitment was made a long time ago, and we are very genuine about it. Like all of the commitments that we made before the election, the proof is in the pudding. Two days ago, Tuesday this week, budget day, our budget included all the commitments that we had made going to the last election.
I do not pretend that there are not people who do not have some level of disappointment with regard to our budget. Of course, if you received a cut to your spending, a reduction to the spending of your particular area of interest, it is quite natural that you would be upset. However, we decided that we would only make cuts outside of the areas where we had made election commitments, that all of our commitments would be funded, and we would look for necessary savings in other areas. That is exactly what we have done.
The people of South Australia have got their $90 million per year back. The people of South Australia have got their on average $145 per year back in their pockets. To connect back to what I said earlier, the previous government tried to pretend that the increase in the emergency services levy was going to result in an increase in money for the emergency services sector, which of course was not true. While we have returned the remission, while we have reduced the emergency services levy, we have not cut the funding to the emergency services sector.
In the same way that they did not get one dollar more from the previous government, they will not get one dollar less from our government by the fact that we have reduced the emergency services levy. That is very important. Those professionals, and perhaps more importantly those volunteers working in the sector, are fully supported by us, as are households.