Based on a request for further data across more fire services in Australia, it is clear that funding hasn’t been a problem. It seems allocation of those funds must be. As we showed in the NSW RFS and VIC CFA reports, expenditure seemed to be directed at increasing staff in administration accompanied by higher salaries instead of equipment, where numbers went down.
Expenditures, not revenues are a better place to look because more than income, spending denotes actual deployment of capital. Note most of the country’s fire services spend more than they earn so as government entities, the state governments back and fill those budget holes. So what might not appear purely as a direct appropriation from a state government at the start of the year, someone has to shore up the deficit. Note many fire services keep the earnings from fire levies and other quasi-taxation lines so that doesn’t show up in the budget line.
More importantly, were expenses allocated sensibly we could reasonably argue that the so called “budget cuts” the media keeps banging on about clearly weren’t having any impact on their ability to spend an extra $956.4mn over and above the 2014-15 aggregate figure. That’s an average 33% increase.
We looked at 8 fire service across the country and compared 2014-15 spending to the latest 2018-19 published figures. Here are the results.
Fire & Rescue NSW
$674m -> $814m ( +20.7%)
$311.2m -> $554.8m (+78.2%)
$372.5m -> $507.7m (+36.3%)
$484.8m -> $656.7m (+35.5%)
$569.9m -> $724.6m (+27.1%)
$359.8m -> $435.5m (+21%)
$74m -> $89m (+20.4%)
$76.2m -> $96.6m (+26.8%)
Not a lot of budget crimp in there. If budgets were being so drastically cut no amount of calendars featuring fire fighters clutching puppies would make up the short fall. More than that, state governments would have tried to ratchet back the deficits in the future budgets. Yet they didn’t.
So once again if we look at the direct appropriations from the states as a line item we get:
Fire & Rescue NSW
$603m -> $724m ( +20.1%)
$149m -> $491m (+329.5%)
$325.7m -> $414.3m (+27.2%)
$451.2m -> $622.2m (+37.9%)
$494.7m -> $561.2m (+13.4%)
$303.7m -> $418m (+37.6%)
$74.9m -> $77.4m (+3.3%)
$57.8m -> $66.8m (+15.6%)
So in every case, government spending (whether state or federal) and the state levies these bodies can charge, went up on 2014/15.
Pity the media keeps jabbing with budget cut narratives when the numbers simply don’t paint that picture.
As we’ve said all along, we need to take a long hard look at who have been making the decisions inside the fire service administrations (not the front line fire fighters) before we start pinning medals to their chests.