Robert Schwarten and Cr Cherie Rutherford are taking opposing sides in the Emergency Services levy debate.
Robert Schwarten and Cr Cherie Rutherford are taking opposing sides in the Emergency Services levy debate. File

Schwarten and Cr Rutherford in war of words over fire levy

FORMER Rockhampton MP and Queensland cabinet minister, Robert Schwarten has responded to deputy mayor, Cherie Rutherford's comments at the recent Mt Morgan town hall meeting over the emergency management levy. 

Robert Schwarten writes:

THE Deputy Mayor Ms Rutherford says that after the Federal Election the State Labor Government has been forced to listen.

A most political statement from someone who is professed to be non political. Her statement related to the Emergency Services levy which for as long as I can recall in its different incarnations was a property based tax.

If you own more than one property, as I do , you pay according to the number of you own. There have been many arguments to and fro re this dating back to my days at Council in the 80s.

I am totally opposed to Ms Rutherford' assertion that the levies charged to fund services like fire protection should be limited to one property.

In my case I own properties that if required would mean the call out of such services to locations more than 50 kms apart. Any reasonable or sensible person can see the fairness of paying according to the property one expects to be protected. But clearly there is an anomaly where properties of very low value that are side by side are being charged per title. Ms Rutherford as Deputy Mayor should be putting an alternative not casting arrows. She is a local government politician who voted for the landlord's tax that has put up rents on the low income earners who cannot afford to buy a home. So she should well understand the difficulty of taxation and equity.

The Deputy Mayor also should declare whether she attended the protest designed to scuttle the proposed health facility in her neighbourhood on behalf of the Council. Or was she there in a private capacity.

Her statements as recorded in the media indicate that she was there representing the Council. I am unaware that Council has made a decision via the normal democratic process on planning advice regarding this matter.

In any case the Deputy Mayor has an obligation under the local government act to reveal any potential conflicts of interest. Given the area under consideration is not her responsibility in either representation or council committee one has to assume that the Deputy Mayor is speaking on behalf of or for the Rockhampton Regional Council. I seek a clarification from the Council or the Deputy Mayor to confirm this

Cr Rutherford's response:

I can certainly understand the confusion regarding the State Government's Emergency Management Levy as the Regulation is cumbersome and complex. I wish I was wrong in regards to the application of this levy because it would save people considerable additional costs but unfortunately I'm not.

In previous years Rockhampton Council has collected the Emergency Management Levy per rate notice as acknowledged by Mr Schwarten as fair and equitable. However, a recent audit by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services concluded with a directive that Council should be applying the levy per lot not per rate notice.

This change means that any single property made up of a number of lots is charged for each of those lots (There are some variations). The 'anomaly' Mr Schwarten refers to in his letter is in fact not an anomaly but how the levy is now to be applied.

I have had many constituents contact me regarding how this change impacts them and their concerns about the ongoing financial hardship. I have encouraged them to discuss these issues with their State Members as I'm sure this change has produced unintentional consequences.

Anyone looking for information on the Emergency Management Levy can contact QFES on ph: 13 74 68 or visit the website here.

In regards to the community meeting concerning the Rehabilitation Centre I attended in the capacity of Acting Mayor.

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