- The levy has funded new fire stations which are required to include public art
- Critics say money used on artwork should go towards firefighting equipment instead
- The Government denies bushfire brigades are “missing out on funding” due to artwork
The WA Government has defended using more than $100,000 raised from an emergency services levy to install public art at new fire stations.
The Emergency Services Levy (ESL) is collected by local governments from ratepayers on behalf of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
According to the DFES: “Every cent collected from the ESL goes towards providing emergency services to the community.”
But because of the WA Government’s longstanding Percent for Art Scheme, which requires up to one per cent of the construction budget for new public buildings costing over $2 million to be spent on artwork, some of this money has been allocated to public art installations.
A Government tender recently called for expressions of interest from artists to design and install artwork at the new Cockburn Career Fire Station with an allocated budget of $69,340.
The new building, including the artwork, will be funded by the ESL and money from the sale of some land owned by DFES.
The new Vincent Fire Station was funded entirely by the ESL and included a public artwork budget of $51,500.
Calls to use cash for equipment, not art
WA Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Steve Thomas said he believed emergency services should be exempt from the Percent for Art Scheme.
“I think that the community would be rightly shocked to learn that their emergency services levy money is going into artworks instead of the fire protection equipment,” he said.
“The previous government had the same policy, but I think it is time for this policy to end.
“I think there is a special case for emergency services where it is more important to put that money into the equipment they require rather than art work to decorate the building.”
Mr Thomas said he would raise the issue with his party room and propose a policy change.
Bushfire volunteers executive officer Darren Brown said while the association supported the Percent for Art Scheme, he did not agree with ESL funds being spent on artwork.
“The mums and dads that pay ESL under the impression that the money goes to frontline services ought not to be misled,” he said.
“The funding for [public art] should be coming from consolidated revenue, from Treasury, maybe from the portfolio of Arts, but certainly not from the Emergency Services Levy which mums and dads think is their contribution to emergency services.”
United Firefighters Union of Western Australia secretary Lea Anderson, whose union represents career rather than volunteer firefighters, said the union understood the Government’s longstanding commitment to public art.
“How the Government chooses to resource that commitment is a matter for them,” she said.
But she said ESL funds should be spent on more fire stations, personnel, a new training centre, improved equipment and personal protective clothing.
Brigades not missing out due to art: Minister
But Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan said it was “disingenuous” to suggest that funding public art under the Percent for Art Scheme meant money had been taken away from firefighting resources.
“Supporting artworks by West Australian artists at public buildings has been a bipartisan State Government policy for 30 years, so it is surprising to hear a Liberal member opposed to the concept,” Mr Logan said in a statement.
“There are no bushfire brigades or other emergency services groups or units missing out on funding because one per cent of public building investment has been allocated to artworks by West Australian artists.
“The level of funding for bushfire brigades is calculated by the actual brigade and their local government who then receive operating and capital grants funded by the Emergency Services Levy.
“It is independent of other funding arrangements under the Emergency Services Levy.”
Mr Logan said the percentage of ESL grants to bushfire brigades had increased by an average of 4.5 per cent each year, and an advisory committee was being established to provide more oversight of how the ESL was spent.
He said nearly $11 million had been provided to 58 local governments since 2018 for bushfire risk mitigation.
Cockburn fire station timeline still unknown
Construction of the Cockburn Fire Station, where the $70,000 public artwork will be installed, has long been delayed.
The previous career fire station was closed in 2015 after a spate of cancer diagnoses in firefighters over a six-year period.
Firefighters have been temporarily relocated at the nearby volunteer station in Cockburn ever since.
A Government spokesman said construction on the Cockburn Career Fire Rescue Station had been delayed due to issues with the purchase of the land and the capital works required.
DFES acting assistant commissioner for metropolitan operations Stuart Wade said construction was estimated to begin in April on North Lake Road.
“The station will have state-of-the-art facilities, including a post incident washdown area and is designed to facilitate further expansion if necessary, in the future,” he said.
“The station will be located on a major thoroughfare providing the quickest possible response time to the surrounding growing community.”
DFES’s 2018-19 annual report gives an estimated completion date of 2020-2021.
NOTE: Bushfire Volunteers’ Executive Officer was interviewed by ABC Radio Perth this morning about this issue, click below to listen to the full interview