Volunteer firefighters will receive financial support from the Morrison Government for loss of income, where they have been called out for extended periods of service.
Rural Fire Service Volunteers in NSW who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses, and who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season, will be able to apply for the payments.
The payments will provide for lost income of up to $300 per day up to a total of up to $6,000 per person.
These payments are tax free and will not be means-tested, but are targeted to those most likely to suffer lost income by volunteering for extended periods of time.
For most, this will represent the equivalent of at least 20 days’ emergency leave for employees of small and medium sized businesses and volunteers who are self employed.
The Prime Minister says this will include farmers, small business owners, tradies and contract workers in rural and regional areas who have been hit especially hard by this fire season.
“Earlier this week I announced the Federal Government would be providing paid leave for up to four weeks for Commonwealth public servants fighting these devastating fires.
“This announcement provides employees of small and medium sized businesses and self employed volunteers with the same level of support.
“We expect larger companies to provide their employees with 20 days of emergency services leave.”
The Australian Government will cover the costs of the grant payments. The NSW Government will administer the payments.
Other State and Territory governments are invited to enter into a similar scheme based on their assessment of need and the demands on their volunteer effort from their own fire seasons. Other requests for assistance will be assessed on their merits.
“I know that our volunteer firefighters in NSW are doing it tough, especially in rural and regional areas. The season started early and has a long way to go.
“The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer fire fighters.
“While I know RFS volunteers don’t seek payment for their service, I don’t want to see volunteers or their families unable to pay bills, or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making.
“This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss. It’s targeted and is the result of a direct request and consultation with the NSW RFS and NSW Government, following the Commonwealth’s announcement of increased emergency services leave for Commonwealth public servants earlier this week.
“As I have said on many occasions – we take our advice on what is needed and what the priorities are from the organisations running the operational response. That’s what we are doing here.
“The fire chiefs and state and territory governments know they have our full support.
“We’ve already got our Defence Forces providing helicopter search and rescue, ground transport, accommodation, meals and re-fuelling. We’ve boosted our support for water bombing planes and helicopters by $11 million.
“Disaster recovery payments of $23 million have also flowed to affected families and businesses with more to come.”
These arrangements have been put in place for this financial year only. Any longer term arrangements will be considered by leaders at the COAG meeting in March, after there has been proper opportunity to assess the most recent fire season.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW Government has a strong record of standing side by side with RFS volunteers, many of whom have been on the front line fighting fires for weeks, and in some cases, months.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to protect the community,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“The NSW Government already provides unlimited paid leave to all state public service employees who volunteer with the RFS or the other emergency services.
“On top of that, NSW public service employees are able to take rest leave to allow time for their recovery before returning to work.
“NSW has committed more than $166 million in additional natural disaster funding this bushfire season over and above our record firefighting budget.
“We are now pleased to provide administrative support to the Commonwealth to compensate our brave volunteers for loss of income.”
Minister for Natural Disasters and Emergency Services, David Littleproud, said volunteer firefighters personify the Australian Spirit.
“This is a helping hand from the Federal Government for those giving to their community through an extreme fire season.”
“These payments will help support volunteer fire fighters financially for all the support they’ve provided their communities.”
Payments are expected to be available before the end of January 2020.