Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (11:20): I rise to speak to this report by the Economic and Finance Committee on the emergency services levy. This is a levy that has been in place for just over 20 years to be the main funder of our emergency services because there are a lot of lessons to be learned from events such as the two Ash Wednesdays to make sure we have the appropriate funding in place, especially for our volunteer firefighters and also our paid staff in firefighting.
Obviously, there are a lot of them in the Metropolitan Fire Service, and there are paid staff throughout the Country Fire Service as well. That translates also through to the State Emergency Service. The beauty of it is that there are at least 15,000 volunteers who contribute to these services. In the long run, we must never forget that. As to all the bureaucracy that goes on, bureaucracy is necessary, but sometimes it does become overburdensome, and that does have an impact on volunteer retention, I can guarantee it. I am a CFS volunteer, and I know there are others in this place who are as well.
It is interesting to note that in this report there was extra funding that had to be spent in regard to the River Murray flood event. The total expenditure funded from the Community Emergency Services Fund for 2022-23 was budgeted to reach $373.2 million, up from $365.1 million, and that was mainly due to the additional funding required for the significant River Murray flood event.
I must say, as a local member but on the other side of the house from the government, I was proud to play my role, certainly in Hammond and certainly as the shadow emergency services spokesperson, to work with communities right up and down the river and with the government. I would suggest that around 95 per cent of the time we worked hand in glove because we had to get the right outcomes for the communities up and down the river.
That is why, as the member for Colton said, he is astounded and I am astounded at why the government has not instigated an independent inquiry into the management of the River Murray floods, because a lot of good outcomes were achieved. A lot of it was done with collaboration across the sector. I am not sure what the government has to fear about that. Certainly, it was pleasing to have the ear of the emergency services minister, Joe Szakacs, and also the Premier, Peter Malinauskas, during this event. They were my main ministerial keys during the flood event.
To have direct access to chief executives, like Chris Beattie from the SES, John Schutz from the Department for Environment and Water and others, was so handy, and that direct contact was kept up. I certainly want to acknowledge the great work of Scott Denny, who was the local police superintendent for the Riverland and Murraylands. They saw how well he operates and transferred him to Adelaide: our loss is Adelaide's gain, as he is a fine police officer.
It was a very difficult time with the flood event and the coordination with communities right up and down the river with what needed to be done. A lot of the speakers from the various departments, the public servants, came out and spoke to communities right up and down the river. I went to several meetings at Mannum and Murray Bridge and, if I could not get there, my staff went. I commend those public servants because it was a bit hard to get across to some people that they were going to get wet feet. Some people did not think they were going to get flooded and it was a bit of a surprise when they did.
I remember the meeting at Mannum and both myself and the Mid Murray Council said to people at that meeting, 'You should prepare for up to 250 gigalitres a day coming down.' One of the confusing things was that there was always a low number predicted and then a high number for the flood, and that gave some people surety that perhaps it would not get as high as we thought. It came through on the reader that it was about 194 gigalitres a day at the high flow—that is a heck of a lot of water. After about two and a half days of that you have a Sydney Harbour.
I commend all the volunteers and staff, the thousands of volunteers, who did that vital work, along with the contractors, who I have spoken about before, shifting the 150,000 tonnes of clay to protect Renmark, the volunteers who worked alongside them and the staff who would have done overtime for no reward. Certainly, as you came further down the river, to towns like Cobdogla and Mannum, it had the effect of having to protect the lower reaches of the town. At Mary Ann Reserve, we had to get the levee banks in place.
I take my hat off the Ben Scales, the CEO of Mid Murray Council, who I think at midnight on New Year's Eve was there when there was no one else to man the pumps to pump out around the rowing club. So many people stepped up to the plate, and I acknowledge the work of our emergency services, as I said before.
The SES got that DefenCell in place when we could, in a timely manner. Sometimes councils balked at delivering that decision, but that was not the fault of the SES. Volunteers stepped up and put sandbags in place, and I met many volunteers at the relief stations who had come from Adelaide or other places to assist people filling their sandbags and getting on the job. It really showed a sense of community, and the community downstream from Murray Bridge along the levee banks—a few got flooded out towards the Swanport Bridge—put in a massive effort, along with emergency services. Certainly, the Army came into play as well.
I want to also acknowledge the vital work of all our fire services. They were all encompassing in this event, both the CFS and the MFS. They work right across the community in keeping us safe through fire events, certainly the 13,000-odd volunteers and staff from the Country Fire Service and the many people who work for the Metropolitan Fire Service, whether they be the staff, retained firefighters or full-time firefighters—they do magnificent work to save life and property—and people who rescue people; whether it is the surf lifesavers or those who rescue people who get in trouble offshore, I take my hat off to them. They are prepared to put their hand up. They are prepared to go above and beyond to rescue people in need.
I commend this debate around the emergency services levy and I commend everyone involved in the field, especially in relation to the recent River Murray flood event.