INSURANCE companies could be forced to lower their premiums under new plans to change the way the NSW fire brigade is funded, Treasurer Mike Baird says.
At the moment, insurance companies contribute about three quarters of Fire and Rescue NSW’s funding, through a levy which is passed on to customers.
But the state government wants to remove that levy and switch to a new property-based tax, costing up to $267 for land valued at $250,000.
The proposal has angered the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (FBEU), which doesn’t believe insurance firms will pass on the savings and claims it could lead to new taxes to fund local police and ambulance services.
Treasurer Mike Baird said on Monday that he will demand insurance companies lower their premiums after being relieved of the fire levy.
“One of the favourite positions is to look at the rate base, so just include it as the rate base,” Mr Baird told Fairfax radio when asked how the new tax could be collected.
“But of course you then want to see the commensurate reduction in insurance premiums that people are paying.
“And we would ensure, should we pursue that option… that there were safeguards around it.
“You need to have some oversight and our expectation is that we would.”
Mr Baird argues that the new property tax would bring NSW in line with the way fire services are funded across most of Australia.
The state government says it is unfair that Fire and Rescue NSW is currently funded only by those who pay insurance premiums.
The government’s consultation on the new tax ends on October 8.
FBEU secretary Jim Casey cast doubt on the likelihood that insurance companies would reduce their premiums, especially if left to their own devices.
The union began rolling out newspaper, radio and direct mail advertising on Monday, against what they describe as “O’Farrell’s new fire tax”.