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Reimburse volunteers when disaster strikes?


old man emu
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Elsewhere I posed this question, and several members reacted positively, so I thought I'd open the topic to discussion

 

When the community is struck by these savage blows of Nature, and people put the skills they obtained through their volunteering, and give up their usual sources of income in the name of community service, would it be wrong for the community, via the government, to make up the income they lost? 

 

Here's how this could work for our volunteer fire-fighters and State Emergency Service members:

 

  1. The State government declares that some act of Nature has resulted in a disaster.
     
  2. The State government applies to the Federal Government to invoke Federal reimbursement for those volunteers who have not received income from their usual occupations for the period they were involved in the natural disaster.
     
  3. The Federal Government invokes a Federal law to permit Federal funds to be used for reimbursements.
     
  4. Volunteers seeking reimbursement lodge an application through their organisation - that is, through the unit they are attached to.
     
  5. The Officer in Charge of the unit submits documentation to confirm the number of days that the volunteer was in fact involved in volunteer work associated with the disaster.
     
  6. The application and supporting documentation, including the volunteer's tax file number is forwarded to State Headquarters where claims are collated.
     
  7. The list of tax file numbers is sent to the ATO who calculated the volunteer's average daily income from the previous year's tax return.
     
  8. The ATO informs Federal Treasury of the calculated amount of reimbursement the volunteer is due, and Treasury transfers the money to the volunteer's bank account.
     

 

 

 

I realise that it would take time for the payment to be made, but at least the volunteer would know that the money is coming.

 

 

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Problem number one....

 

Who decide what value to put on an individual's lost potential income?

 

Bear in mind a majority of volunteer firefighters in my area are past the age of employability (retired). Or those primary producers who might be called 'self employed'. Farmers might not have lodged a positive personal income tax return during the drought, and therefore have no provable income to be reimbursed for. Nevertheless they weren't able to work the farm whilst firefighting.

 

It is impossible to fairly apportion any recompense.

 

Do you have a cunning plan, Baldric?

 

 

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Who decide what value to put on an individual's lost potential income?

 

I didn't say that I had all the answers. No one has when they in initiate a discussion. I proposed one method. Another could be to set the amount at the average income of a retained fireman. Sure, some volunteers will not get as much as they would if they had remained at work, and some will get more, but either way, something is better than F-all.

 

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Given volunteers are seeing out a community service that the government should be providing a service for, it stands to reason that the volunteers are reombursed. In fact, I would go one further, OME, and it should be the time they are trained, on call, etc in the same way the fMFC are compensated. It would still be a darned sight less than the full time equivalent and they may have more people of younger ages sign up..

 

In fact, a quick check as the Aussie unemployment rate of 5.3%... Hmmm.. Can I see a mandatory part time national service (not military) being forumulated here? A wide question as of course, firefighting is dangerous work and not everyone is up to it.. but.. as an option amongst a host of other community service requirements, there be a reasonable take up?

 

 

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Compulsory Service for the Nation is not a bad idea. Many non-belligerent countries require their older teenagers to give some community service. However, in keeping with the ANZAC tradition, I hold that no government should force (conscript) a person into a dangerous situation. In those situations, a person must choose to put their life on the line voluntarily - and, thank whoever, very many do.

 

And I agree that if not for these people volunteering to learn and perform fire-fighting duties, the government would have to foot a massive bill to have a standing fire-fighting force. Surely, if our government gives a motza every time a disaster occurs on some foreign land, then they can do the same in its own land. 

 

There are about 72,500 members of the RFS, of whom about 1000 are  paid staff who fulfill senior operational management and administrative roles. Suppose each volunteer was reimbursed $1000 per week while actually working a fire ground during a disaster, that's $72,500,000. That's a lot per week, but these disasters are usually controlled within a week or so, and not every volunteer is on duty every day. There's even some years, according to folklore, when there are no disastrous situations.

 

 

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72million sounds like a lot of money, until you compare it with how much it would cost to have a paid full time fire service.

 

And it's still a lot less than the two billion dollars that they can find to replace a sports stadium in NSW, or 1.6 billion to replace one in Perth.

 

It's all about priorities.

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
When the community is struck by these savage blows of Nature, and people put the skills they obtained through their volunteering, and give up their usual sources of income in the name of community service, would it be wrong for the community, via the government, to make up the income they lost? 

 

I'm pleased to have learned over the course of these bushfire-related discussions that there is provision in the Social Security Act for volunteers to receive payment for lost income. Of course, it would have been nice for the Minister for Social Services to have announced this fact early in the piece when the question was first raised. 

 

While a maximum of $6000 per person is better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick, the amount still should be open-ended. $6000 at $300 per day is only 20 days. The criteria for the payment is that the person has to have been called out to fires for more than 10 days this fire season.

 

As usual, ScoMo has managed to insult most of the country because these payments have only been offered to members of the NSW RFS. Nothing's been confirmed about the Victorian CFB. Queensland, South Australian or Western Australian volunteers who have either been fighting their own fires, or who have come east to assist there haven't been included, yet. ScoMo brought this criticism down on himself by trying to score political points.

 

Quite simply, any furore could have been prevented by him simply saying that the grant of Federal money to States has to be documented for traceability, a normal action in any business, and that as soon as the State Premiers delivered a request in writing, the money would flow. The letters from the State Premiers would form part of the paper trail for the disbursement of Federal money.

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-29/scott-morrison-announces-volunteer-firefighter-compensation/11830758

 

https://www.news.com.au/national/politics/political-war-of-words-erupts-over-pms-plan-to-pay-volunteer-firefighters/video/c42b838f38af2374ddb6fbb5101f864a

 

 

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I was a member of the SES for years and in that time I fought fires, but nowhere near as serious as todays fires.

 

I got out of the SES because it was becoming overrun with paper pushers. We had to have log books to record everything we did and our training. then they brought in payment for first aid taining, which I thought was a bit rich. The final straw was when they said that if a disaster was declared, we could make our own assessment of what was safe to do. Before a disaster is declared we had to stick to all the guidelines. That resulted in working with untrained people in dangerous situations. When I am hanging half way down a cliff with an injured person in a stretcher I like to know that the rest of the crew know what they are doing.

 

It would be hard to have a form of national service, trained to answer to all the different types of disaster and untrained volounteers are worse than no volounteers.

 

 

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