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Are volunteer firefighters really compensated by the government?

Anastasia Santoreneos
CANN RIVER, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 06: A tired firefighter rests outside a cafe on January 06, 2020 in Cann River, Australia. Milder weather conditions have provided some relief for firefighters in Victoria as bushfires continue to burn across the East Gippsland area, as clean up operation and evacuations continue. Two people have been confirmed dead and four remain missing. More than 923,000 hectares have been burnt across Victoria, with hundreds of homes and properties destroyed. 14 people have died in the fires in NSW, Victoria and South Australia since New Year's Eve.
Are volunteer firefighters really being compensated? Source: Getty

In December, the federal government announced it would be compensating volunteer firefighters battling the bushfires in NSW to the tune of around $300 per day.

The payments would be available to Rural Fire Service NSW volunteers who are self-employed or work for small-to-medium businesses, and would be the equivalent of 20 days of emergency leave, capped at $6,000.

Payments are tax-free, and would be available before the end of January.

"This announcement provides employees of small and medium sized businesses and self employed volunteers with the same level of support,” prime minister Scott Morrison said at the time.

“We expect larger companies to provide their employees with 20 days of emergency services leave.”

How has the compensation scheme actually played out?

While the scheme sounds generous, the payments are, in reality, tougher to access.

According to the government’s statement, volunteer fireys who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season will be able to apply for the payments.

But, volunteer firefighters cannot claim for those initial 10 days - compensation begins from day 11.

On top of that, the payment is “up to $300”, but in practice, volunteers must claim their normal working day wage - after tax, an analysis by the Fassifern Guardian has revealed.

Volunteers must also prove they genuinely “lost” income, which means if they work part-time, or haven’t received an income as a farmer due to drought, then they cannot claim compensation for the days spent fighting fires.

Furthermore, if a volunteer’s normal working day is between 8am and 5pm, and they only fight fires between 3pm and 10pm, then they can actually only claim two hours’ worth of lost income.

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