Australian government may create second Canberra firefighter force

The Australian federal government may have to set up its own firefighting service in Canberra after the territory claimed the government failed to pay its fair share for emergency services, including biological response capability.

The territory has been forced to maintain a specialist for biological, radiological and nuclear response capability to keep up with more incidents related to white powder than any other jurisdiction. Simon Corbell, the ACT emergency services minister, said that most of the incidents are directed at federal installations, the Canberra Times reports.

"We have the highest rate of white powder incidents in the country, measured against head of population we have 67 white powder reports (per) 100,000 head of population, the next highest is Western Australian with 6.5," Corbell said, according to the Canberra Times. "So for a city of our size, we have to maintain a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response capability which equivalent cities of our size don't have to maintain."

Most incidents involving white powder, which resembles anthrax spores, are hoaxes.

The government's Finance and Deregulation department said that it pays levies to Fire and Emergency Services on buildings it occupies throughout the city and it has been paying far too much.

Canberra is accusing the government of tearing up the $10 million agreement that ensures national institutions are protected by emergency services.

"They think that ACT taxpayers should be picking up the tab for providing fire services," Corbell said, according to the Canberra Times. "The commonwealth has indicated to us that they are unilaterally changing the terms of that agreement, not honoring the previous agreement, before a new agreement has been reached."

Corbell said that the territory may be forced to withdraw from the previous agreement, which expired on June 30. This would require legislation that forces the government to provide the city with a second fire-fighting brigade at an estimated annual cost of $18 million with a $12 million set-up.