Michelle Lensink

Appropriation Bill

This speech is to make a contribution to the Appropriation bill. This speech indicates support for the bill but, not being on the Treasury benches, it is very difficult to actually have any influence over this process in detail.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (19:53): I rise to make a contribution on this bill, and I am pleased to do so after that rather comedic performance from the Hon. Russell Wortley who, I think, might take out a booth at the Fringe, where he can tell whoever may come to see his performance about his views on the budget.


The Hon. G.E. Gago: Let's hear your plan.


 The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I will tell you, Gail. I think it is fair to say that for the portfolios which I look after on behalf of the Liberal Party, particularly the environment portfolio, this is an absolute horror budget. It was bemusing to listen to the Hon. Russell Wortley say that the benefits will flow to all South Australians and will come to fruition in years to come. I am paraphrasing him. I wish to make some remarks with regard to the cuts which are going to come to the environment in the out years, particularly in 2012-13 and 2013-14.


We are in this position not because of the global financial crisis but because of the sheer lack of discipline of Kevin Foley, Mike Rann and a number of other ministers who have not been able to exercise any restraint for eight years. We have had rivers of gold from the GST which has effectively, along with property taxes, doubled the amount of revenue that comes into the state budget compared to the budget the last Liberal government was looking after eight years ago.


I am very well aware of that because I was a ministerial adviser at the time and I have made these comments previously for the minister for disability services and ageing and a number of other portfolios that Robert Lawson collected along the way in the execution of his duties. We would struggle with that budget to get additional funds but we always managed to find them, particularly matching funds from the commonwealth so that we could maximise the amount that was available. And it was a struggle because of this thing called the State Bank. So, the budget finally got in—


The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: What year was that?


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: This would be—


The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: The State Bank was in 1991. You were in government until 2002.


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Well, and it impacted on the state budget for years to come.


The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: Eleven years.


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: For many, many years.


The PRESIDENT: Order! We don't need a debate across the chamber. The Hon. Ms Lensink has the call.


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Thank you, Mr President. So, that financial disaster (which members opposite continually just glibly deny and ignore, as the Hon. Terry Stephens says) took many years of difficulty in terms of continuing to pay down those debts and exercise restraint. This government got in and it was like a great big party. It has been throwing money here, there and everywhere and now, suddenly, the chickens have come home to roost. As a result, everyone across government and government services will wear significant pain, but particularly in the environment department, and I will address my remarks to that in a moment.


In relation to other portfolios that I look after, the Office for Youth and the Office for Women, I think there is a bit of uncertainty over their heads in terms of the amalgamation, or whatever it is to be called, within the building communities division. I have had women's organisations express to me significant concern as to whether the Office for Women and the Women's Information Service will continue as they have to this stage.


I note from the estimates process that the minister has said she will retain her title of Minister for the Status of Women, and I am pleased that portfolio will continue. We need dedicated officers who have carriage of those policy areas and who are distinct from the rest of government rather than some amorphous social inclusion, or whatever it may become. I think that is important, and if it is to be diminished in any way there will be further outcry in the community.


There is also to be a merger of the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs and the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner. I think it has been denied that there would be any service diminishment in that regard but I think it is fair to say that, particularly within the liquor regulatory area, there is significant concern that the services provided in those offices will be diminished.


I am pleased that the government is providing additional funds for domestic violence intervention initiatives, and I think that is to be commended. However, I will now turn to the environment portfolio, which is one of the big losers, along with PIRSA, out of this budget. We have a Premier who loves to say he is green, but his credentials really are on the line through this budget.


The department of environment has recently amalgamated with parts of natural resources management which have come out of water, land and biodiversity conservation. I appreciate both minister Caica and his CEOs providing a number of briefings to members as recently as today in relation to the DENR-NRM amalgamation. I think it is fair to say that there has been quite a bit of duplication and disconnect of NRM within communities, local government and the like, so I think reforms are necessary.


 However, 'We told you so', from the Liberal Party; we warned that the natural resources management structure would duplicate a lot of services that are provided by other departments. I think that the way natural resources management was structured—through changes to the act, and so forth—was asking for it to become over-bureaucratised through the sheer structure of its governance arrangements. In that regard, we are still holding our breath to see how it will play out.


I also think that with a number of areas in this budget that are being cut or amalgamated and so forth, we do not actually know what the outcomes will be or what the structures of a number of these amalgamated agencies will look like. We attempted to explore a couple of those things during the estimates process, but answers could not be given.


The macro cuts in the environment are huge. As I understand it, DENR is funded to some $135 million in 2010-11, and if one tallies up (and I have done this exercise) all the savings initiatives within DENR—including some figures that came through the committee chaired by the Hon. Robert Lucas, the Budget and Finance Committee, which discovered another $10.3 million that was being pulled out through some other means—the total amount is $74.471 million over four years. That will have a recurrent impact in the fourth year of this budget, 2013-14, of $31.356 million out of a budget of $135 million. That is close to one quarter of its entire budget.


We will start to see some of the cuts take effect in the current financial year, but in that out year it will certainly be very hefty indeed. It has been hard to ascertain what a number of these cuts really mean. If we go to the whole issue of the parks policy, public estate management and those sorts of areas, there has been discussion about increasing visitor numbers as a way of raising revenue out of the environment portfolio. The minister, in estimates, was not clear as to how that would play out. Three parks were referred to as being targeted for raising revenue, but it is not really clear how that money will be raised out of the environment department.


There is also a lot of money being raised through environment agencies, including:

  • coast protection cost recovery;
  • public estate management fees from mineral resources exploration;
  • environmental authorisation application fees;
  • CDL through beverage manufacturers;
  • radiation licensing fees;
  • the solid-waste levy; and
  • sustainability licensing.


That amounts to some $32 million over three years. I must say that I am quite sceptical that that sort of money can be raised, and it is something I would like to explore further in the committee stage of this bill as well as its companion bill.


 If we look at the individual programs that are part of DENR, there is some $1 million to be taken out of the Botanic Gardens, and a very large amount through Corporate and Business Services, which was explored in the Budget and Finance Committee. That is still unclear, and I think it is fair to say that the department itself is very unclear as to how that will operate.


There was also our recurrent impact of close to $5 million in 2013-14, streamlining of ecological data mapping, reduction in executive employees, and one of my little pets is the heritage function, which is to lose $500,000 and is rumoured to be taken out of the department and placed into planning, which will be the death sentence for heritage in South Australia.


IT service efficiencies again is well over $4.5 million in recurrent terms in 2013-14. Marine ecology and the marine parks program, which is curious, given that its annual budget is some $1 million, is to receive $1.5 million less in 2013-14. Parks planning, which I have mentioned, is to have an effective recurrent cut in 2013-14 of $635,000. Parks services: the plant species description is to lose $300,000 in the out year. Private land conservation and public estate management will lose a significant amount of money, $1.361 million, in the out year.


The natural resources management program, which is the most significant of all in terms of the cuts and is an absolute disgrace, is undergoing significant rationalisation, but I would be sceptical that there is that much fat in the system that they can effectively lose in recurrent terms $12 million in 2013-14. The appropriation that comes from the state government is approximately $16 million at the moment, so effectively three-quarters of what it is currently receiving is to be slashed from its bottom line.


Natural resources management receives significant funds from the commonwealth government, but again, in order to attract funding, it generally needs to provide some matching funding from other sources, the state government being the most obvious choice, and that will not be available, so I think the total funds available for it into the future will be very diminished.


We also had the debacle of the exposure of the old coast protection program, the sand pumping program, which was to be replaced by a 22 kilometre pipeline. That cost has blown out and it will now be only a nine kilometre pipeline. I think the minister stated in estimates that he was hopeful that it might be completed, but no funds have been allocated for that into the future.


I have mentioned raising money out of the parks system, an amount of $2.5 million in 2013-14, which is expected to somehow raise that out of people going camping and so forth. How that is intended to be done is incredibly unclear and I suspect will not be met. If that is the case, that will be more funds the department will not have available to it and therefore we will see a loss of those services.


Within the Environment Protection Authority, the biggest headline is in the solid waste levy. In other states the solid waste levy has had a business plan so that industry has been made aware over a five-year period what the levy increase is likely to be. We saw this government in 2007 unilaterally double the waste levy, which caused a lot of angst in the community. At that time Treasurer Foley nicked half of it and offset the government appropriation to the EPA. He has done that again, so all the funds that will be raised through solid levy waste increases will again result in an offset from Treasury to the EPA, which effectively means he is paying less for environmental protection in this state.


 The Local Government Association is rightly annoyed, as are a number of industries, that it was not consulted about the increase in the solid waste levy. I have publicly asked the minister to make a commitment that he would not increase the solid waste levy in the upcoming budget without consulting the community, and clearly that has taken place. At least there is some warning that the next increase will not come until 2011-12, with the final increase later than that, so there is four years of government advice as to what is happening with the levy. The point I was going to make is that other states have been very transparent in the direction of the waste levy in their states so that businesses which are liable to pay for those levies were aware and could factor that into their future planning.


Of course, we had the Sustainable Budget Commission document leaked to us which outlined a whole lot of things that the Sustainable Budget Commission thought might be a good idea, and some of those have actually been taken holus-bolus and placed in the budget. Interestingly, some of them have varied, and I would like to refer to those as well.


The cost recovery of the Coast Protection Fund is outlined in there and what is in the budget has come in at about half of what was recommended by the Sustainable Budget Commission. Public land visitor management, an increase in park revenue. What is in the budget is actually more, so, clearly, the government thought, 'Well, here's an opportunity for us to raid the community's kitty when they go and visit our parks', and has bumped up the amount.


The Sustainable Budget Commission report must have been leaked out to some of the friends of botanic gardens groups because they got very upset and there were a few media stories about threats to the Wittunga and Mount Lofty botanic gardens and sale of land, but I think the Sustainable Budget Commission had probably not informed itself that any lands within the parks system that are to come out of the parks system would need to be approved by this parliament, which would happen over our dead bodies, so that was dropped.


The ceasing of the marine ecology function. I note that the Sustainable Budget Commission is pretty up-front about using the word 'cease', whereas the budget steps back from that and talks about 'reducing impacts' and all sorts of language like that, but in relation to this particular program (which the Sustainable Budget Commission recommends that it cease), the actual dollar values which are suggested in there are identical. Reducing support for marine parks is about the same. Heritage conservation, which is reducing the heritage function to focus on statutory services, is about half of what is in the Sustainable Budget Commission amounts.


Cost recovery of the Coast Protection Board. The actual amount that was in the budget is a great deal more than was recommended by the Sustainable Budget Commission. We also have a reduction in private land conservation, which is identical to what was in the Sustainable Budget Commission report. The ecological data function is identical as well. In relation to business services, rationalisation of service, some of the figures, particularly in the out years, are actually greater in the budget than what is in the Sustainable Budget Commission report.


I make these observations because I think it shows that this budget process for the environment portfolio has been treated like an abacus. In areas where the Sustainable Budget Commission has been able to identify potential savings, the Treasurer has bumped some bits up or taken the recommendation exactly as it was presented, and in other areas he has halved it or tinkered with it.


In evidence to the Budget and Finance Committee on the same day as the environment appeared before estimates, I note some of the comments made by Mr Allan Holmes, who is the CEO of the new DENR department. There are comments which read, to my mind, as though the Sustainable Budget Commission has gone in with its axe and not understood what the particular programs are and left everybody in its wake somewhat mystified. Departments such at DENR have been saddled with requirements for funding cuts which I think will have a very detrimental impact on certain services and programs in this state.


The other point that I wish to make is about the FTEs of the department. I understand that DENR has something like 1,100 employees and will lose 1,400. That, by definition, will impact on park rangers who work in fire management and in—


The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: You're saying that they're going to get rid of 300 more employees than they have?


The PRESIDENT: I find that hard to believe: 1,100 and get rid of 1,400?


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Sorry, 140.


The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Are you meant to be objecting from the chair?


The PRESIDENT: I would like it to be explained to the house for your benefit.


The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Under what standing order?


The PRESIDENT: It is important that she does not mislead the house.


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I was not intending to mislead the house, Mr President. I just read a figure wrong, but I am grateful for the attention.


The PRESIDENT: As the President, I am entitled to correct you.


The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I appreciate that and I appreciate the efforts of honourable members, in their interest in my speech, that they picked me up.


The work undertaken in parks is important. There is a lot of activity that many people in the community do not necessarily understand in terms of providing nature links corridors, and so forth, and very important restoration works that are being undertaken through DENR. I am very concerned that that work will not continue.


The Nature Conservation Foundation, which is a non-government organisation, has taken it upon itself to purchase properties, largely filling a gap that the environment department is no longer able to participate in. In the past, we have had environment departments which have purchased properties for restoration and they have then been managed through the public system, involving park rangers in those works.


The Nature Conservation Foundation will be doing that itself and I think we have seen a significant cost shift to the benevolent sector, which is possibly better resourced to do it, but I think it is a disgrace that this government has allowed the parks system not to be supported to such a degree that we are relying on the generosity of the community to undertake those works.


I indicate that we support this bill but, not being on the Treasury benches, it is very difficult for us to actually have any influence over this process in detail. If I were the environment minister, I would hang my head in shame at what Messrs Rann and Foley are doing, cutting such an important service when we are facing climate change and water difficulties and so many challenges to the natural environment.

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