Michelle Lensink was elected to the Legislative Council in the South Australian Parliament in 2003 and was appointed as the Minister for Human Services in the Marshall Government, in March 2018.
As the Minister for Human Services, Michelle is responsible for communities and social inclusion, social housing, disabilities, women, youth and volunteers.The human services portfolio covers a range of inter-related areas which are best considered holistically. Currently, the most significant challenges include prevention of domestic violence, the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the lack of housing affordability.
Michelle not only has a longstanding interest in human services but has also worked on the ground in terms of providing services to and advocating for those in need when she worked as a physiotherapist at the Repatriation General Hospital (Daw Park, SA) and was part of the aged care sector peak body.
Michelle is married to news cameraman Scott Perry. In 2015 she became the first female serving Member of the Legislative Council to have a baby. This has allowed her to have a personal understanding of the challenges associated with balancing a family with a demanding career.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In making this, my first speech as the newest member of the Legislative Council, I wish first and foremost to acknowledge the continuous support of my family. Every time I have given a major speech my parents have sat in the audience with their hearts in their mouths, proud as punch but fearful that their youngest daughter might get walloped in this latest political exercise. It is probably in part my parents' Dutch heritage that drew me towards the Liberal Party. They are a stoic pair who have drummed into their kids the need to work at things and stick them through. As children, they lived in occupied territories during the Second World War and learned to make do with less: a valuable lesson that taught them and then their own children to live within our means and to avoid debt.
They have instilled in us a mentality of not seeking hand-outs as a solution. As a Liberal, I believe that every individual has the means to achieve great things and that the daily struggle to achieve your best has a cumulative positive effect on society. This struggle is where lessons are learned, and the outcome you can then truly call your own. I am personally humbled, however, by the support and mentoring of so many people who have assisted me to stand in this place today. For having spent so many years at university, I have my mother to blame. In her mind, all three daughters needed to be of independent means and, therefore, had to have a degree. This policy has stood my sisters Angela, Ingrid and I in good stead, although if we had been really clever we might have ditched the text books in favour of something like plumbing, which has flexible working hours as well as a solid income!
However, as they say, such is life. Instead, I became a physiotherapist. I am not certain exactly to what the Speaker from another place was referring when he suggested that I apply these skills to the parliament. I do have a standard joke that I can manipulate the truth and massage egos. In reality, physiotherapy has given me inside experience of our hospital system and of assisting people who are often at their most frail and vulnerable. I was also made aware of the complex politics of health, which I believe in no small way contributes to the challenges we face in moving our health system forward to meet future demand.
I joined the Liberal Party while finishing that degree in 1990. I owe a great deal to the Liberal Party and to its youth wing, the Young Liberals. On joining, I was enthusiastically embraced and found myself thrust into leadership roles that I had not considered I was capable of. The practical experience gained through debating, public speaking and campaigning, as well as the many friendships formed, have been an invaluable foundation for a fresh young person interested in political life. I also thank both my former political employers, the federal member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, and our esteemed colleague the Hon. Robert Lawson, for providing valuable opportunities in their respective offices to gain from their knowledge and experience.
I also thank the Australian Nursing Homes and Extended Care Association (ANHECA), for which I most recently worked. The ANHECA board and its Care Management Executive are aged care providers with a vision for the industry. They have a can-do attitude and seek to provide the highest possible standards. I learned a great deal from their members in the time I was there, including great insights into the realities of running a business, particularly one that is as defined by government legislation as is aged care.
I would like to acknowledge the person whom I have replaced, so to speak, the Hon. Diana Laidlaw. Diana is passionate and still speaks about each of her portfolios as lifelong projects, cherished, guarded and defended at every opportunity. At her recent farewell, many people from the diverse range of portfolios that she represented celebrated her time in this place to further attest to her commitment and enthusiasm. I particularly admire Diana's courage. In public life we must cherish those people who fearlessly speak their mind and defend those things that they truly hold dear.
Someone else whom I admire very much for similar qualities is our Prime Minister, John Howard, who said recently in Adelaide (and I paraphrase) that leaders are able to win community support for unpopular decisions if they believe that something is right and if in promoting that policy they are honest with the public.
The path of least resistance and thus success may appear to be a solution for those who would wish to be granted the most political favour by causing the least offence. This concept I believe to be a fallacy as it defies the purpose of public office, which is to provide leadership and judgment. To fail to defend your core beliefs is to deny that you are built within a value system. You stand for nothing but political prerogative, a proverbial licked finger in the wind of political opinion.
We know with our personal finances that it is prudent not to abuse the credit card. However, some tend to ignore this reality when it comes to government spending and taxation, perhaps because it does not directly impact upon them. However, everything must eventually be paid for and, if this occurs through borrowings, we all pay twice. The former Brown and Olsen state governments, as well as John Howard's government, have made some very difficult decisions from which all South Australians now reap the benefits through a reduced overall debt burden and lower taxation.
As the youngest person in this chamber and the youngest to represent the Liberal Party in this parliament, I believe that the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon younger generations is a low taxation, low inflation environment to enable us to build a secure future. After all, younger generations have already paid more for their own education, have greater job insecurity and will provide for their own retirement through superannuation.
South Australia's lower cost of living makes it an affordable place to raise a family. We need business investment in order to provide challenging opportunities for our young people. We currently lose too many educated and qualified individuals, whose skills would be better used to help the state prosper. As a smaller state with a narrower economic base, South Australia is more vulnerable than states to our east and west. Sound economic management is therefore more critical here. Since the 1970s, growth in gross state product has slowed, making less funds available for new projects. This brings into sharp focus our fiscal policy and spending priorities, which must be set against demographic, social and technological changes.
I was interested to read the comments of Mr Bob Day, a board member of the Samuel Griffith Society, published recently in the Advertiser, in relation to the states' inability to raise their own revenue and the commonwealth's inability to account for funds transferred to the states. From my own experience applying for grants at both levels, I heartily agree with Mr Day's concerns. The commonwealth as a funder is far more rigorous, iterative and focused on its priorities. As a taxpayer, I was pleased that our consortium was asked to provide so much detail. However, the commonwealth's priorities were so far off the local needs that we considered abandoning the search for outside funding for a fabulous program because, quite frankly, it was made all too hard.
I have been pleased to note some of the comments contained within the recent report of the Economic Development Board regarding the role of government. If I can paraphrase, because it is up to the private sector to lead economic activity, the role of government is to provide a supportive environment that promotes sustainable investment. It goes on to name a series of ways in which government can improve services to business, including cost competitive regulations that minimise the cost of doing business in industrial relations, planning approvals and environmental sustainability; sound fiscal management and a simple tax system that minimises compliance costs; and support for infrastructure, especially energy, transport, telecommunications, water and waste management.
Given that two of the esteemed members of the board are former ACTU presidents, it is especially pleasing that this Labor government has been reminded that the capitalists won not only the Cold War but also the arguments in favour of small government. We need to cut the costs of doing business in order to prosper, while also recognising the need to provide services and infrastructure that will support individuals and businesses to fulfil their aspirations with minimal interference. This I believe to be the cornerstone role of state governments.
The states have a critical role in delivering the daily bread and butter services on which people depend in their everyday lives such as education, health, transport and law and order. In this sense, the states comprise possibly the most relevant level of all. A state has the distinct advantage of being of small enough size for its elected representatives to keep in touch with people who are affected by various parts of the system.
While it was touched on in the report, industrial relations and state taxes were not given sufficient airplay. In the aged care industry, wages and payroll on-costs comprise up to 80 per cent of operational expenses. The report suggests that wages, particularly in service industries (which it notes are on the increase) should be managed, Pollyanna style, in a consensual fashion. But beyond that there is not much advice to government. Surely if we want more people to be employed, we need to provide the conditions under which the risks of hiring additional staff are minimised. When recruiting, you need someone who will become an effective part of your team and enjoy their job. If things do not work out, it can be a very costly exercise to resolve, and the smaller the business, the greater the burden on all the other people working there to cover for lost productivity.
The 20 per cent increase in the WorkCover levy in 2003/04 is a body blow to all South Australian businesses and will do nothing to attract organisations to this state. It is already a system which does not work in the best interests of employees or employers and should never have been designed to duplicate the commonwealth's welfare benefits program for injured workers. The fact that the liability falls on the employer to compensate for an injury in which the workplace contributed a trivial proportion to the injury claim is a grossly unfair burden, as is forcing employers to take full responsibility for a worker's pre-existing injury that they have not been told about in an interview. I know a number of employers who have settled on such things at great cost even though they knew they were on the right side because the WorkCover systems are so invidious.
Lack of wage restraint in public sector wages has placed pressure not only on the state budget but also on those industries outside the public sector which employ people in comparable positions, for example, nurses and teachers. However, if inflation in this state increases, that is just the cost of keeping the unions happy. I also condemn Labor's failure to use opportunities to facilitate greater competition in the electricity market, for increasing state taxes and introducing new ones. Not only will the cost of doing business increase, but struggling pensioners and families will be hit hard. In order for this state to prosper, these issues must be addressed immediately. I would consider that not much of the content of the report is rocket science so I am not quite sure why the government felt it needed a board to tell it.
We need to look to those industries in which we are already competing well as sources for our future economic growth. Our top overseas export earners by dollar value are grains, motor vehicles, wine, resources and electronics, in that order. While their infrastructure needs vary, some do receive more attention than others. Logic would not tell you that you would cut the infrastructure—except water—from any of these industries, as this would risk reducing South Australia's export earnings. But this is exactly what the state Labor government has done to our regions. I have travelled on roads that are intended for grain haulage which were so narrow that I was afraid to pass other vehicles in a four cylinder car. There are numerous examples of Labor's cuts to regions. Presumably, the country does not count because the voters are fewer in number and less inclined to vote for the ALP. However, these decisions are short-sighted and will constrain growth in this state.
I believe that all policy decisions must be sustainable and balanced, and include consideration of social and environmental impacts, as well as financial. Poker machines and inflexible workplaces have a negative impact on South Australian families. We are all familiar with the strain the River Murray is under after much use as one of our nation's most productive resources. Everything has a price; therefore, the consideration of long-term costs must be against short-term gains. As a new member, it is hard to know what Labor's priorities in government are. To minimise the risk of being accused of tediousness, I will but mention the impact of Labor's last term in office and the devastation of the former State Bank. However, the Rann government is so sensitive about this issue that it has sacrificed key promises from the last election in an effort to paint themselves as effective economic managers.
One of the programs closest to my heart in this rearrangement of priorities is the Home and Community Care (HACC) program which is funded 62¢ in the dollar by the commonwealth government. The states match the rest and then determine where this funding should be allocated—a very good deal one might think! HACC funds a diverse range of organisations and services across this state such as Meals on Wheels, Domiciliary Care and district nursing. Its charter is to prevent people from entering institutions by providing them with services that will help them and/or their carers to keep managing at home. Bearing in mind our ageing population and that South Australia has a high proportion of people with disabilities as well as a large number of carers, and bearing in mind that this is one program where significant additional funds are offered to the states well above the rate of inflation, the Labor government's decision not to match the commonwealth's offer is astounding. In 2002/03 the HACC program in this state was worth $95.01 million. Instead of an increase in 2003/04 of $7.38 million (or 7.76 per cent), HACC will increase by only $2.38 million which will not fund any new services. Now that those funds have not been matched, they will be offered to other states and will be lost to South Australia forever.
Furthermore, not only will growth in additional HACC services be arrested but there will be a flow-through to increased hospital waiting lists, as those who are unable to return home but for a district nurse to dress their wound or domiciliary care to install grab rails will remain occupying a more costly hospital bed or a place in residential care. Innovative programs which were previously funded through HACC, such as the Acute Transition Alliance, and which were a key plank of hoped-for reforms contained in the Menadue review of the health system, will need to seek funding from other sources.
I despair that the Labor custodians of this state have forgone all the compassion they pretended to have prior to the last election in favour of being a cynical and cowardly government. Indeed, I think that many of them still believe in social justice but, clearly, they have no influence in cabinet or in their party room, or they would not have agreed to some appalling decisions. Those others who now adhere to some new Labor philosophy of fiscal responsibility are still burdened by Labor's obligations to their mates of old in the union movement.
A man or woman cannot serve two masters. I am thankful that the diversity of the Liberal Party means that it preselects not only teachers and lawyers but also business people, primary producers and the occasional vet or physiotherapist. I am thankful that the party to which I belong holds freedom, family and enterprise as its fundamental tenets. It is also the party that lays claim to all the firsts for women's electoral success. I hope to follow Diana Laidlaw's example by demonstrating some of her passion, enthusiasm and courage during my time in this place. I recognise the struggle of those women who came before me—from attaining the vote in 1894 to being elected to parliament and being appointed to cabinet. As the youngest woman in this place, I hope to provide a beneficial perspective for the betterment of all South Australians.