Address In Reply

09 May 2006 archivespeech

This speech is to congratulate the Governor and the Lieutenant-Governor on their role and also to note the passing of two former members of this parliament in the last term: the Hon. Ted Chapman and the Hon. Terry Roberts. The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK also welcomes new members to parliament.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I commence by congratulating the Governor and the Lieutenant-Governor on their role. They have complementary skills and both carry out their duties very diligently and with good grace. I understand that they both have a very heavy schedule of official duties. I think that they both carry themselves extraordinarily well, and the people of South Australia should be very grateful to have two such distinguished people in our service.

I also note the passing of two former members of this parliament in the last term: the Hon. Ted Chapman and the Hon. Terry Roberts. With his wry smile and very dry sense of humour, Terry was one of the members of whom I was most fond. He was the sort of person you could make jokes with in the lift and he would always take them with good humour. He would often grin at us across the chamber as we asked our questions. While we do not want to downgrade the role of the parliament in question time too much, he was one of those members of parliament and ministers who understood and acknowledged that a lot of it is theatre at times, and for the benefit of the cameras. He took it all in good humour rather than ever being self-righteous about anything. I think that all people who aspire to such high office can take a lesson from Terry's style. I am very sorry at his passing and wish to add my condolences to those already expressed to his family.

I knew Ted Chapman a little through the Liberal Party. He was a great character and a great man, both in size and in personality. He is the father of our deputy leader, Vickie Chapman, who I am pleased to say has conducted herself in her own way and in her own style in this parliament. While I think she probably has a lot of the strength of character of Ted, she is also her own person. I am sure that she learnt a lot from Ted, and I know that she was very saddened at his passing last year. Again, I pass on my condolences to Vicki and the rest of the family for their loss.

I also wish to congratulate the new members, who have all now given their first speeches in this parliament, which can be quite a terrifying experience. I remember not some three years ago when I gave mine. I was shaking like a leaf and I think I read through the words very quickly. I would like to congratulate them all on their first speeches which have added to our knowledge of them. We all look forward to working with them during this term.

The government's priorities were outlined in the Governor's speech, which we know is essentially written in ministerial offices, as was the case in our day, so I do not hold the Governor responsible for the comments in it. It is becoming apparent that the government is continuing to use the rather tired line of referring back to the last Liberal term in office. This Labor government has had four years in office. It has been re-elected and it has a huge amount of revenue that, quite frankly, we would have given our eye teeth to have had access to when we were last in government. This is no reflection on our esteemed former treasurer, because it is a fact that the budget is in such good shape thanks to the ETSA contracts that were able to retire a considerable amount of debt, and GST and property taxes, stamp duty and so forth, which have been growing thanks to a burgeoning federal economy.

I do not think that we can make that point enough, because this government likes to take credit for a whole lot of things that it really has not had a great deal to do with. It is, indeed, lucky—and I use that word quite firmly—to have the opportunities it has, because there is some 25 per cent or 30 per cent increase in revenue in comparison to the last Liberal government's revenue, which is a huge amount of money.

I recall working for Robert Lawson in the disabilities and ageing portfolios, and we always managed to find enough money to match the commonwealth government's HACC funding offer. It is a bit of a no-brainer: for every 38 cents that the state government puts in, 62 cents is put in by the commonwealth. I am astonished and amazed at the govern¬ment's response to what the commonwealth has been offering in terms of mental health funding. I note from the Prime Minister's press release his comment that he is not tying that funding to a response from the state government—but, again, it is a bit of a no-brainer.

I referred in question time to the excellent forum that was put on by the Mental Health Coalition, which said that for every dollar—and it says that it has evaluated these figures—that you put into supported accommodation you save $2 in other areas. I think that is health dollars—hospitals and associated areas. Again, I think that is a bit of a no-brainer.

Considering the huge increase in revenue, our question in the election campaign was: where has the money gone? I do not think you can say that we have some sort of 25 per cent or 30 per cent increase in services—as the Treasurer's favourite mantra is—in hospitals, schools and the police. If that was the case, we would not continue to have the chronic problems that we have, particularly within the health and mental health areas, which is something with which I have become particularly familiar.

I am also incredibly disappointed that the government has decided to delay the budget. I do not believe that there is any excuse for this. If the government says that it is on top of the figures, why on earth did it go to the election and act so confidently about the position it was in and then, as soon as it was back in, say, `Well, gosh, we've discovered that there have been these overspends and we really can't tell you what we're going to be spending the money on until later this year.' That is just disgraceful.

I note that the member for Bragg made the point, and a very good point, that when they came into office, when there were very few of them—if any—who had previous experi¬ence in government, they were still able to deliver a May budget. This is a Treasurer who fancies himself as a pretty good treasurer, but he just cannot see his way fit to bring down a budget until later in the year. I would suggest there is another reason behind that, and that is because the govern¬ment knew very well that there were problems. It castigated the Liberal party for daring to suggest during the election campaign that we should cut the number of public servants and then, as it turns out, it looks like that is the way the government will get itself back into the black and keep the budget in line.

I think there were a lot of missed opportunities in the past four years, given the increase in revenue. If this is indeed a government of social inclusion, then I think there are a lot of investments in social policy that could have been made. The former minister for health had that in mind when she commissioned the Menadue review, which came up with the idea that we should be investing a lot more in preventative measures—something I agree with, but I think that goes only so far.

What it comes down to is that really there is a lot more in terms of primary care that can be done, which saves funds in the long run. In relation to the economic side of it, I heard the Hon. Nick Greiner at a Liberal Party address last night and I would have to describe myself in the same terms that he describes himself—`warm and dry'—rather than using the terms that were given to us by Margaret Thatcher, whereby we should also have used this as an opportunity to reduce red tape and taxes to encourage economic growth.

We have heard much in the past four years about the difficulties that a lot of people are having with land tax, particularly people who have tried to provide for themselves in their retirement. That often includes a lot of people from migrant back¬grounds. I declare a conflict of interest as my parents are in that situation and regularly nag me about land tax.

It was with interest that I listened to Peter Saunders, a social researcher from the Centre for Independent Studies, this morning on ABC Radio. He has edited a book called Taxploitation. One of the notions he stated—and I am diverting into federal tax and welfare issues—was that, when you have people on lower incomes who are receiving income payments, when they are means tested they end up falling into a situation where, if they actually earn more dollars, some of those dollars will be cut back in some of their Centrelink payments. It might be time for us to think about some of these issues and look at the issue of means testing. Sometimes the way we structure our systems does not enhance the system at all but keeps people in traps that prevent them from being able to make the life choices they wish to make.

I come back to the issue of where the money went. The figures speak for themselves. There are 7 800 additional public servants on the payroll since our last year in office. I am a great fan of a strong and productive Public Service, but like many people on this side of the council I do not believe in a centralised bureaucracy that is self serving, where you set up additional committees, councils and advisory bodies and so forth, which in effect reduces decision making in government because it is much harder to draw the lines of accountability. You have all these extra layers, and many of these committees can end up resulting in decision paralysis because they think that everything needs to be done by agreement amongst themselves. This is a large part of the reasoning behind the opposition's concerns about the Social Inclusion Board and the elevation of Monsignor David Cappo to the position of Social Inclusion Commissioner.

We have had the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the Premier being questioned at length about various roles and responsibilities. It is not just who is in charge of mental health—is it the minister or the new commissioner? One can also ask: what is the role of the Director of Mental Health and any of the advisory committees and officers within the various departments and, indeed, what is the role of the Premier as the Minister for Social Inclusion? If we were to draw an organisational chart of accountability in mental health, we would have something akin to noodle nation, with all sorts of things going in all sorts of directions and nobody really knowing who is accountable to whom. This is a great concern.

I refer to the forum I attended this morning. Any com¬ments I quote from this morning's session I did not seek the permission of the speakers to repeat them here, but because it was a public forum and the media was there it is fair enough to repeat some of them. Dr Jonathan Brayley, who is the Director of Mental health, stated that, when you try to design health services with a particular focus on mental health, you need clear lines of accountability, and it is best if the consumers and providers who are close to the coal face are the ones who have much more control of the new services. That makes a great deal of sense, but how is this possible when the mental health services in this state have so many layers?

I asked a question today in relation to housing for mental health services, which is an area that has been sadly neglected over the past four years. The government does not even know how many people with mental health problems need mental health services as it has no such thing as a waiting list. How can you, with a system this government has pursued, have any idea of what are the real needs and who is the person who is supposed to implement them? This is a huge concern, particularly in an area such as this, which has so much need. To talk about some of the specific issues in mental health, clearly accommodation is top of the list, particularly given that the commonwealth has made such a generous offer in terms of funding a whole lot of other primary services in mental health. It is up to this government to come to the party and make a commitment to properly fund some accommodation services.

I note from the government's mental health policy that it makes no reference whatsoever to funding new accommoda¬tion services, in comparison with the Liberal Party which said at the outset that Glenside would provide a new supported accommodation service for some 200 people. Accommodation services is quite a complex area. There are people with varying levels of need in mental health. Some people just need someone to visit them and make sure they are doing their shopping, eating properly, taking care of themselves and taking their medication. Other people need to be supervised and yet others probably need to be kept entertained (for want of a better word) on site because they might be a little impulsive and therefore need much greater supervision. There is a whole range of services in accommodation that need to be provided to people with mental health difficulties.

I think that we have heard quite a lot of evidence in the past six or 12 months about the fact that the deinstitu¬tionalisation policy of the 1980s was not followed with the amount of funding that was required to properly support people in the community and, indeed, I think it is also a given that there are some people who probably cannot live in the community without some sort of support. Instead, we have a system in this state which is failing people continu¬ously, such as the man whom I mentioned who has been nicknamed by one of the newspapers as Spiderman for having scaled the relatively new six-metre fence at Glenside. I understand he was raised in a foster family and is a schizophrenic who sees aliens. When I have spoken to people about where his home is, I am told he does not have one.

There are a lot of these people who do not have accommo¬dation and, frankly, for this government to point to the previous government, which is four years ago, when it has had $6 billion since that time, is incredibly irresponsible. I acknowledge that there has been funding which has gone into community services, and that is welcomed, but I call on this government to make that $25 million, which I think is over two years, recurrent funding available, because I know that the non-government organisations, in particular, who are providing services with that funding are in the process of training new people, whether they be certificate 3 people who have mental health qualifications, or whether they be psychologists or a whole range of different professionals who have been recruited to assist people in the community.

With one-off funding you do not have any continuity, and people in this particular work force, which is in high demand, need to be sure about their jobs in a couple of years. Members opposite, who love to remind us about job security and looking after the workers and those sorts of things, really ought to have a mind to giving these people some assurance. Given that they have been prepared to come on board and provide these services, the government should respond in good faith.

I wait with bated breath, but will not hold my breath, to find out what the government will do with Glenside Hospital. I think it was quite a shock to people in the mental health system when the Premier went there during the election campaign and announced that Glenside Hospital is here to stay, because the devolution project was already well under way.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Their research was telling them there was a problem.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Indeed, my colleague interjects that their research was telling them it was a problem. The record shows that this government definitely intended to sell Glenside. I note, for instance, the report Not for Service, a state government report which was signed off by cabinet, we were told, referring to the Glenside closure. So, unless the ministers had not read it—

The Hon. Carmel Zollo: The only person who saw it was Dean Brown. He wrote a press release about it.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yes, but we asked you.

The Hon. Carmel Zollo: I can show you the press release, if you like.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: But he wasn't the only one.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am quite happy to show the minister the comments that she made when she said it had been through cabinet and it had been signed off by minister Lea Stevens. There is another reference in an article in The Independent Weekly in which Lea Stevens was quoted as saying that Glenside was going to close, and it was certainly well known in the sector. So I think there were a lot of people working in the sector who were quite shocked.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: Evidence to parliamentary committees as well.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: There was evidence to parliamentary committees as well. So there are quite a few instances to which we can point. Regardless of the history, I think the government is now flapping and flailing about trying to find a role for Glenside. We are told it will be a hub of services. I admit that I am personally concerned about the prospect of some of the drug and alcohol services being relocated to the campus, given that there have been documented incidents of people becoming intoxicated at the Glenside site, but I understand that Monsignor Cappo is the person who has the role of finding a new place in the sun for the Glenside campus, and we await that outcome with great interest.

There have been a number of patients relocated to long-stay rehabilitation places from the Glenside campus, and that process has been under way and is, indeed, part of a work plan that was commenced under the previous Liberal government. There is a whole range of other things happening in terms of accommodation and rehabilitation services, but some of those are taking some time to come on stream. I note that South Australia has the second-lowest funding of any state in Australia, yet it was previously third-highest. Again, when this government tries to demonstrate that it is a government of social inclusion, it has to put its money where its mouth is. We are also awaiting the outcome of the review of the Mental Health Act, which has been out for consultation for 13 months. A number of those things are well overdue and need to be implemented post-haste. Those are just some of the issues in regard to mental health.

One of my other responsibilities for the Liberal opposition is that of correctional issues, and I would have to say that this is an area which is also in great need, particularly given the government's law and order policy—which I think some people are calling `Laura (as in the lady's name) and order', just to signify the seriousness with which they believe this government is taking it. It is timely that Chief Justice Doyle has made some comments about the government's tough-on-crime policy because, of course, none of us lives in a vacuum.

Whenever one part of a system is under pressure, it impacts on others. One of the things I will be interested in seeing in the budget, when we finally get a look at it, is whether this government intends building any more prisons and whether it intends doing anything about what has been described as the Third World conditions existing in the Remand Centre and the women's prison. Whatever you might think of people who have committed crimes and been convicted, they are still citizens of this country and deserve to be accommodated in acceptable conditions.

I think that Chief Justice Doyle was pointing to a problem which is a result of the government's tough-on- crime policy, that is, that our courts are under-resourced to deal with the workload that a so-called tough-on-crime policy is pushing towards them. Certainly, our correctional facilities are under-resourced. There are a couple of very serious bottlenecks in the system that will make it even more difficult for the justice system to deal with these issues. In the case of some people in the Remand Centre, it might take some two years before they even face court. Obviously, witnesses' memories are much hazier two years after the event, rather than two months after the event. Again, if the government is serious about this particular agenda, it needs to examine all the areas that are affected and, indeed, the Parole Board as well—and we have heard plenty of comment about that issue over time.

I am concerned about what I hear is a lack of rehabilitation of people in our prison system. What is the purpose of our prison system? I believe it should be primarily to keep our citizens safe. If people are being released from prison no better (for want of a better word) than when they went in, that is hardly serving the public of South Australia at all well. I note that in a previous budget the Premier actually cut the number of psychologists working within the corrections system, which is sort of counter-intuitive in an area where there is a great need for these programs. As it has been put to me, if you are not going to solve the problems, and if you pick on the little fish rather than the big fish—which comes down to having sufficient police resources—what good does that do for us over time?

The other area of responsibility I have on behalf of the Liberal Party opposition is the status of women—and clearly, as a woman, I know something about that. I think we have some emerging problems that are probably cultural, in that, while we like to think that women have choices about work, families and so forth, certain economic and cultural pressures prevent that happening. In my view, we should be doing all we can to keep women in the work force. If we are going to bother to provide women with a decent education, it does not make much economic sense not to do so. Women deserve choice as much as men, and that is something that needs to be addressed in greater depth, and it is something I want to put more energy into over the next four years.

I cannot speak for any of the minor parties, but most of us on this side of the chamber do not support a quota system for women, because we think it is tokenistic. I think the Labor Party is not always so kind to its female members, and I say to them that those of us who are members of other parties will watch that with interest. We are not particularly impressed with the way in which some of the Labor members treat their female colleagues, in a professional sense. I wonder at times whether the Labor Party—particularly this Labor Party—takes a commodity attitude towards women, such as `Yes, we know they are very important in the political cycle. We've got to have them on the front bench, and we've got to have them in our marginal seats.' Women are more value to the party than they are given credit for.

I also want to send a signal to some of the Labor members who might be a bit frustrated at the direction this particular Labor administration has chosen to take. As Mr Finnigan said in his maiden speech, we actually do not have a lot of time in this place. Governments can lose office sooner that they think. So, if people have serious issues they want to see reformed, they had better get on with it, rather than being beholden to Treasury or, indeed, their bureaucrats. We should not take the safe options in this place. We all need to take risks. We need to nail our colours to the mast or else we will get to the end of our career and wonder what on earth it was that we got into politics for. I say to those Labor members who are frustrated: think for yourself and, if you need to, take the fight up within your party, because you might not be there in four years. Surprise, surprise!

I also want to touch on the role of the Legislative Council. One of the things that has surprised me is how vicious the Premier's attack has been on this chamber. One of the things I try to do is read Hansard—which is a practice that I do not imagine I share with many in the community—and I have considerable difficulty following question time in the House of Assembly, because there are so many interruptions.

Indeed. As the Hon. Sandra Kanck interjects, Mike Rann never actually answers questions.

It might be the pot calling the kettle black, Mr President. First of all, there is a comparison of question time, where there is a lot of hubris, particularly from the senior government front-benchers. We have had references to people pointing to Vickie Chapman's jacket, which I think is such a load of nonsense. She is probably one of the most sartorially advanced people in the building. Labor's obsession with what some of the Liberal women members wear is quite childish. As members will recall, I was subject to that, myself, for wearing what I thought were proper dress shorts in this parliament. I am assured that it was not my Liberal colleagues who would have dared to raise such a matter with the former president. But I digress.

I am comparing the Legislative Council with the House of Assembly. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, the Legislative Council is a much more efficient chamber than the House of Assembly. I was elected to this place in 2003, and there have been a number of times when we would rise early and cop a bit of stick from downstairs, but they did not have any legislation ready for us. Quite frankly, I look at both the notice papers and wonder where this great Labor Party program is, because there is not much on them. It looks like a whole lot of rats and mice stuff and a few of these reactionary policies that they have been dreaming up to get themselves a headline.