This speech is in regards to the Appropriation Bill, more specifically the estimates process.
Adjourned debate on second reading.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (11:32): I rise to make some comments on this matter and also in relation to the estimates process. I have a number of questions that I will put on notice to which I would appreciate a response.
As I mentioned in my appropriation speech last year, the 2009-10 budget saw the greatest wholesale slashing of any environment budget in South Australia's history. The net cost of services for 2009-10 is estimated to be $145.5 million, falling to $135 million in 2010-11, and this is projected to fall further, to $126.5 million in 2011-12. A large part of this is the projected drop in employee expenses from $74.5 million to $66.7 million, a drop of some 10 per cent. The cumulative impact of last year's budget cuts over the four-year period is over $64 million, with the deepest cuts coming in 2012-13 and 2013-14, which will be nearly $28 million a year.
We did have some initiatives in this budget for DENR. I note that, in the ministerial two-page opening statement, the minister referred to national parks, marine parks, botanic gardens, coastline heritage conservation and animal welfare. He did not talk very much about biodiversity. In this regard, I think it is worth noting that the government has changed its target in that it has removed its no-species loss policy. It used to have a strategic plan target to lose no species. In 2008, we discovered that 100 native species had become endangered in the past eight years. That was an alarming statistic which I said at the time the Rann government should be ashamed of.
Speaking on the eve of National Threatened Species Day, I described Mr Rann's 2002 election pledge to 'save South Australia's native animals and plants' as a con. Indeed, the data shows that endangered native animals and species worsened under Labor. The State Strategic Plan progress report showed that the total number of species identified as threatened increased from 1,041 in 2000 to 1,043 in 2008. A closer examination of the data shows that over that period the number of threatened reptiles was up 36 per cent, birds were up by 28 per cent, mammals were up 13.6 per cent, and plants were up 3.7 per cent.
In addition, there were six more amphibian species in South Australia under threat; among the new species included that year were the short-tailed hopping mouse, the long-tailed hopping mouse, the osprey and the yellow-nosed albatross. Instead of being up-front about this alarming jump, the government tried to conceal the trend so that now it has '20 indicative species' to monitor the target, which I think is particularly gutless.
One of the initiatives in the budget was a welcome $7.3 million for the regional fire management program, and we are advised that there are to be some 13 permanent and 43 seasonal firefighters. A prescribed burning program focuses on high-risk areas with high rainfall, that is, Mount Lofty, Lower Eyre, Southern Flinders, South-East and Kangaroo Island. However, there was a statistic in the budget papers that was quite curious, namely, the percentage of DENR staff who are trained and accredited firefighters, which apparently has dropped dramatically from 85 per cent of staff in 2009-10 to 36 per cent in 2010-11.
This issue was raised by the member for Stuart (Mr Dan van Holst Pellekaan), and the minister did not have an answer at that stage. The member for Stuart described it as 'potentially alarming' and said, 'I understand you will get back to us with more detail,' but we did not have an answer provided at that stage. My questions are: can the minister provide an explanation, and has there been exodus of fire capable staff leaving the department?
There are to be park upgrades. The Botanic Gardens ASR, the Lincoln and Seal Bay parks, which are all welcomed. There is also reference to implementation of marine mammals regulations, caution zones and approach limits with coast recovery and compliance, but we have not had a media release on that matter yet, so my questions are: can the minister provide more details, and what is the funding for?
Other key highlights over the year include construction of the Adelaide Botanic Garden First Creek Wetland Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project, which was commenced. Another highlight is the conservation of 57 per cent of South Australia's threatened native plant species within the Adelaide Botanic Garden conservation seed bank. I mention that in passing because I attended the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens at the suggestion of the CEO of the Botanic Gardens, Dr Stephen Forbes. That was one of the many interesting and commendable activities the Botanic Gardens are undertaking that will help to ensure that we look after our native provenance for decades to come.
Another highlight was that co-management negotiations have finalised over the Flinders Ranges National Park and the proposed new Aboriginal-owned conservation park at the Breakaways north of Coober Pedy. The budget papers also stated that negotiations are also well advanced over Lake Gairdner National Park and the Gawler Ranges National Park. There was reference to the $21 million for the Adelaide Living Beaches pipeline, which is a decrease in scope, which was revealed in last year's budget.
I would like to turn to the matter of park rangers. This was a topic that was also raised in last year's estimates. In last year's estimates, the minister refused to guarantee that field ranger positions would be quarantined from the funding cuts which are going through DENR like a hot knife through butter.
The minister often refers to the 20 additional park rangers, which was a 2006 election promise. However, I think this is quite deceptive. I should say at the outset that the additional new and enthusiastic park rangers being appointed are very welcome. However, I think that needs to be balanced with the fact that there are many experienced rangers who have taken packages, who are fed up with the system and are leaving. As a result, particularly in areas of rare species and fossils, that is impacting on the protection of theft from our parks.
We were also advised that duty rangers in the Mount Lofty Ranges have been told this year that they will no longer be working weekends. So, in that case, if a native animal is injured or a fire breaks out in a park, nobody knows who is responsible for managing it.
On 1 July 2010, there were 108.5 FTEs. It is the same this year. However, I would like to point out that, under the last Liberal government, the number of park ranger positions was 293. So, that is some three times the number of park ranger positions that operated then, than operate now under this Labor government. Yet, this is a government that likes to bang on about how green it is and also talked in this budget and in estimates about additional parks.
The problem is though, there are not enough park rangers to cover all of the parks—those positions having been very severely cut in the last eight to 10 years. There are a lot of problems with feral pests and weeds in our national parks, which the park rangers are not able to cover. It is for this reason, I think, that we see the emerging trend where you have organisations that are actually privately purchasing properties and putting their own private rangers on there, because they know that this government does not have enough of a commitment to public parks to do the job properly.
So, they are taking up that slack and that includes organisations such as the Nature Foundation that have purchased significant properties and put in place their own arrangements because they know that we cannot rely on this Labor government to do that job properly. The park rangers, I understand, have a much bigger focus also on fire management. I have no objection to that but, certainly, the tasks they would have undertaken in the past would have been a lot more diverse and focused on those pest issues and, certainly, would have focused on providing assistance to the Friends of Parks.
I would like to turn to that particular issue now because my colleague, the Hon. John Dawkins, has asked questions on the Friends of Parks organisation before, but I think it is worth putting on the record in terms of the appropriation speech because it is a very, very significant issue across all of the friends groups across the state. They are a bunch of very unhappy people in the main. They do not blame the rangers. The rangers, I think, do the best with what few resources they have, but I would just like to read into the record a letter from Friends of Parks to the CEO of DENR, Mr Allan Holmes. This is dated 3 June 2011 and the president says:
Last night the Board—
that is, the Friends of Parks Inc. board—
discussed an increasing number of concerns being expressed by member groups about a decline in availability of liaison rangers and a continuing reduction in district budgets. Obviously we are [all] aware that the government is imposing serious budget restrictions across the board and that DENR is by no means exempt. It has been our clear understanding, however, that Regional Services, and on-ground ranger resources would be quarantined from such cuts. I received such an insurance, admittedly two years ago—
I think this is probably from one of the minister's predecessors, probably the Hon. Jay Weatherill—
from the then minister. We now understand that voluntary separation packages have been offered to and accepted by a number of rangers, many with several years experience.
Although I have been on the sick list for a few weeks I'm not aware of any advice that the game plan had changed which given our special relationship disappoints me. More particularly the staffing and budget reductions are imposing more demands on member groups and their volunteers and in some cases requiring groups to fund materials previously supplied by the agency. Neither have we yet seen any great improvement in on-ground resourcing flowing from the integration process with NRM. This is all in a context where DENR is seeking to formulate a number of far-reaching strategies—
another word for that is 'ambitious'—
…that will impose further resource requirements on regional staff.
As I indicated earlier member groups are becoming increasingly disillusioned and even angry about the situation. As a Board we seek to know what the actual situation is in terms of resources and what is planned for the next three or four years. It is then my intention to seek a meeting with minister Caica but before doing so I'd like to be certain of the facts as a matter of extreme urgency.
They are not my words; they are the words of Friends of Parks, who are clearly quite distressed at the situation. One has to wonder if they had an understanding that park ranger resources would be quarantined (their word), and whether the government actually deliberately deceived them or lied to them to try to keep them quiet.
When the minister was asked that question he deflected it, as usual. I will probably make this point several times throughout my speech, because I found listening to minister Caica during estimates a fairly frustrating experience, as did the key questioner the member for MacKillop. He said that he had met the friends, he talked about various Friends of Parks, and in the usual way deflected the actual question. He talked about good relationships, and there was lots of warm and fuzzy language which really did not get to the point. I think the answer should have been just a straight yes, but that minister in particular seems to be unable to give a straight answer to a straight question.
I also note from the budget papers that volunteer days, as a performance indicator, are projected to remain static from 21,000 to about 22,000 per annum, but the Friends of Parks are saying (and I requote from that letter):
…budget reductions are imposing more demands on member groups and their volunteers and in some cases requiring groups to fund materials previously supplied by the agency
…member groups are becoming increasingly disillusioned and even angry about the situation.
The reason I say that is that I think this indicates that the government is expecting more from volunteers. I have met with some of the friends groups who feel frustrated. They need the management plans for each of the parks to be updated by the department, and, quite frankly, those management plans need to be done by the park ranger staff, the professionals, who can provide some guidance to the friends.
There are some very dedicated friends who have been involved with a particular park for decades, and those people are really experts themselves, but you can also get new people coming along who may be abundant in their enthusiasm but not so experienced in identifying weeds, indigenous plantings or seeds, and so forth. Those people certainly need some guidance because, as anyone who knows much about native vegetation knows, it is very complex and quite different from what Australians are used to seeing in our plantings in our own suburban gardens. It takes some time for people to understand the look of it and the way the different layers of vegetation interact.
In response to the member for MacKillop's question about the Friends of Parks' letter, the minister said:
…there will be occasions—and I say this is the nicest possible way—when from time to time the views of the department and how a park might be managed might differ significantly, or at least differ, from the views of some of the friends, and it is a matter of resolving those differences.
I think that is a fairly patronising statement in itself. I think the Friends of Parks have the best interests of parks at heart. They are volunteers, and the reward they get is the reward of going out and trying to restore native vegetation for future generations. Their motivations are the best. However, I think that what we see with the cuts, which are driven by the cuts to the environment department, is that the rationalisation is undermining the management of our parks system, so the government is working through that at the expense of parks. The minister went on to say:
Nothing has really been brought to my attention as to concerns expressed in the way you have described—
I find it surprising that he might not have been apprised of that particular piece of correspondence, but I would have thought that that message was coming loud and clear. You need to talk to only two or three of the friends group and you very much get the same message. It is certainly the message I have been hearing from them in my travelling when talking to them.
The minister also said that they have maintained the number of ranges we have within the system, which may well be true. But, as I was saying before, I think the loss of experience is indeed a loss to the capital and the knowledge within the department, which is a loss to the management overall of the system. The member for MacKillop said:
...minister, you mentioned in your opening statement that there have been 16 new parks and additions to existing parks, yet you have just said that the number of park rangers has basically remained steady. Does that mean that you have not appointed park rangers to look after these new parks? What are the management arrangements?...it seems that your workforce has remained static...[are] they are going to be managed adequately? I say this as a practising farmer...
He then went on to talk about feral animals. I think the minister misunderstood what he said. The point the member for MacKillop was making is that, if you increase the size and number of parks under the reserve system but you do not increase the number of park rangers, how can you say that those parks are being adequately managed. The minister also said that they have provided a greater level of support of those park rangers to the friends groups. So, I think he completely missed the point there and did not answer the question—but that happens many, many times throughout the estimates process.
There has been an anticipated increase in park entrance fees. My question for the government is: what percentage of this will be from previous park fees and on what date will this occur? My advice is that it is 1 April 2012, but I would like that to be confirmed.
In relation to last year's budget papers, which I will refer to extensively because there were so many cuts in so many different programs across the board that they will continue to flow through into this and the next two financial years, we noted that there was some half a million dollars which was expected to be raised through parks in 2010-11, which will rise to $2½ million in 2013-14. We asked whether this target had been achieved for 2010-11. We also asked: what happens if DENR falls short of the targets—will this mean savings have to be found elsewhere? Thankfully, we got a short answer, which was yes and yes.
However, on the topic of setting a strategy to raise $2½ million from parks in the out year, I note that the department, in the last 12 months, sought to engage in its own piece of spin through a strategy entitled 'People and Parks', which was reported in The Advertiser on 15 January. I think a lot of us saw red because, really, the department was becoming complicit in this government's strategy of using environmental assets—not just in parks; it does it in many areas—to try to raise money. Some of it I do not necessarily have a problem with it in principle, but I do note that the People and Parks strategy has since been removed from the department's website, which is bemusing in itself. The consultation closed only on 8 April, but it was whipped off the website fairly promptly, which I think shows that the government has something to hide in that regard.
Given that the government is seeking to increase the number of visits, it is heavily reliant on increasing visitor numbers. However, the performance indicators that are set in the budget do not show that. The Conservation
Council were highly critical of People and Parks. They said:
People and Parks is a potentially dangerous strategy which will place the conservation outcomes of our parks and reserves at risk.
I would like to quote from that because these are fairly serious matters that they have raised. Their letter of 20 April 2011 to the department, in part, says:
Conservation SA believes that People and Parks should be a serious strategic attempt to balance conservation outcomes with park visitors. The assets protected in South Australia's National Parks and Reserves are irreplaceable and a comprehensive visitor strategy would address how conservation outcomes can be improved and the overall visitor impact reduced.
However currently in People and Parks conservation outcomes—the primary purpose of National Parks and Reserves–are placed at risk. That visitor increases will have positive benefits for Parks is assumed, but concrete evidence of how and why is not provided.
To throw in my two cents' worth on this issue, I understand where they are coming from because we want people to enjoy the natural environment but there can be issues with people bringing weeds, seeds and so forth in as well—that can be hazardous and also disturb some of the native fauna. It continues:
Strategies to address existing or likely future legal and sanctioned visitor activities that have negative environmental impacts are not properly addressed.
The document references sustainability in principle, but offers no practical measures. There is no landscape scale planning. Conservation SA is concerned that the draft strategy may open up Parks for excessive and potentially inappropriate development, rather than balancing the needs of biological assets with those of park users.
Conservation SA supports many of the concerns expressed in submissions by Friends of Parks Inc and some of its individual member groups. We believe People and Parks in its current form to be a potentially dangerous strategy which is risking our irreplaceable environmental and biodiversity assets for a financial return. There is a lack of clarity as to how the vision, goals and strategies of People and Parks contribute to the legislated aims of National Parks and Reserves. This leaves the document open to suggestions that it is too focused on increasing the appeal of parks as tourist destinations at the expense of implementing the aims of national parks.
These two outcomes may not be inconsistent, but it is incumbent upon the department to make this case with the legislated aims of national parks as the starting point. The draft visitor strategy consistently fails to make this case and is, therefore, flawed from the outset. Finding the right level of protection and standards is vital. More people are visiting parks, especially those close to Adelaide which are most diverse biologically, so mitigating the impact on conservation assets is vital.
As a formal question, I would like to ask the government: why has the document People and Parks been removed from DENR's website, and what is the government's response to the Conservation Council's concerns?
Further on this point, in the highlights for 2010-11 the DENR budget mentions introduction of new extended licence opportunities for commercial tourism in parks. My questions for the minister on that are: how is that going? Has anyone taken up that offer yet? Has it sought expressions of interest or put anything out to tender, and in which parks? Because that is obviously key to it raising these funds and, as the minister agreed, if those funds are not raised savings will need to be made elsewhere.
The Botanic Gardens have attracted considerable interest. The Botanic Gardens are, rightly, very close to many people's hearts, and they are to suffer a loss of some $500,000 in the years 2012-13 and 2013-14. I commend the people who have sought to protect the Botanic Gardens from closure. Indeed, I have mentioned in this place before that the Sustainable Budget Commission's suggestion that we flog off the Mount Lofty and Wittunga Gardens would require a motion from both houses of parliament to accept it, and that is something that we certainly would not agree to.
That issue has been dropped, thankfully, but I think there is still concern for the Botanic Gardens, that they will continue in their glory. Certainly they were looking pretty good when I was there the other day, but some of the people at the public meeting expressed that there were some 4,000 species in the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens and that has dropped to 3,000 because their funding has not been there to manage those. I do commend the work of the Botanic Gardens board and its staff for continuing to manage that asset under trying budgetary circumstances.
Somewhere in the budget there was some reference to new levies for 'the beneficiaries of the Upper South-East Drainage Scheme' of $5.4 million per annum to be raised commencing in 2012-13, but the budget papers note that it is subject to changes to the NRM Act. This is an area that I think, again sent a chill down the member for MacKillop's spine. He represents an area that has been subject to increasing levies through the NRM scheme. From my understanding, a large part of the Upper South-East Drainage Scheme has been funded already from landholders and local, state and federal governments, so for the government to be eyeing that off as a potential resource to raise funds to go back to Treasury is something that we will certainly oppose.
In relation to coast protection, looking again at the last budget, the government is seeking to claw back funding—it looks like it is commencing in 2011-12—of $2.92 million, rising to $3 million in 2013-14. Certainly, local government is very alarmed about this because I think the concept is that the government will try to seek that back through NRM funds either across the Mount Lofty Ranges and Metropolitan NRM Board, or indeed through coastal councils, and they are alive to that particular issue.
Again, that is an area where I do not think anybody ever considered we would be seeking cost recovery but, because this government has mismanaged its funds year after year after year, overspent, spent more than it needed to and never held the belt in, now it is looking for creative ways of raising money. So, my questions for the minister in relation to the coast protection cost recovery are: will it indeed be through NRM levies or through direct levies to the local councils and what has been the response from local government?
There is an investing expenditure summary which includes Adelaide Living Beaches. We are aware that the sand pipeline project was already over budget and late based on last year's budget and the item in this year's budget shows that where $30 million was to have been expended, it is just $1.7 million in that financial year. My questions are: does this indicate a further delay; when does the government expect it to be completed—
The Hon. G.E. Gago interjecting:
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In reference to the sand pipeline, $13 million was budgeted for and only $1.7 million was expended. Does this indicate a further delay; when is it likely to be completed; and is the delay the result of a breakdown in negotiations with local government regarding cost recovery?
On marine parks, the greatest commitment of funds that we saw to the marine parks program was in the 2007 budget and that was over some four years, and we note from last year's budget that there is to be a big cut for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 years of $1.5 million at least. My understanding from my briefings with the project manager is that there are a lot of costs associated with the establishment which is carrying at the moment lots of public meetings and the like, but we cannot seem to get any answer as to how they will be monitored and how compliance will be enforced. I understand that the marine parks team has some 40 members working on the zones and management plans at this stage. One of the targets in the budget indicates that the final marine parks management plans would be approved.
The minister was asked in estimates last year about how the parks were to be managed when the marine parks program was just one of many in the environment portfolio being slashed. The minister was pressed on this and asked specifically how many monitoring vessels and so forth, and after continued pressing he came up with the concept of FISHWATCH. I have talked to many people in the community about that response and it has been met with some hilarity because they say that you cannot even get a fisheries officer when you need one. It was then a question which the member for Stuart pursued in estimates.
I think the minister had forgotten that he had made this reference in the previous estimates. He asked the member for Stuart what he wanted to know about FISHWATCH and then went on to talk about fisheries and marine parks being separate programs. We have heard that ad infinitum, we are well aware of that, but it is something that he raised last year when he was pressed and yet he would not respond to that with any detail.
So, I ask the question, and I hope to get some response: 12 months down the track from last year's estimates when he gave the response that FISHWATCH would be a great initiative to apply for marine parks monitoring, does he have a better idea of how marine parks will be monitored and compliance enforced? Can we get some idea of whether there will be additional officers, additional monitoring vessels and so forth?
We also have the marine parks displaced effort. In last year's estimates the minister was questioned by the member for Hammond and he said:
Details of the displaced effort and compensation scheme and any supporting regulations will be confirmed during 2010-11 before the draft management plans with the zoning are released for public comment.
My questions for the minister are: does he stand by this comment or has he broken the commitment, and when can he give us a month (this year, hopefully) when the industry can expect to see some details?
We also have in the expenses program, net cost of services, a tender which has since closed for a DENR customer relationship manager. DENR tendered a CRM project for which expressions of interest closed on 1 March 2011. The tender document outlined some of DENR's deficiencies relating to information management. The document indicates that it expected to sign the vendor contract on 9 May, with the CRM in operation by 27 June 2011. This is probably being a bit cute, but my questions are: does the department think it has a problem with its relationships; have the project dates occurred as expected; and what outcomes are expected from that project?
Natural resources management is an area of acute interest to our regional members. The Local Government Association would like us to obtain from government the following: can you advise on progress with the program (that is, NRM) and in particular what savings have been achieved, what increased programs are being delivered or are proposed to be delivered, and where the savings are shown in the budget papers?
Part of an answer to that is in last year's budget papers where NRM is to lose $12 million per annum by 2013-14 and over a four-year period $26 million is being carved out of it. We know that the commonwealth has also slashed Caring for Country by $81.3 million in 2010-11, which will have a direct impact on natural resources in South Australia, which is a beneficiary of some of that funding. My questions would be: that $26 million over four years, or $12 million in 2013-14, what programs does the government imagine will be cut to fund that saving?
The NRM budget for 2010-11, on my reading, looks shot to pieces because employee expenses have blown out from $62 million to $74 billion. There is also a blowout in supplies and services expenses and, at the same time, a drop in commonwealth funding of over $5 million. That may well be because of the amalgamation of NRM within DENR, but I look forward to receiving the government's answer to that.
Following on from that, if this program has not been able to meet its savings targets in 2010-11, what makes anyone think that it will in the future? This is a separate NRM issue, and I understand that another review is about to take place. How many staff are being recruited to undertake the next round of the review of the NRM Act, and what is the timetable?
We now come to the RSPCA. This falls within the $600,000 grant that DENR provides to the RSPCA. I appreciate the fact that I have had a reply to a question on notice regarding the inquiry into the RSPCA's bungling of the Brinkworth case. I again ask the government: when will those inquiry findings be made public?
I now turn to the EPA. We had an hour of questioning for that particular area, and the minister again chose to read an opening statement upon which the member for MacKillop pondered:
I wonder why ministers continue to go through the farce of making opening statements when we have already read all of those things in the budget papers. About 99 per cent of what the minister has just read into the Hansard is straight out of the budget papers (from the Highlights and Targets).
The committee then proceeded to a fairly straightforward and expected set of questions regarding what the EPA was doing differently in wake of the Edwardstown and South Plympton debacles. We then got a full page in Hansard from the minister, including a history of a review of the EPA going back to 2000 and the fact that there is lots of old contamination around all sorts of industrial sites—yes, thank you, minister; we knew that. He went as far as to mention David Wotton, who has not been a member of parliament since 2002.
Just through reading estimates, we can see that the member for MacKillop was clearly getting frustrated at that point. He put the same question that he put at the start of his questioning, about what resources the government is putting into improving its systems in relation to notifications. The minister responded by saying that he had replied. Search me, but I could not find it. The member for MacKillop then pulled him up, and the minister reverted to his usual modus operandi and rambled for a few paragraphs before making some general comments about temporary increases in resources.
One of the Liberal Party's questions was about the EPA's responsibilities in relation to notifications. The minister then launched into another irrelevant history lesson—going back some 15 years now, talking about samples which took place at that time—and then finally got to the point. He then took three Dorothy Dixers which wiped out half of the time allocated for questioning.
The member for Chaffey asked some fairly direct questions about how long it takes the EPA to license x-ray machines in a timely manner, which was taken directly from the points within the budget, which it defined itself as six months in the metro area and 12 months in the country. The minister then ignored the member's question about how many machines were lying dormant and what the longest period to register one of them was. The left has its share of dud performers even if the right has done its best to be embarrassing over the last two years.
We then get to the omnibus questions. The member for MacKillop had a chance to drop in a quick question about air monitoring and then the EPA questioning was all over, red rover. However, I note that there are more FTE cuts in the 2011-12 budget, which will have a full impact in 2014-15 of $316,000.
We then come to the good old solid-waste levy. The budget commentary states that there is an increase of $7 million from the solid-waste levy revenue, which we know is on the back of the government's decision last year. The question was asked: can the minister tell us, on average, how much more families will be paying per trailer load from July? I will get to his comments to the questions asked on Zero Waste, but I think that that is an important question that the minister needs to answer, so I put that formally on the record.
As to local government, as the minister is aware, the allocation to the Waste to Resources Fund is hypothecated and allocated for expenditure under the authority of the state Treasurer. The revenue collected has now increased the balance of unspent funds in the Waste to Resources Fund to approximately $20 million. Can the minister outline how it is proposed to use these funds, if there is a program for the long or short term; if so, what consultation has taken place with local government and the waste industry for this expenditure? I guess the response to that will probably be minimal.
The ecomapping service was noted in last year's budget papers and, for the benefit of members, ecomapping is a process that was initiated by Heinz-Werner Engel. It is a practice that audits energy, water and other use and looks at a company's footprint, and it is a service that should support South Australian businesses to help them reduce their energy and water usage. There have been companies, such as Taylors Wines in Clare, which have undergone this and found it very useful. It is very involved, so companies that undertake it need considerable support.
Last year's budget papers demonstrated that government intended to raise some $600,000 from 'sustainability licences and other sustainability products, such as ecomapping'. We have been told that some two FTE staffing positions have been cut from the EPA's ecomapping division, so my questions are: is this the case, and where should South Australian businesses now go to find this advice?
I am pleased to see that $814,000 has been budgeted in this budget for a task force to work out what to do about illegal dumping and waste levy avoidance. This is not new; the government has been ramping up the solid waste levy and, as a result, certainly local government has been telling us for some time that illegal dumping and waste levy avoidance have been on the increase. My questions are:
1.If the findings of the task force reveal that the solid waste levy increase has caused this problem, will the task force consider recommending a reduction in the levy?
2.Will the task force actually tackle the problem of stockpiling by utilising existing weighbridges?
3.How does the EPA monitor the volumes of different waste streams, that is, municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition to landfill, versus how much occurs in the resource recycling sector, such as through auditing weighbridges?
4.To what extent is stockpiling a problem in South Australia?
5.If the EPA and/or industry do not actually weigh these streams, how can the government determine how much waste is diverted and how much is recycled in South Australia?
6.How does the EPA determine whether there are sites that take materials but are avoiding the levy not being licensed?
7.What resources has the EPA dedicated to monitoring illegal activity to date?
8.I note that one of the EPA's targets is to finalise the Lefevre Peninsula strategy as a pilot for the state air quality plan. On behalf of the member for Finniss, can he tell us what that means?
There is also a highlight in this budget to implement changes 'for responding to new questions under the Land and Business Sale and Conveyancing Act 1994'. Can the minister explain what that means? Another point refers to a sustainable licence program; can we have the name of that program, does it have any outcomes, has it been formally evaluated and, if so, are those results publicly available?
As to Port Pirie air quality, the National Environment Protection Measure standard is .5 micrograms per metre cubed. Given that is the case, why is the target for the Ellen Street monitoring station set at 1.8 micrograms per metre cubed?
In the financial commentary, there is a $2.6 million decrease in income due to a decrease in licence fee revenue of $1.6 million. My questions are: which licence fee categories came in under budget and by how much? Did this include last year's proposals to raise more funds from radiation licence fees and from 'cost recovery of the container deposit scheme'?
Zero Waste: in estimates, this topic was given half an hour and there is one page, which equates to probably five minutes, which was taken up by the minister's opening statement, which again comprised information which could have easily been gleaned from reading budget papers, annual reports and so forth. So, one wonders why this minister, in particular, feels the need to protect himself from genuine questions by padding his opening statement and using Dixers.
The member for MacKillop asked about the contentious increase in solid waste levy revenue of $7 million in this estimates section and how that feeds into costs per household. Quite astonishingly, even though this was his government's decision through the 2010-11 budget when he was the minister, the minister's response was that he could not answer the question and that it should be better directed to local government, as it collects the levy. So, the member for MacKillop responds:
So, minister, you are telling me that your government mandates that councils pay this fee to your government, yet you have no understanding of the impact that it has on families?
We then get a rave from the minister about the importance of reducing waste to landfill, which no-one disputes. However, most of the reduction in waste to landfill has been undertaken through local government initiatives and, on top of that, another of the many cuts from the 2010-11 budget was one of $430,000 to incentive and grant programs, which kicks in just as councils are having to deal with the effects of that increase in the solid waste levy. The government has proposed another review of the solid waste levy and yet we had one in 2007, which was done by Hyder.
Then we get three Dorothy Dixers which go for a full three pages and red rover again; it is all over. I might say that minister Caica really could take a leaf out of the book of the Minister for Youth, the Hon. Grace Portolesi, who—I am very impressed—did not need any Dixers to prop her up and made very short opening statements. For many of us on these benches, we noted that she gets points for that one.
I have got some questions in relation to Zero Waste. How many companies and sites have the REAP program been extended to? What about the Metropolitan Infrastructure Fund? Why has the government tendered for a review of the solid waste levy when the 2007 Hyder report recommended that the levy be increased to $55 per tonne by 2013-14 and the minister stated in the 2010 estimates that, 'The waste levy will continue to increase beyond current levels to at least $50 per tonne in metropolitan Adelaide'?
Food waste: how many of the 10 councils that took part in the initial food waste trial are still providing food waste collection? How many additional councils have implemented the program since the end of the trial? How many tonnes of food waste have been diverted from landfill since 2010? Zero Waste SA has only one performance indicator and that is how many tonnes less material is sent to landfill per annum. It is interesting because, just on my reading of it, it is not even a good outcome.
From achieving a reduction of 36,700 tonnes in 2009-10 it has gone backwards and the target for 2011-12, surprisingly, is even less. There is an explanation in the footnotes that points to soil contamination, but I would like a further explanation from the government. What about other waste streams? What is the government doing to target those? I think we all know about e-waste, so he does not need to respond to that if he does not want to.
I would like to refer to some other areas of concern, apart from the environment. One of them is the Women's Studies Resource Centre, which has been the subject of questions in this place before. They are very disappointed. I should say that this is Marilyn Rolls, who is the chair of the board. It is fair to say that she is very upset at what has happened to the Women's Studies Resource Centre.
They have been worried about the axe falling for many, many years, but when the Hon. Steph Key was the minister for the status of women she was able to obtain some funding which kept them going until this recent period when it seems that there are no more funds in the kitty. Yet this unique service has been run on an oily rag. To a large degree, it has relied on volunteers, but it has also had a couple of part-time paid staff, who are all very dedicated and who have fought very hard to try to keep the service going in its current form.
The advocates for the Women's Studies Resource Centre, myself included, would argue with the minister when she said that there is so much more available online that the centre is kind of reaching its use-by date. If you go down to that facility and have a look you will see that it is a very unique collection, and I think, for the amount of money involved, it deserves to continue.
In November last year, after a question in parliament from the Hon. Jing Lee, the minister replied that the Women's Studies Resource Centre:
…is still symbolically a very important facility, and it holds a certain part of our history which is of great value, as do those women who fought so hard to have that resource centre put together in the first place. As I said, it was the first of its kind and there was no other place for women to go to access that sort of information and material…
I think the minister may well have shifted her position, because it is my understanding that she does not support the continuation of the resource centre in its current form. In response to a question from me in June this year, the minister advised that DFEEST had provided the centre with a final grant of $16,750 to help them develop and implement a relocation plan for their collection.
Apparently the collection, in part, is to move to the Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide. Anyone who has ever been to the Barr Smith Library would be well aware that it is a very cramped place, and for good reason. A large number of disciplines are located in that centre and it is a university library, so a lot of people use it. That is a good thing, but I question whether the Barr Smith Library is the sort of place that will have the ability to retain the collection with the respect it deserves.
The minister then said 'We are working towards a solution.' She said that there were people who thought that the resource centre should continue, but she said 'I do not think that is a good idea.' So we have her views there. I would like to quote Marilyn Rolls, who has been in contact with my office. She says she is very upset that:
we are being forced to close and scatter the collection, and would like an opportunity to inform the Parliament of our side of the story. There has been a lot of spin from the government.
What a surprise. She continues:
Due to severe financial pressure, resulting from the cessation of funding, the WSRC Board felt it had no choice but to accept the badly-needed funds offered by DFEEST.
The minister's response seems very inconsistent—she is in the uncomfortable position of being the Minister for the Status of Women who will go down in history as having actively participated in the closure of the WSRC.
She then goes on to query what the minister's role was in terms of the final decision, and whether she was complicit in the decision being made to turn over parts of the Women's Studies Resource Centre collection to the Barr Smith Library. I must say that there would be collections there that would not fit in well with the Barr Smith Library, and the needs of the Barr Smith Library will certainly be paramount over the needs of that collection.
There is another area in which women's services have been attacked. It relates to the Women in Agriculture and Business (WAB) organisation, which received a letter on 11 March 2011 from minister O'Brien, which they say stated:
PIRSA will not be in a position to continue financial support to the WAB past the end of June 2012 but I have instructed the agency to assist in the transition to independence through the provision of a grant of $15,000 for the 2011/12 financial year. This grant will allow some flexibility—
blah, blah, blah. WAB, in its media release of June 2011, said:
It is definitely disappointing that PIRSA-based administration support will cease on June 30 this year...The council felt that with a short timeframe we needed to get on and meet the challenge of changed circumstances head on.
They clearly have decided that that decision has been made and they need to move on. I think that these very, very minute amounts of funding that have been offered as some sort of chip to these organisations, which are, by and large, volunteer organisations, demonstrates how high the support for women's interests is within this Rann Labor government.
I will now turn to the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs portfolio. This is an area where, across the board, whether it is the monitoring of unlicensed traders or any of the matters contained within, because of the decision in last year's budget to roll it together with the OLGC, there is great concern that expertise is being lost and that those statutory roles it contains will be delayed. We have certainly had evidence, and I have raised this in question time before.
I would like to put a particular case. I cannot reveal it publicly yet, but I will certainly write to the minister once I am given permission. This constituent emailed me last month, saying that it was on the topic of 'poor performance of the Residential Tenancy Branch. She said:
I speak to many property managers and we all feel the same, that the situation of delay in hearings and bond refunds is now quite unacceptable.
On 18 April 2011 I posted by registered mail to the Bond Refund Section of the RTT a fairly large file with evidence so that I could claim the full bond refund...on behalf of the landlords. This information was received by the Hearing Section on 13th May, took 4 weeks to go from the RTT in Pirie St to the RTT in Grenfell St—
That is amazing!—
The Hearing Section then had to write to the previous tenants (who had to been asked to vacate as the owner wanted to sell, and I as the new property manager was quite concerned with the state of the property) to see if they objected to this. Of course they did object. We were finally notified on 31 May 2011 that a hearing had been set for 23rd June. Nearly 10 weeks since the bond refund was sent off.
The Hearing Section do not see this case as urgent as the tenants have left the premises
On the 15th June I was notified in writing by the RTT that the hearing had been postponed...This will be 16 weeks after the application was sent off. Apparently, the tenant has a note from her doctor saying that she is having trouble with her 7th pregnancy, so they have granted a postponement. By the time we get to the hearing and I get a result it is likely to be near 5 months before we have an outcome. In the meantime, my landlords are having to pay for repairs and repainting of the premises, cleaning, new carpet, water account, replacement of locks as tenants did not return all of the sets of keys, rubbish removal all not covered by insurance as they did not see it as being malicious damage!!!!...[Insurance] would only pay 5 weeks loss of rent (and will not pay any more until the 13 weeks loss of rent is up on 7th of July) minus the $1,000 excess for loss of rent.
We have just started to have opens for the property and having to advertise it immediately to comply with insurance specifications for claims. It has actually damaged the letting process as it has been on the net too long and people now think there is something wrong with it. With a hearing so long away, it has not helped the situation.
My complaint is that the RTT may not see this as a priority but my landlords who have a bill of...[over $6,000] above the bond do see it as a priority. Why should they be penalised in having to wait so long for a hearing? Why are hearing dates taking a lot longer to be assigned, why are bonds taking longer to be refunded? The answer is simple. Just before Christmas 2010, the government cut the staff nearly in half. Now, the staff who are still there are apparently working that much overtime just to keep up with the work that they are becoming ill and stressed.
Since last year we have had to pay $35 if we want a hearing set and then try and get it back from the tenant at the time of the hearing. Why are we paying for this service if this service is getting worse. It is not the people at the RTT that I blame but the government who make these decisions without any logic or knowledge of how things work. When I sent the information to the RTT I also sent 43 pages (average of 9 photos per page) with my documents of damage, rubbish, dirt, etc. This should have been enough for them to say, List a hearing asap. As I have stated, I am not the only property manager who is extremely frustrated with this department. I suppose that I just need to vent my opinion that enough is enough.
We have been advised since that email that there is another cost-saving measure being undertaken by OCBA, which is to hold on to their bond cheques for the purposes of bulk-billing a number at a time and, as a result, instead of those claiming the bond as directed by the tribunal receiving it within 10 days, it takes three weeks or more.
I have a copy of a letter which has also been sent to the minister. This is in relation to people who wish to have OCBA take action against an unlicensed painting contractor. This couple write, on 25 July 2011:
Dear Ms Gago,
We wish to draw your attention to the conduct of your department...(OCBA) in relation to a matter we referred to them.
In late December 2009 we entered into an agreement with a painting contractor—
I will not mention his name—
to paint some of the interior of our property at the above address, at a cost of $10,000.
By mid January 2010 it became apparent that his workmanship was substandard. Upon investigation his claims to have a Builders Licence Number was false, his proffered Builders Licence Number belonged to another person, and was lapsed. His business was not registered, and he was not a Master Painter.
The contract broke down, and we contacted OCBA on the 24th of January 2010. We were initially told to fax his quote, business card (which had the false Builders Licence Number on) and the Enforcement Branch would contact us. We did as instructed and followed up. During this time we were given several different telephone numbers and contacts with multiple different scenarios of the procedures OCBA would undertake.
Eventually we were told that all this information was wrong and we had to submit a 'Request for Assistance–Building Work'. We submitted this with supporting documentation. In late March we received a letter from OCBA informing us that [unnamed painter].'disputed this' and OCBA would not be able to provide us with any further assistance. We were then referred, amongst other things, to the Magistrates Court.
We knew this would be the outcome; our intent was to make sure that [unnamed painter] could not continue his misleading and deceptive conduct and garner further victims.
In concert with the aforementioned action we were in contact with Frank Galletta of the Enforcement Branch of OCBA. In late March he informed us that 'OCBA does not have sufficient resources', they 'cannot process tasks in an expeditious manner as they would like', the matter was 'currently in "investigation phase" (but not really progressing)', our case was of 'low priority' as OCBA investigators were focused on the 'Pink Batt Fiasco', 'will get to it when they have time' and the 'Fair Trading Act prevents him from disclosing any details'.
We were very frustrated but not surprised by this outcome as OCBA has an atrocious reputation for successfully pursuing enforcement actions.
Unexpectedly in June we were contacted by Peter Jellings, an Enforcement Officer from OCBA who wanted to take a statement from us regarding [unnamed painter], as he had another victim in his case file, and he intended to pursue an action against [him]. On the 16th of August 2010 Mr Jellings attended our property to inspect the paintwork and record statements. During the course of our conversation we mentioned that the Master Painters Association of Australia were recognised as experts by the Courts, and a report from them would strengthen our claim. Mr Jellings stated 'OCBA did not have the resources to commission such a report'. In furtherance of the claim we commissioned a report at our expense, which was forwarded to OCBA on the 2nd of December 2010.
Around December 2010, January 2011, we were informed by Mr Jellings that he was going to have a formal interview with [unnamed painter]. In a later telephone conversation Mr Jellings stated amongst other things [that he had] admitted painting our house without a Builders Licence Number, but denied or mitigated all else.
We continued to follow up on a regular basis with Mr Jellings, and during this time it became increasingly obvious he was averse to continuing the action against [the painter]. We were again frustrated with the indecision and inaction of OCBA, and contacted Ben Cunningham, President of the Master Painters Association as we realised that if this action was not pursued, it would give tacit authority for painting contractors to operate without training or a Builders Licence, and we felt we needed a trade body to add weight to our case. Mr Cunningham contacted Mr Jellings, and subsequently Mr Jellings contacted us and informed us that once the other party had completed their statements, the file would be forwarded to the Crown.
In April we attempted to contact Mr Jellings again by phone and left messages and there was no response. By May we had lost faith in Mr Jellings pursuing this matter and contacted your office, spoke to Tom Poole, explained the situation, and he promptly contacted Mr Jellings. On the 20th of May, we were contacted by Mr Jellings and told that the file would be forwarded to the Crown within two weeks. Over a month later, on the 22nd of June, we sought confirmation that the case had been forwarded to the Crown, and once again this had not occurred.
A month later, on the 20th of July, we contacted Mr Jellings again via email, and received a response the following day. We have been told in no uncertain terms that this is an OCBA matter, and made obvious that our involvement was no longer required. It was suggested that we could sue [unnamed painter] independently.
Ostensibly we are now no further along than we were 18 months ago, except the clock is ticking on the statute of limitations.
We contacted Mr Poole again and was told to commit this to writing. We once again contacted Mr Cunningham so he could inform your office that his trade association was apprised of the conduct of OCBA in relation to this matter, and he spoke to Mr Poole on the 21st of July 2011.
We are concerned about;
1.Inaction and indecision by OCBA as a whole.
2.The conduct of Mr Galetta and Mr Jellings in particular.
3.Lack of knowledge or understanding of the relevant legislation.
4.The inability of the Enforcement Branch to effectively investigate breaches of the Act.
5.That unlicensed builders can operate with impunity in this state.
They go on to say:
We are fully aware that you are unable to intervene on the facts of the dispute between ourselves...but you are able to examine the conduct of your department. We therefore request your intervention to investigate the ineptitude that has been proffered by your own department.
On another matter we find that your reception staff would benefit from some form of customer relations training, as we found them to be quite rude.
It is signed 'David and Michelle Woolford' and it is CC'd to my leader—the local member, the member for Heysen—myself and the President of the Master Painters.
This is just another case among many that have been brought to our attention with increasing red tape and extended times for things to be processed. That particular case I think is one of the more outrageous and I think that couple, through sheer frustration, has taken that step of writing to us, because they have done the right thing; they have tried to go through all the channels and, after all of that, they fear that nothing will be done and that some poor consumer further down the track is going to end up in the same situation as a result, which means we have a lot of very vulnerable consumers because these actions are not being taken.
I will not talk about licence processing, given the time. It is a matter that I have raised in this place before, but I think it is of great concern that the cuts by this government are making our environment vulnerable and consumers vulnerable and destroying services which have existed within our community—those services specifically directed towards assisting women in particular areas—just because they have not managed to keep their spending in check after some nearly 10 years in office which has been to great detriment because, once those sorts of services are gone, we will really struggle to bring them back. I just make those remarks in relation to the Appropriation Bill and my great disappointment at the way this government is managing our state's finances.