Appropriation Bill

26 Jul 2007 archivespeech

This speech indicates support for the second reading of the Appropriation Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: It gives me great pleasure to follow the previous speaker who can only, in redemption of his utterances and by the smirk on his face, show that perhaps he does not actually believe all the drivel that he reads out. I would like to mostly touch on my portfolio areas. My colleague the Hon. David Ridgway has discussed a lot of the general issues in his appropriation speech and some areas about which we believe this government has got it wrong. It is quite unfortunate for Legislative Councillors to not be able to participate in the estimates process. I have a number of comments which, if I had been a member of one of those committees, could have been opening statements for those areas, and I have a number of questions which the estimates process did not allow time to have included amongst all the other questions.

I will focus, first, on the area of the Status of Women. The issue of women on boards and committees was raised during the estimates process by the member for Bragg. It is not noted in the budget papers, but we had obtained information under freedom of information which indicates that this government has been going backwards on its target. One of the items from the budget papers lists a 2006-07 target of achieving a strong increase in the number of women on South Australian government boards and committees and the number of women chairing these boards and committees. A letter from the chair of the Premier’s Council for Women to Premier Rann, dated 20 November 2006, stated: The overall progress of female appointments has only marginally progressed over the last five months, with July figures at 41.2 per cent, August 41.71 per cent, September 41.71 per cent, October 41.5 per cent, and November 41.6 per cent.

It is also concerning that some ministers have a consistently low ranking in their percentage appointment of women. The worst offenders on this include the Hon. Carmel Zollo at 30.24 per cent, Kevin Foley at 28.7 per cent and Patrick Conlon at 24.4 per cent. It is hard to see how this government will reach its target to increase the number of women on all state government boards and committees to 50 per cent. I also found it revealing to compare the actual figures in the current budget papers to actuals in the previous budget papers because the figures can vary widely and I assume it is only one means of the government hiding what is really happening in the budget because the estimated results are often fantasy. In the Status of Women portfolio—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! Perhaps the Hon. Mr Wortley and Mr Stephens could go and have a coffee.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The 2006-07 budget papers show the 2005-06 actual budget coming in at $1.261 million, which is over, as cited in the following year’s budget papers at $1.444 million. That was supposed to increase in 2006-07 to $1.522 million, and the estimated result for 2006-07 was $1.691 million, so clearly these figures are all over the place. In the 2007-08 budget the figure is $1.540 million, so I am not sure where the government is planning on chopping that out, but we will look at next year’s budget papers with interest.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: I do not think the Hon. Mr Stephens is helping his colleague, who is trying to make a speech while he is muttering in the background.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Thank you for your protection, sir, but the Hon. Terry Stephens was not disturbing me at all. Overall, when you crunch these numbers you get an increase in two budgets of some 34 per cent, yet the government intends to bring it back in 2007-08 to $1.54 million. I am not quite sure how it does its accounting, but it is quite bizarre.

With the women’s safety strategy, the Rann government took a policy to the 2006 election, after previously announcing a complete overhaul of the laws in November 2005.We are rapidly heading towards the winter recess of 2007—with less than eight sitting weeks to the end of the year—and still nothing. I now turn to the significant area of the environment, which is a very broad and diverse area of responsibility. The government’s budget for the environment is a disappointment— if you do not believe me just ask the Conservation Council of South Australia, which put out a media release on 7 June entitled ‘No news is bad news say conservationists’. It criticised the Treasurer for not even referring, in his speech, to the environment or to other critical issues such as climate change or the River Murray.

We know that when it comes to government policy money talks, and the Conservation Council has spotted this omission and drawn our attention to it. Indeed, I asked the minister quite recently whether the Conservation Council was, in fact, correct in its statement, to which she replied, ‘No’. In the times we are facing this is particularly negligent towards South Australians, especially those in country areas who are facing drought conditions and the prospect of vastly reduced water allocations. The Conservation Council gave the government a tick for $4.2 million over four years for what it says is the ‘long overdue establishment of the 19 marine parks. . . we do however have major concerns whether this funding will be sufficient. . . ’

The Department for Environment and Heritage appears, prima facie, to have had a significant funding cut— particularly in the circumstances of increasing demands in relation to environment protection. There were also a number of issues raised during the estimates process about, again, wildly variable figures in the budget papers. Popular parks and heritage sites have been left out of this government’s priorities and, in some cases, allowed to run down; some cannot provide the same service levels they did under the Liberal government.

Most notable of a number of appalling examples is the Old Adelaide Gaol, which I visited recently with my colleague the member for Morphett.We had a tour and were shown some of the issues there. The gaol is in a neglected condition— there is evidence of salt damp and white ant damage—and we were told that the only means they have of funding any form of upgrade is through either grants (and they have not had one of those for a very long time) or through the revenue they raise—and the most significant proportion of that is raised through their overnight stays.

We went through the cells, and I must say that it is not the most salubrious accommodation but it is quite popular. However, the Old Adelaide Gaol is no longer allowed to do that because the government has said that there are occupational health and safety concerns. There are a few, but I do not believe they are significant. There are a few tripping hazards and so forth but, when we went on the tour and had described to us which areas the government thought did not meet standards, it was quite surprising. So, the first question I would like to put on notice for the government is: who was responsible for making these assessments and what qualifications do they have in occupational health and safety to make the decision that the Old Adelaide Gaol can no longer take overnight visitors?

Marble Hill is another case. That has been under a cloud since the government released a call for expressions of interest which included, as an option, its sale and long-term lease. The EOI closed on 27 April 2007, but the Friends of Marble Hill do not know the outcome and, in the meantime, they have not been able to take bookings. A lot of weddings have taken place there and, as honourable members would know, they are often booked months or even years in advance. Marble Hill is no longer able to take those bookings, and that has resulted in a loss of revenue of some $50 000 so far.

In respect of the Morialta Conservation Park, the previous Liberal government twice considered purchasing lots which came onto the market in 1999 and 2002. Many users of the park do not realise that some of the trails they walk on are actually on private land, and they can do so because of the generosity of the particular private owners who cooperate with users of the park. The minister told the parliament in question time that this government is not interested in purchasing even a portion of the land so that the park would be entirely on public property.

There are number of programs that have been delayed within the DEH budget over successive years. We have had the almost infamous example that has been referred to in interjections in this place, the ‘No Species Loss’ program, which features former minister Dorothy Kotz on the website.

There are also a number of others, including nature links corridors, biological surveys and the Million Trees program. I have already referred to the implementation of the marine parks—and that has been lamentable. The proposal was initiated by the previous Liberal government and our policy, at the last election, was to have all marine parks declared. This government’s most recent timetable is 2010. In estimates, the member for Hammond raised issues in relation to broken promises over branched broom rape, so I will not go into that.

I now have some questions in relation to heritage issues. I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 3, page 12.22, Program 7: Heritage Conservation. On page 2.5 of the Budget Statement (Budget Paper 3) it states, under the Department of the Premier and Cabinet:

. . . an additional $7.1 million has been allocated over four years for heritage building upgrades and for health and safety related improvements. These initiatives will contribute to making the state’s most important cultural institutions accessible and to preserving the state’s heritage collections.

My questions are:

1. Will this allocation of $7.1 million be provided to DEH’s Program 7: Heritage Conservation?

2. What is the state government’s global budget for maintaining all state heritage places? When was that last increased?

3. Can sites in need of upgrades, such as the Old Adelaide Gaol, expect to receive any of that funding?

4. Regarding Marble Hill, what did the government anticipate through the expression of interest, and what are the time frames?

5. The Port Augusta courthouse has been sold; does the government also intend to sell the Port Lincoln site? If this old heritage-listed building is not sold by the asset management group, what opportunity will the government give a local community group to upgrade and use it? Can the minister advise who purchased the whole courthouse at Port Augusta and what was paid for it?

6. How is local government being supported financially to prepare local heritage registers?

Regarding Morialta Conservation Park, I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 3, page 12.13, Program 2: Public Land— Visitor Management. The minister stated in a letter to the member for Morialta on the subject of Marble Hill that Morialta Conservation Park is one of the two most popular metropolitan parks. The budget papers refer to 6.2 million annual visits to South Australian parks. Can the minister advise what estimated number of those are to the Morialta Conservation Park? Can the minister provide a run-down of all of the potential options regarding the land adjacent to the park which is currently for sale? Can the minister provide a full list of visitor numbers to all other major parks? Can the minister provide details of investments being made in all parks; that is, the amount on maintenance and the amount on capital improvements to camping grounds, barbecue and picnic facilities and visitor information?
I turn to the issue of ZeroWaste. I believe that ZeroWaste must prove that it is at least as effective as local government has been in reducing its targets if it is to be taken seriously, because the LGA has stated that the initiatives of local government off its own bat has resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in waste to landfill. Unfortunately, the solid waste levy and the relationship with local government will suffer as a result of the state government unilaterally doubling the solid waste levy without the agreement of local government, and it is merely seen as a cynical cost shifting exercise. In Budget Paper 4, Volume 3, page 12.94 regarding Zero Waste, the description/objective states, ‘To eliminate waste or its consignment to landfill and advance the development of resource recovery and recycling based on an integrated strategy for the state’. Given that statement, can the minister advise, since its inception, what contribution to the reduction of waste to landfill has taken place? Given that the construction and demolition waste stream is such a significant contributor to waste, what strategies does Zero Waste have to reduce it?

I now turn to the EPA section of the environment portfolio. The Living Coast strategy, in particular, has suffered from a stalemate within the department, because amendments to the Coastal Protection Act are seen by some as controversial. The minister was specifically asked about this issue and she stated that legislation would be advanced once the marine parks legislation was passed. So, we look forward to that being progressed. One of the issues that were revealed through the estimates process is that this government is actually planning for a nuclear waste dump close to Olympic Dam. While it fought against a sensible proposal of a shared radioactive site, in a cynical attempt to play on the fear of South Australians, however, it has clearly been in some negotiations. I do not think the government was keen to reveal the fact that it has a site, and now we know where it is. The EPA is budgeting for an increase in collection from fees, fines and penalties by some 65 per cent, so some explanation of that would be appreciated.

I now turn to the Department ofWater, Land, Biodiversity and Conservation section of the environment. My first point is in relation to the natural resource management concept, which we believe is a good idea but, as always, the devil is in the details. The structure of this new system of integrated natural resource management is somewhat of a hybrid government agency, which is governed by volunteers. A minute from the CE of DWLBI, as it is known, to the former minister for the environment, dated 17 October 2005, which was obtained by the Liberal Party under FOI, raised the following as ‘clear areas of risk’:

Levy payers when they see apparent increases in levies on rate notices—this can be managed by an appropriate education/communication programs. . . prior to and at the time that rate notices are issued;

Disenchantment amongst board members, including presiding members, if they believe they do not have enough funds to appropriately establish their regional NRM board operating frameworks; Local government continues to weaken their support for new arrangements. . .
The member for Goyder outlined how in his electorate, which is part of the Northern and Yorke NRM Board, the total NRM levy collections will increase to some $2.5 million in 2007-08, which is an increase of 333 per cent and which is being borne through the local district councils. The loca NRM board believes the most equitable method of charging would be through a fixed charge levy across the region, butthe minister has chosen to ignore that advice.

The communities on Eyre Peninsula share these concerns, and the Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association recently passed a motion to the effect of charging the levy on a similar basis, which I assume will again be ignored by the minister. The Eyre Peninsula NRM has a table listing its funding for 2007-08. As a percentage, its funding is derived from the following sources: commonwealth funds, 33 per cent; rateable property and water licence holders, 39 per cent; and state government, 7 per cent. Given that the boards operate under state legislation, yet the vast proportion of their funding comes from commonwealth and local government derived sources, this makes this hybrid structure even more ungainly.

I am told that there are strict protocols for board members who wish to make media comment; that is, media releases cannot be issued without being approved by the Strategic Communications Unit of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. The concerns that were expressed by that letter from the CEO in 2005, I think, are likely to come to fruition unless the government considers significant reforms. The Liberal Party has been advised that NRM boards will be charged full cost recovery for any advice or services that the Department of Water, Land, Biodiversity and Conservation provides to boards. Will the minister confirm this? If it is to occur, will the minister provide a set of costings for that particular advice for which the department is likely to charge?

My country colleagues would roast me alive if I did not raise the issue of native vegetation, which has become an area of concern for many landholders. Indeed, in discussions with constituents from areas such as Kingston and Cleve, landholders have become disheartened with the process to such an extent that they are very cynical and very disappointed that a number of their positive efforts to look after our nativeve getation have been taken for granted.

The behaviour of some of the department’s officers has led to a number of them almost throwing their hands in the air and saying, ‘We will not try at all’. That goodwill has been severely damaged by that particular process. The Liberal Party was pleased to assist the government by giving speedy passage to the Natural Resources Management (Water Resources and Other Matters) Bill, and we are hopeful that this will lead to a simpler and faster processing of applications, as we are told by water licence holders and applicants that South Australia is well behind Victoria and New South Wales in the time it takes to approve new licences and transfers.

I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 1, page 12.49, subprogram information 1.1, natural resource management services. The performance indicators provide the number of water licences and water permits processed per annum. My question is: what benchmarks does the department have in relation to the time in which they are processed? I assume that my colleague the Hon. Caroline Schaefer will raise the issue of the Great Artesian bores. We understand that no funding has been provided in the forward estimates for controlling those bores, but I will leave that for her to raise, with her eminent experience. My final comments in relation to the environment relate to Waterproofing South Australia, which, from the indications in the budget papers, seems to have slipped down the agenda, with a number of infrastructure works delayed or not allocated sufficient funding, which, at a time when we are facing drought conditions and the impacts of climate change, is a complete scandal.

One other area of scandal, in my view, is in relation to the mental health sector. The government has a nice headline number of $93.5 million. It has adopted what the commonwealth might have started doing, announcing funding over four years. This funding is largely on capital which has already been announced and, indeed, some of it is a continuation of programs started under the previous Liberal government. In terms of the service, it provides funding through non-recurrent means. Many of the non-government organisations which had to wait until 7 June to find out whether they would continue to receive funding beyond 30 June still do not really know what their future is. They have breathed a sigh of relief that NGO funding (which was originally part of the 2005 budget) is being continued, but I do not believe it means any expansion of those services.

We on this side of the council believe that this is probably the most critical area in the expansion of funding the NGO sector. We have had the official announcement today from the government about James Nash House, South Australia’s forensic mental health facility. The government finally fessed up what it was doing with that. It was initially allocated funding in the 2005-06 budget, which, effectively, is three budgets ago. That cost was estimated then at $16.5 million. However, in 2006-07 the total cost was estimated at $16.5 million, and in this recent budget it has been estimated at $16.5 million. It will be intriguing, now that it is part of the PPPs for the Mobilong works, to see what has happened to that figure.

I have been back through those budget papers. Funding of $300 000 had been set aside for this project in 2005-06; in 2006-07, $1.3 million; and in 2007-08, $1.1 million. My question is: has any of that funding over those three years been expended and on what? Given that James Nash House is continually under pressure, what is the occupancy rate for James Nash House? Will the minister advise about the Glenside overflow beds? I believe that there are some 10 of them and that they are continuously full. What are the occupancy rates of those beds? The revision of the Mental Health Act is referred to in Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 7.16. It states in a dot point that, during 2006-07, the division developed a draft new mental health bill. I assume this is the evolution of a report presented to this government in April 2005. That is over two years ago now, and we still have not seen a draft bill. I ask the minister: is this item correct—that is, the government has developed a new draft mental health bill—and when will that be released?

One of the other areas in which I have responsibility is substance abuse. Again, for the NGO sector this is a tale of woe. In fact, I think they are probably even worse off. They have told me that, over several years, they have received only minimal CPI increases, so they have had to dip into other funds. Some of them are close to closing or have had to cease certain services. In Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 7.28, subprogram 3.2, Southern Adelaide Health Service, Drug and Alcohol Services (DASSA) has two targets listed: one for the number of in-patient separations non-hospital; and one for the number of outpatient attendances.

My questions to the minister are: why are the targets for 2007-08 set to show a somewhat static level compared to the previous financial year? Does the minister expect greater demand because of the impact of methamphetamine use? As honourable members would know, these users are often more complex to manage and can be quite violent. What are the many beds are there in the system and where are they located?

Another area where the government intends to flog off prime real estate is through the drug and alcohol services consolidation. I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 7.12. The investing payments summary, new works carried forward, indicates that some $800 000 has been allocated in 2007-08. Last year, under freedom of information, the opposition obtained a DASSA brief on this subject, which indicates that the government’s preference (of two options) is to sell Elura at North Adelaide, Warinilla on Osmond Terrace and the Alcohol Unit at Fourth Avenue, Joslin. The sale of these three sites, as identified by the Brown Falconer feasibility study of May 2005, would yield $8.67 million. Does the government have a more recent valuation? The feasibility study proposed to fund the redevelopment was through a loan. Which agency will be responsible for this loan? Is this another PPP proposal? One of the risks identified in the briefing is that the rebuild would need the support of the local community as well as the local council. What steps has the government taken to undertake this aspect of its planning process? I also have questions in relation to the drug diversion program. I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 7.51, commonwealth funding: revenues from the commonwealth.

There is a line for police drug diversion. The amount for 2005-06 was budgeted to be $3.5 million, but in 2007-08 it is $25 000. What was the purpose for this funding, and on which programs did the state government expend it? Why has the amount fallen to $25 000? Has a new source of funding been identified—and, if so, what is it—or will these programs end?

I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 7.27, subprogram 3.2: Southern Adelaide Health Service. There is a statement that DASSA will receive additional funding associated with the 2006-07 budget. Was this provided to DASSA services exclusively, or was any of it distributed to non-government organisations? Which NGOs receive recurrent funding, or are they all on contracts? What factor is used to determine increases in NGO budgets? Do they receive an annual CPI increase, or is some other basis used?

What percentage of drug and alcohol funding in South Australia is provided to NGOs and what percentage to DASSA? What strategies has the government undertaken to assist NGOs with staff recruitment and retention? Can the minister confirm that the Drugs Summit funding has concluded, and is she aware of any NGOs that may cease to be viable because of a lack of funding?

My final comments relate to smoking targets, and I refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, pages 7.5 and 7.6, targets in the South Australian Strategic Plan and, specifically, smoking targets for 15 to 29 year olds. According to the budget papers, the target for 2007-08, at 23.5 per cent, is higher than the 2005-06 actual of 23.4 per cent. In addition, the 2006-07 estimated result of 24.6 per cent shows that the prevalence increased from 2005-06. What is the reason for the increase, and what measures is the government utilising to attempt to reach the South Australian Strategic Plan target of reducing prevalence to 17.9 per cent by 2014? Can the minister confirm whether the government has changed this target? I support the second reading of the bill, but I would like to reiterate the comments of many of my colleagues on this side of the chamber: we believe that this government has the wrong priorities, and the sooner it loses office the better.