Appropriation Bill

29 Jul 2008 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the Appropriation Bill.

Adjourned debate on second reading. (Continued from 24 July 2008. Page 3712.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:23): Given the hour of the afternoon and the fact that there will be a number of speakers on this, I will try to restrain my comments on the number of missed opportunities in this budget and, indeed, it reflects many opportunities, we would argue. Here in question time, on a daily basis, we receive retorts from the bright lights on the back bench such as, 'Well, what did you do?' Having been a ministerial adviser for the former Liberal government, in the areas of disability and ageing portfolios in particular, I know that the amount of funding was always incredibly tight.

So, when one looks at the achievements of this government they are very few and far between. Indeed, I note that in the previous financial year the Conservation Council's headline was, 'No news is bad news, say conservationists'. In response to this budget it has said, 'Environment budget: trains win, species lose'. In particular, it has pointed to the issues of peak oil and the fact that this government opposed the motion of the Hon. Sandra Kanck to put that to a select committee. It has also accused the government of not doing its fair share to reduce South Australia's carbon footprint. It does applaud the investment in public transport; however, when one looks forward into the budget papers one wonders when those promises will be delivered. My colleague the Hon. Terry Stephens has coined the phrase, 'Believe it when you see it,' in relation to this government, and I think that aptly describes how we feel.

I return to the Conservation Council's media release. It reads:

'However, climate change is also a tremendous threat to South Australia's unique plant and animal life, and so we are alarmed to see the Department for Environment and Heritage's funding cut yet again, this time by over $18 million. CCSA has serious concerns that vital Naturelinks and Marine Parks programs simply won't be able to be delivered adequately and that threatened species, both terrestrial and marine, will be pushed to extinction.'

It goes on to say:

The government's approach to water security has also been criticised by the Conservation Council:

'While we've seen the fast-tracking of the desalination plant for Port Stanvac…what should have been the state's first-resort measure for water security has been all but ignored. Harvesting all that stormwater that currently goes out to sea barely rated a mention, despite CSIRO studies showing that we can use wetlands and aquifers to purify and store potable water at half the cost of desalinated water. Instead of prioritising this solution, a meagre $3 million has been set aside for floodplain mapping, management plans and priority stormwater infrastructure works.'

Those are the comments of one of the peak bodies for the environment in this state, clearly disappointed at the contribution to the environment, and I echo of a number of the points it has made.

I believe this government has been incredibly lax in terms of planning for water security. Last year I was fortunate enough to attend a water trading mission in Israel, and a person from one of the interstate water utilities said that they have regular hook-ups with all water utilities around Australia, and they often remarked to one another that South Australia's response for so many years had been, 'Well, we're praying for rain.' Clearly, God has not been listening to the Rann Labor government because that has not come to fruition.

The Liberal Party has put out very clear policy points in relation to water security both in terms of desalination and stormwater harvesting, something in which this state leads the way—no thanks to this Rann Labor government but entirely thanks to local government, which has been leading the effort, whether at Salisbury or in a number of other initiatives around the state. Indeed, I challenged minister Maywald on investment (or lack thereof) in stormwater harvesting and she stated that it was a priority for local government, indicating that the state government did not need to invest in it. I think that is incredibly shortsighted. The technology is available and it has been demonstrated; and this government ought to be making more of an effort to enhance the efforts taking place that are being led by local government (which does not have the same level of financial flexibility to fund it).

There are four agencies in environment and conservation: DEH, EPA, DWLBC and Zero Waste. Again, and as we have seen in previous budgets, shared services is somehow supposed to deliver a huge windfall for Treasury of some $23 million or $24 million. Across all those agencies I think that is something like a 12.5 per cent funding reduction, and that is just scandalous. I sometimes say that everyone is 'green' these days, but I think people have to realise the importance of the environment—and in South Australia particularly, the importance of water and the need for water security.

In Budget Paper No. 3 we find some of the forward estimates in terms of savings targets—and this is in addition to what I have just referred to—whereby on page 2.31 DWLBC, DEH and the EPA are all expected to come up with substantial savings targets by 2011-12. The recurrent figure for DWLBC is $6.3 million over three years and, on a recurrent basis, that will be $3.8 million by 2011-12. Similarly—and referring to my question earlier today—the real reason behind DEH not providing funding for adjoining land-holders to assist with repairing fences is that it does not have the resources. Again, we already have an environment agency which is under-resourced and under a great deal of pressure. Over the next three years to 2011-12, it is expected to come up with a total of $12.8 million, which in recurrent terms will amount to $7.7 million by 2011-12. Similarly, for the EPA, the figure is $1.9 million over three years which, on a recurrent basis, will be $1.1 million by 2011-12. Clearly, the environment is not a high priority for this government.

I refer to some of the programs within those various agencies. Clearly in this budget there was some funding that was directed towards water security matters. We believe on this side of the chamber that, had the Labor states along with their federal counterpart been able to agree to a deal that would secure some funding for the River Murray, that would have greatly enhanced what this state might be doing at a local level. Indeed, one of the key pieces from the previous budget last year was the announcement of the expansion of Mount Bold, and yet that has all but disappeared.
In relation to some of the other programs, it seems that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Coast and marine conservation will receive an increase from the 2008-09 budget compared to the previous estimate of $5 million, which presumably is to implement some of the new marine parks legislation, but that comes at the expense of areas such as visitor management, fire management and public land stewardship, which is probably the farmers' fences. We do try to tease these things out in estimates, but the answers are usually unsatisfactory (as they are generally during question time), so why those areas have been slashed is, I think, highly questionable.

The important area of environment and radiation protection within the EPA is also receiving a funding cut, as is environment protection generally, so clearly the environment is not a high priority. This government engages in a number of tokenistic press releases and the odd initiative, but it does not go to the heart of the areas that need to be managed correctly for the environment.

I also make a special mention of the No Species Loss program, which has had a very moderate increase of 0.4 per cent in spite of the rhetoric that we hear from this government and the federal government about their commitment to climate change. Clearly, one of the areas where we need to be mitigating the impacts of climate change is in restoring habitat for threatened species, yet they do not receive very much in this budget at all.
I will refer to a couple of areas where the government has put in substantial amounts of money. One of those, of course, is the $5.5 million for the new EPA building. Given that a number of other areas, particularly within the EPA, will receive cuts, I think it is scandalous that, for the sake of the EPA's being able to say, 'We are green and friendly because we have this lovely building with lots of pot plants', somehow Mike Rann can sleep better at night. The other area is $500,000 for a plastic bag ban public education program. The Liberal Party has publicly announced that it does not support the plastic bag ban and believes that money should be redirected into real environmental measures rather than being tokenistic in its approach to the environment.

While on the matter of the environment stream, there has been no indication from the government that it has a firm plan in relation to other parts of the waste stream such as car tyres, electronic waste or compact fluorescent light bulbs. Instead, it seeks to ban a product which, apart from when it is flapping about in our seas, is a fairly harmless substance compared to a number of those areas.

In the mental health budget, of course, there is nothing new for the non-government sector. There is some funding for government offices for the community mental health team so, again, the government is investing in bricks and mortar rather than people. There has been some funding allocated to the James Nash rebuild but that, again, is behind target: $1.1 million was allocated in the previous budget and only $320,000 of that has been spent. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital aged care and mental health rebuild is again behind target, with $3.8 million being allocated in the previous budget, none of which has been spent.

Then we have the most significant part of the mental health system, which is the Glenside campus, being funded through asset sales. We have only been advised of $10 million or $11 million that has been allocated in this current budget, and I ask this government where its priorities are when it is able to find $100 million for entertainment centres and so forth, yet it will not proceed with the rebuild of the Glenside Hospital site unless significant property is sold, not only on the Glenside site but also the Drug & Alcohol Services sites. One property is at Warinilla at Norwood, one is at Joslin and one is in North Adelaide, and they are all being sold to fund the new hospital rebuild. This is something which I asked Monsignor Cappo about in a select committee recently and he did not have an answer for that.

I think that most of the rhetoric around the Glenside redevelopment has been just that. There has been absolutely no substance in whatever publication one receives from the government about the consultation and so forth, and the community is, rightly, very angry. I think it is quite insulting, too, that when these issues are raised in this place the government tries to insinuate that somehow the local community is opposed to the redevelopment because it looks down on people with mental illness. If one reads a number of the letters that have been written to the editor, and so forth, that is clearly not the case. People firmly believe that open space is important for the rehabilitation of people who have mental illness.

While on that issue of rehabilitation, the psychiatrist community is very concerned that there will not be any provision for long-term rehabilitation beds within the revised range of services available, and these people are a particularly difficult client group to care for because some need several months in a facility where their medication can be monitored, or changed if necessary, and they can often be treatment resistant and can exhibit complex behaviours. If there is nowhere for these people to go, I ask the government where they will go. I suspect we will see them cycle in and out of acute hospital wards or placed inappropriately in backpacker accommodation.

Similarly, in the area of substance abuse there is no new funding for the non-government sector. As it is, most of those little agencies survive on minimal funds and receive minimal indexation from the government, which barely allows them to keep pace; in fact, it does not, and there is a high job insecurity in the non-government sector, particularly in the drug and alcohol sector and also in mental health. It is hard to keep staff and hard for those organisations to continue to provide services when the government will not update them now beyond financial years. We had the ludicrous situation in last year's budget where they had six or 10 days before the end of the financial year before they knew whether they would continue to receive funding. I suggest to the government that some of the ministers should go and try that sort of job security and see how they like it.

I question also the efficacy of the government's measures in terms of smoking rates, because there has been no change in the target for those rates. It remains static at 22.7 per cent for 15 to 29-year olds, and that reflects a number of other targets as well which have not been met. We have this new interesting language in relation to State Strategic Plan targets, with a rating from 0 to 4 and, if ever there were weasel words, it is words such as 'on track', 'to be met', and so on. We know already that the government has revised its statistics in relation to the appointment of women to boards and committees. That was interestingly revised down a couple of years ago and, according to the latest information, the government is not on track to meet its own targets.

This is again a budget that delivers little. It has a great deal of tokenism and, with the headline statement in terms of this year's golden egg—transport—being so far off into the future, I repeat the words of my colleague the Hon. Terry Stephens: believe it when you see it.