Appropriation Bill

17 Jul 2009 archivespeech

This speech is to indicate support toward the Hon. Stephan Wade's contribution to the Appropriation Bill and make some remarks regarding this topic.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (12:12): Hear, hear! I commend the Hon. Stephen Wade for his contribution with which I could not agree more. Indeed, this budget is the culmination of nearly two terms in office and, once again, demonstrates the complete failure of the state's Treasurer in regard to any fiscal responsibility. Effectively, he has had his budget bailed out and funded by the federal government in its wilful disregard of any established practice in terms of fiscal conservatism and has splashed out money left, right and centre, and future generations will be funding this into the future. The state government's budget is really half a budget. Some $750 million of cuts will not appear until after the election—most convenient for Mr Foley—and I do hope that the community and the media in this state will keep the Treasurer on his toes in terms of ensuring that we get some sort of answer about exactly what it is he intends to do.

There were a couple of areas in the budget where my colleagues from the House of Assembly sought some commitments from various ministers about which programs would be cut. Those ministers gave a commitment that, 'No, no, no; none of our programs will be cut,' so it will be interesting to see whether that turns out to be the truth in the future, once these cuts emerge. As I said, this budget has been bailed out by the federal government, with some $2.9 billion in special purpose payments. The state tax revenue will increase by $48 million, and GST grants are up by $2 million. I think the Treasurer has rather sneakily sought to portray in the lead-up to this budget that there would be a reduction in some of those revenues coming from the commonwealth. In fact, some of those have increased. Overall, commonwealth grants are up by $858 million, so, in net revenue terms, this government has been far better off.

Unfortunately, its unfunded superannuation liability has blown out from $5.1 billion in 2006-07 to $9.8 billion in 2009-10. We need some answers from this government about how it is going to manage that debt into the future, because it has made no effort whatsoever to rein it in. We are the highest taxed state in Australia. If one examines the tax revenues over several years from 2001-02 to this budget, one can see that we are taxed more severely than other states—by 12 per cent over the national average. Land tax is an ongoing issue for many South Australian families, particularly those from migrant backgrounds who have seen real estate as a very solid way to invest in their future. It has increased by an extraordinary amount—292 per cent, in fact—and the number of land tax payers has almost trebled during this time, from 69,000 to 188,000. These costs are passed on to residential and commercial renters, so it impacts on some people who may be on low incomes also. In terms of our Public Service, there has been a massive increase also. We have 16,400 more public servants than this government promised, and I note that it has made some sort of commitment to cut that number by 1,600. Again, one is not sure where that will occur, so we are in the dark about a number of these things. The so-called fat cats (which I note is a moniker that was invented by the current Premier) have increased from 782 to over 4,000.

The Hon. P. Holloway: Actually, Clyde Cameron used it in 1975. That is where it came from.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: So, it was one of your Labor people. Debt is something like $6.7 billion. I have mentioned the unfunded superannuation; and, of course, there is always WorkCover, which has a massive debt these days of $1.4 billion. That is an extraordinary amount, considering that our last Liberal government was so diligent in reducing it to something like $281 million—and South Australia continues to have the highest WorkCover levy rate of all the states which, of course, is something that impacts on all employers. I will make some reference to the infrastructure broken promises, which are extraordinary. The major one, from my personal point of view, is the prisons project. We were all hopeful that the prisons would be rebuilt, particularly the women's prison, which is a disgrace and continues to be so. That has been cancelled, and I think that will hurt the credibility of South Australia in terms of future infrastructure projects because a number of the consortia that were bidding were not advised until the Treasurer had delivered his budget. In fact, there had been discussions with some of those consortia in the week prior to the budget and they were given the distinct impression that they would be continuing. We have had the Mount Bold reservoir expansion which was front page in the budget a couple of years ago, which has since disappeared into thin air. The $500 million prisons PPP has been cancelled. Tram line extensions have disappeared from the budget, and the Upper Spencer Gulf desalination plant has disappeared. The South Road, Port Road and Grange Road underpasses have disappeared. The AAMI Stadium upgrade money has also disappeared. I think, in terms of major infrastructure, this government cannot be believed when it says anything about what it intends to do. It does so with the cynical purpose of getting today's headline but not with any intention of following it through.

Along with the prison project is the shame that James Nash House will not be rebuilt. The distinct impression of the people who have worked at James Nash, going back probably three years ago when I visited them, was that there was ample space on that site to rebuild, and it was their impression that it would be rebuilt to modern standards on that existing site. James Nash House has 30 beds; there are 10 beds in the overflow at Glenside—that is the way it operates at the moment. The waiting lists for it are constant and, as we have seen recently with the intersection with the correctional services area, there is not enough space for people who need to be detained within the system with obvious and sometimes tragic consequences. With the rebuild of Glenside, which has also been delayed by some two years, those 10 places at Glenside will no longer be available, so we will be back to 30 beds instead of 40. This area of forensic mental health is in dire straits, and that is with the current capacity. The capacity is in desperate need of being increased, and that is one area where I think we will continue to have problems. It is pointless to blame the Parole Board for that because it does not supervise people who are on licence—that is, supervised by people who are in community corrections—and they are vastly under resourced. So, I think this is one very challenging area where the government ought to be providing additional resources, both in bricks and mortar and services. The Women's and Children's Hospital is also in dire need of infrastructure funding. Some of those wards at the children's hospital are disgraceful and have been neglected, while the government is on its frolic of fantasy to rebuild the existing Royal Adelaide Hospital, parts of which are already world class, at a new site.

The Environment, Resources and Development Committee recently had the privilege of going to that site. It is a terrific site, but one wonders why one needs to shift the existing infrastructure from where it is now—collocated with the teaching institutions and our research facilities, where the clinical aspects of our hospitals are combined and can produce a greater body of knowledge in terms of understanding diseases and so forth—and why that should be shifted to another site on the other side of the city. That site could be put to many uses, but a hospital should not be one of them. The rebuild of the Magill Training Centre has also been cancelled. My understanding is that the previous Liberal government had made a commitment and provided the funds for that to be rebuilt at the Cavan site, which would make some sense. This government, which claims to have some sort of interest in social justice, has no interest when it comes to our juvenile detainees.

Under the watch of this government, the maternity services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Modbury have closed. In terms of 24 hour services within mental health, we have fewer beds, particularly for people who have very complex needs. Those people had been accommodated at the Glenside campus—people who may need to be in hospital for a period of months to determine whether, in fact, their medication is working. Some people who have had a mental illness for a long time obviously take a long time to show some sign of recovery. So, that is a very important service. Those people now are accommodated in our metropolitan hospital system where it is far more disruptive and very much more difficult to monitor the impact of whether their medication and other treatments are working. So, I think it is a shame that we do not provide a proper and full service for people in that situation. The government has also broken promises on breast cancer. It had promised $2.6 million for new screening services in the country, and in June last year it announced that it would replace mobile breast screening units, but, again, that has disappeared from the budget. That is yet another indictment of the way this government treats people in the country. We know what it would like to do to the country health system, and now country women will not have the service which they were promised and which they deserve.

At a federal level, the Rudd government has attacked the Medicare safety net, changing things which will affect women's health choices—including IVF treatments, all obstetric services, and some ultrasounds related to pregnancy—because it has changed the cap. Obviously, that will be to the detriment of many women. So, one would have to question whether this government is interested in the next generation and its health. I would like to refer to some of the portfolio areas for which I have responsibility. Early childhood development is an area that is very much in vogue, and for good reason. Early childhood services are defined as those for zero to eight year olds, so it covers a very broad range and encompasses child care, early learning centres, kindergartens and the early years of primary school. A lot of funding has been released for improving services for this age group, and I think this is very important, but one area that has been neglected in the Building the Education Revolution is that of preschools. I note that the Preschool Directors Association has been calling for more of those funds to be spent in facilities which cater for the early years because that is when the impact is greater. I think most people would agree with that. Indeed, we have established that primary schools and preschools are areas in which there is greater demand on services, as more parents and families take up those services on behalf of their children, so I believe this is an area that ought to receive more attention. This government has a program of establishing what it calls children's centres. In principle, this is something one would not oppose. These centres provide a whole lot of services on the one site, including preschools and various sorts of child care services, and, depending on the local need, they may provide occupational therapy, social work or other sorts of services. However, in the government's rush to establish these centres and fulfil commitments made in its announcement, some of the existing services have been rationalised under the one roof and have been cut.

One of the new ones which will come on stream is the Il Nido Centre at Paradise. For that to take place, the Campbelltown preschool will be merged with it. So, one service that has been lost there is the occasional care service that was based at the Campbelltown preschool. Some people may not think that is very significant, but I believe that when these little preschool centres and kindergartens are amalgamated into one it creates impacts that the minister, and indeed the department, may not have thought of. That is, if there are smaller services and fewer kids there is greater community involvement; parents are more likely to walk if it is not as far, kids get to know each other, and I think there is a much greater safety aspect to it. With a larger centre there is more likelihood of bullying and other sorts of issues. I think it is also a concern that our super schools are being sold as a great new service where you can have whatever you want but, in actual fact, there will be a larger number of kids, and the ones lost in this will be the smaller schools where kids are able to walk to school. I think there are some in the electorate of Enfield, in particular, where families will be greatly disadvantaged by having to attend a school which is across a main road and not easily accessible. There is also an issue in terms of increased training for people working in the area of early childhood. I think, in principle, people would support that more highly trained people are needed to work in this area, but it is a lot like aged care: it is quite difficult to get people to stay for long and, over time, they tend to drift off. Those who may be engaged in Certificate III or IV training see it as a stepping stone to other things, such as teaching courses at university, so a lot of centres have trouble keeping their staff. While I think it is a laudable aim to say that people working in those centres should be more highly trained, I think that, in reality, it means that many centres will struggle even more to keep their staff.

I also have some concerns that the Universal Access Program is very much focused on the state government sector. Indeed, South Australia has a history of the state government, through its kindergartens, being one of the largest providers of early childhood services for several decades. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think we ought to have diversity in the sector. I think there are a lot of people in the Catholic and non-government sector who are doing things which are very innovative and of very high quality and, in that, I include the Montessori preschools which, generally speaking, fall into the non-government or private sector. I think there are concerns that the $65.1 million over four years (which is one of many gifts from Mr Rudd to the state) has been exclusively focused on the state government sector to the detriment of the innovative places in the independent sector where parents may be enrolling their kids. I also note that the budgeted target for the number of students in reception to year 2 in this budget is less than it was in 2007-08; that is, in 2007-08, the number of children enrolled in those years was 40,570 and, in 2009-10, there will be 39,635 children—that is what the government expects.

The aged-care sector was successful in lobbying the government to provide it some land tax relief. In most other states in Australia—in fact, I think in all other states—the private aged-care sector was the only one being levied land tax. I am pleased to see that the Aged Care Association (led by the Chair, Dr Prabhash Goel, and the CEO Mr Paul Carberry) successfully lobbied this government that it be provided land tax relief of $1.5 million. This sum is not a lot to the government, but it certainly makes a big difference to them, particularly when one looks at the structure of what aged-care providers can charge residents. It is one of the most highly regulated sectors in our community because there are limits on how much can be charged—in terms of not just daily rates but also bonds and so forth that may be requested of residents. I think that is a positive step. The private child-care centre could also do with some relief. Some child-care centres, particularly those operating on private school campuses, are funded, really, by the parents, and the schools and the centres do their best to keep the charges down. One thing that they cannot avoid passing on is the land tax fees that they are required to pay. So, I think that is something that would be good to see in a future budget.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: In a Liberal budget.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In a Liberal budget, indeed. I turn now to the matter of gambling. We had to squeeze it out of the minister that this government has welshed on its decision not to pursue further the second tranche of the reduction of electronic gaming machines to 3,000. That was an initiative of previous minister Paul Caica, and, indeed, Carmel Zollo, as minister, provided me with a briefing on that bill, which, from what I understand, is ready to go. During Responsible Gambling Awareness Week in May we asked the government where it was, and gave it a slap around the ears for not having introduced the bill yet, and there was a stunned silence.

Estimates has at least provided us with the opportunity to squeeze it out of the current minister that Mr Rann needs the money from these machines—not put in those terms of course. Having lamented the impact of gaming machines on our community and writing personally to each and every member of parliament urging us that this was a most important piece of legislation, he has quietly let it slip off the agenda. There is a view, I think, within government that it is not just the reduction in the machines, but, certainly, the number of venues may have an impact on problem gambling numbers. I think there are a number of venues that would like to have traded their machines, but $50,000 was not enough for them to exit the industry. There is the concept that if you have fewer venues and venues which are better staffed then you are more likely to be able to detect people who have problem gambling issues. Certainly, some research is being done by Dr Paul Delfabbro in terms of being able to detect when somebody may have a problem, not just that they are seated by the machine for hours on end but that they obviously have anxiety issues, and that research should advise us well in the future about how to assist people and provide intervention at an earlier stage. But I do think it is a shame that this government, having shouted from the rooftops about how important this was, has quietly let it slip. It is yet another broken promise that we will continue to remind the electorate about.

In terms of the inspectorate, which is under the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner, this is an ongoing issue that has been raised continuously by the opposition. In fact, in the two estimates committees prior to the most recent one, the member for Davenport, now shadow gambling spokesperson, raised it with the minister. The government advised us that it undertook a review of compliance functions in 2007, and that report was completed in February 2008. But I suspect that nothing has really changed. My advice is that the inspectorate rarely does any out of hours work. One must wonder why that would be, given that it would certainly be outside office hours when issues of breaching either liquor or gambling laws would be most likely to take place, with a number of them basically checking the machines in the casino. I think that is an area that needs a great deal of reform to ensure that it is not just the SAPOL compliance officers who are ensuring compliance but also other people who are employed by the office. It is true to say that during difficult economic times people tend to gamble more in the hope of gaining a windfall. I would certainly like to see the government ramping up some of its preventative measures and providing some higher quality community advice messages, rather than some of the ones that it has at the moment, which I think are rather lame and certainly do not translate into other languages and cultures terribly well.

In the consumer affairs portfolio I think we are seeing a lot of movement towards the commonwealth. Within a couple of years I think most of what it has been conducting will be done nationally, and that is including trade licensing, business names and consumer credit. So, that is an area that I think is increasingly becoming a national issue. In terms of other compliance issues, I think the office could do a much better job by being proactive, and rather than relying on complaints from members of the public it could be more proactive in some areas. In respect of one of the bills that we have before us, obviously I cannot refer to it but we discussed it in debate yesterday and suffice to say that I think more could be done in that respect. I commend its work in terms of checking pricing, issuing recalls and checking stock. We saw the minister recently on TV because there was a blitz on baby products to ensure that they comply with safety standards. I think those are commendable activities that should be continued. In relation to the status of women, I listened to all of the estimates for which I have portfolio responsibilities and I think the performance was lamentable, to say the least, in terms of answering questions about the government's target of board and committee chairmanship. The minister advised, I think, that her board figures were something like 38 per cent in November 2008 and by June 2009 would be closer to 45 per cent, and I commend her for that. The minister has taken on notice the other ministers' figures, and I suspect that the government did not have those figures, quite deliberately, in front of them during estimates because in previous estimates we have discovered that some of the ministers' (mostly the bully-boy four) portfolios have been pathetic, to say the least, and have, in some ways, gone backwards. I think the government needs to be transparent about this. If it is going to have it as one of its targets in the State Strategic Plan then it needs to at least provide these figures during estimates and have them much more readily available.

The Premier's Council for Women was also the subject of discussion during estimates. I appreciate that the Office for Women, indeed, does not have a large budget and so must tailor its activities to those things. I note that the Premier's Council for Women sets its own priorities rather than taking terms of reference from other portfolios. If it is interested in the area of work/life balance then it ought to be taking more interest in one of the targets, which, under questioning, we were advised is in minister Weatherill's area, and that is the public sector target, which is that, by 2014, 50 per cent of public sector executives should be women. I understand that the Office for Women has been involved in providing leadership training for a number of women, with the aim of getting them on boards. I would also like to see it taking a greater role in terms of the public sector targets, because I see those areas as being inextricably linked.

Research from organisations that study this issue is very clear that women need to be progressed into executive roles and receive the relevant training to enable them to take on those executive roles, if they wish to progress to become board members and, indeed, chairs. I do not propose to say much more than that. Suffice to say that this is a budget which has let women down in a number of areas which I have outlined. It is an area where women, naturally, take a very strong interest. It is a very disappointing budget, given that this government inherited from the Liberal Party a very healthy budget which was in the black. After many years of our very hard work keeping things on a short leash, this government has splashed cash left, right and centre in the good years, and now that it finds itself in a difficult position it is not funding things which deserve to be funded and which, I would have thought, are part of the core business of any Labor government. On behalf of the women of South Australia and on behalf of many families, I state that we are disappointed, but I will not hold up the second reading of this bill.