Appropriation Bill 2013

25 Jul 2013 archivespeech

A speech in relation to the Appropriation Bill 2013.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (11:35): I rise to make a contribution on the budget bill and would like at the outset to place some remarks on the record about the estimates process that precedes the Legislative Council dealing with this piece of legislation which provides the appropriation for various government departments.

The estimates process, I think, is useful for the government and the opposition in terms of auditing, if you like, the budget lines, although certainly under this government, things have been aggregated to the point where it is very hard to find the details of where the funding cuts are and so forth, which I think is just an indication of the fact that it has become trickier and trickier as it has gone along. It has done so in the health portfolio as well, particularly with the amalgamation of hospitals into boards and so forth, so they no longer report individually.

From the preparation point of view, for the government and the opposition to determine as much as they can and prepare as much as possible for what is in there and what is not in there, that is useful. However, when the estimates committees take place and the floor of this place is taken over by those rogues from the House of Assembly to quiz ministers (members of the Legislative Council, unless they are ministers, do not participate in the process at all), that is where it all falls apart.

We have this process where the ministers have an opening statement and they take up as much time as possible. In recent years they have been trying to do so-called deals with the opposition and say, 'Well, we will trade off our opening statement and cut down the total time.' As a shadow minister, I have always instructed whoever is asking my questions never to agree to that, because I think that the amount of time that we spend on the examination of each department is a pittance in any case.

From memory—I have not checked this, but I think it is in this order—for the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources it was two hours in total. When you take out 20 or 30 minutes of an opening statement and Dorothy Dixers, that might leave the opposition with an hour at most. SA Water and the River Murray combined is one hour. Zero Waste SA gets half an hour and the EPA gets half an hour. That is just not good enough.

I am a member of the Budget and Finance Committee, which is chaired by the Hon. Rob Lucas, and we have a much more useful process where each department comes in without their minister for two hours. I have found that that is a much more transparent process than estimates. I think estimates needs some reform, but you would not expect that under the tricky Rann-Weatherill government, so we will have to wait for the next premier to come in and clean up the place.

I am going to make some general remarks about the budget and then talk about the portfolio areas for which I am responsible. It is a tragedy that we have had 11 years of Labor, because there are so many missed opportunities. Over the years—and these are all well documented—we have had promises of prison rebuilds and we have had electrification of some lines which have then been cancelled; there have been so many different promises written on the back of an envelope which have then been cancelled.

We should have had a proper plan right at the outset, and I think transport is one of those areas which is a classic area. The government has never had a transport plan in 11 years. It never had a transport policy when it came into office and before it was elected. Everything is done in this ad hoc way that is driven by whichever seats Labor thinks it is trying to hold onto.

In 2002, when Labor came into office, it had revenues of some $7 billion or $8 billion. That has now doubled. We are in the situation where more revenue has come into the budget each year than the government realised was coming in, and yet every year, at the time of the Mid-Year Budget Review, it found that it had still overspent and in many years were saved by GST and property windfalls—but those days are gone; the golden years of growth have gone.

Labor does what it always does when it is in government: it finds that it runs out of money and undertakes cuts itself, in areas where they should never have taken place, and it has overspent. We all know their white elephants: the Adelaide Oval; that blasted $40 million footbridge, which is an abomination; and the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. There have been wasted opportunities in every single budget.

In the current budget, we are going to have a deficit of $1.3 billion, but you can bet your cotton socks that it is going to be a lot more than that. We will get to the end of the financial year and the Premier and Treasurer will say, 'Oh, gosh, well, the growth forecasts were a little bit optimistic and we are very sorry, but there is less money available.' Our debt in this year alone is approaching $14 billion.

We have had six budget deficits in seven years, after promises that the budget would be in surplus. We just cannot trust the Rann/Weatherill governments to bring us into surplus—or anything they say, in fact. The AAA credit rating impacts on the state's borrowings: the lower your rating, the more your money costs to borrow. Treasurer Snelling made the rather valiant claim in September 2011, 'We are committed to making sure we retain the AAA credit rating,' but it has been downgraded; the latest downgrade is to AA under Mr Weatherill.

In the water area, there have been huge price hikes, which I detailed in a recent matter of interest. However, I think it is worth mentioning what factors are contributing to increased water costs. Obviously, there is the desalination plant with 100 gigalitres we are not going to need even in 2050, according to the experts. The carbon tax is costing an extra $14.6 million; renewable energy, $43.7 million; executive salaries, $69.6 million; and the mothballing of the desal plant will cost us $90 million—huge amounts of waste. The socialists who run this show do not really worry about it because it is other people's money and who cares? Just stick it on the credit card and the great-grandchildren will pay for that one, thank you very much.

For each of the portfolio areas, because I do not have the privilege of sitting in on the estimates process, I do have a number of questions. I appreciate that the government may not have time to reply to them by the close of this debate, but I would like to signal to minister Hunter that I would appreciate answers to these if he can provide them over the winter recess when the parliament is not meeting.

SA Water, Budget Paper 5, Capital Investment Statement, pages 58 to 60 of the budget. My questions are:

•In relation to the pipe network renewal, nearly $40 million is allocated to that program. Is that a regular annual funding amount and was this program reduced during the funding of the desalination plant and interconnector program?

•What estimates has SA Water undertaken for future costs and liabilities of our ageing pipe infrastructure?

•The Adelaide desalination plant (which is an existing project as per page 58), the payment of $32.374 million will be paid in 2014. What services does South Australia receive from this payment? Will there be a similar payment every year?

•The total capital expenditure for 2013-14 is $407 million. What is the impact on the regulated asset base?

I think that is all I have on SA Water.

The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. This is a fairly modest sized budget, one would have to say. It has undergone lots and lots of restructures since the last election. The environment was one of the areas that Mr Rann liked to fancy himself as being quite a guru in. Most of his projects were tokenistic and all designed for publicity and most of them, I have to say, are gone. The latest one is the NatureLinks program, which has been cut to the bone, to the point where it is just about finished.

So, we have had a number of restructures. We used to have the department of water, land and biodiversity conservation and the department for environment and heritage. They got folded together. They then had the department of water folded into that and now they have had natural resource management folded into those. So, a significant number of restructures in the last three to four years.

In the 2010 budget there was a huge cut to DEH, which would have an impact in 2013-14 (that is, this financial year) of $30 million. This is on top of the cuts that have been outlined in this budget. Natural resource management had $26 million taken out in 2011-12. Courtesy of, as I have mentioned before, that very useful committee that both the Hon. Rob Lucas and I are members of, Budget and Finance, we have discovered that the cuts to this department, the cumulative savings expected in 2016-17 is $169.4 million. The current cumulative savings expected for the year 2013-14 is $107.148 million, and then in 2014-15 $159.35 million. So, I will be surprised if there is much left in that department if we are elected next year.

We were provided with a list of all of the programs. This was asked of the minister in estimates and he refused to answer. It was rather cute, I have to say, but we did manage to get a useful bit of information at our committee. So, there are a range of things: workforce reductions (obviously), reductions in various business functions, field support, aquatic ecology, development referrals, applications for water-affecting activities and managed aquifer recharge schemes, the Border Groundwaters Agreement Review Committee, surface and groundwater monitoring, heritage grants—well, that has been attacked over many years now—science monitoring and knowledge events, media monitoring, brochure production and online services, feral animal control—an area that is always under pressure—further amalgamation of regional natural resource management and DEWNR delivery programs, regional support unit volunteers, NatureLinks and Bounceback.

On that, which is one that I mentioned at the start of my contribution, this was a Rann election promise. There are six regions, and I would like to comment on some of the things that various ministers have said about this program over the years. Former minister John Hill described in 2003:

The NatureLinks program is a particularly important program, because it links public lands with private lands to ensure that there are habitat corridors to allow species to travel.

Our own leader in this place, as minister for the environment, in 2007 said:

Healthy biological and diverse ecosystems underpin South Australia's environmental, social, cultural, spiritual and economic wellbeing...The five biodiversity corridors identified in South Australia's Strategic Plan provide a bold vision for biodiversity conservation in South Australia to enable South Australia's species and ecosystems to survive, evolve and adapt to environmental change.

Those are pretty strong words. This is a program that has, effectively, had some seven people and, as a result of this budget, has been cut down to one.

People might not support this program and, if they do, they should be particularly concerned because like many in the environmental space it provides seed funding and it also leverages commonwealth funds. This program, which one might have been sceptical of at the start of the program, has actually been recognised by the commonwealth government as being very important to the commonwealth wildlife corridors. So, it is one that I think the commonwealth was interested in providing some funding for but in its rage with the razor gang the government has decided that it will just slash it.

I have a number of questions in relation to the environment department as well. I would like to receive some responses from the minister. In relation to the south-east drainage scheme, which is in Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, Agency Statements, pages 149 to 198, particularly on page 154 under the title Investing Expenditure Summary on the South-East drainage scheme, I would like an update about what the program to divert the water from the South-East to the Coorong is.

Under Strategy, Science and Resource Monitoring, which is on the same page, the government expects to reduce the number of staff from 500 to 410. What programs will be cut as a result? In the highlights on page 157, as to the Hanson Bay land purchase, can the government explain the rationale behind the purchase of this property? What due diligence was undertaken? Did the government consider that the $1.8 million may have been better spent on the River Murray or numerous other essential programs which have now been slashed?

The old office of sustainability and climate change, which is on page 180: how many staff have been retained from the old days when it was in DPC? On page 158, the targets for 2013-14, what is the state koala strategy? Is it limited to Kangaroo Island or other regions? Is there a similar one to manage New Zealand fur seals?

Activity indicators on page 159 refer to the number of heritage applications received. What is the current level of funding for the heritage branch, heritage assessors and grant programs? How does this compare to the previous financial year? Sustainable water resources on page 159: is there more detail available on the remediation of the Hume Dam? Was less water provided for environmental purposes under the decrease of expenditure of $7.9 million for water for environmental purposes? Yes, we know there is no money for stormwater, so that question has been answered at some point.

As to the $445 million for South Australia for environmental infrastructure and industry diversification, is there more information about guidelines or what specific purposes? When will we first see the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan? Will a review of the environmental watering plan take place since the change of water ministers? What stage is the current annual environmental watering plan at? When is an environmental watering requirement including a draft long-term environmental watering plan for the River Murray and the water quality and salinity management plan expected to be implemented?

On page 169, Highlights, there is $23.1 million over four years for prescribed burning in national parks. How many hectares of lands are in high risk areas and how regularly should they be burned and are they burned? As to the nine natural resources centres across South Australia, what are their locations, what is the capital cost and how many staff are in each? Page 170, people and parks, what has happened to that strategy? Pages 172 and 173, again these are highlights. One of the highlights was the commencement of the construction process for regulators and pump relocation for priority River Murray wetlands and flood plains. Where are these sites located? Can the minister provide an update of the costs to install the Chowilla environmental regulator? Of the 750,000 seedlings planted at the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray sites, what percentage of them survived and why did those that died fail?

Licensing and permits, page 181, in relation to prescribed water resources areas and crown land, how much of the income comes from water levies under the NRM Act? Volumetric conversion of water licences has been rolled out across the Mallee prescribed wells area from 1 July. What percentage of an irrigator's allocation has been impacted by these changes? One of the targets for 2013, at the top of page 183, is to 'review the existing meter reading programs, with a view to developing a state-wide management program'. What does this mean?

In relation to the EPA, I also have some questions in relation to solid waste and the liquid waste levy, as follows:

1.What is the average amount by weight of solid waste collected per household per year in South Australia?

2.What scope is there for councils to increase rates in line with increases to the solid waste levy?

3.What was the total solid waste levy revenue in 2011-12, the budget for 2013-14 and the projected for 2016-17?

4.Who pays the liquid waste levy and what are examples of liquid waste?

5.What was the total liquid waste revenue in 2011-12, the budget for 2013-14 and the projection for 2016-17?

6.For the solid and liquid waste levy revenues, what are the funds hypothecated with moneys to be spent only on waste recycling related projects? What are the terms of reference for the spending of these funds? Can we have some examples?

7.Are funds collected entirely spent each year and where are the funds held?

Referring to Budget Paper 4, Volume 4, the Zero Waste budget showed a $12.9 million deposit in the Waste to Resources Fund. What quantum of funding would be in the Waste to Resources Fund by the end of the financial year 2013-14, if there were no outgoings? How much of the Waste to Resources Fund was expended in 2012-13? Can we have a list of programs and projects?

One of the highlights of 2012-13, on page 232, was to prepare a background study on contaminated soils in South Australia. Has it been published and what were the objectives of the study? For example, was it the Royal Adelaide Hospital site contamination or typical contamination of South Australian soils from foundries or other manufacturing activities? One of the highlights in 2012-13, on the same page, was to prepare a background paper on waste to energy technologies; has it been published or is it publicly available? What proposals are there for this technology in South Australia? Finally, on Zero Waste, does Zero Waste still advocate fortnightly waste collection as a means to reduce waste to landfill?

I apologise for having to read all those questions into the record. However, if we had an adequate estimates process, it could have all been dealt with there and we would know the answers by now. Such as it is with this tricky government, we do not get answers to fair and reasonable questions and we have to detain people, including the poor people in the gallery, to whom I apologise for putting them through all that, but that is the situation in which we find ourselves.

I cannot say that I endorse this bill because it is full of red ink, but, be that as it may, it is the standard process in this parliament that we do not oppose budget bills, so with those remarks I reluctantly endorse the bill.