Labor's Failures

01 May 2007 speecharchive

This speech indicates support for the Labor's failures motion which signifies that the Liberal Party will fulfil its duty to keep this government accountable and present an alternative to the South Australian people.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: This motion is about Labor’s failures. The past five years have been five years of wasted opportunity. Last year, the Institute of Public Affairs roundly condemned this state Labor government for wasting its reform bonus. The South Australian public could be forgiven for having no faith in politics when comparing Labor’s pre-election rhetoric with what it has actually done in office. Labor has driven the budget into the ground. In the first few years, the coffers were overflowing, thanks to John Howard’s bold initiative to provide the states with GST revenues, which Labor gutlessly opposed, and the hard work of our esteemed treasurers, Rob Lucas and Stephen Baker. A drover’s dog could have balanced South Australia’s budget when Labor came to office in 2002.

In 2007, Labor is telling vulnerable South Australians that there is no money for services and infrastructure, which would have been funded had the Liberal Party retained office in 2002. In mental health, Labor has ripped off Dean Brown’s plans for reform. He commissioned the Brennan report and recruited Margaret Tobin to take on the tough reforms—a task she likened to breaking concrete. In successive budgets, Labor’s response to our state’s mental health crisis has been to offer ad hoc and piecemeal dollops of money to salve growing public unrest over the mental health crisis. Professor Ian Hickie, a well-respected Australian figure in the mental health debate, had this to say about his own efforts to put mental health on the political and public agenda: whilst the PM’s involvement was extremely encouraging, he was disappointed that most state leaders had not grasped the issue. He also said:

Mental health reform requires a degree of tough leadership. You run into vested interests. It is a long-term not a short-term investment. Morris Iemma in New SouthWales is the only premier I have spoken to who seriously understands the issue and is seriously looking at solutions.
In 2005, due to the level and number of representations I was receiving on mental health, I moved to establish a select committee on assessment and treatment services for people with mental health disorders. Ironically, in speaking to the motion, then minister Zollo said: We do not need another report into mental health services in this state. What we need is to keep moving forward with our mental health reform agenda.
However, not long after the 2006 election, overhaul of the system was considered so important that Premier Mike Rann gave the task of its detailed examination to Monsignor Cappo. In 2005-06 the government provided some one-off funding over two to three years, some of which has funded new NGO services. Logic dictates that if we are to have a vigorous system we need a range of players, including the non-government sector. However, since that year, Labor has steadfastly refused to guarantee ongoing funding, which has reached the point of threatening the very existence of such organisations in this state.

As for the long-awaited Cappo report, which was to be the answer to all the woes within the system, it was finally released after a particularly bad spate of media. Were these coincidences: a story on Friday 16 February on Stateline, a three-page lead story by award winning journalist Hendrik Gout in The Independent Weekly, and then follow-up pieces on radio early the following week? The report was forced to be released ahead of the government’s preferred schedule. A briefing was hurriedly scheduled under a cloud of great secrecy at the Adelaide Town Hall. When ABC journalists turned up uninvited, they were able to film the ridiculousspectacle of stakeholders, replete with the government briefing package in arm, being hurried down to the safe haven of the state admin centre.

How is the report being received? The response varies. The concerns are that it lacks focus on community services, ignores the drug problem and completely omits mental health issues in our prisons and for forensic patients. It also relies on Glenside being the site for a whole range of relocated services, and it assumes that the commonwealth will roll over on the aged care bed licence issue. But do not take my word for it. SACOSS, which is not exactly a Liberal Party think tank, has this to say:

. . . what it does not do is cost the plan or deal in any meaningful way with the complications or implementation challenges of such reform. . . the plan, if poorly executed, will only serve to rearrangethe deck chairs, rename acute beds to be called intermediate beds, talk up intervention and fail to deliver.

Cappo’s report is also deficient in that it recommends cutting acute mental health bed numbers at a time when people are waiting, under guard, in emergency departments to get into them. In the past five years this government has failed to deliver new mental health services on time or on budget and has, in many cases, scaled back the promised number of beds.

In contrast, Prime Minister John Howard has provided the most comprehensive commitment to mental health in Australia’s history. The federal government announced 12 months ago that it would commit $1.9 billion over five years for additional services and that it expected the states to do the same in their areas of responsibility, namely, hospitalbased emergency and crisis services and community, correctional and supported accommodation services. This minister’s response in relation to whether this government would fully cooperate with the commonwealth was to say:
What is important in any negotiations with the commonwealth is that South Australia sets its agenda in terms of meeting the priority needs of this state and is not dictated to by the whims and fancies of the federal government.

You would have to be a hermit not to know about the scourge on our community, our emergency departments and our mental health services with the problems induced by illicit drugs and alcohol. When this government came to office it held the Drugs Summit. Five years later, the Drugs Summit has proved to be a feel-good exercise. Its outcomes have been neglected and will fall off the budget unless the government stumps up some more funding.

The last reference of the Social Inclusion Board to the Drugs Summit was in February 2006, over two years ago. Many initiatives will fall out of funds within the next 18 months. One NGO provider, who I will not name, states in relation to the availability of rehabilitation:
Currently you can wait up to three months for a place in a residential drug treatment program. Heaven knows what happens to your motivation (let alone your drug use) during your extended wait.

On the environment, this minister has demonstrated several times that she is just not across her portfolio. Personal explanations are par for the course, becoming more common than responses to questions, such as on the Adelaide Parklands Authority and Port Stanvac.

Questions on native vegetation, a huge issue for many farmers, were taken straight on notice. With the support of cross-bench MLCs, it has been the Legislative Council which has forced many amendments to legislation which will provide greater security for our environment; most recently in the case of implementing an interim target for the reduction of this state’s greenhouse emissions by 2020. Labor alone opposed this policy, asking the community to believe that our planet can rely on a target that will not be tested before 2050.

These are portfolios that require leadership. If ever there is a zenith in a politician’s career it is in government as aminister. It is the holy grail of political office. You have the power to implement the programs that you believe will make a difference and to focus on the key areas that you believe are a challenge. Any minister who fails to do so has failed their community. Minister Gago is too scared of making mistakes to make a difference. She governs by briefing paper. She is led by her department. She does not even appear on the radio to conduct interviews. We have every reason to suspect that she does not scrutinise the advice she receives. There is one area in which we fear her when we ask her questions, because we are guaranteed to receive a recitation from some ministerial briefing paper, and I think we are up to No. 301. Minister Gago is a minister in hiding who hides behind her bureaucrats and her briefing papers.

The Labor Party is a party which rewards allies, mates and comrades. To get ahead in the ALP you have to keep sweet with the right people. Bernard Finnigan, Labor’s youngest and newest MLC, does not represent a confident, young and renewed vision; he is part of Labor’s deep, dark past. He brings no skills, other than being a factional hack who served his apprenticeship and shares the same DLP views as his masters. It must have pained him to have to vote in favour of the relationships bill against his conscience. Women, particularly strong women, are anathema to the Labor Party.

Women are tokens, and the Labor right will make sure that no Labor woman ever has a real say. Look at the comparison between Linda Kirk and Kate Ellis, the member for Adelaide. Linda Kirk dared to follow her conscience and vote in favour of stem cell research. The member for Adelaide said that, because she did not understand the issue, she could not vote for it. What does that really mean? Is she incapable of understanding scientific issues, or has Don Farrell told her how to vote? Don Farrell is one of the most powerful figures in state Labor. He runs the faction with his good friends the Attorney-General and the member for West Torrens. The member for West Torrens is this parliament’s worst offender of the use of cowards’ castle. He takes a very personal approach to the selection of female candidates in the Labor Party. He is a grub. He could never get a job in the real world.

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: I rise on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink will withdraw the remark she just made about the member for West Torrens.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I withdraw saying that heis a grub. He could never get a job in the real world, yet he is one of the most influential people in the Labor Party. Labor has now shown us its latest approach to candidate selection, which has everything to do with headlines and nothing to do with substance: the celebrity recruit. Bypass the grassroots and do the deals; that is Labor’s style. I do not even know why its rank and file bother being members. Instead of accepting offers on face value from Labor’s power brokers, Nicole Cornes and Mia Handshin, who are probably very nice people, should have had a very frank discussion with some of Labor’s loyal women about how they have been treated. They need to speak to Lea, Trish, Steph and now, I think, to Jane Lomax-Smith.

Labor’s disrespect for women is replicated in the Public Service, where, in spite of its rhetoric, women are still poorly represented in leadership positions and, according to its own government reports, the employment of women is skewed towards the lower end of the classification scale. This government does not believe in power sharing. It bullies community groups, industry groups, public servants and its own loyal members. It wants to abolish the Legislative Council for the same reason. It does not accept the legitimate right of other parties to amend bills. When it gets grumpy with the Liberals and the Independents, it has a tantrum andpulls up stumps early. It gets angry when other MLCs do not want to cancel sitting days. It finds replying to questions on notice or questions without notice an inconvenience. It is not fit to govern. I support this motion which signifies that the Liberal Party will fulfil its duty to keep this government accountable and present an alternative to the South Australian people.