A speech in support of the Supply Bill 2014
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 15:26 :18 ): I rise to make some remarks in support of the Supply Bill and I thought I might do so by reference to each portfolio and the areas that I have carriage of on behalf of the Liberal Party. I shall start with the portfolio of the status of women.
I would like to commend the Office for Women, the Premier's Council for Women, and, indeed, the minister for the efforts they are undertaking to reduce violence towards women and children. In particular, I note that 90 per cent of the victims of violence perpetrated by men are women, with other situations falling into the remaining 10 per cent. I also place on the record that terrible statistic we have in Australia of one woman being murdered by an intimate partner every week.
Over some time the government has had a strategy, including the Family Safety Framework which is progressing; it has been rolled out to all regions across the state. Obviously, it has had some difficulties in its early implementation stage, but the feedback that I am receiving is that largely, conceptually it is good and varies across regions—depending on the interest and expertise of the personnel who are running that program. It is working much better with non-government agencies than it was initially; it took time for some cultural change to ensure they were included.
We also have the orders which are able to be implemented by police, which we support. The feedback from the sector is that there is a mixture of understanding within SAPOL; there are some officers who are very effective at assisting victims in these areas. One of the problems that we have going forward that still needs some policy work is that victims often do not report, or they feel reluctant to, and that is a reflection of the power differential between people who are being abused and their perpetrators. It is almost a situation where those women need an advocate who is able to ensure that orders are brought in and any breaches are reported much earlier in the piece. I think they are all the things for which the government is to be commended, and they enjoy multipartisan support. The position within the Coroner's office is also starting to bear some benefits, and we look forward to further progress in that area.
On the environment front I will not be particularly complimentary. I first noted in the 2009-10 budget that the funding for the environment was being cut more savagely than in other areas. In the Hon. Kevin Foley's last budget it was also quite savage. A number of cuts are coming into place within the current financial year, which will see a lot of those services disappear. So, I feel like a bit of a broken record standing up here in this place talking about cuts to the environment department. It was an issue in the state election. Of course we have such a colossal level of debt that the requests from the conservation sector that any party commit to doubling of the environment department funds certainly was not attainable and my rhetorical question to them was, 'Which hospital wards would you like me to close to implement that?' My prediction is that the question will arise again in the next election, but the cuts will be so savage that my question will be, 'Which hospital would you like me to close to fund that?'
We have seen a number of changes to the environment agencies over the years: DEH has merged with the old department of water, land and biodiversity conservation. For one year we had a department for water. We had the NRM boards, which came into operation in 2004 and have now all been rolled in together. There are certainly some signs—and my colleague the Hon. John Dawkins spoke about this in his contribution on the Supply Bill recently—that there is a loss of regional management, which was the whole point of implementing natural resource management boards. I have been advised that they are even being told not only that they will have responsibility for native vegetation, that unit is effectively being cut to one-third of its current staff, but that they will indeed be responsible for marine parks—and this is all with less funding.
From the Budget and Finance Committee, the figures that have been provided there on staffing levels: at 30 June 2009 the NRM boards had 306 staff, and that dropped by 30 June 2012 to 280.8 and it is projected to continue to be lower. These NRM staff have quite a conflict. The governance structure for natural resource management and the environment in South Australia is wrong—the only polite way to put it—because that regionalised approach they were suppose to have is no longer there. The increasing fingers of the central bureaucracy is extending over natural resource management.
My interpretation of why this has taken place is that it is quite cynical. The environment was a big issue in 2007-08 when we had the height of the drought. Now that it has come off the political agenda, the environment portfolios are, quite frankly, for this government expendable. In some ways I think the environment department has itself to blame for some of the cuts that have taken place. It has overreached in a number of areas. It overreached with natural resource management. With the implementation of that we saw a number of volunteer organisations being increasingly marginalised.
I attended a Landcare conference last year—Landcare largely representing the landowners and NGOs—and their comments at the conference were that when NRM came into being the professionals turned up and kicked out the volunteers because they knew what they were doing. Those sentiments still exist. There would need to be a huge amount of work to rebuild those relationships. So the environment agencies in South Australia have overreached in that sense and taken for granted the good conservation works undertaken by volunteers and landowners on their own properties, and also in the matter of the marine parks, which was a disgraceful real estate grab by the environment department at the expense of sustainable local fishing, so they are paying the price. I am told that the environment does not have any friends in the right of the Labor Party; they are viewed with some disdain because so many times the attitude has been what can be described as a deep green agenda, which is exclusionary and 'we know best'. It certainly does not take people with it, and we have seen that in relation to the marine parks.
Over 12 years we have seen a progressive lessening. For a while we saw that it was a bit expanded, I think, under the Hon. John Hill, and at a time when revenues were still increasing there were a lot of new environmental programs. I have to say a huge amount of money was wasted on things that did not work, and I think there has been a huge loss of the really rigorous science in that department, which is affecting water allocations and practical conservation efforts. The department is operating in a completely defensive manner at the moment as it struggles to work out how to manage funding cuts.
I think it needs to get back to basics. I think it needs to work out some priorities about what it is they want to preserve beyond their own jobs, and work out the priorities for endangered ecological communities within this state, where the best native vegetation is, where the native vegetation is that needs protection at the highest level, and what strategies we need to put in place to protect the environment, because I do not think it is doing a particularly effective job at the moment.
On this front I would like to say that over the past 12 years we have continually seen the Greens preference the Labor Party. Now, I can say categorically that if we had had a Liberal government in the last 12 years the savage cuts that are taking place now would never have happened. We would not have had the overreach that has made a lot of government cynical about what the environment department gets up to, and we would not have had the sort of overspending and recklessness of this government, which has led to this extreme belt tightening.
I think it is time for the conservation sector to appreciate that the Greens do not necessarily work in the best interests of conservation, ultimately: first, because they preference the Labor Party; and, secondly, because if you run around in a panic all the time you just put people off, the mainstream gets switched off to your message, and ultimately you need them if you are going to bring the community with you.
The majority of conservation efforts take place on private land, and I do not think the people who are involved in those efforts have been appreciated for quite some time. We have had some effort from the community. Gerry Butler of Landcare has been undertaking a sterling effort, and, frankly, deserves reward for trying to bring back some common sense into the system. I commend him and that organisation for their efforts.
However, if we are actually going to have some effective conservation efforts we need a few truths told, and I think the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources is quite dysfunctional and probably has been for some time. It needs to take a good, hard look at itself. I commend the bill to the house.