Steven's response to Appropriation Bill 2017

Wednesday 05 July 2017
Steven's response to Appropriation Bill 2017

Hansard transcript:

Mr GRIFFITHS (Goyder) (21:13:56)House of Assembly response speech to Appropriation Bill, 4 July 2017:

Mr GRIFFITHS ( Goyder ) ( 21:13 :56 ): I appreciate the member for Kaurna's contribution. I was semi-impressed, indeed, by the fact that there was very little referral directly to notes. It shows me that he has devoted much of his life in recent months to budget processes, bilateral discussions, various priority needs, trying to determine where the greatest level of need exists, trying to determine what the outcomes are and trying to get the balance right. I might reflect on the fact that I think this is the first time I have spoken in this chamber without a tie on, so I apologise for that.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Everyone's been talking about it.

The Hon. P. Caica: You look good for it. You look better for it.

Mr GRIFFITHS: It is terrible, but I suppose it is the last time that I am going to be here. Member for Colton, I think there are 20 sitting days left or something like that. I take a great interest, even though this is the fourth budget that I have listened to, reviewed, been part of the discussions on, tried to understand the implications of, tried to appreciate where the positives that come from it are and tried to expand upon what I see are potential negatives or areas where improvement could occur, I will never get sick of it. I am a detail person who loves the challenge of being required to read it.

Once upon a time, I did have a fanciful dream that I might have had an opportunity one day to sit where the Treasurer is and present a budget, but that was never to be. I appreciate the effort that goes into it. While I do not agree with everything, I understand the effort that goes into it, in some distinct, separate sort of way. I know that a lot of politics comes into it. There are a lot of varying community needs that come into it and the challenge is to get it right.

I want to put on the record that I am a person who believes in convention, but I changed on this one. I actually spoke quite passionately in the party room when we made the decision about this about the frustration that I have and the need for us to review our position on it. I am a person who believes in the sanctity of the fact that we have been here for 160 years and the parliament has ensured that those who sit to the right-hand side of the Speaker are given the authority for the budget to get through, but I felt that the time was necessary for a change.

I do not believe it is because of the fact that I am not here next year. I want South Australia to have good government. Good government requires some assurity to exist. It requires that a balance be struck and that people become the winner and that is why the different decision has been made.

The Hon. T.R. Kenyon interjecting:

Mr GRIFFITHS: Not me, not me.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! He is not in his seat.

Mr GRIFFITHS: There are some things that I want to talk about. When I review the budgets I try to be fair, and probably part of my political weakness is that I do not argue the point strongly enough where I see a wrong and that I accept the rights too easily, but it is only because I am a glass half full person who actually wants to focus on that.

The Hon. P. Caica: That's what they say about you. We don't say that about you. You're a decent bloke.

Mr GRIFFITHS: You are a good bloke. That is where politics has gone beyond me and there will be a future member for Narungga who might have a very different personality and get different outcomes for the community.

In his contribution tonight, the member for Chaffey referred to a visit that he paid to Narungga (Goyder) electorate last week and he talked about the three businesses that he visited. He did not actually quote the specifics of one of those, but one of the businesses that we visited, a very significant employer of close to 500 people, has a power bill of $130,000 per month. With the policy settings in Australia and our nation that have created this tsunami of situations where 1 July represented such a significant increase, their potential cost increases are $26,000 a month or an extra $312,000 a year, which takes them close to $1.9 million in electricity per year.

They do not have backup generators, but they gave an example to me of the product that they use to produce their products. When a power failure occurs that is significant that stops their line processing their animals, indeed they can lose a whole shift. The amazing part is that they go through 14,000 pigs per week, which is over the 3,500 range. Imagine the capital involved in all of this. That is an example put to me very strongly by a business that wants to remain in regional areas. It wants to provide employment opportunities in regional areas and it relies upon that most basic necessity, electricity, to do so.

At the other end of the scale is a small supermarket that I spoke to last year, which is on Yorke Peninsula. They have gone out and spent $50,000 on a diesel generator to guarantee electricity to keep their product cold when they need to during lengthy periods of no general supply. They did not want to spend that. It took an enormous hit on their profitability for that year, but they did so out of desperation.

The minister and the Treasurer want it to be better. We all want it to be better too. I will listen with great interest to the response given by the minister to the question from the member for Stuart today about the $360 million commitment from the state government and the question about the near Mannum project and the near Mallala project at Reeves Plains. I was grateful to be at the Adelaide Plains Council meeting when Alinta made the presentation about their $450 million project. Congratulations to them. I think that is fantastic—six generators, I understand, and a 300 megawatt unit of production, gas fired, right on the gas line and close to the network. It is a perfect location for it to occur, and that is where the market has seen an opportunity

The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: What are they waiting for?

Mr GRIFFITHS: As I understand it, the necessary development approvals.

The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: They've got it.

Mr GRIFFITHS: I am not sure if they have gone that far yet, minister. It was section 49, major projects status declaration, board's final position required for approval later this year, with construction to commence, hopefully, early next year. That is an example where they made a corporate decision, which many of us are frustrated by, for their other operations in Port Augusta and Leigh Creek.

They have decided to invest in another part of South Australia for, I believe, the 207,000 retail customers they have across the nation as part of their electricity generation. It is an example of where, I suppose, the question from the member for Stuart is an appropriate one, given the announcement of this investment to occur from private enterprise, about the need for the South Australian taxpayers' investment to occur. It was asked and I am hoping for a fulsome answer. The Treasurer provided an answer to part of that.

An honourable member interjecting:

Mr GRIFFITHS: Yes, he did. It is an example of where the really serious questions still need to be asked and the answers need to be given. I noted that as part of the Leader of the Opposition's response earlier today he talked about revenue writedowns across the forward estimates of $438 million. That is a concern, there is absolutely no doubt, because when there is a prediction for revenues to decrease that can only mean one thing: that transactions are less and therefore revenue coming into Treasury is less, and therefore there is a lesser willingness, or indeed a lesser capacity, of the community to spend.

To have a reducing revenue climate in the state Treasury to ensure that liabilities are met, that opportunities are seized and that the state grows, prevents the challenge. I think the budget papers reflect—and if I am wrong, the Treasurer will correct me—that the relative GST payment is $144.97 or thereabouts. That is a very high rate. Given that it is reflective of the relative capacity of a state to tax and to raise its revenues, that being such a high rate represents a significant challenge for our state.

Other, less gracious, parts of our nation make comments about South Australia and the payment that we receive from the GST carve-up. It is one of the ongoing debates that will occur about the relativities attached to that. I think in the Western Australia scenario they receive back in the mid 30s from every $1 of GST that is created as part of the transaction basis. We have to improve that. We have to ensure that the policy settings that flow from the budget create the economy that ensures that individual entrepreneurism and pursuit of success are achievable on the basis of the effort being made by that person, the product that they produce and the quality of employees they have, and that the outcome equals a bottom line profit, because from it come the real opportunities for growth and employment, and that is what all of us want to see.

Like many in this chamber, I have gone through the stages of my own children finding positions, and I am blessed to have a grandchild now who in 20 years' time will be looking for a position. I want that to be in South Australia. We have to ensure that the decisions we make now are right because they are part of a policy setting that will have an impact in decades' time.

About some of the specifics of the budget, I noted with great interest and I congratulate the Mount Barker community that they have $1.9 million towards their hospital. The Minister for Health, as part of a question I think from his own side, reflected upon the advocacy of the member for Mayo in the pursuit of service extension and funds. I take this opportunity to remind the chamber that in the case of Yorketown Hospital, a far lesser amount was sought. Dollars are part of the solution for surgery procedures at the Yorketown Hospital. Importantly, though, it is also the policy setting that ensures that the regional areas have the ability to attract and retain skilled professionals so that it is not necessary for an increasing number of procedures to be done in a more centralised area or in Adelaide.

In our case, Yorketown Hospital has missed out. I was grateful that one of the advisers of the minister rang me on the Monday after the budget to confirm that the announcement about the changes to the Yorketown Hospital surgical procedures was occurring that day. I was pleased that they had chosen to make the announcement on a day that would allow local publicity by the local newspapers to occur sooner rather than later, but I was frustrated by the decision, I have to tell you.

In the case of Yorketown Hospital, where I convened a public meeting and 607 people attended and 2,049 people signed a petition calling for its retention, I do not know what you have to do when it comes to local effort being made and a demonstration of the commitment that a local community has for the retention of a service. I believe that was it, but it seemingly made no difference at all.

For the Southern Yorke Peninsula community, which has a population of over 5,000 which swells significantly in holiday times, it will mean not necessarily a lot of direct action for those people but, for those who need the services that were provided as part of those three surgical areas that are now moving to Wallaroo, it creates a greater frustration, a greater need to travel and a greater need to try to find accommodation. It is just another dislocation and what we see as another challenge to the future viability of all service areas when it comes to health on the peninsula.

I noted also in part of the review that has been undertaken that the capital spend on regional health was a little bit under 2 per cent. It is reasonable, and I reflect upon the previous minister for health, John Hill, having told me that on any one evening up to 500 people from regional South Australia were in metropolitan hospitals, that the majority of spend will occur there, particularly with part of the announcements that have been made over the last 10 years and most certainly in recent weeks, but we want our share, too.

Those of us who sit on this side, who live and breathe the regions, who travel here during sitting periods but bless the opportunities we get to go home and be among our own communities, get frustrated by that. We know of backlogs and we know of instances where individuals, via donation, have had to raise significant dollars to do what one would consider basic maintenance in some cases. But communities do that because of a sense of ownership they have over their hospitals, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.

I remember I think it was a Country Health rally that was held as part of the 2007 Country Health mark 1 public disagreement that occurred. I had people from the Central Yorke Peninsula district on the steps of Parliament House. They are property owners, farmers in the area, and they are getting a bit older now, and they said to me—and this lady is very blunt—'Steven, I'm sick of this. Instead of paying taxes, I just want write a cheque out to go to the hospital. How do I do that?' You cannot do that, but it is an example of the emotion they feel and where they want to see some tangible benefits.

I will put on the record some good things that are happening in Goyder, and I sincerely appreciate the assistance and support that have been provided by all ministers who have collectively made the decision. In the case of roads, as part of last year's budget announcement about $34 million is to be spent, so thank you, Treasurer, for giving that a tick off, I have to tell you. It is good work in the main. There is an area of project I have a bit of frustration with, but I have put that on the record in this place before. It is the start only, though, of the investment: it is not the final, and I am sure the member for Flinders and many other areas have sections of roadway they want to ensure are improved. We know that because we get people talk to us in our communities all the time about it.

I note—and it is a shame the Treasurer cannot hear this little bit—that because of the details included in the budget in my previous experience in a really serious review of it, I asked a question of the shadow treasurer about the contingency sums. He tells me that for the 2016-17 year it was $135 million but that for 2017-18, which is the period approaching the 17 March 2018 election, it has jumped. Those of you in the chamber and listening to this might ask what it is now. It is $580 million. It has gone from $135 million to $580 million. That is a four-fold increase, and you have to question what it is for.

The only conclusion that can be reached by virtue of the amount that it now is, and the timing that it now is, is that it is part of a war chest of funds that will be held in reserve and part of future announcements that the government intends to put out there to entice the people and to try to garner some level of support—I am not sure how that will happen—and to put dollars towards them for projects and services in their area. I would love a detailed explanation to be provided to me as to why, as part of an ongoing, continuous four-year forward estimates budget cycle, you have such a significant increase from $135 million to $580 million for contingencies.

There is also an unallocated fund within the Department for Transport for capital works that goes into the future. It is in a similar vein, but it is a contingency sum, which you could argue quite appropriately is used for things like enterprise bargaining agreements, wage negotiations, some projects that might have overruns, some need for budget review to occur based on a pressure point that exists from a different portfolio, but that is just such a significant amount that it is difficult to comprehend the quantum of those dollars.

I felt a lot of frustration when the Hon. David Ridgway highlighted, as part of his shadow portfolio budget review, that the PIRSA budget is being cut over the next four years by a collective $50 million. Any of us who live in the regional areas respect the importance of agriculture to our economy. Many in this chamber have already spoken about its value and the billions of dollars it represents. When we are back in our electorates, we also see the absolutely outstanding level of investment that has been made by individual farmers in their equipment and the technology they use to increase their yields, for soil retention and moisture retention, and to improve the maintenance of their land while they are the current generation who controls it.

It is frustrating because it is such a significant amount, which only builds upon PIRSA funds that have been removed in recent years, and it continues to occur, and investment should be occurring now. There is a history of frustration with the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, a great innovation announced in the last period of the Kerin government, as I understand it, and opened as part of the Labor build program from 2002 onwards. It has collected some of the most blessed scientists when it comes to the ability to grow products in Australia, but it has been reduced again, so a great deal of frustration exists there.

I have also been trying to understand the timing of the delivery of services and intended programs as part of the budget. I am reminded that in the 2016-17 budget it was intended that the Northern Adelaide Plains would be a pest free area during that financial year. That has not been achieved and it has been delayed until the 2017-18 year. That becomes part of the marketability of that area, so it is a really important issue that needs to be addressed. Linked to that is the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme, and there are a lot of members in this chamber who have some knowledge of that. It is a $110 million investment which, as I understand it, will come from SA Water, and it is hoped that a $45 million federal co-funding announcement will be made.

I have asked around, as other members have, and we hope that it is very soon because it is an important part of the two areas of government working together collectively to grow opportunity in what is acknowledged as a significant horticulture area in our nation. It is a chance to use up to an eventual additional 20 gigalitres of recycled water and ensure that we continue to grow high-value food products and create the job opportunities that come from it, particularly in an area that needs it very strongly, so I hope that the federal announcement comes very soon. I congratulate the SA Water board's support and the government board's support for this. It has been a project that has been supported by all parties and it needs to happen very soon.

I also want to put on the record—and this was only recently identified by me, as I received a letter yesterday from the Hon. Ian Hunter, Minister for Water—a project for water improvement in the Warooka/Point Turton area at the bottom of Yorke Peninsula. They are serviced by underground water, which is hard, I think it is fair to say. It is not necessarily nice to drink, but it is important to have, and water purifiers and cleaners exist in some homes. This is a $13.1 million significant project for the area and, amazingly, it has gone through the system quickly because it is before the Public Works Committee on Thursday morning.

I have been in contact with the minister's office and they have contacted my office. I am going to the public works briefing, and I reserve the right to ask a few questions and then see if I need a briefing afterwards, but generally I think it is fantastic. It is a great effort, and the Yorke Peninsula council area has something like 16 communities that do not have a reticulated water supply. This will not only ensure that current customers have an improvement but, as I understand it, it will extend to a wider area, so that is a good thing.

I want to finish with a frustration I have about the number of public servants who live and work in regional areas. I am told by those who have reviewed the budget papers very seriously that in the 2016-17 year there were 18,028 public servants in regional South Australia. For 2017-18, it is intended to be 17,592, so a reduction of 436.

The member for Kaurna referred to bank closures and that, too, has frustrated the life out of me. I have expressed the frustration that I feel with each bank that has contacted me a couple of days before they intend to make a public announcement because I know that the frustration of the community will be profound. I am not trying to defend the closures in any way, but in this case we find in the budget papers that more than the number of bank employees who have had their position taken away—as government members have said, in regional areas—are being lost for the public servants, by changes within the structure of the relative government departments. So that is an accountability issue, too.

I want to look forward to the passage of a budget in some form in the future. The Leader of the Opposition is entirely right in his pursuit of the bank levy changes that the opposition will be introducing amendments to, but we have to ensure that this budget actually provides a forum for South Australia to be a better place.