20th June 2017
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (16:13): I rise to endorse the comments of my colleague the Hon. Mr Lucas, who obviously has the lead on this matter for the Liberal Party. I have spoken on many supply bills in this house and, of course, it is simply a mechanism to allow continued payment of public servants and for public services until the Appropriation Bill is passed by the parliament later this year.
It is extraordinary that the appropriation for the Supply Bill this year is almost $6 billion—$5.9 billion—when last year the appropriation in the Supply Bill was $3.44 billion. I suppose in recent years it has been of a similar amount, and all of a sudden it has blown out to almost $6 billion. I do not profess to have any great economic understanding, but to me that is something that is a great surprise, and one wonders whether it is indicative of the way that, overall, the government manages its funds with the funds of the taxpayers of South Australia.
I particularly wanted to reference today the work that is carried out by the public servants that I referred to and the work that has been done on behalf of the government in relation to not only the Northern Economic Plan, which was announced with some fanfare on 29 January last year, but also the work that was done in the development of that plan prior to that. I have no doubt that the aims of the Northern Economic Plan are based around the fact that the impact of the closure of the General Motors Holden plant at Elizabeth was going to be very significant for the northern suburbs of Adelaide and large areas close to those.
I acknowledge that there were many well-meant intentions that were put together by members of the government and its bureaucracy, but I have to say that, in the period since the first development of ideas and the gathering together of local people, the work of the department, DSD and other agencies within the government has seen that the potential for this plan to deliver to the people that it was meant to deliver to has been undermined.
I can exemplify that by the fact that there was some very good work initially done by the gathering together of leaders in the community. I have very good friends in the cities of Salisbury, Playford and Port Adelaide Enfield who put together some great efforts in the development of the plan. The thing that I was initially alarmed about was that it was only designed for those three cities. The Town of Gawler, which to my understanding has almost exactly the same number or had exactly the same number of employees at Holden’s as the City of Port Adelaide Enfield, was for some reason excluded.
I have asked questions over a very long period of time. In fact, I have asked a dozen questions and some five supplementary questions about various aspects of the plan and its development. Specifically, I have asked probably at least five questions on Gawler’s exclusion from the Northern Economic Plan. As the minister’s responses came back, it became clear that some of the advice he was getting from his department was not accurate.
While at some stages my claims about that have been questioned, the reality is that, given the lack of consultation with the Town of Gawler over its inclusion or lack of in the Northern Economic Plan was raised in this place to a great degree, any contact about further schemes—and compensate is not the right word—to replace the inclusion of the Northern Economic Plan should have been at the highest level. It would seem that, if there was any consultation with the Town of Gawler in more recent times, it was done at anything but the highest level.
I think that, when you have some of the employees of agencies caught in the middle of this having to take some of the heat that has resulted out of the poor communication that has obviously come from the Department of State Development or other bodies that have been leading this work, it would show that it has been a very poor public relations exercise.
The Northern Entrepreneur Scheme has been based around Gawler and given to Gawler as a pat on the head saying, ‘Well, you know, this will make up for you not being in the plan, but by the way, most of the program is going to be based at the Stretton Centre in the City of Playford.’ I have nothing against the Stretton Centre at all, but if you are going to do something for Gawler, then do it in Gawler. The lame excuse that has come out of the department is that they could not do anything in Gawler because they could not provide appropriate after hours facilities. As someone who has lived in and around that town all my life, that is a lot of nonsense.
I think it has been an unfortunate period. It does show—and I have said it in this place before—that in the period after the member for Light was demoted from the ministry, he took his hand off the steering wheel. He was not interested in these matters, and it was only because I kept raising them in this place that the minister, to his credit, brought back answers, but on occasions they were not as prompt as they could have been and sometimes they came back with information that was not correct. I think the fact that the member for Light did not drive this has shown up very recently in local media that the Town of Gawler was excluded in the first place. It should not have been excluded in the first place because it had equal representation of workers in the Holden plant as did the City of Port Adelaide Enfield.
There are many other issues in relation to the Northern Economic Plan that I could talk about today. I am passionate about Gawler, as a place that I have spent a lot of my life in, and also about the northern suburbs. I have probably done as much work as, or more than, most other members of parliament in this place in the northern suburbs in my life, and I am proud to say that I have worked with many candidates and with many of the councils and community organisations in that area.
I think it is disappointing that a plan that was released on this fancy letterhead and with all these grand ideas has resulted in many other questions being asked in this place, not just by me but by so many other members, including the Hon. Mr Lucas, and I think we have continued to have questions raised about that whole process right up until today. In that sense, I am disappointed about the fact that some people have raised false expectations. One thing in my parliamentary career that I have always been disappointed about is when people have been given false expectations and then crudely let down.
The other area that I want to touch on today is one that most people in this place would know is very close to my heart, and I referred to it to an extent in question time today, and that is suicide prevention. I have indicated in the past a frustration at the delay in the development of the state government’s second suicide prevention strategy.
The first one was developed only because of the work I did in the parliament, along with the member for Adelaide, to basically drag the government into recognising that this was a significant community concern and issue. The first strategy ran out at the end of 2016, so you would have thought that in 2016 you would have the next strategy ready to go in 2017, but no, that has not happened. The consultations for the 2017-20 strategy only closed in May this year, I think it was. So, almost half of this year was gone before the strategy was closed.
I will give great credit to the work of the officers of the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist. They have been given not only the role of developing the suicide prevention networks around South Australia and with a very small staff have been doing very great work in that area, they have also been given the job of developing consultation for this new strategy. I am not sure when this strategy is going to be released but what I am sure of is that the Minister for Mental Health’s lack of care and focus on these issues has been glaringly obvious. I have said before in this place that her inability to attend any particular suicide prevention events or functions in this state has been remarked upon widely.
People who do this work in this area as volunteers need support. One thing that people who work in the mental health space are told is that to be able to help other people you have to look after your own mental health and you need to take care of yourself. Those people need the encouragement of the people at the top. People in the mental health sector, and the suicide prevention sector particularly, get no encouragement from this minister. She has been a gross disappointment. I always thought she would be far better than the previous incumbent, who has no interest in the area, and I thought this minister had an interest. Unfortunately, her priorities have been overtaken by other matters and I am really frustrated by that.
Having said that, I give great credit to the continuing work, I hope, and that the strategy can be released before the year 2017 is over because I think it is something the community deserves to have in a focus on this important work. With those words, I commend the Supply Bill. It is one that historically, in our form of government, is a manner by which the government can continue to complete its identified priorities before the next Appropriation Bill is passed. With those words, I support the bill.