SUPPLY BILL 2014: SECOND READING

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS(17:04:47): I rise today to support the second reading of this bill which provides, I understand, some $3.941 billion to ensure the payment of public servants and the continuation of state government services from 1 July until the Appropriation Bill for 2014-15 passes both houses. As we know, the Supply Bill gives parliamentary authority to the government of the day to continue delivering services via public expenditure, and the government is entitled to continue delivering these services in accordance with general approved priorities; that is, the priorities of the last 12 months until the Appropriation Bill is passed. Before making some comments on a couple of areas in particular, I note that the use of that money is for the work of public servants to service the constituents and residents of South Australia.

I wish firstly to direct some comments to the area of natural resources management and particularly the natural resources management boards that exist in South Australia. I have a particular interest currently and have had for the past four years as I have been a member of the Natural Resources Committee of the parliament, but I suppose much earlier than that in my early days in this house I was a member of a committee that recommended that soil boards and animal and plant control boards be amalgamated into one entity. At that stage that recommendation did not include water into those amalgamated entities but the current government rolled water into that scenario and what evolved was the natural resources management boards that we have today.

We are served by eight of those boards, including the Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Board, which is in the Aboriginal lands of South Australia taking up an enormous area of the state. We have the South Australian Arid Lands NRM Board, the Eyre Peninsula NRM Board, and a board also in the region of Yorke and Mid North. We have the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin NRM Board, and the Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board. The coverage of the state is completed by the NRM boards on Kangaroo Island and in the South-East.

As a member of the Natural Resources Committee I am privileged to have visited those boards, seeing the work they do on the ground and understanding the fact that there is in most instances very strong voluntary support and community backing for much of the work that they do. I think we understand that there are concerns about some of the activities of the boards and some of the staff, and I think sometimes that is overstated by some people. There are a number of people certainly in the upper Fleurieu area who make a lot of noise about NRM boards, but when they are asked to show you some examples of their claims they do not come through with taking you out and showing you what you are happy to go and look at. I always think that indicates that maybe they are exaggerating what they say.

There is no doubt that there are some concerns in a number of areas with some of the work that the boards have done in relation to water allocation plans, and something I will get to later on as well is the significant concern about the loss of a number of the local boards' autonomy since the government rolled them under the umbrella of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

Having been a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I had a good chance to have a look at the management, particularly the financial management, of the boards, because they have to bring their levy increases each year to the board for our approval, particularly if they are above CPI. In the early stages of these boards as they made transition arrangements, the committee gave the benefit of the doubt to pretty well all the boards for a period of time in allowing some increases above CPI where it was based on good merit for local reasons. That certainly has been the case.

However, I think a couple of years ago we were alarmed when the Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board brought in an increase of something in the order of (I cannot remember exactly) 11 per cent. The committee objected to that, which threw the minister's office into a bit of a panic because, even though there is obviously a provision for that, they were not prepared for us to do that. I must remind the council that at that stage there were four members of the government on the committee that supported that action.

There was a delay, I think, within the government to react to us rejecting that application for a levy increase of that size but, as a result, that board and other boards have, I think, responded to that and, certainly in this last 12 months, there has been a significant improvement in the way they have not only adhered to that CPI increase but also the capacity of most boards to bring the levy application to us earlier rather than later in the time frame.

I would have to say that, from the experience of the visits that the committee has had to all of the boards, I think, in the main, the boards are served by excellent people who sit on the boards themselves and are also served extraordinarily well by the staff. There will always be some exceptions but that is our observation. Particularly those people who live locally and have a commitment to that local region are actually terrific people.

However, we have seen the decision in the last few years of the government to put the natural resource management boards under the control of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, and I think that has been a mistake. Certainly, very soon after that happened I remember the committee had the chief executive of DEWNR in as a witness and I think he was asked to explain how the boards would operate or how the chief executives of each of the boards were supposed to operate having their responsibilities split between the members of the board themselves and the chief executive of DEWNR.

To say that he gave what I would call a 'Sir Humphrey' answer is an understatement, but I know that some of the senior management of the individual boards who were sitting in the room at the time were grimacing because they could see the extraordinary difficulty of trying to serve two masters, and I do not think that has been a good thing for natural resource management at all.

As I say, I think the great majority of the people who work in the area are in that sector for the right reasons. They are backed up by some terrific people who serve on the boards themselves and on the various regional committees within those areas and, of course, the volunteers who go out and do the work that I know the Hon. Michelle Lensink has witnessed recently and is going to witness again soon, the volunteers who go out and do planting in areas that need it or do the weeding in areas that are inaccessible to machinery and they do it with their own equipment in most cases.

So, I think that is something that I would like to indicate that I support: the continued funding support, obviously through the levies but also anything else the government can do to assist natural resource management in this state; but let us have a look at that DEWNR control over these boards. It was certainly the opposition's policy at the last election to have a significant review of the way in which natural resource management was rolled out in this state. A lot of the concern that resulted in that policy, I think, comes from the fact that DEWNR has this umbrella control over the individual boards that I mentioned earlier.

I emphasise that for the strength of the eight boards, and the people who are on them, in widely varying regions, we need to go back to an emphasis on local decisions from local people. I think it is extraordinarily relevant, as I say, when you look at the wide variety in those regions. You have the AW and SA Arid Lands NRM board regions that are vast in size but with very few people. I know that you, sir, in your past career, were a member of the committee and you have been on some of the trips into those areas and I once saved you from going down a hole at Coober Pedy. I hope you remember that well, sir.

We also, of course, have the varying regions of Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and the Mid North, the Murray-Darling Basin, the South-East and, of course, two other regions that are quite different: you have a region just for Kangaroo Island, so an NRM board for 4,500 people completely surrounded by water, and then you have the Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board, which has the vast majority of the population of South Australia in a relatively small region, which basically goes from the southern banks of the River Light to Victor Harbor—extraordinarily different areas.

Mr President, I think you may have been on the committee when we visited areas as different as Port Gawler, One Tree Hill and Kersbrook in the one day; not that much distant from each other but significantly different in climate and environmental conditions. In concluding this aspect of my speech, I indicate that I think it is important, in supporting the natural resource management boards, that we emphasise that factor of local decisions by local people; if we do, we will not go far wrong.

The second issue I wish to mention today is that of the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group. This group is an example of a group established with a common purpose—as is evident in their title—that is keen to work with all arms of government for the betterment of a community, or in this case three communities. The Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group is an alliance of local government, regional development and education representatives in the Upper Spencer Gulf. Its aim is to facilitate economic and social growth across the cities of Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Pirie.

It was formed in 1998 as a forum for the three cities to share information, jointly implement initiatives, provide a united voice, and work with government, industry and other stakeholders in the interest of improving the long-term sustainability of the region. In 2012 a memorandum of understanding was signed by local, state and commonwealth governments to provide a strategic framework for coordinating the effort to support economic diversification, prosperity and sustainable communities. The MOU aims to align economic, environmental and social development planning and action to coordinate and sequence investment to maximise the benefit of improved infrastructure, liveability and economic resilience. I am of the understanding that the Upper Spencer Gulf cities remain committed to the MOU principles and continue to work hard at seeking re-engagement at both state and commonwealth levels; indeed, representatives of that organisation were in Adelaide last week doing just that.

The current activities of the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group support the priorities identified in the MOU action plan, including a regional sustainability program, the Upper Spencer Gulf education, skills and training hub, and a focus on the area of energy generation and transmission. It also focuses strongly on strengthening administrative collaboration, efficiencies and resource-sharing opportunities across the three cities, including consistency in planning, joint procurement and its representation within the Local Government Association.

I am pleased that, for the first time, this group has appointed a full-time chief executive officer, and I think that is a boon to that organisation. Ms Anita Crisp has, for some time, been the CEO of the Central Local Government Association Region and she has now taken on that role with the common purpose group. I welcome her involvement and commitment in that role.

I was also very pleased that the representatives of that group, in their discussions with me, in particular in relation to their commitment to the social aspect of their work, were very supportive of my work in the area of suicide prevention. It is certainly something that has already seen groups acting in Port Augusta for a number of years, the Suicide Intervention Life Preservation Action Group (SILPAG), which I have spoken about in this place before.

I am pleased to note that, through the government's Office of the Chief Psychiatrist, there will be one of the suicide prevention networks established in the City of Whyalla, in cooperation with the city council, very soon, and I know that the mayor, Jim Pollock, is very supportive of that move. Also, the current chairman of the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group, mayor Brenton Vanstone of Port Pirie, is also aware of suicide issues in his city and keen to do more in that area. Of course, as I have said, in Port Augusta, that work has been going on for a number of years, particularly with the Aboriginal community there, and it is supported very strongly by mayor Sam Johnson and the member for Stuart, Mr Dan van Holst Pellekaan.

With those remarks, I am very pleased to support this bill. I again indicate its importance as it does provide that $3.941 billion that enables the work of public servants, in their service to South Australians, to continue until the Appropriation Bill passes both houses. I am pleased to support the bill.