Natural Resources Committee: Natural Resources South Australia Business Plans and Regional Levies 2016-17

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: 

That the report of the committee on Natural Resources South Australia Business Plans and Regional Levies, 2016-17 , be noted. 

(Continued from 22 June 2016) 

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 17:32 ): I rise to conclude the debate on this matter. I thank the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, the Hon. Ms Lensink and the Hon. Mr Kandelaars for their contributions. I will say a little bit more about that in a moment. Sir, you and others will be relieved to know that I intend to be brief. I think the speech with which I moved that this report be noted was probably the second-longest one that I have ever uttered in this chamber, and that was about 35 minutes, so I will not be anything like as long. 

I remind members, in moving the noting of this report, that the report was one about a very complex matter, a matter that the committee considered with considerable cooperation and general agreement about a lot of the concerns about the levy increases. That was reflected in the fact that while the decision to support the levy increases was a decision of a majority of members and that the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, the member for Flinders and myself voted against that, there was great cooperation in the development of the letter that went to the minister with that decision. 

The Hon. Mr Kandelaars in his contribution spoke at great length about the great work that NRM boards do. I have to say that I, and I think many others on this side, appreciate a lot of the good work that is done by members of the NRM boards and staff. We do, however, have a concern about the manner in which I think the board members, and in many cases the staff, are made to do things by this government that they then have to bear the brunt of when they go out into their communities. 

The Hon. Ms Lensink has I think flagged with other legislation, and obviously with other conversations with members on this side, that we remain committed to the concept of natural resource management, but we do believe that the way in which it is currently administered and the way the changes in administration have happened over the years since we first brought animal and plant boards and soil boards together has been one of concern. I am someone who does not want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but unfortunately the manner in which the government has taken these levy increases into the community has meant that they have pandered to groups like FLAG and others in the community who would just like us to chuck NRM out completely. I think that is a great shame. 

The Hon. Mr Kandelaars did speak, as I say, at great length about the good things the government is doing in natural resources management. He failed to indicate that he and every other member of the government on the committee signed up to the letter of concerns that we sent to the minister seeking clarification about a number of the issues to do with water planning management and costs to do with a number of the other matters that had been utilised by the government in arguing for the levy increases, and I went into them in some detail in my speech in moving this. I was concerned, though, that while my colleague the Hon. Mr Kandelaars did say all of those things, he omitted to indicate that all members of the committee, including the government members, signed up to that letter to go to the minister. 

I will give the minister credit: he responded to the committee within about five weeks, which is actually rather fast given the track record of this government in responding to standing committees, and it is better than some departments and ministers who forget to respond to standing committees. However, I looked through the response from the minister to the concerns that we put in the report and I found it very difficult to find anything that we had not been provided with in the course of the committee's hearings in relation to these levy increases. 

I obviously support the noting of the report. I think it is important that we note the fact that the decision to support the levy increases was a decision of the majority of the committee. In noting the report, we should also underline the fact that all members of the committee had great concerns about the manner in which the local boards had had inflicted on them the decision that they had to go and get more money out of their communities. 

I think ultimately, to conclude—and I did raise this in my initial speech, but it is worth saying again—the chief executive of DEWNR, who I think gave quite frank evidence to us, was put in a difficult position. She has done what the government has asked of her and the bottom line is that all this money that comes in through the extra levies does not go to DEWNR; it goes straight into Treasury.

I think that just underlines the fact that basically the Treasurer is the one who has told the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation to go and find this money and that minister has told the NRM boards to go and find the money, and the NRM boards have had to find the money in the ordinary community, the people who are finding it very hard to come up with that money. 

I indicated in my initial speech that the people we met on the Pinery fireground, who in general have been great supporters of the NRM boards and the work that was done to help them with soil erosion, etc., after the fire, are very much supportive of NRMs, but they find it very difficult in their financial circumstances to pay the levy increase. With those words, I commend the motion, that is, the noting of the report, the report that noted a majority decision of the committee to support the levy increases.

Motion carried.