26th May 2016
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (16:18): I rise today to support the second reading of this bill which provides, I understand, some $3.444 billion to ensure the payment of public servants and the continuation of state government services from 1 July until the Appropriation Bill passes both houses. As we know, the Supply Bill gives parliamentary authority to the government of the day to continue delivering services via pubic expenditure and the government is entitled to continue delivering these services in accordance with the general approved priorities—that is, the priorities of the last 12 months—until the Appropriation Bill is passed. Before making some comments on one area in particular and, more generally, on two other areas, I note that the use of the money is for the work of public servants to service the constituents and residents of South Australia.
I want to particularly refer today to the regional development portfolio. I note that I have had a long time interest and, I suppose, responsibility at different times in that area. Before I became a member of parliament, certainly, as the chair of the Liberal Party’s rural and regional council, I conducted a piece of work on the future of rural communities. Once I was elected, I was asked by the then deputy premier, the Hon. Rob Kerin, to continue that work here in the parliament with the development of a rural communities task force. In subsequent years, I have served in that portfolio as shadow parliamentary secretary and shadow minister for regional development.
I have always had a close relationship with, initially, the 13 regional development boards and, more recently, of course, the Regional Development Australia boards that now exist across the state of which one, rather bizarrely, includes the metropolitan area. I want to specifically refer to the Brock agreement, the so-called ‘Brockument’ which was tabled by the government on 6 May 2014, just over two years ago. It was an agreement between the Hon. Geoff Brock MP, who had become Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Regional Development and who is, of course, the member for Frome. That agreement with the government, amongst other things, increased the Regional Development Fund from $1.6 million per annum to $15 million per annum over four years to establish a once-off $10 million Jobs Accelerator Fund in 2014-15, to guarantee greater interaction between the government and the regions and to provide the state’s seven RDAs with $3 million in annual funding over three years.
On that particular matter, I remember with some displeasure actually learning of the protracted, frustrating process that the good people who run those RDAs went through with the minister and the department in trying to secure that funding. In fact, I well remember a meeting of what was then known as the Murray-Mallee local government association at Pinnaroo in October 2014. The minister and some of his officers attended that meeting to answer questions about this issue from some very passionate local government people who were also involved in regional development.
It will remain in my memory that the minister was unable to answer any of the questions. He had to refer to his officers to be able to answer anything. It was a stark performance. Many of the people in the meeting that day were strong supporters of the Hon. Mr Brock; they thought it was wonderful that a local councillor, who had then become mayor at short notice, had gone on to be an Independent and was now minister for their portfolio, and they thought they would have a wonderful advocate. What happened that day in the Pinnaroo Institute indicated that it was anything but that case. I will move on.
Since this agreement, the 2014-15 Auditor-General’s annual report has shown that Regions SA expenditure in its major programs to be as follows: for Regional Development Australia, the budget for 2014-15 was $3 million, actual spending was $2.768 million, so a shortfall of $232,000; the Regional Development Fund for 2014-15 had a budget of $15 million, the actual spend was $2.232 million, so a shortfall of $12.768 million; and, the Jobs Accelerator Fund, the budget figure was $10 million, the amount spent was $200,000. So, of the $10 million budgeted $9.8 million was left.
This agreement also, as we know, made the member for Frome the Minister for Local Government and Minister for Regional Development. Whilst we have had one piece of legislation through the parliament in the minister’s term as Minister for Local Government, no acts are committed to the Minister for Regional Development in the administrative arrangements order of this government.
To move to the 2015-16 picture of the Regional Development Fund: last week the Minister for Regional Development heralded the increased Regional Development Fund, which he demanded in the document as critical to job creation and economic development in the regions, and that this had been reinforced by an analysis done by Ernst & Young. However, the $33 million in expenditure now benefiting the regions was actually the policy of the Liberal Party at the last state election. It is interesting that the minister tries to claim credit for what he thinks is a wondrous achievement, the one successful element of his demands to form government with the Labor Party. Let us wait and see whether the performance is similar to what I have just highlighted.
The South Australian Regional Loans Scheme was also part of the so-called Brockument, and that demanded $4 million for a taxpayer-funded loan scheme to regional businesses as part of the Jobs Accelerator Fund. It is listed on the government’s promised tracking website as delivered for SA. It is included as part of the promised $10 million Jobs Accelerator Fund. However, it was revealed in an article in The Advertiser on 19 April this year that the program had been abolished after failing to find a single taker.
Whilst $2 million of the funding apparently was spent on the Upper Spencer Gulf & Outback Futures Program, the details of where the other $2 million has gone, and where it will be spent for the benefit of regional South Australia, seems to be very grey at best. The minister has simply stated that half the fund ‘remains committed to funding projects aimed at creating jobs in the regions’. I could spend some time going over and comparing this record with many of the commitments made to the regions by the Liberal Party prior to the last election. I will not delay the house, because there is a very long list, but certainly the Regional Development Fund was something that was significantly different to what we have seen; RDA funding was $1.8 million more than what was part of the Brockument, and was over three years rather than four years. There are many other areas of commitment that we have yet to see the government come forward with.
Another area that I wish to touch upon today, and one that the Leader of the Government is very familiar with, because he knows I have raised it a number of times, relates to the Northern Economic Plan. We have seen this year the announcement and the publication of the government’s Northern Economic Plan entitled Look North. On the surface, it appears to be a partnership between the state government and the cities of Salisbury, Playford and Port Adelaide Enfield, with buy-in from business.
Besides the fact that I have become aware that the word ‘partnership’ may be overselling the relationship between the parties, due to the government’s control of the process—the fact that I think certain decisions taken through the process, or claimed by the government to have been signed off by the three mayors—we have certainly had some disputation about the manner in which they participated in the process, there seems to be little that has been achieved by Look North since the rather glitzy launch of the plan. I have been eagerly looking to see some of the benefits of that.
In addition, I, along with many who are familiar with the northern suburbs and the immediate inner Lower North of the regional areas, am puzzled as to why the Town of Gawler was not invited to the table. As the very good Mayor of Gawler, Ms Karen Redman, told me recently, there are as many Holden workers who live in the Town of Gawler as there are in the City of Port Adelaide Enfield. Why Gawler was excluded remains a mystery. The minister and I have discussed this on a number of occasions, and, whilst I respect the fact that it has been concentrated on those three larger cities, I do not think he has ever come up with a proper reason as to why Gawler was excluded from it.
I do hope that perhaps further consideration can be given to the inclusion of the Town of Gawler in that program. I understand that you cannot go to every local government area, and certainly there are a number of others where there are people who work at Holdens, and also in associated industries, and certainly you could think of any number of any other councils: Light, Mallala, Adelaide Hills, a number of others, Tea Tree Gully, in close proximity. My understanding is that the numbers in Gawler are as concentrated as they are in Port Adelaide Enfield. Anyway, I will look forward to having those further discussions with the minister in due course.
I was invited earlier by a member of the government to elaborate on my passion for suicide prevention and work in mental health areas in this speech. It had not been a plan of mine to do that, and I am not going to delay the house very long. I do want to indicate another area that I have seen the development of in recent years, which is the great emphasis on people who have a lived experience with mental health issues, generally, or with suicide attempts.
There was an article in The Advertiser last Saturday 21 May by Lauren Novak that highlighted the area of self-harm. I give Ms Novak great credit for writing a very good article. Where do you actually draw the line between an attempted suicide and an act of self-harm? In many cases it is very hard to determine the difference. That is where, I think, the work that is being done by the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist with the development of not only the networks around this state, but the assistance and encouragement to other bodies to get involved in this area, is crucial.
I am delighted that there are many more people getting involved. There are more aspects of the government involved. I was pleased recently that the Minister for Police brought back a response which indicated that there is some considerable work within police on this matter, because it is not that long ago that SAPOL and many other facets of government were almost saying, ‘We don’t have that problem.’ So I am pleased to have seen those changes. I do commend the article in the paper last Saturday for people to have a look at.
I also indicate that I am delighted that we have had a change of minister for mental health. I think it is important that the Hon. Leesa Vlahos is supported, as certainly there are members across this chamber from all sides of politics and across the parliament who have supported me over the years. I think a lot of that came to me because the previous minister for mental health was not interested, and was completely not interested in suicide prevention. We have had a change of minister and I would suggest that those who have come to me—and I have had a member of the Labor Party come to me today for advice about setting up a network—while I am happy to continue to provide that, we now have a minister who is interested and I urge all members to include the new minister in their work in this area.
With those remarks, I am very pleased to support this bill. I again indicate its importance because it provides that $3.444 billion that enables the work of public servants in their service to South Australia to continue until the Appropriation Bill passes both houses. I support the bill.