Response to the 2016 State Budget

Mr WINGARD (Mitchell) (20:14): I rise to support the Appropriation Bill 2016 as a matter of process, but I am far from impressed. There are some key issues that the government has not addressed, and I would like to take this opportunity to outline some of them here tonight.

First, I would like to look at electricity prices and the impact on the household budget for South Australian families and businesses. Unfortunately, over 14 years the state Labor government has got its mix of energy production wrong and there is an over-reliance on renewable energy, which means that when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing, or if the wind is blowing too hard, South Australians are forced to pay exorbitant prices for electricity. This is a rising serious issue, with elderly people and families forced to keep their heaters off during winter because they cannot pay their bills.

It is a big concern, yet the Treasurer and the Premier spout that everything is going to be okay, that they have prices under control. I can tell you that that is not the case: electricity prices are out of control and they do not know what is going on. Their poor policy has forced this. They have got the balance wrong and South Australians are paying the price.

Let's go to the spot market and look at July over the past three years. In July 2014-15, South Australians were paying $51.76 for their electricity. In July 2015-16, that went up to $73.50. Let's have a look at July 2016-17: South Australians are paying $279.50 for electricity on the spot market. That's right, $279.50 on the spot market. That is absolutely unbelievable. If we look at some of the contracts as well, South Australians are paying double what Victorians are paying if they have a negotiated contract with an energy provider. That is a business killer and that really does hurt. It hurts families, it hurts households, and it hurts business as well. 

Recently, we heard that BHP and a number of other big businesses—including, of course, Adelaide Brighton Cement, Nyrstar and other big companies like that, big employers here in South Australia—have major concerns over the price they are paying for electricity. We do not need those businesses packing up and moving interstate, but when the cost of electricity is half as much in Victoria as it is in South Australia these companies face really serious issues.

We have also learned that South Australia had the highest per capita rate of electricity disconnections in the nation in the March quarter. In fact, 2,531 customers had their power cut off. South Australia also had the highest number of customers in the nation on hardship programs in the March quarter—13,192.

The Weatherill government's disastrous mismanagement of South Australia's electricity system will see South Australian customers and large companies and pensioners pay more for their power into the future under this state Labor government. Over the next four years SA's contract electricity prices are 34 per cent higher than the national average and almost 57 per cent higher than Victoria, as I pointed out. That is a real slap for South Australians. The price of electricity is a very key issue that is biting, and that is what the people in my electorate are telling me.

What we want to do as well is look at some of the other issues. Jobs, like electricity prices, is another key issue that people in my electorate are talking to me about. The Treasurer talks about this budget being a jobs budget. In fact, the last budget, he said, was a jobs budget. That was 12 months ago. In the ensuing 12 months we have had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. In fact, if we go back 19 months, South Australia has had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. That puts us at the bottom of the premiership table.

I do not like to make too many sporting analogies, but I will on this occasion because sitting at the bottom of the table is not what we want for South Australia. When it comes to jobs, we have had 19 months at the bottom of the table, despite the Treasurer claiming that the budget just recently, and the budget 12 months ago, was a jobs budget. History does not go well for him. We know that he has struggled to deliver, and I am concerned that he is going to again struggle to deliver for families, for young people, and for people of all ages in South Australia who are looking for a job.

The Premier also spruiks the jobs budget, but we know that we have a higher unemployment rate than Tasmania. Tasmania has been beating us for 19 months. It is unbelievable. Thousands of people are leaving our state and seeking working opportunities interstate because they cannot get a job here in South Australia. Families are being separated, torn apart, and young people have to go into state to find opportunities because there are no opportunities to get work here.

If we look at the ABS report, Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation, Australia, July 2014 to June 2015, it found that, on average, 145,000 South Australians who wanted a paid job did not have one—145,000 South Australians want a job—and 91,000 are underemployed. That lays bare the depth of the unemployment crisis confronting our state. The official unemployment figure is merely the tip of the iceberg of South Australia's unemployment crisis. When the unemployed, underemployed and those not in the labour force are added together, some 236,000 want to work or want to work more than they currently do. These are the forgotten South Australians left to languish in poverty, deprivation and disadvantage as a result of the failed jobs policy of the Weatherill Labor government.

Again, I stress that the Treasurer keeps talking about a jobs budget but he has not delivered. He said that 12 months ago. He did not deliver. We still sit at the bottom of the pile. Sadly, we know that the closure of Holden's is just around the corner. A few weeks ago we found out that 300 jobs will be cut from Holden as the Cruze goes out of production in October. That is another 300 jobs, 300 people looking for work, and under this Labor government they will just struggle to find a job because the government has failed to deliver.

However, there are programs in the budget to help people. An example of how this government has struggled with the car industry is when the government put together the Automotive Transformation Taskforce. You would think that, knowing this was coming, knowing that the closure of Holden is just around the corner, the government would be spending this money on initiatives to create jobs and to create an environment that will generate employment and get these people working, in particular in the northern suburbs.

Last financial year, the government had $16 million budgeted to spend on its automotive transformation scheme. How much did it spend, Deputy Speaker? I can tell you: they spent $6 million; that is, $10 million unspent at a time when this money needs to be spent. It needs to be spent to help these people who are coming out of the Holden workforce and looking at (we hope not) unemployment. Without this money being spent on programs that can help these people, help them into a new job, help them upskill, we wonder what the government is doing. There is $10 million budgeted, sitting there ready to go, to be spent as part of this Automotive Transformation Taskforce, yet the government just leaves it sitting in the coffers. It does not know what to do with it, it does not know how to help the jobs crisis in South Australia.

We have the nation's highest unemployment rate. I mentioned that our youth unemployment is at 13.5 per cent. Then you have a listen to what Treasury says about the forecast for this government. The Treasury department's own forecast predicts a 0.75 per cent growth in employment in 2016-17, less than half of the 1.8 per cent predicted by the federal government. Nationally, 1.8 per cent is the forecast growth, but in South Australia it is 0.75 per cent, half the national growth. It is just not good enough.

As we know, the Treasurer and Premier spruiked the last jobs budget from the rooftops. How did that go? They delivered half of what was promised: a 0.5 per cent growth compared to a 0.1 per cent growth, which was forecast in the 2015-16 budget. The government is missing its target on jobs growth by half. All it is achieving is 50 per cent. That is just proof that this government does not have the answers to what is going on.

We can have a look at some of the solutions as well because we have looked at and talked about them. We want to immediately put $360 million back into people's pockets by taking away some of the nasty ESL increases that this government has put in place. The increases to the ESL really were just a hit on people and their hip pockets. We have a $360 million commitment to put the money back into the pockets of South Australians so that they can go out and spend it and generate revenue and income for themselves. We are not taking money, we are giving it back, and that will help with the cost-of-living pressures, as well as help all the people who are feeling the pinch at the moment.

We have also talked about capping council rates. That is another cost-of-living measure that we think will help put money back into the pockets of South Australians. As I said, we are not taking money, we are giving it back to people. We want money to go back into people's pockets so that they can spend it as they see fit. We are also set to introduce a state-based productivity commission and an inquiry into water prices because we know that water prices are hurting South Australians right across the board. So that is something else that we want to do. They are some of the measures that we want to put in place to help with the cost of living that is really, as I said, hurting South Australians right across the board.

The third point that I want to talk about is health and the chemotherapy bungle which saw incorrect dosages given to cancer patients. The error was one thing, but the lack of accountability by the Premier has been incredibly disappointing. This is a very serious issue at a time when we see in the Transforming Health space that the opening of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital keeps getting delayed and delayed, while the cost of the hospital keeps blowing out. We are up to something like $640 million. That is the blowout figure—$640 million over budget for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital and we are still not sure when it is going to open.

The Premier's Transforming Health program has also downgraded the emergency department at the Noarlunga Hospital just around the corner from my house and in my electorate. It is also putting extra pressure on the Flinders Medical Centre. I know the member for Bright spoke about that too. He has some concerns, as I do, because the Flinders Medical Centre services our communities and there will be extra pressure put on to that facility.

We also know about the Repat Hospital. Despite the protests of more than 120,000 South Australians, we know that the Repat Hospital has been earmarked to close under Transforming Health, which is a crying shame, because again that is a very much utilised and very much needed facility in our regions. Health is another major concern for the people in my community.

I want to go back to the chemotherapy bungle. I know it has been in the media, it has been in the newspapers and it has been on TV, but when you retrace what has actually gone on here, it really does leave you shaking your head. When we have a look at how this government has performed over the journey, this really does typify its poor, shoddy performance. I will just recap what has happened with the chemotherapy dosing bungle, because former CEO and SA Pathology chief Ken Barr claims that for three years attempts by senior SA Pathology staff to implement key changes recommended by a 2012 review were blocked by SA Health because it was industrially and politically risky for the minister and had no financial benefit for SA Health.

A review was undertaken in 2012 and nothing was done about it. In a submission to the Legislative Council's Select Committee on Chemotherapy Dosing Errors, Mr Barr wrote:

Implementation of the Brennan review [in 2012] may have enabled the incorrect AML dosage protocol to be discovered and corrected avoiding the dosage errors.

What we are saying is that if this review (undertaken in 2012), the Brennan/Szer review, had been followed, it could have prevented the incorrect dosages given to these chemotherapy patients. That was done in 2012. It was not followed, and in fact Mr Barr goes on to say that minister Snelling and the chief executive, David Swan, had created a 'fear and blame culture' in SA Health. That culture that is overseen by this state government has caused this issue to exacerbate. In 2012, the government was warned in a review. Let's move on to 2015, where it gets worse, where another independent review of the chemotherapy dosing bungle, undertaken by Professor Villis Marshall, found that poor governance within SA Pathology and the Royal Adelaide Hospital had contributed to the situation.

As far as the Marshall review could establish, the recommendations from the 2012 Brennan/Szer review had not been progressed. It called for 'a rectification plan, referencing the 2012 report'. In 2012, they were told to fix it, and in 2015 they said, 'Go back to the 2012 report. It really needs fixing and you should follow those recommendations.' The 2012 recommendations were reiterated in a second external report in 2014 by Ernst & Young. Three years after SA Health received a report calling for change, another review found that poor governance which should have been addressed contributed to the adverse outcome. There are three reports that say this chemotherapy bungle should not have happened. Warnings were put in place; no-one listened. The minister and the Premier are ultimately responsible, and that is where we got to as far as the chemotherapy dosing bungle was concerned South Australians do not accept this. It is not good enough and it is another example of how this government's management of our health system really has been low, poor and shoddy over the journey. It really is quite disgraceful.

We can also talk about the EPAS electronic records system, which we know is really struggling and is millions of dollars over budget. They are talking about putting paper records in the hospital, but the hospital floors cannot hold the paper records, so there is another disaster going on there. It is really is a joke. I know some of the speeches in this chamber mentioned how much it is going to cost to run the hospital, but $1.1 million every day for 30 years is what we are going to be paying, what our children are going to be paying and what our grandchildren are going to be paying. It is going to cost $1.1 million every day for 30 years to pay for that hospital. They are concerns that people are having in my community.

Fourthly, I raise the issue of child protection. We have seen some very sad cases in South Australia recently. A numbers of Families SA workers have contacted my office and other offices around my community, but they have been too scared to speak out publicly because of ongoing safety issues in the area and fear of losing their jobs. We have called for a commissioner for children and young people with executive powers so that we can get to the bottom of these cases. Unfortunately, too many incidents are slipping through the net with tragic consequences, and this was not followed up in the budget. The front page of The Advertiser on 22 June states:

SA's dysfunctional child protection system has failed our most vulnerable again and again. Its design was the Premier's first major reform and he's defended it across years of scandals. Now, he's finally admitted—

and it says in bold print, 'I was wrong,' with a picture of a very unhappy-looking Premier. The article refers to the interim report handed down by royal commissioner Margaret Nyland, who said:

The child protection system has not been working for some time and is now in crisis...

The newspaper article goes on to state:

…finally, the Premier is forced to act.

Amongst a number of the recommendations in the interim report handed down by royal commissioner Margaret Nyland, one says that the child protection agency Families SA should be moved out of the wider education and child development department and create a child protection department of its own. That is what we have been calling for for a long time. The Premier resisted because this was his baby, but according to this report, the proof is in the pudding: the Premier made a massive mistake when it comes to child protection. As recently as 17 February 2014, the Premier is quoted as saying:

It would be a retrograde step. This has been a very important reform for this government. It's regarded as one of the most progressive reforms in the nation. 

That was in relation to his move to put Families SA in with the education department. When this report was handed down by the royal commissioner, he admitted he was wrong. It took him kicking and screaming to get to this point. From our side of things, we are very glad that he has, because we have been calling for this for a long time.

Among other things the Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland outlined needed desperate change was improved engagement with the public to spread the message that child protection is everyone's responsibility. I think that is a really important point as well. As we look through the article and we talk about child protection, for those who are not familiar:

Child protection agency Families SA will be split from the Education Department in the wake of a shock retreat by Premier Jay Weatherill, who was the architect of their merger four years ago.

That is from an article written by Lauren Novak, political reporter for The Advertiser, on 22 June this year. It goes on to say:

Mr Weatherill has abandoned his strident defence of the super-department in the face of surprising and scathing recommendations by the woman charged with finding ways to fix the state's child protection system.

Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland said she felt compelled to release interim recommendations now on a system 'in crisis' so the Government could 'take immediate steps' to begin setting up a new child protection department. It will be run by a new chief executive with 'established credibility' in the field.

That is a major concern to people in my electorate and to me as well. Child protection is incredibly important. As I said, I do not think that the Premier has gone far enough. We are calling for a commissioner for children and young people with investigative powers so that people can come forward, make their complaints and not feel like their jobs will be threatened. At the moment, they are still not confident enough to come forward, so the Premier has not gone all the way, but he is to blame. As he has admitted, he was wrong with what he had in place as far as child protection in South Australia was concerned, and it is not good enough.

Authorised by Corey Wingard MP, Member for Gibson. Level 2, 1 Milham Street Oaklands Park SA 5046. ©Copyright / Legal / Login