Does SA need an Industry Advocate?

Mr WINGARD ( Mitchell ) ( 16:43 ): As the lead speaker, I rise with great pleasure to speak on the Industry Advocate Bill. As we know, the bill is an attempt to make the Industry Advocate a statutory body. The Industry Advocate has been doing quite a bit of work around town, and we need to have a look at why this position is in place. 

The Industry Advocate has been put in place to help industry talk with government and help with getting South Australian products into government procurement. If we look at why this is so important, we know it is very important to have South Australian products in South Australian government procurement, and it is very important to be exporting South Australian products interstate and overseas. It is also very important to be growing our economy, and that is potentially why this position has taken on greater focus and more importance. 

So when we look at why the government is keen to have this position, we need to look back at the statistical history of South Australia. We know that the trend unemployment rate in South Australia is currently at 7.1 per cent. We have had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for 30 months in a row, so we know employment is a very big issue and, more specifically, unemployment in South Australia is in a very, very dire position. We also know that youth unemployment in South Australia is the highest in the nation. 

The Labor government promised to produce 100,000 jobs back in February 2010. That was the commitment, to produce 100,000 jobs. Have they produced 100,000 jobs in that time? No, they certainly have not. In fact, they have produced only 17,200 jobs. Again, we can see that jobs is a very key point. South Australia's economic growth was 1.9 per cent in 2015-16. South Australia's gross state product grew 1.9 per cent compared with 2.8 per cent nationally. Only Tasmania and Western Australia grew slower than our state. So we are six out of eight when it comes to that measure as well. 

Exports were $1.09 billion in April 2017—$11.05 billion in the 12 months to April 2017. Those figures show that exports fell 5.2 per cent on an annualised basis compared with the previous 12 months. The government's target is $18 billion by 2017, including services, so we are a fair way off that target as well. Another thing to take into consideration is interstate migration. People are leaving South Australia. In the year ending September 2016, it was minus 6,484. That is a massive exodus of people from this state. There are more people leaving than there are people coming, which is another big setback for South Australia. 

We know that water prices in South Australia have again increased 233 per cent between 2002‑03 and 2016-17. CommSec's State of the States ranked South Australia seven out of eight in terms of economic performance. That is the background. That is why it is important to fight for every position. That is why the government has put a real focus on the Industry Advocate and brought this bill before the house. 

We need to do everything we can, and we understand that, but we need to have the background as to why it is absolutely vital for South Australia to fight for every possible job because we are in a dire state. We are in a very, very bad position. When we rank ourselves against all the other states in the country, we are doing incredibly badly. The unemployment figure is the key indicator. When it comes to unemployment, we have been at the bottom of the pile for 30 months in a row. That is the history. As I have said, 15 years of state Labor have put us in that position. 

The member for Kaurna brought this bill before the house. We need to work out what the Industry Advocate is going to do. The member for Kaurna is adamant that the Industry Advocate will help to grow jobs in South Australia. He is saying that we need that conduit between business and government. A lot of people I have spoken to have begged the question: why are business and government not talking better? Why are they not communicating better? Why have we got to the point where we need to have an industry advocate in place? 

It is a very fair question. Why have we come to this point? Many are concerned that it is the mismanagement of this government that has created that poor communication and that poor relationship between business, and South Australian businesses most importantly, and government procurement. The solution is the Industry Advocate. Whilst there may be some upside to it, there are some concerns as well, and I will run through a few of those as we go through this. 

The member for Kaurna highlighted the use of steel. We know about the problems in Whyalla and Arrium steel and using South Australian steel in projects that the government is procuring. In his speech, I note that the member for Kaurna talked about the Northern Expressway and Arrium steel, and I am really keen to know how much Arrium steel from Whyalla—not Arrium steel from other sources—will be used in the project. 

The recording, as the member for Chaffey says, is a very important point because it is the recording of where the steel comes from that we need to keep an eye on. The member for Kaurna says that there will be more Arrium steel in the Northern Expressway. We will hold him to that and we will keep checking on that. However, we have asked about the NRAH, the Convention Centre, the Adelaide Oval and other projects around South Australia. We have asked what steel was used, and how much South Australian Arrium steel was used? They say, 'We don't know. We didn't record it. We didn't keep it.' 

We have reached a situation where now we need to have an industry advocate in place to make up for the government's shortfall in not knowing and not having that information at hand. It appears that the Industry Advocate is in place to cover the backside of a government that has not kept checks and balances on its procurement processes and what has happened. That seems to be the reason this is actually happening. 

We know that the intent of the bill is to give South Australian businesses an opportunity to be involved in government procurement. The Industry Advocate will also resolve complaints, remove impediments to South Australian businesses and improve the procurement practices and processes I talked about. The Industry Advocate will maintain the Industry Participation Policy, and we understand the reason behind that. A fining system will also be in place for the Industry Advocate, should someone not adhere to the proper terms and conditions, and they can fine up to $20,000, which is interesting, too. 

Speaking to different industry groups and getting feedback from different industry groups, I think the need for the idea is the very important factor here. The need for a body to facilitate between government and South Australian businesses to help with procurement has been brought about by 15 years of Labor's leadership, if you want to call it that—lack of leadership is probably a better term, I think—in South Australia. That is why the Industry Advocate is being put forward. 

There are a couple of other interesting points regarding the bill. Speaking to some of the key stakeholders, they support the role of the Industry Advocate but they have concerns and questions and a number, including the Master Builders Association, questioned whether it needs to be a statutory position. Of course, the bill enshrines it as a statutory body, yet what some of these people are suggesting to me, and what a number of stakeholders have suggested to me, is that surely we should reach a position where government and industry have a very firm relationship and where they are working through that and a third party is not needed. 

A number of stakeholders, including Business SA and the Ai Group, are concerned about the red tape and the cost it is going to add—and that is one of the big concerns about the bill. In principle, we understand what the government is trying to do and, like everyone in this room, knowing those stats and figures I reeled off at the start, we need to be doing everything we possibly can. The Ai Group has also raised a concern about the five-year term for the Industry Advocate as opposed to potentially a three-year term being more appropriate. 

Again, I think they are coming from the same view, that if we can get this right and get this fixed then perhaps the Industry Advocate may not be as pertinent in the future because it is a problem that has been created and, if it could be resolved, will the Industry Advocate be needed in the future? Whilst the situation has meant that we need this position at the moment to help manage the problems we have, will it be needed down the track? Time will tell. The big issue, when we put these positions in place, is whether they will put a burden on industry. 

Business SA has raised that with us, as they are concerned that this could put an unreasonable burden on the supplier. Added costs are another concern, as I have already mentioned. They are a couple of the issues that industry is talking about when it comes to this bill and they are things that we will very much be keeping an eye on during the passage of this bill. Another point I would like to make, and the member for Bragg will be mentioning this, is the concern centred around transparency. The bill calls for the Industry Advocate to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. 

There is a grave concern about this state Labor government not wanting to be transparent and wanting to hide things. We think that the government should be transparent and should be accountable for what they are doing. To have this position exempt from the FOI Act is alarming, and the member for Bragg will speak more about that. We notice that the Small Business Commissioner is not exempt from the FOI Act, yet the government are looking to make the Industry Advocate exempt from freedom of information laws. 

We know there have been a number of issues in the past. We have an ICAC, and the government has blocked a number of our moves to open up freedom of information and make things more accessible. We know the goings-on with Oakden at the moment in relation to not revealing what is happening, not wanting to be open and transparent, being a closed government and keeping the people of South Australia at arm's length. It is alarming that under this bill the government wants to make the Industry Advocate exempt from FOI, and that raises some concerns for us, and others have also raised the issue with us. 

On the whole, we want to make sure that South Australian companies and businesses are growing, that we are giving them every opportunity, and with procurement opportunities that is absolutely fantastic. We know from the figures I reeled off at the start, including the economic growth in South Australia of 1.9 per cent, that we are below the national average, which is 2.8 per cent, and that is a fair indicator that South Australia is not going so well. We also mentioned the unemployment rate. I do not want to bang on about it, but 30 months in a row—you really need to have a look at that and work out why South Australia is going so bad and why we are in such dire straits. 

I stress again that we want to give every opportunity to every South Australian business, but the focus must be on growing the pie, making sure that we are growing outside South Australia and overseas. That is why we on our side have policies in place, such as increasing the number of trade offices overseas so that we can sell more of our goods and services to other countries and grow the size of our pie. At the moment, South Australia is shrinking. We are being strangled under this state Labor government and everyone is feeling the pinch. 

When I go doorknocking in local streets, I hear families talk about their children being forced to move interstate or overseas to work because there are no job opportunities in South Australia. That must be changed; it must be turned around. If the Industry Advocate goes a little way towards helping that, then all well and good, despite a couple of concerns raised by some key industry groups. The focus must be on the bigger picture, on growing the pie for South Australia, and that is what we on this side of the house are very focused on. With those few words, Deputy Speaker, I thank you for your time. 

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