Appropriation bill 2015 (budget estimates)

In Parliament - Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (18:10:53): I also rise and appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my first estimates processes, and in doing that thank the member for Goyder for guiding me through my first estimates last Thursday during the planning portfolio. As a new member of parliament, it was my first experience of estimates and one that I was looking forward to participating in. In my eagerness, I put my hand up to sit on 11 committees.

I understand there have been quite a few comments already about this process, and quite a few of my colleagues, probably on both sides of the house, have not shared my enthusiasm for estimates. However, as an accountant and a banker, what more could you like than looking at the budget in the estimates process? Indeed, I view it as a great chance to learn and be involved in the parliamentary process.My experience across those committees was interesting, although not as enlightening as I hoped it would be. The estimates process itself is designed to provide an opportunity to examine the budget in greater detail so that we can better understand the expenditure outcomes and policy highlights from the previous year, seek further explanation of the policy targets for the year ahead, and gain greater clarification on how the budget will be rolled out across the forthcoming year.

Estimates should be an integral part of the process of ensuring executive accountability to the parliament. Given its purpose, I am more than a little disappointed with the outcome of this estimates process. The lengthy opening statements delivered by some ministers, the use of Dorothy Dixers, the verbatim listing of organisations and grants programs as answers to questions, and the cumbersome answering of many of the opposition's questions limited the effectiveness of the committee hearings. In saying that, though, I do commend the Treasurer, the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Arts, when I had them in my committee, for their use of estimates and for not taking Dorothy Dixers.

It is worth noting that a significant amount of time and effort are invested in preparing and engaging in estimates, not just on both sides of the chamber but also by government departments. I would like to acknowledge and thank the efforts of the public servants involved in the process, not just those who attended the estimates committee but also the many others who assisted in preparing the countless pages of background information, talking points and answers for their respective ministers. I do feel for them and wonder if their time could be better spent because, after all the countless pages of background information, talking points and answers prepared for the ministers, there was a number of ministers who said they would take the question on notice and report back to the house.

Notwithstanding my concerns about the effectiveness of the process, I turn my attention to the budget and estimates committee hearings. Firstly, I would like to highlight my disappointment that the budget and estimates process does not offer further effective benefit for local businesses and residents in my electorate of Davenport. As I noted in my maiden speech earlier this year, road infrastructure, public transport and a dedicated transport master plan for the Mitcham Hills area have been a priority for local residents, councils and politicians for some time. The central corridor through the Mitcham Hills must be upgraded to deliver improved bushfire safety for residents and reduce peak hour bottlenecks that frustrate the daily commute on Old Belair Road, Main Road, Flagstaff Road, and many other local roads.

I appreciate the Attorney-General and Minister for Planning's acknowledgement during the planning committee hearing that there is potential for serious congestion in this corridor with 'only one way in and one way out as residents sitting on top of the gully'. I strongly encourage the Attorney-General and Minister for Planning to remember this during the review of the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide and to prioritise upgrading this important corridor.

Transport and land use are crucial to achieving measurable outcomes and integration in this area, and I welcome the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Planning highlighting the importance of linking these two areas in the Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. I am also pleased to see the need for the review of the 30-year plan to incorporate the Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan, and this has been acknowledged on the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure website. I look forward to material outcomes for my electorate when the review is delivered later this year.

I also look forward to discussion of the Adelaide-Melbourne railway freight corridor. Priority 32 of the government's Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan for Outer Adelaide prioritises 'improvements to the Adelaide-Melbourne railway corridor through Adelaide Hills to allow for double stacking'. I would urge the Minister for Transport and Planning to give tangible consideration to improving South Australia's freight network.

Motorists experience lengthy delays at crossings as freight trains make the slow passage through the Hills, and residents suffer the intense noise emitted by the wheel squeals which often exceeds 100 decibels, a level that exceeds the state and federal noise guidelines and international guidelines. The health and safety concerns generated by the current passage of freight along this rail were constantly raised by my predecessor in this house, and I will also continue to champion this cause at every opportunity.

Identifying and delivering a long-term strategy for freight movement in South Australia is vital not just for the residents of the Mitcham Hills and surrounding suburbs but also for residents in the electorates of Ashford, Unley and Waite, especially for businesses importing and exporting goods that will benefit from the more efficient movement of their products. Indeed, this would be a better benefit for exporters and importers than moving our time zone in South Australia. The Melbourne-Adelaide freight corridor is a major policy issue this government cannot continue to put in the too-hard basket.

Small business is the heart of this state's economy and, as I noted in my budget reply speech, I welcome the changes to stamp duty announced in this budget, but I will say again: these measures should be introduced immediately. The budget does not deliver the urgent impact our small business sector is craving and this budget does not provide the significant impact the small business sector desperately needs. The budget also fails to provide any immediate relief or impetus for small business at a time when South Australia needs a government that will take action and, for me, this was validated by the answers from the minister in the small business estimates committee.

As to action to address the surging unemployment rate, when I spoke in this house in response to the budget last month, South Australia's unemployment rate was ballooning at 7.6 per cent and, four weeks later and today, I am now talking about an unemployment rate of 8.2 per cent and there are realistic fears it will hit double figures before Christmas. Nothing in the estimates committee indicated to me that the decisions of this government will be reducing unemployment in the short or long term.

A quick look at the other key indicators within the South Australian economy at the moment shows that the picture is very, very grim. South Australia's gross state product grew by only 1.3 per cent in 2013-14, compared with 2.5 per cent nationally. In 2013-14, South Australia had the lowest business entry rate of any mainland state or territory, at 11.4 per cent, compared with the national average of 13.7 per cent. In the same period, the number of businesses operating in South Australia reduced by 14. A reduction of only 14 may not appear to be alarming until you compare South Australia's performance with that of the other mainland states.

New South Wales gained 8,522 businesses, Victoria gained 7,160, Western Australia gained 2,929 and Queensland gained 2,032. In all major indicators we continue to fall behind our state counterparts and I do look forward to the answers of the Treasurer and the small business minister from my committee yesterday in relation to businesses operating in South Australia. We have fewer jobs, we have less growth, we have higher debt, huge interest payments, outrageous utility charges and a government that cannot put the brakes on South Australia's economic decline.

The Labor government has created only 1,670 jobs since its 2010 promise of 100,000 extra jobs over six years, although we did discover during the estimates hearing that the 100,000 commitment is no longer a commitment but merely an aspiration. The Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, in response to a question about the government delivering on its 2010 promise to create 100,000 jobs, stated: 'The economic climate has overtaken our aspirations and it is most unlikely we will achieve that target.' When the minister was questioned about the change from a commitment to an aspiration, she confirmed, 'When we set the target, it was indeed an aspiration.' An aspiration—it is interesting that the government went to the 2010 election with only a jobs aspiration. It is interesting that the government went to the 2010 election with only a jobs aspiration.

The executive summary of the 2010 consultation paper Skills for All: Productivity and Participation Through Skills, released prior to the launch of Skills for All states:

The South Australian government has committed to jobs growth of 100,000 over the next six years, supported by the 100,000 additional training places.

So in the Skills for All document, a government-produced paper, it definitely was a commitment and not an aspiration. Today we barely have an aspiration for 100,000. Indeed, that aspiration is only about 1,600 jobs.

Former premier Mike Rann clearly stated in his 2010 post-election press release that the government has a:

… central commitment to creating an extra 100,000 job-training places available and an extra 100,000 jobs created over the next six years.

It certainly seems like a commitment to me and, as my colleague the member for Unley noted during the estimates hearing:

What the minister is telling us is that when the government makes a commitment, what they are really saying is that it is only aspirational.

Whilst the government is no longer certain it made a commitment, we can all be certain that this Labor government has fallen well short of creating 100,000 new jobs. I am certain that 13 years of Labor leadership has led South Australia into an economic quagmire. It should come as no surprise that any 'commitment' by this government should be seen as nothing more than an 'aspiration'. Their continued failure to deliver any benefit to the people of South Australia means the best they can do on a policy front is to hope because they have no track record on delivering.

It is important that the government creates the right framework for business to grow, a framework that makes it easy to do business. Whilst the budget and estimates process failed to deliver any immediate outcomes for small businesses in my electorate, I strongly encourage the Minister for Planning to take action now to deliver a real and tangible benefit for Blackwood businesses by rezoning the Blackwood business centre.

Rezoning this area would significantly benefit the local small business community as the Blackwood community centre is currently identified as a secondary renewal area, but elevation to a primary renewal area is essential to improving retail and commercial activity, and to improving local employment opportunities. It would be encouraging to see government action, particularly given the government has repeatedly stated its commitment to helping small business to rezone this area within my electorate—or perhaps helping small business is just an aspiration as well.

South Australia has identified itself as the Festival State since the early 1980s and, while our numberplates no longer spread the word, South Australians have made festival living a part of their identity. And whilst in the Arts estimates, minister Snelling valiantly tried to channel the ghost of Sir Les Patterson, our identity and our reputation as the Festival State are under threat. Cuts to arts programs and the cancellation, hibernation or relocation of the Festival of Ideas, Adelaide Food and Wine Festival, Word Adelaide and the Australian International Documentary Conference threaten our standing as the Festival State.

But it is cutbacks to our music sector, and the cuts that are deepest are the ones to music education. The music scene is an integral component of South Australia's art and creative industries, and whilst it is often overlooked, it is a major contributor to South Australia's festival stature. Music funding cuts to music education have been ongoing in recent years and funding is continually withdrawn from music education. Once again, our public instrumental music service, known as IMS, for school students is under threat with a review by the minister at the moment, and all South Australians will lose, young and old, performers and audiences alike.

Answers from minister Close in relation to IMS during my questioning in estimates on this issue have not reassured me in relation to the proposed IMS restructure. State government funding cuts have resulted in students being unable to enrol for music courses at Noarlunga TAFE from January 2014. The VET courses are instead delivered 50 kilometres north at the Salisbury TAFE campus. Whilst a 50-kilometre trip may not seem especially long for the Minister for the Arts or the Minister for Employment and Higher Education Skills—

The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: Do you need a chopper?

Mr DULUK: Definitely not. No, for most students it would be a train and a bus trip. The majority of students attending or planning on attending the Noarlunga campus do not have the means of travelling to Salisbury regularly to attend these classes, and it is an absolute shame on this government for cutting services to Noarlunga TAFE in relation to their music program. There is no chance that students who want to do a VET course at Noarlunga could attend Salisbury TAFE, especially when they work and have other commitments as well.

Noarlunga TAFE courses are not the only casualty of the government funding cuts. The University of Adelaide's decision that all its vocational music courses would no longer be offered in 2015 has also been blamed on declining state government funding. Students from lower socioeconomic status schools have traditionally used the vocational programs offered by TAFE and the University of Adelaide as a pathway into South Australia's tertiary music school (Elder Conservatorium) and a Bachelor of Arts in music.

Without these pathways, the government is denying young musicians and prospective students equal access to South Australia's premier music programs, and it is failing to support the development of local musicians and the creative industries in South Australia. Adelaide's music scene will suffer, with fewer up-and-coming musicians performing around our city and our regional areas, and the quantity and quality of our future educators will suffer. Fewer courses means fewer graduates, and fewer graduates means fewer tutors, teachers and industry leaders.

Tertiary music education in Australia is seriously underfunded compared with our international peers. South Australia has an opportunity to invest in this area and create a world-class education program—a program that will separate our tertiary music programs from every other university program in Australia and make South Australia the preferred destination for aspiring musicians and educators alike. Alas, this is not happening. Instead, we are doing the opposite.

Investing in music education is also an opportunity to live up to our billing as the Festival State. Adequate funding would enable the delivery of educational opportunities to rival our international peers, and it would also enable South Australia to be the music destination for industry leaders and offer excellence in teaching. We would attract the best in academia. We would be a destination that teachers want to teach at and where students want to enrol to be taught.

The government's Destination Adelaide campaign commits $5.7 million over four years to market South Australia as a destination of choice for international students. It does not make sense to me that on one hand the government is spending a significant amount of money on a marketing campaign to attract students to our universities whilst on the other hand it is cutting funding to the very programs that the universities teach—programs that would gain international attention and attract students naturally if they received suitable funding. The social and economic benefits of tertiary music to Australia should not be undervalued.

Getting back to estimates, the estimates process does seem to have raised more questions than answers for me, not just in relation to the budget, but also about the government's priorities, the government's process for developing and implementing policy, and especially about the government's strategy for fixing South Australia: creating jobs, creating economic growth, and delivering a more prosperous state.

The Premier keeps telling the people of South Australia that the government has to accept responsibility for fixing the jobless mess. He keeps telling South Australians that the state is in a transition from old economy to new economy. He keeps telling us that the government is working hard to create jobs. I am just not sure that I have a better idea today of how this government is doing this compared to a week ago after the budget estimates process.