Mr DULUK (Davenport) (12:23): I also rise to speak on the appropriation debate and report
of estimates, and I thank all those who were involved in the estimates process. It must be a
phenomenal back-end process for all our hardworking public servants and departmental officials who come to this place, with folder upon folder of notes and thousands of hole-punched pages, ready for the grilling by the opposition. I have sat in on quite a few estimates, and this year there was once again a very high standard of grilling by opposition members only for them to be told by the responsible minister, 'We will take that question on notice.'
You have these chief bureaucrats and Labor appointees at the top of the chain going back
and telling the very hardworking and diligent public servants in the departments, who actually do the work of government, to prepare the folders for estimates. You have staff coming in on weekends, sweating over what should or should not be in the folders and trying to work out what that single line item in the budget really means or does not mean. Does spending money through the transport department mean we are going to send out 18,000 doorknockers into the electorate, or electo-rort, which is not mentioned as a single estimate?
All the staff get ready for this, and it all ends up as a question taken on notice. Going through
the process, it is quite interesting to find out which ministers take more questions on notice than other ministers. You can see without any doubt the pecking order of ability in the government when it comes to taking those questions on notice.
I sat in on estimates of Premier and cabinet, Treasury and Finance, Health, arts, of course,
veterans' affairs, Defence SA, disabilities, and I was the lead in mental health. I will begin my remarks on the estimates process with the mental health section. This is an important process. I know the member for MacKillop, in his speech on the 2017 estimates, said, 'Scrutiny is what the parliament is here for—that is our job…to scrutinise the workings of the executive.' That is why it is important to have the estimates process, but it is disappointing that the government or the executive do not feel that they need to be put under scrutiny. We can see that in the longwinded opening statements the ministers provide and also in the number of Dorothy Dixers they take.
A testament to members opposite, especially the member for Ashford who is in the house at
the moment, was that, every now and then when the going was tough for a minister, in the
committees I attended, the member for Ashford would chirp up with a perfectly timed Dorothy Dixer to allow the minister a bit of time to reflect and seek some advice. Very well played by the government but, as I said, good ministers and good executives do not need to hide away from this process. I am alarmed, as we all are, at the number of questions taken on notice this year. I doubt I will get my questions on notice back this side of the election.
I am still waiting for answers to questions I asked in the 2016 estimates, particularly questions I put to the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse and for Disabilities.
I think there is an opportunity to look at reforming the estimates process. If you look at the
way estimates is conducted federally in the Senate, it is run purely as an upper house system. It is a system that allows greater scrutiny of senior bureaucrats and senior public servants, who are the people actually implementing government decisions. It is also a process that happens more than once a year.
Senate estimates occur in several blocks throughout the year, which allows the parliament
the opportunity to ask questions of the government on decisions they are making at the time. This leads to much greater accountability and disclosure, which is of course what good government is about. Good disclosure is fundamental to our Westminster system of government, as it keeps government honest and ensures that governments make better decisions and, when government makes the wrong decisions, allows them to be held accountable for that decision-making.
This once-a-year estimates process is jammed in over five days. In some portfolios, ministers are only required to sit for 45 minutes. After they make a 10-minute opening statement and take a few Dorothy Dixer questions, there is probably time for only four or five questions from the opposition on one or two line items. Somehow this Labor government this tired, 16-year-old Labor government—considers that to be a good, open, accountable process of scrutinising a $19 billion state economy. I do not think that is acceptable and I would like to see that reformed.
I said I would go back and start with my involvement in the mental health estimates, which
of course this year were scheduled at 4pm on Friday for 1½ hours. I am surprised, actually, that the government allocated that long to the portfolio, given that it is presided over by the most incompetent of the government ministers. It was 1½ hours on Friday, perfect timing to ensure there was very little media coverage of that estimate, given the amount of media coverage and interest that there has been in this portfolio for the last 12 months, but in particular from April this year.
It is only the work of the parliament and its committees that has allowed there to be proper
scrutiny of that minister and to reveal properly to the people of South Australia the government's failed care and neglect of those it is meant to look after, in particular with respect to those South Australians suffering geriatric mental health issues at the Oakden facility and the mistreatment they have received at the hands of those who are meant to be providing care for them.
We had about an hour and a half of mental health estimates. Of course, there was a fiveminute opening statement from the minister. Mainly because of media scrutiny prior to the day, we were able to get out of that estimates process that there have been more referrals of staff at Oakden to AHPRA. We know that, as of 28 July, 32 staff have been referred for investigations by AHPRA, nine staff have been referred to SAPOL and 15 staff have been suspended from the workplace, pending further investigations, on paid leave. These figures are up from when the Minister for Health made a statement to the house on 20 June 2017 when he said that there were 26 referrals to AHPRA, eight referred to SAPOL and 15 suspended from the workplace, pending further investigations, on paid leave.
The government was very good at letting us know what was happening at the time, yet in
response to a further question from me they were unable to tell us the total number of employees at the Makk and McLeay facilities. They could not tell me how many employees were at Makk and McLeay, but they could tell us that 56 staff in total had been referred to AHPRA or SAPOL. I never understand in this process how the minister or the department know some answers to some questions, but they do not know what the answer is to the most logical next question. You would have thought that the answer to a common question, 'How many total staff at a certain facility are working at any one time?' should be able to be provided to us.
It is this holding up of the estimates process that I really think the people of South Australia
do not like. It is the simple hiding of simple questions that leads to a lack of accountability by
government. The minister only made information public following media inquiries and reports seeking a copy of the progress report on the government's commitment to its report into the review of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service. In the government's own response to the Chief Psychiatrist's report, they said that they would release their report on their interim progress within 90 days. Of course, that report was due on 19 July and nothing was forthcoming until five minutes before the estimates schedule was meant to begin.
Once again, the government has failed—and this was highlighted through the estimates
process—to provide certainty and clarity to the people of South Australia about the way it looks after its most vulnerable. I read again in today's paper that it looks like there have been more issues with staff working in the child protection system. I find it incredible that the government cannot get this right. It has thrown royal commission after royal commission at the way it looks after its vulnerable people in South Australia. It has received report after report from agencies and from experts.
It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into these agencies, yet we cannot get the
culture right. I think a lot of these issues start with culture, and the culture at the top of these
departments is sick. Its ministers are not up to the task of leading reform. We certainly know that the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse does not have the confidence of her department; her Chief of Staff recently quit. She is not over her brief and, of course, the care and ongoing abuse continues.
From the estimates committee, we also know that the minister could not confirm when she
received the borderline personality disorder report 2017-20. She knows she has it, but she cannot recall whether she has read it or what actions will be taken in response to the recommendations. The Mental Health Commissioner has confirmed that the final report was provided to the minister in November, but the minister would not ask the commissioner, who was sitting next to her, when she received the report. I assume she did not want to admit that she sat on yet another report for an extended period of time. I go back to accountability: this is the problem with the estimates process.
If we had a system where the bureaucrats were given the opportunity to be asked questions of parliament then I think we would see better decision-making and better accountability by government.
We still do not have a state mental health plan, despite the last plan, commonly known as
the Stepping Up report, concluding in 2012. At least the minister did confirm that it is due by the end of the year, when it will be handed down by the independent commissioner, Commissioner Burns.
When the government announced that Commissioner Burns would be the Mental Health
Commissioner, there was a lot of fanfare about how he would be impartial and independent.
However, that final state mental health plan has to be signed off by cabinet and the minister.
It is interesting: if the commissioner is to be independent of government yet that commissioner and report need to be signed off by cabinet, you wonder how independent it can be.
We also know that we have only a draft of the Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-21. It is a shame that the government has been sitting on the draft for a while. The Chief Psychiatrist did very well to release in April that draft mental health plan in the midst of concluding his review of the Oakdemn report and delivering it to government. This is on the back of staff reductions in the Chief Psychiatrist's report, which were reduced last year. It also begs the question: how long has the minister sat on the draft report? We still do not have a final plan, but there is a budget line of $600,000 committed to support the draft plan, but of course the minister could not tell me what that $600,000 will be spent on.
There was a nice little surprise from that committee in regard to tobacco usage. The member
for Heysen forensically asked a few questions about that. It was one of the highlights in the
subprogram. If the government is puts a highlight into the program, it means that it must be pretty excited about it and meeting some benchmarks. However, when the minister was asked about this highlight in her own budget line—and we are talking about only five or six pages within the whole state budget—she had absolutely no idea what the question was related to or what the performance indicators and targets were.
It was a pleasure to sit with the member for Schubert in health estimates and ask the Minister for Health questions. We repeatedly heard that recent budget decisions about funding of Health were all made on the basis of political decisions and that the Minister for Health would not be bullied by the opposition to not take clinical advice in regard to decisions of government when it comes to spending taxpayers' dollars in certain areas.
I asked the minister whether he had taken clinical advice about the use of Ward 18 at the
Repat and whether he had spoken to the Chief Psychiatrist—and I have asked this question to the minister in question time quite a few times. When I asked him whether he had asked Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Aaron Groves, whether Ward 18 at the Repat is sufficient to take clients or residents of Oakden, to facilitate the closure of Oakden, the Minister for Health was his usual best evasive self.
Yet last Friday, in the Transforming Health select committee chaired by the Hon. Stephen Wade in the other place, Dr Aaron Groves gave evidence that Ward 18 at the Repat was a suitable site to take residents of the now disgraced Oakden facility.
This is the hypocrisy of those opposite, that they take advice and they pick and choose what
they like. As I mentioned in this place before, the member for Lee; your good self, Deputy Speaker, in your constituency; the member for Kaurna; the member for Fisher and the member for Reynell have all fought and received political funding for hospitals in their areas, being The QEH, Modbury and Noarlunga Hospital, yet the member for Elder and the current member for Waite could not even facilitate a political decision of government to have residents in need at the Oakden facility transferred to the perfectly workable, safe, secure, friendly and accessible site at the Repat, because one political decision that the government does not want to make is the closure of the Repat.
It astounds me that in a $6 billion health portfolio the government can make political decisions across the board and listen to respected communities, but they cannot do it in one particular situation.
It is particularly disappointing that health decisions are made on political bases and not made on onethat is related to clinical care. Included in other committees I sat on was the arts portfolio. Once again, I think this government has a poor record when it comes to supporting the arts. It cherrypicks left, right and centre. It looks for headlines where it can, in terms of what organisations it supports and those sorts of priorities. Also, once again the estimates process showed a lack of detail across the arts portfolio by the minister. I asked him some questions about Carrick Hill, which is part of the community that I am very close to, and there was a complete disconnect between what the Carrick Hill Trust put in its annual report, what was reflected in the budget in terms of numbers visiting that wonderful facility and what the government intends to do with that site, in terms of Carrick Hill's plans for development
going forward. Obviously, the government had very little input with the Carrick Hill Trust in what it can do.
I also spent quite a lot of time in the Premier and Cabinet portfolio and the Treasury portfolio.
One thing that the government did not want to go into was government waste, government
advertising and the amount of wasted taxpayers' dollars. Of course, we know the government is spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' hard-earned money on government advertising. We are seeing this left, right and centre. We are seeing them spending taxpayers' dollars on selling their budget; we are seeing them spend about $2.6 million on the Premier's energy plan; another $1 million spruiking the grant accelerator scheme, a scheme that is not working at all, and about half a million dollars more on the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. So waste and government spending are certainly high on the agenda within the Department of Treasury and Finance.