ECONOMIC AND FINANCE COMMITTEE: EMERGENCY SERVICES LEVY 2019-20
Mr DULUK (Waite) (11:46): I move:
That the third report of the committee, entitled Emergency Services Levy 2019-20, be noted.
The Economic and Finance Committee has an annual statutory duty to inquire into, consider and report on the Treasurer's determinations in relation to the emergency services levy. The committee has 21 days in which to report on the written determinations after they are referred to the committee.
This year, the committee received the Treasurer's Statement on 24 May. The Emergency Services Funding Act 1998 requires the statement to include determinations in respect of the amount that needs to be raised by means of the levy to fund emergency services, the amount to be expended for various kinds of emergency services and the extent to which the various parts of the state will benefit from the application of that amount.
The services funded by the emergency services levy as defined in the act are the South Australian Country Fire Service, the South Australia Metropolitan Fire Service, the South Australian State Emergency Service, Surf Life Saving SA, a member of Volunteer Marine Rescue SA and a service provided by the South Australian police department related to, assisting with or incidental to those organisations I have listed.
On 29 May, the Economic and Finance Committee held a public hearing and invited representatives from the Department of Treasury and Finance, SAFECOM, MFS, CFS and SES. The witnesses provided the committee with details on the proposed levy for 2019-20, and we are debating what was tabled. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous work our volunteer and paid emergency services responders do for our community, which we rely on, whether it be the CFS or MFS, Surf Life Saving or those who put themselves at the front line to protect our community.
In particular, I would like to recognise the Sturt SES Group in my community, whose members look after an area that covers approximately 320 square kilometres, and the Sturt CFS Group, comprising five brigades, including Belair, Blackwood, Cherry Gardens, Coromandel Valley and Eden Hills. These groups are made up of local volunteers who work incredibly hard to protect the people living in my electorate of Waite by attending to fires, vehicle accidents and rescues, amongst other situations.
On another note, I would like to congratulate the Coromandel Valley Country Fire Service, which celebrated its 80th birthday on 25 May. Every single volunteer past and present at the Coromandel Valley CFS has shown extraordinary dedication to their local community. It was great to be there and to present to Peter Magarey his 10-year service medal. Peter's grandfather was a founding member of the Coromandel Valley CFS when they started with an old truck and a couple of hessian bags, as the story relates, to put out fires in the orchards around Coromandel Valley at the time. It is fantastic to see that organisation still serving the community to this day.
The committee notes that the total expenditure on emergency services for the 2018-19 financial year is estimated to reach $324 million, which is higher than the $318 million that was originally projected. The committee notes that the total expenditure on emergency services is projected to be $326 million in the 2019-20 financial year, funded in part by the $145.8 million component through fixed property ESL payments on private land net of government-funded remissions.
The target expenditure is $1.7 million higher than in 2018-19. The committee was told that this takes into account a $7.6 million increase in the Community Emergency Services Fund expenditure, including $2.5 million of additional funding for the Department for Environment and Water for coordination of policy and planning for flood mitigation, prescribed burning on private lands, and support for bushfire response on private lands in regional areas. The additional investment in this year's ESL is just another example of how the Marshall Liberal government is supporting our regional communities, which we know is so important.
There is an additional $1.6 million to the MFS for PFAS investigations and $1.1 million for the CFS heavy vehicle compliance program. This includes the cost of our election commitments, which further increases emergency services expenditure. Once again, in this year's state budget there is additional money to support the CFS in terms of building replacement and asset replacement, which is so important. These costs will be funded outside of the rate-setting process to remove any impact on emergency services levy bills.
The committee notes that the remissions for general property, which were introduced in 2018-19, will continue in 2019-20, reducing the effect of ESL bills paid by property owners. These remissions will reduce 2019-20 ESL bills by $90 million for South Australian households, consistent with this government's election commitment—and, more importantly, consistent with our approach and desire to assist families and households with cost-of-living pressures.
We saw the previous government use ESL as a cash grab to fund various pet projects and not reinvest it into our emergency services. However, we as a government are giving money back to South Australian households and at the same time we are investing additional money into emergency services, which is fantastic.
The committee notes that the government will pay $129.5 million into the Community Emergency Services Fund in 2019-20, reflecting amounts equivalent to fixed property levy revenues forgone through remissions and pensioner concessions, in addition to contributions on its own property. The committee also notes that cash balances for the Community Emergency Services Fund are expected to be $26.8 million by 30 June 2019.
The committee has fulfilled its obligations under the Emergency Services Funding Act 1998. I would like to thank the members of the committee for participating in the process in terms of the determination under the act. One of the most important things for the committee to note, as I said earlier, is our desire to reduce cost-of-living pressures, and that is why $90 million a year is coming back into the pockets of South Australians through our management of this process.
I would also like to thank the departmental representatives from Treasury and Finance, the Chief Executive of SAFECOM and the chief officers of the MFS, CFS and SES who assisted the committee reporting on the Treasurer's determinations. Therefore, pursuant to section 6 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991, the Economic and Finance Committee recommends to parliament that this report be noted.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:32): I rise to speak about antisocial behaviour in the community, but before I do can I also thank nurses and midwives for the role they play in our community. On behalf of the people of Waite, I thank them for their dedication, patience and service throughout South Australia. Antisocial behaviour has no place in the streets of Adelaide and South Australia. We have seen a growing rise in antisocial behaviour in our nightspots, and once again on Hindley Street on Saturday night there was violence and antisocial behaviour that has no role in our community. Antisocial behaviour is conduct that causes harassment, alarm and distress. It can take the form of violence in the community after a rowdy Saturday night and in vandalism of public spaces. Recently, the War Memorial on North Terrace was desecrated. Antisocial behaviour includes graffiti and environmental damage, including littering, dumping of rubbish, abandonment of cars and inconsiderate or inappropriate use of vehicles.
Antisocial behaviour quite often has a negative impact on the community. It has quite an impact on volunteer organisations in our community that spend a lot of time trying to make our natural environment a more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing place. It threatens the establishment and maintenance of a safe and secure community, which is an important prerequisite for community wellbeing and cohesion as well as sound economic growth through continuing business activity and investment. Individuals who engage in antisocial behaviour risk becoming excluded from important support mechanisms, such as school, their family and service providers.
One particular part of antisocial behaviour that I have noticed is the increase in street graffiti in my electorate of Waite. Unfortunately, it is commonplace and becoming more common along the train corridor, the Belair line, particularly around the central business district of Blackwood. In a bid to combat this problem, I recently held a graffiti round table and invited South Australian police, local business owners and concerned community members to discuss this situation. I would like to thank the following representatives who attended this round table.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (16:57): I also rise to make a small contribution on the Appropriation Bill as it affects my community—or benefits my community, more importantly—and, more broadly, the people of South Australia. There are several key elements of this budget. If you just listened to the contributions of the members opposite, you would have thought that this is the worst budget ever handed down in South Australian history.
Mr McBride: It's not the worst.
Mr DULUK: Not the worst, the member for MacKillop said. I am sure that prize goes to the last 16 years of the state Labor government and their budgets that, year on year, hurt South Australia, did not invest in the future and failed to make any real benefit structurally for my community especially.
Some of the good things in this budget include road infrastructure. Across the state, we have committed to huge investment in road infrastructure in our rural and regional communities and across metropolitan South Australia as well. Busting congestion is certainly the theme of those road announcements and it is fantastic that the work on those congestion-busting projects is happening. Most important in my community is the Fullarton Road-Cross Road intersection upgrade at a cost of $61 million.
The completion of the project, which I believe is within the forward estimates, will link the whole upgrade of the Mitcham Hills Road corridor, working at the Blackwood roundabout through the main section of the corridor, where $16.5 million is allocated in the state budget, in last year's budget and across the forward estimates, an additional $20 million in the recent federal election campaign and then complemented by the $61 million investment at Cross Road-Fullarton Road intersection. The morning commute for my community will be improved by the Marshall Liberal government. They are improvements that never happened and were never planned by the former Labor government. I always like to remind people in my community of that very important investment.
There will also be an improved upgrade of the Glen Osmond Road-Fullarton Road intersection as commuters head down Fullarton Road, further benefiting commuters and bus congestion in my community. Of course, there is the alteration of the Springbank Road/Daws Road/Goodwood Road intersection, which is seeing additional funding from the state and federal governments to fix up that issue, which has been so important. I know there has been a lot of hot air from those opposite, but it has only happened because of the investment in this budget.
Another really important issue, which is no longer in my electorate but serves many communities in my electorate and certainly formed part of the electorate I represented before the boundary change, is the addition of a fourth lane to Flagstaff Road, which the community has been calling on for many years. Once again, it is only a Liberal government that is investing money in it. The former Labor government, in the past 16 years, could not allocate a single cent to that project, but it is this government that is committed to that project, and that is wonderful.
One of the important aspects in the budget for all South Australians and also for my community is the investment in health, in particular the Repat Hospital, where $69.1 million has been allocated to reactivate the site as a genuine health precinct. This will include new statewide specialised brain and spinal injury rehab facilities, a rehabilitation gym, a town square and an 18-bed specialised facility for patients experiencing the most extreme behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. We continue to plan for surgical and procedural services at the site and, of course, we have already reopened about 40 beds and the hydrotherapy pool at the Repat site. This is on the back of our government's commitment to this site after the former Labor government closed the Repat.
There has been so much talk recently about so-called privatisation and our addiction to privatisation as a government, but of course it was the former Labor government that closed the Repat, sold the forests, sold the lands titles office and cut back Modbury Hospital. A whole range of services across South Australia were cut, slashed and sold by the former Labor government. There is also $550 million in this budget to invest in the first instalment of funding for a new Women's and Children's Hospital. This is the biggest single investment in our health system for many years.
A really important part of my electorate and the budget is around the environment and green initiatives. That is so important in my community. Following a decade of funding reductions to the state's parks, the 2019-20 budget includes $11.8 million of new funding for our beautiful parks. A $3.3 million parks restoration fund will be created to fast-track upgrades and improvements to activate nature and heritage-based tourism experiences across South Australia and improve accessibility. Of course, $2.5 million will be spent on infrastructure at the Glenthorne National Park.
Under the City Deal with the commonwealth government, which was signed earlier this year, we will see a $3 million upgrade to Carrick Hill visitor centre, an important state asset; $1.25 million for digital tools and wayfinding trails as well as nature play at Wittunga House and Wittunga Botanic Garden at Blackwood, which is one of three botanic gardens in South Australia; and additional funding allocation for Old Government House and Friends of Belair National Park, the second oldest national park in Australia.
Another important thing, and the Treasurer touched on it in his contribution, was this government's commitment to the Aboriginal art and cultures gallery at Lot Fourteen. I think this is a fantastic initiative, one that needs and will have a wow factor for this state as we look to create something that I would like to see: the continued creation of a cultural boulevard on North Terrace, starting at the Botanic Garden all the way to the Casino, where people can enjoy the cultural parts of South Australia and the City of Adelaide, including our universities, the Museum, the Library, the Art Gallery and this beautiful parliament precinct, which will soon be overshadowed by a very large building commissioned by those opposite.
Investment in an Indigenous Aboriginal art and cultures gallery will be a game changer in terms of bringing tourists to this state and creating something really different. I am very excited about that and glad that it is part of the City Deal that will see the development of Lot Fourteen as more than just residential apartments—which was the dream of those opposite for that site—and create a smart city and invest in that infrastructure that is so important. Other funding that I really appreciated, and I know the member for Heysen did as well, was the investment in the Cedars art gallery and the Heysen gallery in Hahndorf.
More importantly, one of the most important things that any government can do is to play its part in reducing the cost-of-living pressures of its constituents across South Australia. I am glad that once again in this budget there is our commitment to reducing the ESL levy on South Australian households, seeing a cut of $360 million over the forward estimates and, of course, changes in the CTP regime that will give money back to South Australian households. I have said quite often that government has a duty to its people and that anything we can do to save money and pass on savings through government efficiency is absolutely critical.
As I touched on, health is important, roads and infrastructure are important, as is supporting our volunteers. In the time I have left, I mention that there is money in this budget that goes to supporting our CFS and SES, and $16.5 million has been allocated over three years to upgrade the SAPOL emergency communication centre, with $5.5 million for vehicle maintenance and facility upgrades for the CFS and SES. In addition, $52 million has been invested into building South Australia's security through crime prevention strategies and initiatives. I will talk about that in a future opportunity in regard to my electorate.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:23): I rise today to speak about the serious topic of suicide in relation to the recent work that I have begun as the chair of the state government's Issues Group on Suicide Prevention. The loss of life under any circumstances is always difficult but the notion that any person would intentionally take their own life is incredibly distressing to so many in our society. The reasons people take their own life are complex and often there is no single reason why a person attempts suicide or is successful at suicide.
Society's approach to people who have issues with mental health and suicidal thoughts continues to improve each and every year, and it is fundamentally important that we continue to support organisations that play such a great role in suicide prevention. It is these groups, whether they be in our community, such as those in my Blackwood and Mitcham communities, or as part of government such as the issues group I chair on suicide prevention that continue to facilitate discussion and ensure that governments and, more importantly, our society adequately provide care for people who are going through a difficult time and require access to appropriate services.
Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 and is the biggest cause of death of men in that cohort. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that over 3,000 people died from suicide in 2017. Deaths from intentional self-harm occur among males at a rate more than three times greater than that of females. For every death by suicide, it is estimated that as many as 30 people have attempted to take their own life.
Last year, the Premier appointed the Hon. John Dawkins from the other place as his Advocate for Suicide Prevention. Shortly after, the Premier's Council on Suicide Prevention was established. The issues group is a working group of the Premier's council and tasked with supporting the council by providing information and reporting on new initiatives and programs to enhance the ability to facilitate change in policy and community awareness.
The issues group involves 22 senior executives from state government agencies who work collaboratively on mental health and wellbeing strategies for their workplace and their consumers. In identified high-risk areas, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander portfolio and emergency first responders, there is more than one representative on the issues group. We meet monthly for approximately two hours and work closely with the Department for Health and Wellbeing's suicide prevention unit and the SA Mental Health Commission to identify key cross-sector issues for the public sector in suicide prevention.
It is so important that government works in a collaborative fashion, and it is fantastic that Ms Erma Ranieri, the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, sits on this issues group and co-chairs it with me, ensuring that government agencies have the ability to share employee and consumer programs, ideas, data and statistics to best create good public policy. We are also guided by the South Australian Mental Health Commissioner, Chris Burns, and SA Chief Psychiatrist, Dr John Brayley.
As the biggest employer in the state, it is important that the public sector has mechanisms in place to work together in providing the best support for their staff, resulting in a positive effect to their families, other work colleagues and community members. The Premier's council and the issues group on suicide prevention both support initiatives and events run by local suicide prevention networks across South Australia.
There are 34 community-based suicide prevention networks linked predominantly to local council regions currently in operation, and this number continues to expand. The issues group assists in increasing the profile and reach of suicide prevention programs for both public sector staff and consumers. Examples of some of the work that we have been undertaking and looking at is the establishment of working groups to investigate and progress data collection in the state. That is so important in many of the key emergency service departments.
We are ensuring that local suicide networks are present at country field days to hand out information on suicide prevention and counselling services. We are looking at ways of addressing actions within the state suicide prevention plan specific to individual agencies, reporting back and then using that data to best create good public policy. They are some of the positive examples that we have been working on to date.
The state government is committed to improving efforts to reduce the state's suicide rate. It is indeed a state and national tragedy. We are working towards breaking down the stigma surrounding suicide and encouraging people to seek help when they are having suicidal thoughts. Every effort—and we are doing this to increase awareness on the importance of suicide prevention—is critical. Through community programs, we can break down that stigma and hopefully save lives.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (14:55): My question is to the Minister for Environment and Water. Can the minister update the house on how the government is working to help protect our state against the threat of a changing climate?
The SPEAKER: Minister, be seated for one moment.
Mr Malinauskas interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Leader of the Opposition, you can leave for the remainder of question time, thank you.
The honourable member for Croydon having withdrawn from the chamber:
The SPEAKER: The Minister for Environment and Water has the call.
The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (14:55): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and it is very good to be able to update not only the member for Waite but also this house about the Marshall Liberal government's approach to climate change, which is embedded very significantly in the state budget and which was announced yesterday.
Our approach in funding a number of key and very significant climate change policies builds on the 2018-19 financial year budget, which of course we believe was the biggest spending budget on climate change in this state's history, with very substantial investments in renewables and a whole range of environmental initiatives. We have continued with that theme, that body of work, in this budget, and our approach to climate change is woven into all of the environmental initiatives which were announced in the budget.
It was a great budget for South Australia's natural environment, with some $86 million of new investment being provided to our natural environment over the coming years. When it comes to climate change, there is no greater example of our focus and our investment than our very significant spending on our coastline: $52 million for coastal protection across the state and a very substantial amount invested in the member for Colton's electorate, which we know is that weak spot in the metropolitan coastline—a weak spot in our metropolitan coastline at West Beach that has knock-on effects for all the metropolitan coastline in our capital city.
We know that our coasts form the front line in the fight against climate change in this state. We know that increasing populations, rising sea levels and increasing storm events all contribute to a vulnerability in our coastline, and we have to be willing to invest, and invest substantially, in order to overcome those challenges. I was very keen to see our coast invested in, and I know that many of the members in this chamber are, none more so than the member for Colton with his ongoing advocacy for his electorate. But we are quadrupling the funding available for regional coastal protection as well. We've got many thousands of kilometres of coastline in regional South Australia. We know there are challenges there as well, and a $4 million regional coastal protection fund is being established.
We are also making significant investment in our national parks. More than $11 million is being invested in our national parks because that is land that the government has care and control of. Twenty-one per cent of the state is locked up in our reserve system. They are areas of land which we can get into and in which we can improve biodiversity and increase resilience so that native species of flora and fauna can thrive in those environments and hopefully withstand a change in climate.
Then we've also got our investment in waste reduction, waste management. We are undertaking significant reform in the waste management and resources recovery area because we know that waste to landfill has a big impact on the amount of emissions. In fact, methane is thought to be four times more damaging for our environment than CO2, so diverting waste from landfill, getting it out of our landfills, is a very important response to climate change.
South Australia has a historic and, I believe, in many ways bipartisan approach to dealing with climate change, and this budget continues to take that to the next level.
ABORIGINAL LANDS PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE: REVIEW INTO THE OPERATIONS OF THE ABORIGINAL LANDS TRUST ACT 2013
Mr DULUK (Waite) (11:39): I also rise to make a few small comments in relation to the noting of this report on the review into the operation of the Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 2013. I certainly do not want to repeat the words of the member for Narungga or the member for Giles, who I think have covered very well the committee's intentions and its management, but I would like to look at some of the recommendations. I would urge members to look at the recommendations of this committee.
A strong theme from many of the witnesses who came before the committee was the autonomy of decision-making in their communities, and I think that is something that all members of parliament can appreciate. People in general want to make decisions that they believe are in their best interest. How we as a parliament, through this particular act, can further enhance the desire of those communities for self-determination is so important.
Their sense of belonging and the way in which they navigate the world is very important to them and their communities. More importantly, a greater degree of autonomous decision-making will allow a greater level of not only independence but also financial independence to help deal with some of the disadvantage that those communities experience and which they expressed to our committee.
In particular, recommendation No. 4 encourages the government to include in the South Australian Aboriginal strategic plan the development and strengthening of Aboriginal governance structures, systems and administration for Aboriginal communities. I think that is very important. Many of the witnesses who came before the committee expressed that, in some of their communities, there is a lack of governance and a lack of trust, which is seen to be leading to a perception that Aboriginal land is not being as well managed as it should be. Those are some of the key concerns that we need to consider; that is, how the state government and the parliament look at structures of governance and provide the right training and the right framework for communities living on ALT land.
It was a very informative committee. I would like to thank everybody who came to present as witnesses, especially those members who came from the Far West Coast—from your communities, Mr Deputy Speaker—and across all of South Australia. To touch on the words of the member for Giles and the member for Narungga, I thank Shona Reid for her work as the secretary of that committee for many years. I think she was a fantastic advocate for and passionate representative of her community. I would also like to thank Dr Ashley Greenwood, the current secretary, who has picked up right where Shona Reid left off and is leading the committee in a fantastic manner.
Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:27): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Can the minister update the house on how the state government is addressing the impacts of rabbits on agricultural land?
The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE (Chaffey—Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development) (15:28): Yes, I certainly can. I thank the member for Waite. I know that he has rabbit incursions in his electorate in the foothills of South Australia. What I can say is that recently in Mount Barker, I was very happy to announce a new Rabbit Control Coordinator in South Australia. His name is Josh Rosser.
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE: No, it's not Peter the Rabbit: it's Josh. The position has been funded in a partnership thanks to $260,000 from the federal Liberal government through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper. We know that the then minister Joyce had developed a white paper about the invasive species across the nation, none more so than the rabbit. We know that we are now working with landowners to wipe out areas of the destructive environmental pest and the amount of damage that it is doing, not only to agriculture and horticulture but also to our environmental assets.
I am sure the Minister for Environment is deeply concerned about the damage it's doing to his parks and his assets—some $30 million of damage across the state on an annual basis. What we are going to see is that the rabbit coordinator is now going to move around the state and coordinate with landowners, farmers, agriculturalists, horticulturalists and environmentalists to coordinate an approach to this destructive pest. We are seeing now that we are using some of the different methods, such as ripping, fumigation and, of course, the calicivirus that has been in train for a number of years.
The rabbit coordinator will work with landowners to make sure that we have a very much coordinated approach. He is travelling the state, and there have been significant reports on newly planted horticulture—grape vines, trees and nurseries. That puts the cycle of those trees and vines back four to five years in some cases. We know that some of the rootstocks, once they are chewed, never recover and can never be used out in open field. We know that the destruction on fence lines, the destruction they are incurring, particularly with agricultural crops, is having a significant impact on our economy.
Again, I would say that the landowners are being called upon to make sure that they let the coordinator know when there are significant sightings or impacts of rabbits so that we can actually implement a collaboration, an approach, that will better destroy this invasive pest. I am advised that the coordinator is about to release approximately 300 vials of the RHDV1 K5 calicivirus strain. That is the latest strain that is about to be released into our natural environment to combat the invasive species.
We know that, once upon a time, myxomatosis was a viral strain that was released, and it had a significant impact on rabbits, but today the calicivirus continues to evolve. With the release of those 300 vials, we hope to see the destruction of such an invasive pest. Josh Rosser is travelling the state, and I appeal to every landowner and every environmentalist: if you have rabbit pressure, contact him through PIRSA so that we can attack the rabbit instead of the rabbit attacking us.
As part of the 2018/2019 State Budget, funding for a feasibility study into the Craigburn Farm Western Bypass was allocated. This was a partnership project between the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and the City of Mitcham Council.
To view the Craigburn Farm Western Bypass Feasibility Study follow this link: https://www.mitchamcouncil.sa.gov.au/future-city/key-projects/craigburn-farm-western-bypass-feasibility-study.
This study forms the initial stages for investigating the feasibility for a Western Bypass.
If you would like to discuss the study, please contact my office by calling 8278 5844 or via email at email@example.com.
The $3.5 million Blackwood Roundabout upgrade was long overdue, and I am incredibly pleased with the completed work.
However, I have heard the concerns of our community after receiving many calls and visits to my office regarding the safety, signage and line markings on the Roundabout.
Last week, I met with the Blackwood Roundabout Project Manager to discuss the new signage, speeding concerns and to request bollards be installed in front of the Frank Collins Memorial Fountain.
I have been advised that pedestrian safety is being considered in an independent audit.
I have also been assured of the continuation of reviewing the safety of the Blackwood Roundabout.
I will always take concerns about road safety seriously and bring them to the attention of DPTI and to the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Hon. Stephan Knoll MP.
Former Labor government in hot water as independent pricing inquiry finds Labor inflated water bills for consumers
An Independent Inquiry into Water Pricing in South Australia has found the former Labor government deliberately inflated the value of SA Water’s opening regulated asset base (RAB) to maximise profits and protect government revenues, driving up water bills for hardworking families and businesses.
The damning final report of the Inquiry, led by a former regulator and respected corporate leader Lew Owens, found that the RAB had been deliberately inflated by at least $520 million (in 2012 dollars) and ‘despite the (Labor) government claiming it was acting in the interests of consumers, that was not apparent and it appeared that the main driver of the decision was the securing of revenue for the Government’.
“While the Government was able to deliver a small reduction in price from July 2013, that needs to be seen in the context of an increase in water prices of over 150% in the previous 5 years,” the report found.
Average household water bills in SA under Labor rose from $236 in 2001-02 to an estimated $782 in 2017-18 – an increase of 232 percent.
The report found Labor ignored advice and criticism by the Essential Services Commission of SA and other stakeholders and used their powers under the Water Industry Act (2012) to set a $7.77 billion opening RAB value in May 2013 – which was “not reasonable’’ and “locked in its revenues for many years to come, at the disadvantage of customers”.
The RAB (which reflects the value of SA Water’s economic assets) is important, because it is used to set a Pricing Order which sets parameters that must be adopted by ESCOSA in setting its fouryear price determination for water bills.
“… the process was not transparent, balanced or credible: the decision was taken without proper public consultation or explanation, and there was no demonstrable effort to balance the interests of consumers against those of the Government,” the final report said.
“The Inquiry concluded that the process and the RAB value were not ‘reasonable’ under the criteria it applied, and concluded the value was at the upper end of a range of possible values.”
The Inquiry – which fulfils an election commitment of the Marshall Liberal Government - has found that, a ‘reasonable’ value of the RAB at 30 June 2013 (in December 2012 dollars) is probably in the range $7.1 billion to $7.25 billion, which would represent a fair balance between the interests of consumers and the Government.
Treasurer Rob Lucas said this report was a stunning and damning indictment of the former Labor government.
“We now know what many have suspected for years, and that is Labor puts its flagrant self-interest above the needs of hardworking South Australian families and business,’’ said Mr Lucas.
“They ignored criticism and advice and arrogantly pushed ahead with inflating the opening value of SA Water’s regulated asset base, knowing full-well it would ultimately cause undue hip pocket pain to consumers.
“It’s disgraceful, shameful and typical Labor, who say one thing publicly and do another in private.
“Labor, under the leadership of Mr Malinauskas, now owe South Australians an apology and must explain to them why they deliberately jacked-up their water bills and cost of living for the past six years.”
Mr Lucas said the Government would now consider the report in full, and he expected it – together with a lower interest rate environment – will result in lower water prices to customers and lower returns to the budget from 2020-21 onwards.
The next SA Water Regulatory Determination will apply from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2024.