South Australian Productivity Commission Bill

Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:47):

It gives me a lot of pleasure to speak on the South Australian Productivity Commission Bill 2018. I note that it was introduced by the Premier very recently. Of course, this is one of the election commitments that we promised and took to the South Australian people. It is one election promise that we said we will introduce in our first 100 days, and that is exactly what we are doing.

As I have said in all my contributions in this new parliament, it gives me great pleasure to speak on bills that meet our election commitments. That is what this Liberal government is going to do, and that is what the people of South Australia expect us to do.

I know it may be a little bit nerdy, but I am really excited about this productivity bill. I am actually excited about productivity. South Australia needs to improve its productivity. In so many indicators across the state, we are lagging behind the rest of the nation: in jobs growth; housing approvals; international university students in South Australia; export, whether it be animals, our grain sector or our dairy sector; and resources. In almost every measure, South Australia does not even match its benchmark of where it should be.

Any responsible government—and this is a responsible government—should do all that it can to ensure that the productivity of this state is increased. The debate on productivity has been going on for many years. I must give some credit to the Paul Keating Labor government. It is incredible that we Liberals talk about the Hawke-Keating era as a good Labor government because we have had bad Labor governments since then. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and the Rann-Weatherill governments were pretty hopeless.

The Hawke-Keating government knew that increasing productivity was very important, as did the Howard government. This year, we mark 20 years since the Liberal government is going to fix and invest so much in education and training—in order to provide the workforce with appropriately skilled South Australians. That is certainly what we need. It is a sad reality that our public education standards—primary, secondary and vocational—have declined in recent years in comparison with other states. Public education is critically important to the future capability of our state and future growth and productivity growth as well.

In February 2018, the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies released a report entitled 'To ignore reform is to ignore opportunity: creating a more effective and sustainable public sector'. It is well worth a read for those who are interested. Key elements of the report highlighted the following critical factors in maximising the underlying levels of economic activity and productivity, and these are:

  • institutional quality (i.e. our public sector);
  • the quality of government itself;
  • long-sighted policy objectives and efficient implementation, monitoring and evaluation;

and

  • spending on basic or low-risk essential services and infrastructure.

If you look at those individually, it is important that we have a quality Public Service—that institutional quality. It is important that we have a frank and fearless public sector with public servants who are committed to serving the government of the day. We do not need public servants who are servicing factional interests or former union employees: we need a Public Service that is focused on serving the government of the day and, ultimately, the people of South Australia.

The quality of government itself—I know the Premier has long spoken about the need for accountable Westminster government, and that is what we are going to deliver—is a driver of productivity. Long-sighted policy objectives and the establishment of a productivity commission play into our desire for Infrastructure SA, for long-term planning that seeks investment and attracts job creation in South Australia, a long-term investment plan that will be driven through both this body and Infrastructure South Australia that allows capital to flow into South Australia. We cannot build the infrastructure that we need for tomorrow, and we cannot expand our ports, our roads, our rail infrastructure, if we do not have capital. Access to capital, and access to markets, is so important for businesses and government in South Australia.

We also need spending on basic or low-risk essential service infrastructure. Investment in public health is really important. That is why renewing the Repat and turning it into a genuine health precinct is so important. It is why investing in Modbury Hospital and The QEH is so important. It is why investing in medical science and new technologies that drive economic growth is so important. To drive productivity and economic growth, we must look at these factors to reform and improve. This also means making the tough decisions and arguing the case for reform.

For those who read the paper, I sense that this government is going to have to argue the case for reform, especially around the deregulation of shop trading hours. I saw Ms Bourke from the other place in my community yesterday, and good on her for visiting Blackwood. She was out there talking to some shop traders. When I am back on Friday morning, I will be seeing all my shop traders as well and having a chat to them because they actually know the importance of being able to open when they want and the importance of being able to sell product to my community on an as needs basis.

It is good to see that those opposite are up in my community. I am actually looking forward to the Leader of the Opposition doing his listening tour in my electorate. I am looking forward to asking a few questions about what a Labor government in about 20 or 30 years might want to do for my electorate, so that will be very important.

In June 2015, the ABS released some stats showing that, relative to other states, South Australia's private sector is more reliant on small business activity, especially sole traders (non-employing businesses) to generate private sector employment. Some key stats from that report show that in this area South Australia has the lowest share of employment accounted for by the private sector of all states at 87 per cent, compared with 90 per cent on average across other mainland states; the highest share of non-employing businesses of all states at 65 per cent in total, compared with 61 per cent across other mainland states; and the likely highest proportion of employment in businesses employing fewer than 20 people.

Looking at those numbers, when you extrapolate that, there are some trends in these figures that need to be reversed to improve our state's economy. Our ageing workforce and modest, at best, population growth are stifling our economic output. It is important that we outline a productivity framework to address these matters. As I have said many times in this house, the depopulation of our regional communities and centres, as the member for Narungga knows so well, is having a huge impact on productivity, on growth and on business efficiency in his community, as well as in parts of the member for Heysen's community.

In terms of the legislation before us and what it seeks to do, the commission will be established as a statutory authority governed by the chair of commissioners and reporting to the responsible minister, who at this time, of course, is the Premier. The commission will be a tool to create appropriate and transparent public policy, which is so important.

The commission will be politically impartial and provide advice and recommendations to the government on which policies most affect the SA economy and how we can improve the state's financial position.An impartial commission allows for policy to be developed that focuses on the benefit to community and the broader economy rather than benefiting one sector, industry or lobby group. I think that was the hallmark of the last 16 years of Labor government. Too often, economic policy was created or made maybe on the run to benefit one industry, one lobby group at the time. That is not what we are going to do.

It was great to read the Premier's remarks in the paper today about the need for there to be long-term sustainable platforms so that business and industry know what the rules are, understand how the game works and are not at the beck and call of a government minister seeking favour and seeking government grants which are not properly accounted for and which ultimately hurt the taxpayer. The budget for the commission will be settled through the budget being handed down in September. We will ensure that the new commission is well resourced.

In terms of our Public Service, the state government employs more than 12 per cent of the South Australian workforce, approximately 100,000 employees. It is a very important employer in the state of South Australia. Their productivity affects the entire South Australian economy. We want to see our Public Service, and hopefully the commission will as well, work to build better relations with the private sector to improve our economy together.

We want to see the commission charged with improving economic and productivity growth in South Australia in order to achieve the highest standard of living for all South Australians. That is what we want. Ultimately, we are here as a government to improve the living standards of all South Australians, and that is what we need to do. Productivity is about producing, delivering or achieving more for every unit of resource invested. It is about providing better quality goods and services for more South Australians, using the resources available at that time. The objects of the commission outlined in the bill include:

  • to increase employment—that is, population growth both in Adelaide and our regions;
  • to improve the quality and efficiency of services delivered or funded by government;
  • to improve the competitiveness of private sector investment;
  • to reduce the cost of regulation and removing red tape;
  • to facilitate structural changes to our economy; and
  • to promote regional development.

I think it is important that we do have a commission—and I know that the federal Productivity Commission looks at facilitating the structural changes to our economy—to think a little bit differently.

I look at the aged-care and health space and the opportunities for this state to use a current problem, which is an ageing society, as a benefit to drive economic growth and technology improvements to help the life of South Australians.

There are going to be inquiries that the government will seek and have the power to hold, and of course there will be inquiries that the commission itself can run. It is the intention of the government that matters of inquiry referred to the commission relate to new investigations or those which build upon existing bodies of knowledge, rather than replicate existing bodies of work. The government is looking for a new vehicle, a new mechanism, to drive new initiatives in terms of economic growth.

In terms of the federal Productivity Commission, it is important to get some comparisons. In its current form, the federal Productivity Commission was established by the Howard government in 1998, but various commissions have existed in one form or another since 1921. Current and past inquiries of the federal Productivity Commission have looked at a wide range of topics. They have looked at the competitiveness and efficiency of the Australian superannuation system, compensation and rehabilitation for veterans, national water reform, horizontal fiscal equalisation, automotive assistance, overcoming disadvantage and the like.

Like its federal counterpart, the state productivity commission will also look into services that the government provides and where those services can be made more efficient for taxpayers. I think it is important that tough questions will come out of a future South Australian-based productivity commission, and there will be ones that are controversial. There will be recommendations that government might not always like, but I think it is important that we have this process; if only we had had this process established 10, 15 or 16 years ago. I wonder where the South Australian economy would be today if we had actually had the forward thinking of a productivity commission, mounting a case and coming to government and the government sitting down with the commission and the people of South Australia to make hard decisions about the future of South Australia, and not just a government that racked up debt on the state credit card. I think that is really important.

The commission will be empowered to provide its own analyses and recommendations free from interference. The commission will be required to publish final reports on its website, ensuring that its analyses and recommendations are known to the public. Making their work publicly accessible is important for transparency purposes. I go back to the recent South Australian Centre for Economic Studies paper talking about the transparency of government—the more the government puts out upfront, and is open and accountable, the better the decision-making process will be for all South Australians.

Of course, the commission will be able to have provisions for dealing with conflicts of interest. They are considered necessary because of the highly specialised expertise required by the commissioners and are consistent with some provision in legislation governing ESCOSA. It is most important that this legislation passes through the parliament so that we can get down to the business of creating a new framework for South Australia. It is an important commitment.

It is one we took to the election. This legislation will allow an independent body to be established to provide recommendations to support productivity growth and create new economic jobs for South Australia, for South Australians and for South Australian families. If there is one thing that government should always do, it is look after the jobs of South Australians and their families. I certainly support this bill through the house.