State budget 2021/22 speech

Mr DULUK (Waite) (17:55): I also rise today to support the passage of this budget through the house. I actually think overall it is a pretty good budget and there are some fantastic announcements in this package. Before I go on, though, I would like to thank the Treasurer, the Hon. Rob Lucas in the other place, for his service to the parliament and indeed to the people of South Australia over many years. I put on the record that he has been a member of parliament longer than I have been alive. For many years, he has been a good servant, and I think this budget is a fine document for his last public document.

After reviewing the budget papers, it is good to see, as other members have mentioned, improvements to our health system, a plan to fix our roads and moves to address freight issues. Very important to my community is the restoration of our natural environment, funding for schools and community groups and reducing the cost of living for families and business.

Indeed, we are a small business state. In all our budgets and everything we do, we should look after those who are here, day in day out, providing jobs for so many South Australians, and that is the small business community of South Australia. Everything that we can do in all our endeavours in this place and as a government to support small business, to allow them to be open, to be free, to flourish, is so important.

In no particular order of importance, some issues I would like to touch on include, first of all, health care. There has been so much public discourse over the past 12 months that has centred around our health care, from ramping at our hospitals to the building of the new Women's and Children's and ongoing issues with the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health. Some good news in the budget, of course, is ongoing investments at the Flinders Medical Centre and the expansion of their emergency department.

Really important, as well, is the ongoing work at the reactivation of the Repat site. We are, of course, seeing more and more investment into that precinct. Some recent movements there have been the relocation of the brain injury and spinal cord services and statewide services from Hampstead to the Repat and, of course, the completion of service relocation of the transition care inpatient services to wards 1 and 2 at the Repat, which are being known as the Bangka Strait wards. I think that is a fantastic monument to those Australian nurses who made the ultimate sacrifice at Bangka Island during the Second World War.

It is really important to see those investments and also those investments into mental health. It is such a big issue, and it has been well documented that COVID has had an impact on our nation's mental health. Of course, these are investments that do take time to work through the system, but it is good to see that those initial investments are being made. Full credit goes to John Mendoza, who is no longer with SA Health but who came out and highlighted some of the need for investment in mental health. That is a really important aspect of this budget and I am glad to see it is there.

Sitting suspended from 18:00 to 19:30.

I was talking about infrastructure, as you might be interested to note, in the budget. There is the ongoing funding for the Mitcham Hills road corridor upgrades, which is such an important investment in my community, and it is good to see that happening. One part of that upgrade that still needs some more work from the department is around the intersection of Shepherds Hill Road, Waite Street and Brighton Parade, and that was one of the three key tenets of the initial funding scope. There is a body of work that still needs to be undertaken by the department in that regard, and that is certainly an issue for the community that needs to be addressed and something I will be monitoring closely over the coming months.

Something that did excite me in the budget, and I know it probably excited your community as well, sir, is the $10 million of funding for exploration and planning into a freight bypass, which has long been discussed for our communities. This is an important investment to redirect road freight off the South Eastern Freeway and Cross Road, out of suburban communities and directly to major port and road routes. Road safety and the movement of freight through the Adelaide and Mitcham Hills is a matter of great importance to my community.

With rail freight and passenger trains regularly transiting through the suburbs of my electorate, I am supportive of all measures to improve freight safety and reduce disturbances for my community. I am looking forward to working with the government to see more railway stations being included in the government's $100 million Station Refresh program, that is, railway stations along the Belair line. Just this month, on a Wednesday afternoon when we were sitting here, multiple passenger train, cars and pedestrians were halted after a freight train stopped at the Belair line during peak hours, and this is an ongoing matter.
I also thank residents in my community, especially Geoff Bartlett from Blackwood Action Group and Jenny Hembrow from Belair who did some press just today for the Messenger in regard to the Station Refresh program and the need for investment on Belair line stations especially at Blackwood, Lynton, Mitcham and Belair.

When the freight train does stop, it takes at least 20 minutes for a freight train to pass any one intersection. That results in traffic being backed up, not only in Blackwood and Glenalta but down through Hawthorn, Lower Mitcham and Clapham as well, which are important parts of the greater Waite community. I continue to raise these matters with the government, but the need to divert freight trains out of our suburban communities and boom gates is a priority. The daily disturbance that both freight and passenger trains cause our commuters can easily be avoided through focused investments.

Two major projects that may be of some use and that we would like to see include an alternative rail freight corridor and further grade separations at road rail level crossings throughout metropolitan Adelaide. As I said, there is a commitment for a study on the northern bypass and, of course, more broadly we need a commitment of actual dollars in this. Given the low interest rate environments we see at the moment, this is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of that. The Mayor of Adelaide Hills Council has also made some recent comments about this.
The current freight route through my electorate, and not through the Hills, creates road traffic congestion, poses a dangerous fire risk for communities, creates noise and air pollution, is costly, slow and ineffective for industry, and impairs providing better public transport services. An alternative corridor would see a combination of existing roads and open space to move freight from Murray Bridge to Two Wells via Truro and would provide an enormous economic injection and job creation.

The government must ensure that Cross Road does not become a heavy road freight route, as supported by Infrastructure Australia in their February 2021 report. A northern bypass would deliver end-to-end supply chain efficiencies for local industries; increase the capacity for rail network and result in a shift from bulk road freight to rail freight; ensure that South Australia plays a key role in future freight movements across our continent; and deliver significant environmental, economic and social benefits for South Australians.

One key benefit that I am constantly made aware of by constituents when I speak with them in the community is that if we were to move rail freight we would free up the other track on the Belair line, which could be used to increase the frequency of passenger trains and encourage greater public transport uptake. More importantly, it would allow the ability for a passenger service to run to Mount Barker. Many people and forward thinkers in urban planning and transport have supported the ability for there to be a passenger service to Murray Bridge and to really look at planning and residential investment and development to occur on the other side of the Adelaide Hills. That is so important to so many in our greater community.

Level crossings are a very big issue across South Australia. It was good to see a press release yesterday from the minister talking about a 10-year investment plan in rail crossings across South Australia, which I think is so important. Not that I often put any praise on Dan Andrews and his government in Victoria, but this is something that the Andrews government in previous years has really made a huge effort in. They have seen the removal of rail crossings across a lot of metropolitan Melbourne, to great effect. That is something we can certainly do here in Adelaide, and beyond as well.

Dealing with level crossings is a hugely important piece of rail safety. It is an investment in the community, would stimulate the economy and is so important. I think 31 level crossings have been identified as posing high risk to users and creating the most disruptions on the road network. Within those 31, I think Glenalta in my community comes in at No. 2 or 3 and Blackwood in the other order, and of course there is the Unley Park level crossing as well at Hawthorn. That is the Glenalta level crossing on Main Road, Belair, the Blackwood level crossing on Main Road, Blackwood, and the Unley Park level crossing at Hawthorn.
These must be included in the 10-year level crossing removal program announced by the government. Infrastructure Australia has identified all three of these at-grade level crossings in their 2021 priority list, stating:

Some of these level crossings are closed to road traffic for up to 25% of peak traffic periods. Level crossings can lead to delays and safety problems as trains, cars, buses, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians cross paths… Longer boom-gate closures can also create barriers between different parts of the community and reduce amenity in urban areas. These problems are expected to worsen as road traffic and the frequency of rail services increase with population growth in South Australia. In my community, when there is a 1.8-kilometre freight train going through the Mitcham Hills, it will block the Coromandel station, with the boom gates down on Brighton Parade, it will block the boom gates at Main Road in Blackwood and the traffic there, and it will also block the boom gates at Glenalta. That is three boom gates down for about 20 minutes with a 1.8-kilometre freight train. In the 21st century, these are infrastructure problems that the government should be looking at to invest in, to remove these rail blocks. So important to so many in the community is investment in our environment and in the green economy. I think that is actually a perfect juxtaposition with investment in infrastructure and roads.

I am really pleased to see $22.4 million being allocated for open spaces grants, with bids to open in July. I know without a doubt that there will be community groups in my electorate that will take advantage of those grants. The Greener Neighbourhoods Grants Program has a $5.5 million commitment over four years. The program provides grant funding through local councils to enhance the urban tree canopy and accelerate the implementation of street tree management plans. I hope to see these programs and other funding mechanisms support projects such as the restoration of the Playford Lake in Belair National Park and improving feed-in creeks, extended funding for Brownhill Creek Recreation Park for stage 2 of the Kaurna Tree Shelter Project, and continued investment in the Sturt River Linear Park Trail to connect the hills to the coast.

Looking at education, which is so important for all of us, it is important to see that continued investment in our communities through the Local Government Infrastructure Partnership Program. Across the state, $106.9 million in grants has been approved for local councils towards the delivery of community infrastructure. Earlier this year we saw the Blackwood Community Hub and library being announced as part of that funding. This comes as the government announced on Sunday that they will spend a record $20.7 million each year in our state libraries, which is fantastic.
Of course, there is community funding of $27.3 million this financial year for sport and recreation grants, and I think the Blackwood Bowling Club have already received funding as part of that. There are ongoing investments in the Women's Memorial Playing Fields. I am really looking forward to that coming to fruition early next year, when we will hopefully see the playing fields upgraded and new user-management coordination being put in place there.

Another important announcement in the budget for families is the expansion of the Sports Vouchers scheme. Earlier this year, I wrote to the minister suggesting that the program be extended to allow year 8s and 9s to participate in that scheme, and it is fantastic to see that come to fruition today. This will certainly help the confusion over primary school-age students and the transition from year 7 to high school, to ensure that they are included in the scheme.

One thing I have spoken about in this house on many occasions now, and again today in question time, is the need to include scouts and Girl Guides in this Sports Vouchers scheme. Scouts and Girl Guides provide so many outdoor activities for so many young South Australians. It only makes sense that they can participate in a scheme like this. As I said earlier, investing in our education, in our children, is critical and the ongoing capital works are so important. It is also good to see in the budget support for non-government schools as well. We have many independent schools across South Australia—low-fee independent schools that actually provide a really important education to our kids, and there is no reason why they should be excluded from any state government funding.

There is $35.1 million over four years to increase the number of children from birth to age 5 accessing developmental health checks at more regular intervals in partnership with CaFHS and non-government partners. The old Blue Book, as the Treasurer alluded to, is great record keeping for families and early learning, and just ensures that we as a community are doing all that we can to look after toddlers and bubs so that when they get to school age they are in the best possible state of health and wellbeing that they can be.

Looking after cost-of-living pressures for so many South Australians is critical. It is good to see a reduction in utility bills and other fees, such as CTP, across the forward estimates in comparison to previous years. So it is really giving families a choice, which is so important, and looking after the cost of living we know is incredibly important, especially in these difficult COVID times that we have at the moment where there is so much uncertainty.

Just today, we saw the snap decision to shut borders with Queensland. I know there were families in transit from Sydney coming back. They left Sydney when the situation was normal and landed in Adelaide to find the rules had been changed immediately. For small business, for people who may have health issues and are travelling between states for appointments and visiting family members, to have some certainty in what we can do, especially around cost of living, is so important.

As I said at the start of my contribution, looking after small business and the business community is paramount. I am happy to see small business, the backbone of our South Australian economy, being supported in this budget through tax measures, around land tax and payroll tax, savings around utility bills, and small business grants, which I hope will help many small businesses.

Of course, we have seen investment in fruit fly eradication, which is really important given the current outbreak in South Australia. I know that will help growers in my community, such as Magarey Orchard in Coromandel Valley and the McGough family in Hawthorndene, who are right on the cusp of the fruit fly zone at the moment.

There is also $36.9 million from the Jobs and Economic Growth Fund. Some of that will certainly help with the Wine Export Recovery and Expansion Program. We have seen so many people in the wine industry affected by change-of-trade terms with China. For one of our biggest export industries and a huge employer of South Australians, not just in the regions but in all parts of the wine sector, from manufacturing to horticulture, it is important to support them.

Liquor licensing relief is for our hospitality sector. I have said before that we have a huge chance at the moment to support our hospitality sector by allowing them to operate at full capacity.
We have seen pubs and clubs being restricted in what they can do for capacity and patronage, and by lifting this to 100 per cent we will have no cost to the taxpayer but have a positive impact on our local economy, and I know that is something that that industry, that huge employer in South Australia, is screaming for. It is a huge trainer of South Australians in the hospitality industry as well. Some steps around that are some further measures that could be tackled by the government in this budget.

There has been a lot of talk about debt and the cost of money. We are looking over the forward estimates at non-financial public sector net debt to revenue, set to peak at 129.6 per cent for the full forward estimates. As a case in point, back in 2015 the Auditor-General reflected that net financial public sector debt to revenue sitting at a threshold of about 35 per cent was within the Auditor-General's comfortable limit at the top end of that threshold. It is a reminder that, whilst the cost of money is cheap by global standards at the moment, and the 10-year commonwealth bond rate is sitting at levels never seen before, when any of us borrow—and government is no different—we must borrow prudently, we must borrow for the right reasons, we must do that to invest in productive infrastructure. We should not be borrowing—I am not saying that we are—to the fund recurring expenditure, but to make those long-term investments that will see an economic return to those who are borrowing that money, which is our community.

In summary, there is a lot to unpack in this year's budget. I have not had time to touch on the community wins over the years that are still in the budget, such as continued funding for the Mitcham Service SA centre, or other projects, such as restoring the Waite Gatehouse, but the state budget importantly has focused on funding essential services and health and education. Just a big shout out while we have some time tonight—as we are sitting late I am missing out on the Mitcham Rotary Club handover dinner, and I thank Barry Hurst for his contribution over the last 12 months to the community in Mitcham and to Rotary in general.