Thank you very much Deputy Speaker, I also rise to say a few words about the Supply Bill 2021 and naturally indicate my support for this appropriation from the Consolidated Account for the year ended 30 June 2022.
Like all of us, I believe South Australia is, indeed, in a prime situation for strong economic performance moving forward if we can use the upcoming state budget to invest in our local communities and facilitate the creation of jobs. We always have to remember that it is the private sector and the private businesses and, indeed, the small business sector in South Australia that is the facilitator of job creation but, most importantly, the role of state government and any government is to instil confidence in our economy, in its people and in its communities.
As Deloitte Access Economics wrote in their March Business Outlook:
"After a fast start out of the blocks, South Australia's economy is now coming back to the pack…a sign of success. Make no mistake, the state handled COVID superbly. With the virus in check, South Australia's economy sprung back to life, getting a lead on its counterparts. So, whereas most other states still have more catching up to do, South Australia has already done that."
It goes on to state:
"Yet that also means that the state has spent many of its tickets. Having begun its recovery earlier, SA has relatively less capacity for catch up growth through the remainder of 2021. That's a key reason why state income rose just a smidgen in the closing months of 2020, comfortably slower than every other state or territory. The willingness of business to take a punt on expanding capacity was the key culprit. Business investment went backwards despite a growth in the national figure."
One of the key factors that I think can drive that renewed business investment is, of course, looking at some of the COVID restrictions that still exist in terms of capacity for business growth. One good example is around the hospitality industry where we are still seeing venues capped at 75 per cent capacity which I know is having a big impact on many hoteliers, on our restaurants and, indeed, our hospitality sector.
As South Australians look to go out and to spend their dollars in South Australia as opposed to interstate or overseas, having changes to those COVID restrictions I think will go a long way to ensuring that South Australian businesses are once again reinvesting into their businesses to ensure that South Australians can spend, invest, create local jobs and support the whole supply economy.
There are one or two key economic indicators and metrics where South Australia is still struggling. Of course, I think some of these metrics, especially around unemployment and under-employment, have been key metrics that we have been failing in now for decades—in fact, since the State Bank. A lot of those measures have to do with many of the structural issues in our economy, the ageing of our population, our demographics and the way our suburbs are configured. We have pockets of greater underprivilege and need which also create cyclical and long-term economic disadvantage. This lack of investment in new public transport and our planning system that we have seen for decades actually fits into longer issues around unemployment.
That is why still, right now—even though we have had some good news out of COVID compared to the rest of the nation—we still have higher unemployment rates, we still have high youth unemployment rate, we still have a low participation rate, the total number of people in jobs in South Australia dropped in March from 847,400 to 846,800, and that's a figure of 10,000 lower than March 2020.
Of course, one of the big issues that is always raised by many in the community is around long-term intergenerational unemployment. People always ask the questions: why does South Australia need to bring in workers from the Pacific Islands to pick the very important citrus crop in the Riverland when we have intergenerational unemployment in some parts of our society? What can we do as a community, a government and a parliament to ensure that we can arrest that issue of intergenerational unemployment that is so crippling to those individuals involved and many of the associated socio-economic problems that come with that?
I think they are very important questions that need to be asked and tackled by government. If the government can do that, I think we could go a long way to breaking the back of the long-term unemployment rate in South Australia. That is why it is so important that, through this supply bill, the appropriation and the state budget coming up, we can set the framework as we transition through this COVID period and hopefully return to a South Australian economic environment that is a lot freer and not restricted by COVID regulations.
We can all nitpick the different economic statistics, and different sources paint their own pictures. But for me, the focus with this supply bill should be around investment in our local communities, as I said, using the tool of creating jobs and delivering confidence for South Australians. I, for one, know that it is not all bad news. The Governor of the Reserve Bank was in the paper today indicating that he does not expect household interest rates to lift for several years, sitting beyond historic low rates as they are at the moment.
But we know that if we could have all tiers of government looking to collaborate on infrastructure projects it would create a perfect storm for investment in large nation-building infrastructure projects. This is reiterated by programs such as the Local Government Infrastructure Partnership Program and bodies such as Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure South Australia. Infrastructure Australia recently released its latest priority list which had the largest number of new proposals for South Australia in the list's five-year history.
Of the priorities listed in the February 2021 report, there were several which have a direct impact on my community. They included the discussion around Adelaide's outer ring route capacity, level crossing congestion and looking to deal with that issue, and South Australia's road network maintenance program.
On the issue of freight, Deputy Speaker, I know it is an issue that is very important to your community. One thing I have spoken to many times in this chamber is the matter of freight in the Adelaide and Mitcham hills, not only rail freight but road freight, and how that road freight connects to the South Eastern Freeway and finding long-term solutions. It is not just an issue of freight capacity and how important it is to get economically viable freight moving for South Australia but the way that integration of freight also fits in for commuters.
Once again, we have seen debate in the paper and the press on the back of some awful tragedies on the South Eastern Freeway and the devastating impact that those fatalities have and the congestion that it leads to. As was discussed on radio recently—I think it was mentioned by the federal member for Mayo in her contribution to this debate on ABC radio just last week—what would happen if there were an unholy perfect storm of an absolute tragedy on the South Eastern Freeway in a bushfire season? We could see the huge issue of commuters being stuck and trapped in that road corridor with nowhere to go.
It is incumbent on the state government to start the planning process for alternative bypasses for road and rail freight through the South Eastern Freeway, through the rail freight network through my community and the growing residential communities of Mount Barker and beyond.
The Infrastructure Australia report from February outlined the initiative for Adelaide's outer ring route capacity in initiative 6: to improve the safety and productivity of Adelaide's outer ring route, which is heavily congested during peak and nonpeak times resulting in inefficient and costly freight movements, reduced performance of public transport systems, longer travel times and decreased safety for commuters and pedestrians. Currently, road freight from our regions and interstate comes hurtling down the South Eastern Freeway and disrupts our communities.
The RAA and the freight councils continue to advocate for alternative freight routes to encourage truck operators to avoid suburban roads and provide more cost-effective and safer solutions for industry.
Infrastructure Australia suggests roads along Adelaide's outer ring route, such as Cross Road, are inefficient, stating:
"This results in inefficient and less productive freight movements, reduced performance, longer travel times, and decreased safety for commuters and pedestrians.
Cross-city traffic patterns, increasing land use densities and the location of schools create conflicts at several intersections along the route…
There are also roads that are constrained by property and heritage considerations that restrict expansion of the road corridor. Such as the Waite Gatehouse. An alternative to Cross Road freight movement should be investigated, such as some of those proposed in last year's KPMG study into freight movements in South Australia."
One alternative that is constantly discussed as part of that and that was mentioned in the KPMG report is the redirection of rail freight. The current rail freight route creates road traffic congestion in my community, poses a danger of increased bushfire risk for communities, creates noise and air pollution, is a costly, slow and ineffective route for industry, and impairs providing better public transport services. I know that if we could find a solution to this, as the members for Heysen and Kavel know in their communities, it would be to run an efficient public transport bus and train service up to Mount Barker through the Adelaide Hills and Mitcham Hills.
Looking at the current economic climate, it is an ideal time for investment in these types of nation-building projects. A northern freight bypass would deliver end-to-end supply chain efficiencies for local industries, increase the capacity of the rail network and result in a shift from bulk road freight to rail freight. This is a very big issue through the Mallee at the moment, as we are seeing more and more road trains on our roads, increasing not only wear and tear of the roads but safety issues as well.
This would ensure that South Australia plays a key role in future freight movements across the Australian continent and would deliver significant environmental, economic and social benefits for South Australians. These are nation-building projects that we can deliver right now to not only provide local jobs for our communities and distribute an array of intangible benefits but, most importantly, to stimulate the economy, which is crying out for this type of long-term, sensible, public investment.
Some of the other issues mentioned in the Infrastructure Australia report are around level crossing congestion. In my community, this is a really big issue. Previously, 31 level crossings have been identified as posing the highest risk to users and creating the most disruptions to the road network. Three notorious boom gate crossings that are of concern to me and the residents of my community are: Glenalta Railway Station, level crossing on Main Road; Blackwood Railway Station, level crossing on Main Road, Blackwood; and Unley Park Railway Station, level crossing on Cross Road, Hawthorn.
Infrastructure Australia has identified all three of these at-grade level crossings in their 2021 priority list, and I believe the Unley Park crossing is the most serious safety crossing. The report goes on to state:
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 to urban areas. These problems are expected to worsen as road traffic and the frequency of rail services increase with population growth in South Australia.
My community is always appreciative of investment in the road network. Since I have been a member in this place, we have seen significant investment in the road network in the communities of Mitcham, Belair and Blackwood. Right now, we are looking at a $40 million federal and state investment in the Mitcham Hills road corridor as an example of this.
We will also be able to see some road improvements along Fullarton Road and I know there are projected improvements on Shepherds Hill Road. I welcome further resealing and widening projects underway around Belair Road and Old Belair Road and around Main Road at Coromandel Valley.
I think that, most importantly, if we are looking at these investments we need and linking those into the rail infrastructure issues, then we really need to look at some of the congestion busting intersections at Laffers Road and Main Road in Belair, Northcote Road and Shepherds Hill Road in Eden Hills, Fullarton Road, Kitchener Street and Claremont Avenue in Netherby, Waite Road onto Cross Road in Urrbrae and many others situated in my community.
Improving the conditions of our roads leads to reduced vehicle operation costs, improved travel times, improved safety risks and reduces potential reliance issues for traffic. As outlined by the government, the South Australian road network aims to reduce the increased backlog of road maintenance on our road network throughout the state, which was estimated to be more than $750 million in 2019. Going back to earlier years, 2017, 2016 and 2015, I know it was sitting at about a billion dollars.
While roads and intersections are an important aspect in connecting communities, of course it is not all about roads. In my community, we are blessed with an abundance of natural beauties and rich heritage. We have the fantastic, historic national park at Belair, botanic gardens and many other important environmental assets. Investing in our environment and in our open spaces is actually fundamental to the growth of our state not only from a protection point of view for the environment but also for what it means to be as a community. Recently, I wrote to the Treasurer ahead of the state budget, asking for significant investments to improve Brownhill Creek Recreation Park, Belair National Park, Sturt Gorge Recreation Park and Frank Smith Reserve, as well as greening initiatives throughout the whole electorate.
With changes to the planning and development code, a common concern in my community is a reduction in tree canopy throughout community, as we are seeing urban density creep through our suburbs. A fund or grant program dedicated to councils and community organisations for restoration and greening projects would assist in improving our local tree canopy and promote the cooling of our suburbs, which is so important as we deal with a changing climate.
Alternatively, another idea I have suggested to the Treasurer and Minister for Environment is a scheme similar to the Great State travel voucher scheme for purchasing of native vegetation. This program would encourage individuals to purchase, plant and green our suburbs through a co-investment scheme from the general public and government. Think of it as a bond scheme—a very long-term but important bond scheme. A combination of new funding methods and allocations from the state government's Park Renewal Investment program will encourage people to be active in our environment and ensure that we have a green and vibrant urban canopy to keep us cool.
Spending time in nature has both mental and physical benefits, which can lead to better health outcomes within individuals and may lend a hand to reduce the current demands on our healthcare system—something very topical at the moment. With those words, I commend the Supply Bill but really seek and implore the government to use the Supply Bill and the upcoming state budget to invest in infrastructure, to invest in our roads and to invest in our communities.