Estimates Committees | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 12:14 :30 ): It is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Stuart and make a few comments about the estimates process we have just been through. I will touch separately on each of the six portfolio areas I represent on behalf of the opposition, but let me first just say that I share a lot of the concerns that my colleagues have already raised and I am sure future speakers from our side will raise in regard to the process.

There are enormous frustrations with a system that is set up, on the face of it, to provide information, but a lot of time, effort and work by the government have gone into actually trying to prevent the release of a lot of information as well, so that is a terribly frustrating situation. Let me also say that, until we can change it, it is the system we have, and every opposition member should take full advantage of it to get as much information as they possibly can. While we are frustrated in our efforts to get all the information we want, it is still an opportunity to get as much as possible, and that is certainly the vein in which I entered my questioning of the six different portfolios.

I was fortunate enough to support other members in police, corrections, road safety and emergency services—portfolios I held on our behalf until recently—and those new shadow members certainly made good progress there. I would also like to quickly put on the record my great thanks to my staff member Mr Chris Hanna, who is the other half of our team here in Parliament House in regard to the work we do in our office. He is an exceptionally capable, exceptionally hardworking young man who does a great job and, I think, stands head and shoulders above his peers, who are all very good, by the way. I think he should be very proud of the work he does when confronted by dozens of ministerial staff on the other side.

The first portfolio I would like to touch on is state development. State development is, of course, a very worthy cause. Why would anybody not be keen on state development? It is quite a natural thing to do, so there is no harm in the government having a portfolio for state development, a Minister for State Development and goals for state development.

The problem is that there are six ministers responsible for 13 programs, each of which have multiple sub-programs all tied up in state development. While minister Koutsantonis certainly expressed a different view when I was asking him about this in estimates, I remain exceptionally concerned for our state’s development when I know that those six ministers do not all hold the same views and do not all share the same values on a lot of issues. They are all actually competing, ideologically and financially and commercially for their own areas.

I am not confident that the government will be able to merge all these other operating departments and ministers’ offices into state development. There is minister Gago, minister Snelling, minister Koutsantonis, minister Hunter, minister Hamilton-Smith and minister Close, and I am sure it is going to be difficult to wrangle them all together.

Minister Hamilton-Smith is already on the record, before he was a minister, as saying that he thought it was a dog’s breakfast, essentially, and that it was chaos and confusion that could never work. I do not believe that he will have changed his mind. I believe that he will change the things that he says, but I do not believe he will have changed his mind, and I suspect that at least some of the other ministers involved will hold similar views although, of course, they would not have expressed them in the way that minister Hamilton-Smith did before he decided to join them. That is my main area of concern in regard to state development. It is no doubt a very worthy cause we certainly support in opposition, but we would certainly be putting in place a much more cohesive model than the government is pursuing at the moment.

I will move on to mineral resources and energy, held by minister Koutsantonis, who I know takes a very strong personal interest in this portfolio. He has held it in one form or another—departmental name changes have happened, as have perhaps some responsibilities—since February 2011, and I know that he has a genuine interest in this area. He is also very fortunate to be in the position where his local people’s lives, businesses and opinions are not relevant, because they will not be affected by mining, gas, oil and energy developments.

It is very easy for the minister to say, ‘I am making decisions in the state’s interest and I have had to weigh it all up and I am terribly sorry I am not actually putting a lot of credence in what locally affected people have to say.’ It is relatively easy for the minister to do that because he and his government hold very few electorates where people are affected. Certainly Giles is the exception to that, and I think that the member for Giles is likely to find himself in a difficult situation within his government team dealing on this issue.

Let me say also that the Liberal opposition is exceptionally supportive of our resources and energy sector. We want it to thrive, we want it to go ahead, we want it to have every opportunity to create the jobs and the economic benefit that our state deserves by unlocking those resources. There is absolutely no doubt and no equivocation about that whatsoever. Of course, we have the job that the government does not have largely which is to consider our constituents as well, and we do not shy away from that difficult situation.

We are not just going to wash our hands of the constituents and say, ‘It is all in the state’s best interests so I am not really going to listen to your concerns.’ We are not going to say, ‘These people on the whole usually vote for us and so we are going to throw the other side of the argument away and just accept whatever local people say.’ We will be very actively involved in those difficult discussions. We will represent the people of country and outback South Australia to the very best of our ability and we will also do everything we possibly can to contribute to the growth of our state’s economy by unlocking those resources. We will not shy away from that.

It is very easy for the minister to say why don’t we jump on board with him? Why don’t we just take his view and do what he has told everybody is the right thing to do? Well, it is an easy thing to do for him because he actually has no direct responsibility for those people. We take the job very seriously and we, as local members and as a shadow cabinet, and I as a shadow minister, will deal with those issues one by one responsibly and work our way through to the best outcomes and the best result.

There is no doubt that land access is going to be a very challenging issue in this area as time goes on as mineral, oil and gas companies and other energy companies like hot rocks potentially and other areas of interest are looking at resources closer into country areas. It is going to be a difficult issue and certainly landholders, land managers, have every right to put their views forward, and we will consider them exceptionally seriously. I am sure, just like the government, we will never sacrifice the environment. We will not sacrifice the environment for these developments. We need electricity, gas, oil, minerals for export—we need all of these things—so it is a very difficult challenge, but we will not walk away from it and just take the easy path the way the government has done because it does not have the same interest in local people that we do.

I will move to small business now. During estimates minister Koutsantonis was keen to put out his connection to small business—his parents ran a small business, and no doubt he contributed to it as a family member—and I think that is tremendous. Let me also put on the record that it was not very long ago that I was washing dishes, repairing tyres, sweeping forecourts, making beds and doing all those sorts of things in my own small businesses in outback South Australia, so this is an area that I feel very connected to.

Let me say clearly, the Liberal opposition supports small business exceptionally passionately, and it is not because we want small business owners to get rich. It is okay if they do and, in fact, we are very glad for them if they do, but that is not our reason. Our reason is that we want small businesses to be successful so that small businesses can employ more people, so that small businesses can offer secure employment, so that employees can go to banks to get mortgages, or a car loan, or pay for books for their kids schooling, or put meals on the table, all of those regular things that families need to be doing.

If you do not work for a successful company you do not have secure employment. If you do not have secure employment, your options in life in terms of how you are going to look after yourself and your family start to pull up pretty quickly. That is why we support small business. Small and medium-sized businesses are the largest employment area in our state and nation by miles. That is why we want to support them.

I am particularly concerned to find that quite a number of programs that existed previously have been taken out of this year’s budget for small business. We have been told that they have been put into the broader jobs, Our Jobs Plan, and the broader desire to increase jobs. However, if you do not have focused programs, if you do not have programs that target jobs in small and medium-sized businesses particularly, you will not achieve the same results in that area, so that is something that is particularly concerning for me.

I also would like to comment on an area that the minister would not comment on. I understand some of the reasons, and I disagree with some, but some of them I do agree with. It is an area which the government will eventually have to provide some answers to, and it is with regard to the Small Business Commissioner and allegations that he has been, at least temporarily, stood down from his work due to bullying. I cannot say that that is the case because I do not know that, but I am trying to find out that information. I certainly do have an invoice which shows fees charged from the Crown Solicitor’s Office to DMITRE for investigation into exactly that.

I invite the minister and the government to share the information, to tell everybody exactly what is going on so that, ideally, the Small Business Commissioner can get back to work. The very best result here is that we find out that they were false allegations, that there was nothing wrong. This is a man I have had several meetings with and had very good engagement with, and I have not found him to be a bully, but we do deserve to know what is going on.

The Small Business Commissioner did not attend estimates. The Deputy Small Business Commissioner did not attend estimates, and another man—and I apologise, Deputy Speaker, I cannot remember his name—from the Small Business Commissioner attended estimates with the minister. I even offered for the minister to share the information privately, in confidence, to give me some security that everything was okay, and then I would leave the issue alone. He was not able to accept that offer, so serious questions still need to be asked.

In terms of manufacturing and innovation—and I am running out of time here, so I will have to be brief with the next three portfolios—I was very concerned to find that, while there are 80,000 jobs tied up in manufacturing at the moment, our manufacturing sector is under great stress. There is no doubt that, with the loss of Olympic Dam and Holdens and the potential loss of future submarines, future frigates, our manufacturing sector is facing many challenges.

While there are programs to increase employment in the manufacturing sector there are no targets, no KPIs, no measurements in place to determine whether those programs have been successful. I said very clearly to the minister, ‘How will you know if you succeed if you are not actually aiming to achieve any specific targets?’ And the minister said, ‘Well, we know the areas, we know the ways, we want to be heading in the right direction, but we don’t have targets.’ I agree that we want to be heading in the right direction, but you will not achieve if you do not have targets, and that is something that provides me with a great deal of concern.

Unemployment in our state is now the highest in the nation. The last number put out was 7.4 per cent. Every other state in our nation has lower unemployment than we do. This is clearly a vital area. Small and medium-sized businesses, manufacturing and innovation are the areas in which we really have to focus to try to make sure people have secure jobs into the future. That has to be one of the most important priorities of any government: to provide an environment whereby businesses can offer secure employment, but if you do not test yourself with targets, if you do not as a government say, ‘We aim for this program to achieve these specific results,’ it is very unlikely that those programs will achieve the best results they possibly could.

Automotive transformation: many of my comments would be very similar to my comments on manufacturing and innovation. I pay credit to minister Close, because she, in our discussion about automotive transformation and the funding for that program, very clearly, very concisely, put her personal views on the record about the interrelationship between state and federal government funding, without needing to waste lots of time and make political points and be trying to bag all sorts of people. She did an excellent job. She did not beat around the bush; she said very clearly where she was happy and very clearly where she was unhappy, but she did not need to go into a whole argument, as other ministers have, trying to blame other people incessantly.

I, like every member of this house, would seek, welcome and be grateful for more federal government funding into every area of our state—there is no doubt about it. It does not matter what it would be: if we could have more federal government funding into areas of development that are needed in our state, I would welcome it. I certainly ask for it regularly, and I do not blame the government at all for asking. However, many other ministers have been trying to blame the collapse of the auto manufacturing industry in our state, and other things, on the federal government.

Even minister Hamilton-Smith, before he changed teams and became a minister, used to tell the government, ‘You can’t blame the federal government, not everything is the federal government’s fault.’ But, of course, now he is in the state government, he said several times in estimates that it is all the federal government’s fault. It is amazing how quickly he manages to change his tune. With cars, and Holden specifically, for complete clarity I remind the house of the comments in The Advertiser on 15 January by Stefan Jacoby from General Motors, Mr Mike Devereux’s manager, as I understand it. He said very clearly that it is impossible to make cars here and stated:

The decision to close the factories would have happened anyway. It is fundamentally impossible to produce vehicles in Australia.

Regardless of commonwealth funding—and, yes, I would always welcome more of it—we were going to face this challenge anyway. It is duplicitous of the government to try to blame the federal government for it.

The last portfolio I will touch on—defence industries—is an exceptionally important portfolio, very typically bipartisan. I have every intention of working as well as possible with the government in this area. It is a very exciting area, and one about which I am learning an enormous amount at the moment. It is absolutely vital that we put as much stock on this industry as possible, because it is one of the core foundations of our manufacturing industry in this state, and it also goes towards our national security with regard to our ability to do our own servicing and our own maintenance of our own defence fleet, and I will make more comments on this industry at another opportunity.