Statutes Amendment (Boards and Committees – Abolition and Reform) Bill | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 17:28 :18 ): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Boards and Committees—Abolition and Reform) Bill on behalf of the people of Stuart. I will just touch on a few issues because our deputy leader (member for Bragg) has gone into good detail with great clarity in regard to the arguments the opposition will put for keeping some of the boards that the government would like to do away with—boards we think it would be important to keep. It has also been a pleasure to listen to the member for Schubert and to hear him speak so well on behalf of his community in the Barossa Valley.

Let me just start by saying that I think there is merit in what the government wants to do in terms of getting rid of some of these government boards and committees. From an opposition perspective, we are not philosophically opposed to that at all. We agree, in fact, that there is significant waste that could be reined in and there is significant efficiency that could be gained by much of what the government wants to do. I think that is a very positive step, but to say, as the Premier did, that he intended to get rid of all of them unless the relevant ministers could make a case to him for keeping them, I think, is fairly short-sighted.

Yes, by all means pursue the efficiencies, and I do not know whether it is one-quarter, one half or three-quarters that should disappear, but certainly the principle of improving government, saving money and having a far more efficient system and, quite likely, taking a lot of red tape out of the system is very good, but to say, ‘They all go unless I can be convinced otherwise,’ is probably going a bit too far. That is why there are only 105 or so which are going to go out of the 430-odd boards that actually exist because I think, between making that announcement and talking with staff, agencies, ministers, departments, the Premier realised that was probably a bit far-fetched, the reach that he hopes to have to begin with.

Another thing that needs to be considered in this argument, in addition to efficiency and savings, is the need to make sure that people do still get to have a voice and that the government does still get good positive general feedback, whether it be from a highly paid board full of experts as exists quite regularly in metropolitan Adelaide. I support that principle. They might be highly paid compared to the average wage but in many ways the advice that is given is almost priceless to the government, so there are times where that is money that is very well spent, not necessarily every single time but certainly there are times where that money is well spent.

It is also important to give people a voice in regional areas. It is not as easy for a regional person to communicate with the government or with a government department as it is for a city person. Of course, telephones work wherever you are and emails work wherever you are, but if you do have something good to contribute and you pick up the phone or you send an email and the person at the other end says, ‘That’s great. We would welcome your contribution and your feedback,’ as I hope the government would do quite regularly, ‘come in and have a chat to us,’ that is when it starts to get more difficult

To actually feed the valuable information that rural communities have into government processes and government decisions requires a little bit more organisation and often requires regional meetings, and there are a quite a few organisations that contribute very positively. If their group, their organisation, their board or their committee was disbanded there would not be that structure for them to come together to contribute the value that they do have to contribute. So, I would caution the government on assuming that one size fits all or one assessment process will suit every board or committee that already exists. There is certainly great value in regional people coming together to discuss issues and to put together a united representative voice, which then can be sent down to Adelaide, and I would object to removing that.

The deputy leader mentioned the boards and committees about which the opposition intends to put forward amendments to this bill, but I will just talk on two of them specifically that are very relevant. They are not the only ones but probably most relevant to my electorate. One area is health and the health advisory councils, and the member for Bragg talked about the history of that. I became a candidate for the electorate of Stuart in May 2008, nearly two years (22-odd months) out from the 2010 election. That was at the height of the rural community’s furore across South Australia at what the government wanted to do to country health. Former minister for health, minister Hill, was front and centre in that. He was leading the charge on behalf of the government. I can tell you that it is burned into my brain and will be forever, for as long as I work as a member of parliament, how critically important and how highly valued country hospitals are. It has been a real victory for country people in that the government did not get to do nearly as much as it announced it wanted to do, but we have lost a lot as well.

One of the things that was a real slap in the face to rural communities all across South Australia was the removal of hospital boards. Hospital boards were not perfect and, if I had my way I would have looked to improve them, but to remove them was completely wrong and to replace them with health advisory councils was a big mistake—and keep in mind it is not about the name. Who cares what you call it? That does not really matter. What went with that replacement was a significant amount of local capacity to contribute genuinely to real decisions that were happening in the health space in regional South Australia. I am not talking about specific medical decisions; of course, you leave those to the health professionals.

The people who represented their communities on the hospital boards were doing so as a conduit, essentially, between the medical professionals and the community, and that conduit has been taken away by the introduction of the HACs. It is very hard to get good, capable and responsible people to even want to be on HACs these days because they are a bit fed up with the process. They just think they are going along, paid a bit of lip service, but they have not really got the capacity to contribute genuinely. It is still a centralised process. They say what they think should be said, they suggest what they think should be suggested, and then they get a message back from Adelaide that Adelaide is going to do to country health what Adelaide thinks should happen regardless.

I am privileged, as are other country members of parliament, to be able to nominate people to be on HACs. I thank enormously the people who do that, but I can tell you it is not even possible to get people who want to do that in every part of my electorate, let alone every part of the state, because that decision-making authority has been taken away.

The Minister for Health has said that HACs will remain which is a lot better than nothing. I thank him for that decision, but I am concerned by something which was in the letter from the Minister for Health to HAC presiding members which was they would remain but they would no longer be government boards. I do not know what that means and I offer the Minister for Health the opportunity to answer that question and, if he is not able to do so for one reason or another, I am more than happy to take that up at the committee stage of the bill.

What does that mean, that they will remain but they will not be government boards anymore? Does that mean that they have to book their own meetings, buy their own tea and coffee? I mean, these are volunteer groups, they are not paid people. Does that mean that they are completely outside the health system now and essentially they can organise themselves any way they like? I do not know and I seek an answer on that.

I am also firm on the retention of the Health Performance Council, as are my colleagues, because that is a very important council, in my opinion, because it brings together an overview as the name suggests of health performance. It gets to point out some things, not in a political way, far from it, but it gets to point out some things that link to the community. Perhaps if you are working deep inside the health system—and we can all understand that when you work deep inside a system sometimes you do not see the wood for the trees. The recommendations of the Health Performance Council and their observations have been very useful in the last few years. They are not scathing attacks of the government or anything like that, but they are very useful observations, so I think it is very important the Health Performance Council stays.

Deputy Speaker, I now turn to the Pastoral Board and, as you would know, I have spoken perhaps a month or so ago, maybe six weeks ago, in parliament about my very strong views about the fact that the Pastoral Board should not be removed. It is one of the boards on the list that the government has said it will remove, and I will fight very hard with my colleagues to prevent that from happening.

The Pastoral Board is not perfect; in fact, my criticism of the Pastoral Board in this place and in broader discussions is that, over the past several years, it has not actually used the authority that it has. I have been very frustrated that, when it has come to fencing issues, it has not used the authority that it has to actively resolve disputes between neighbours. When it comes to issues regarding wool-shedding sheep not staying on properties, or the issue of wild dog eradication, the Pastoral Board, in my opinion, has not contributed enough to those debates. That is not to say that it has not done anything, but I believe it should have done more, and should continue to do more towards those problems for the benefit of all pastoralists.

It is a difficult situation. You get a small group of pastoralists who have an issue that needs to be resolved, and the Pastoral Board has to take the side of what is best for all pastoralists. It is not about figuring out who your best friend is on which side of the fence; it has nothing to do with that at all. While I have at times been disappointed in the Pastoral Board in that way, I do think it should stay because to remove it and replace it with nothing is completely unacceptable. There are very real, very genuine issues with regard to the oversight of pastoral leases across the arid parts of South Australia which must continue.

I have had very productive and cordial discussions with minister Hunter from the other place on this topic, and I thank him for that. I do not get the sense that he is trying to take over the Pastoral Board, or the pastoral world, or anything like that. Minister Hunter has met with me on a couple of occasions and we have had other chats in the corridors. He has discussed this issue with some pastoralist constituents of mine, and he has invited me to bring a very small representative group of pastoralists to come to talk with him on another occasion as well, and I put on record my thanks to him for that.

It is also very clearly on record that I oppose the takeover of the Pastoral Board’s current responsibilities by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, because the Pastoral Board is not just there to only look after the land. That is an absolutely critical, super high priority that I support entirely, but it is actually about trying to determine how best to support pastoral lessees in their primary production and small business capacity to use the pastoral land responsibly.

It is not about doing everything necessary to protect the pastoral land, and then if there is any capacity left over for people to make a living in the pastoral industry, then that is okay. In my view, it is actually the other way around: it is actually about how we can give pastoralists the greatest capacity and the most opportunity to run their small businesses on pastoral land and at the same time require of them that they manage that land responsibly.

If we did not have pastoralists in the pastoral areas of the arid lands of South Australia, they would very quickly become an environmental nightmare. They would become an environmental nightmare were it not for the good work that the vast, overwhelming majority of the pastoralists do to look after that land. I will continue to work with minister Hunter, my colleagues and pastoralists in Stuart and other parts of the state to try to come up with a good alternate solution—a way of improving what happens at the moment but, until there is one, I will vehemently oppose the removal of the Pastoral Board.

I would like to give some credit to Livestock SA for contributing to this debate in a responsible fashion. They held a meeting at Marree a month or so ago, but I was not able to get there as it was a parliamentary sitting day. They are holding another meeting in Port Augusta this Friday, which I will be able to get to for the last part of that meeting. They are trying to contribute solutions and suggestions to the best way to move forward from this. They are not trying to be stick in the mud type people and say ‘No, forget it, no changes. We refuse to improve.’ They are saying, ‘Look, what is the best way to go forward?’

It is important also to say that Livestock SA, and specifically their northern region which is headed up by Colin Greenfield who is a pastoralist for whom I have very high regard, do not represent all pastoralists. It is important to put that on the record too. There are many pastoralists who are not members of Livestock SA, but good on Livestock SA, as the grazing arm of Primary Producers SA, for trying to be really positive and contribute to this debate.

I look forward to the opportunity to consult with my constituents and other pastoralists around the state to get their knowledge and expertise, because remember, of course, I am not a pastoralist. I suspect I know a lot more about it than any other member of parliament, but I do not know nearly as much about it as the people who have spent their whole lives living and working on sheep and cattle stations, so I take their counsel extremely seriously.

I look forward to consulting with those pastoralists and coming back to minister Hunter, presumably when parliament resumes after Christmas, with a positive, genuine, productive suggestion with regard to what we should do for everybody’s benefit to improve the work that the Pastoral Board already does. Until some solution like that can be agreed to I will certainly oppose the removal of the Pastoral Board.