State Budget (Appropriation Bill 2017) | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (16:24:43): I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Stuart on the Appropriation Bill and about this budget. The government travelled all over Adelaide in advance of the budget telling people that this was going to be a jobs budget. In fact, the Treasurer went as far as saying that last time around he fixed up the CBD and that this time around he was going to fix up the suburbs. That betrays his complete ignorance regarding the fact that there is an enormous amount of South Australia that is not in the CBD or the suburbs of Adelaide. As important as those places are, regions matter also.

He said that this was going to be a jobs budget, but then in his jobs budget his jobs target is 1 per cent. A 1 per cent target for jobs growth over the next financial year, the lowest jobs growth target in the nation, is hardly aspirational. If the government happens to achieve its jobs growth target, we will still have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, which will still be completely unacceptable. The government talks about a jobs budget, but there will not be many South Australians who get jobs as a result of this budget.

The government talks about the fact that they will have a surplus this year. They brag about the fact that they had a surplus last year, but last year the surplus was because of an asset sale, something the government said that they would never do. They promised South Australians that they would not sell assets, yet last year they sold the Motor Accident Commission. This year, they plan to prop up the surplus they plan to achieve by having a bank tax.

Much has been said about this bank tax, and it might sound nice for the government to say, ‘Oh, those big bad banks, nobody likes them, they make too much money, they don’t pay enough tax, etc.’ I would bet that they pay all the tax that they are legally currently expected to. Whether it is the smallest stay-at-home business or one of the largest businesses in the nation, of course they should pay their tax, and I would be very surprised if the banks did not do that. The government says it wants to charge them a little bit more. Well, the government can do that if it wants to, but what the government neglects to tell people is that charging the banks a little bit more is going to flow through to charging everybody in South Australia a little bit more.

The government likes to say, ‘Oh, the big bad banks, they are no good, nobody likes them, they are profit takers and they don’t look after their customers and the people of South Australia in the way they should.’ I know that there is some sympathy for that argument, but if that argument is true, that they are only interested in their own profits, then they absolutely will pass the tax on to their customers. If what the Treasurer and the government says about the banks is true, then the government must accept that the banks will pass the tax on to their customers.

It does not matter whether a person has a home loan or a business loan or aspires to be a first home owner with a mortgage, or whether a person is a superannuant and through their superannuation funds indirectly they have shares in banks. It does not matter who you are or how you fit into the South Australian economy, you are at one level or another almost certain to be exposed to the activities of the banks, and we know that the banks will pass this new tax on to their customers. When the government does this, they hurt all South Australians, but the government is used to hurting all South Australians.

The government ignores regional people very regularly. The government picks and chooses, particularly when it comes to elections, who they will and who they will not help. I am not saying for a second that nobody gets help from the government, but I am saying that they are very selective about who they help. It is naive of the government to try to say that the banks will not pass this on, and it is naive of the government to think that the public will not understand this issue. Everyday average mums and dads with home loans understand this issue and how exposed they are to the bank tax.

It is no coincidence that we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation and the highest electricity prices in the nation. Those two things go together because the impact of electricity prices goes directly to employment and, after more than 15 years in government, there is no debate anywhere in the community about the fact that the government’s energy policies have failed. A few weeks ago, we said that the government had given South Australia the most expensive electricity in the nation. Now we say that the government has delivered South Australia the most expensive electricity in the world based on evidence provided by a Melbourne energy analyst, and that does go directly to the unemployment rate.

The government says it is a jobs budget, but they are not going to support South Australian jobs. They are going to have the lowest jobs target in the nation. They are going to continue to have the highest electricity prices in the nation, and the world now, so they are not going to help jobs at all. The government has recommitted its spending to its own energy plan in this budget, but the way that the spending is meted out over the forward estimates period shows that the bulk of the spending is coming later.

While the government has said that its battery backup will be in place by 1 December, and while the government has also said that its diesel generation will be in place by 1 December, it is very clear that the money it intends to spend on the gas generator it says that it is going to build is coming much later. While initially we were told it would be in place by this summer coming, we now know that is not case: it will be significantly later. That might be a good thing. It might actually be a good thing if the government called off entirely that component of its plan because the government announced that component of its plan on the premise that industry would not deliver any new generation.

The Treasurer told everybody that he thought it was important to spend $360 million of taxpayers’ money on a new gas-fired generator because industry would not do that. Since then, industry has confirmed that it will build a new gas-fired generator at Torrens Island, and there are at least two more proposals on the drawing board—one near Mannum and one near Mallala. The premise upon which the government has said that it would build this generator now no longer exists, and that may well be why the government has pushed the spending so far back over the forward estimates. Like so many other things that the government has said it will spend money on, it may well in the background have absolutely no intention of doing that whatsoever.

One of the most concerning aspects of this budget with regard to the government’s energy plan is that the government plans for the share of renewable energy in South Australia to reduce next year compared with the financial year that has just finished. So, the government has been punishing all South Australians with outrageously high electricity prices, with job losses, with all sorts of pain throughout the economy, with blackouts, and the government has said that it was all necessary so that it would lead to a world of lower emissions.

Whether that argument is sensible or not, let’s just put that aside for a second, but on page 178 of Volume 3, Budget Paper 4, it makes it very clear that the 2016-17 target for a percentage of renewable energy generated in South Australia is 55.1 per cent, that the 2016-17 estimated result is 48.9‑per cent and that the 2017-18 target is 43.5 per cent. So the government, by its own admission, is not going to achieve the emissions target that it said it would achieve, and that has been the core reason for the government going down this path that has penalised South Australians so much. Their energy plan was in chaos before, but it is in even worse condition now.

In regard to mining, it is very clear that, while the government has announced some new money for the PACE program, its financial commitment to the PACE program is reduced by $5 million compared with what it was. The government, again, says, ‘Here’s an announcement: brand-new funding,’ and there is lots of hoo-ha about that, but the reality is that the extension of the program the government has announced is $5 million less than the existing program that was in place.

We hear the Treasurer say very regularly that that is one of the foundations of the government’s support for the mining industry, but it is reducing. Also the FTEs in the mineral resources agency is reducing: 2016-17, 165 FTEs budgeted for; 2016-17 estimated result, 155; and the 2017-18 budget, 150. So the government’s support for the mining industry is certainly diminishing also.

Let me now turn to regions. On the very last page of the budget summary booklet is where the government has put the regions. When you look at the summary page and you look everywhere else in the budget, there is not one hospital upgrade in regional South Australia, there is not one school upgrade in regional South Australia and there is not one road upgrade in regional South Australia in this budget. On radio, the Treasurer’s answer to that was, ‘That’s okay because the new Royal Adelaide Hospital will have country patients in it.’

Of course that is true. Of course there will be people who potentially will need heart surgery or another medical service that we in regional South Australia would not expect to be delivered in regional South Australia, but for the government and the Treasurer to say, ‘Look, don’t worry. We are not going to upgrade any hospital, any school or any road in regional South Australia and it’s okay because country people can come to the Royal Adelaide Hospital,’ shows either ignorance or disdain for the people of regional South Australia.

This is not a jobs budget. By the government’s own admission, its target is the lowest in the nation. If the government even achieves what it says it will, we will continue to have the highest unemployment in the nation, and if the government were to stop trying to pick off easy targets with taxes, which will flow through to the rest of the economy, and if the government looked after people in regional South Australia, where some of the greatest wealth generation opportunities exist, then they would have a chance of actually creating more jobs across the state.