Budget Measures Bill 2017 | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (16:51): I rise on behalf of the people of the electorate of Stuart to make my contribution on the Budget Measures Bill. As I said earlier today, I accept and everybody on this side of the house accepts that budgeting is difficult. It really does go without saying. There is never enough money to do all the things you want to do, whether it is a small household trying to pay the bills, looking after the kids, maybe buying a house rather than renting, or perhaps upgrading your car—all those sorts of regular everyday challenges that most South Australians face.

Of course, there are many South Australians with many more hardcore, almost day-by-day and hour-by-our challenges. There are a lot of very disadvantaged people in our state. Fortunately, they are in the minority, but they deserve attention, too. Even for those people, perhaps even on a day-to-day basis, budgeting is a big issue. All the way through—councils, states, federal governments—budgeting is very difficult issue. As I said before today, it comes down to priorities, and we do have different priorities.

We also have different ways of going about the management of money. We do not believe that when things get tight and it is hard to balance your budget, you just go and tax people more. We do not believe that is the answer because of course that sends you on an ever-downward spiral. When you start taxing people more, you put the handbrake on the economy. As our leader says very often, and he is quite right, if you put the handbrake on the economy, then the income from the state government’s perspective starts to dry up. Your budget is then under even more pressure, so then the Labor government goes and taxes even more. It is just a forever-downward spiral and it is not necessary.

As our leader says very regularly, we need to take the handbrake off our economy so that productive people in a productive place with productive equipment and good minds, and a whole range of positive attributes, can actually start to grow the economy. Then, instead of being consistently the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, we will start to turn that around. We will start to slowly move our way up the ladder and get off the bottom of the table, which is what we need to do at the moment. After 16 years of government, what they are doing is not working. It is just a fact.

What the current government is doing is not working. It is not as if they have been here for two years, four years, six years or 10 years, and we should give them another chance, give them another try and give them time for their way to slowly filter through and become effective. It has been 16 years and it clearly is not working.

We need a change, and there is no greater example of that than the predicament we find ourselves in in South Australia with regard to energy. We have the highest priced electricity in the nation and, some say, the world. That is completely unacceptable. When Labor came into government 16 years ago, it was nothing like that. Electricity prices have gone up and up and up. We were competitive with other states back then. Now we are not anywhere near competitive with other states.

In fact, the ASX forecast of future electricity price, based on future contracts, shows that up until March 2022, South Australia is expected to have electricity prices 18 per cent above the national average. That forecast comes with the ASX being fully informed about the state government’s energy plan. The ASX can look at everything that the state government has published, everything they have said, all the information that they have, all that everybody else has said about the energy plan, and weigh up all those things.

It is largely based on the forward contract prices, all the people selling electricity and all the people buying electricity. It is important to point out that it is a market. The data that the ASX publishes is factual, with market data and willing buyers and sellers. Even the willing buyers, who are looking for contracts years into the future, are saying that they will lock in prices at 18 per cent above the forecast national average. Clearly they do not think things will improve, clearly the ASX does not think things will improve, and the buyers and the sellers do not think things will improve.

South Australia’s own Labor energy minister has said in this place that the very best forecast of future electricity prices is the forward contract market. By any definition, the plan that the government has announced is not expected to work. That flows through to employment and, unfortunately, to unemployment. Electricity is a cost that places pressure on households and businesses, and the reason businesses are so important is that they employ people.

On a per capita basis, South Australia has the highest outstanding debt on electricity across households. We have the highest number of customers in electricity hardship repayment plans and we have the highest number of disconnections of any state in the nation. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for that under the current government’s energy plan. That is a really shameful issue.

As members of parliament, we are extraordinarily fortunate in the work that we do and, by most standards, we are very fortunate with regard to our lifestyle and income. We are fortunate and we should never take that for granted, but we should always be focused on the most vulnerable people. We should always be focused on trying to help the people who struggle to pay their bills. Those statistics that I just mentioned about outstanding debt, hardship repayment plans and disconnections are shameful. It is shameful to find our state in that situation.

One of the ways to get out of that is to support businesses, and not because we want business owners to be ultra profitable, extremely wealthy, or anything like that. Good luck to them if they are; I do not begrudge them that, and that is terrific for them. The reason to support them is so that they can offer secure employment to more and more people. If a family wants to go to a bank to get a loan to buy a house so they can have a secure home ideally for the rest of their lives, they can only get that loan if they have secure employment. They can only have secure employment if the company they work for has a secure future, and that is not happening in our state at the moment. It is just a very unfortunate fact that that is not happening in our state at the moment.

I have spoken about energy, and I will turn to mining. Mining is and has always been incredibly important in our state. Agriculture has always been and will continue to be for a long time a bigger business, a greater contributor to our state’s economy and to our state’s employment. I keep coming back to employment. I want people to have jobs so that they can get on with their lives and have useful, enjoyable, productive lives.

Mining, while not as big as agriculture, is an incredibly important contributor, and it is a very important growth area, too. It is a very important growth area for us, and one of the most important things that we can do as a government, Liberal or Labor—do not worry; on this side we have plans for how we would go about it—is deal with that land access issue, when an exploration or a mining company wants to access what is currently agricultural land to go about their business.

After 16 years of Labor, that issue is a mess. That issue has never ever been more volatile in our state than it is today. There are people all over the state who are very concerned about this issue. There are times when it is, and it should be, a concerning issue, but there are other times when there are good solutions. It does not need to be that bad. There are very good and very positive solutions, but let me tell you that the current government is not addressing those issues as far as I can see.

In fact, the current Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy is actually inflaming those issues. He is out there in rural areas trying to make them worse than they need to be. I know that the government are undertaking a review of the Mining Act, but let me tell you that no proposals have come from the government yet about what they intend to do. They have received all their consultation. They have received the messages loud and clear from players, whether they be in the mining industry or the agricultural industry or anybody else who has an interest, but we all wait to hear publicly what the government intend to do in that area.

Let me be fair about this. The government have said that they want to take proposals forward that the government and the opposition would both think are positive. Let’s get on with it. The government have done the consultation. I am happy to meet with anybody to talk about these things. I am happy to be very clear in my discussions about what I think. I am happy to go back to my colleagues and help formulate our Liberal team’s position. I am very happy to articulate that on behalf of our team, but why is the government holding off on sharing with the public what they plan to do with regard to the Mining Act?

That holding off is doing nothing to allay the concerns of people in regional South Australia, whether they be agricultural producers or whether they be exploration companies or prospective mining companies. This is a very important issue. Of course, that work must be done with regard for the environment. Of course, that work must consider the appropriate use of our environment, which belongs to all of us and in fact makes an incredibly important contribution to South Australia, Australia and the rest of the world. We have extraordinary landscapes and seascapes in South Australia that must be protected, but we have to get on and start to use them sensibly, respectfully, responsibly on behalf of all South Australians.

When I think about this budget, and when I think about all things the government does, my mind turns to all the corners of the electorate of Stuart. I think about the people in the far south of the electorate, which starts only 75 kilometres north of Adelaide, and the people in Kapunda and Truro. Not many people would know that a chunk of the Barossa Valley is in the electorate of Stuart. I think about those people and what this will mean to them, what this budget means to them, many of whom commute every day to and from Adelaide for work.

They have a life in a beautiful part of the state after hours. They have a fair bit of time commuting: some drive all the way, some get a car to drive to Gawler or share a car to Gawler and then get the train from Gawler into the city. There is a whole range of different possibilities. What does it mean to them when they are thinking about metro issues and rural issues? What does it mean to the people of Oodnadatta and Innamincka? They are over 1,000 kilometres from Adelaide. What do they think about the budget? I can tell you they feel sorely forgotten. Whether they be pastoralists or Aboriginal people living in important Aboriginal communities a long way from Adelaide, they feel sorely forgotten.

What about the people in Port Augusta, the people at the heart of the electorate of Stuart? That is a very important regional centre. I can tell you they are not impressed with the budget. They look at what the government has done for Port Pirie particularly and for Whyalla and they are unimpressed with this government’s budget. It would be incorrect to say all of them, but they at large are hoping for a much better government to give them a much better budget next year.

There are some tiny parts of the electorate of Stuart. Think about the township of Bower between Eudunda and Morgan. That is a very small community but a very proactive community, and their heart and soul is in what goes on there. When they have a community gathering, it is not at all unusual for 150 people to turn up. The casual observer who is not familiar with the area would look around and wonder where all these people have come from, because it is a community with a very big heart.

Part of the Riverland is in the electorate of Stuart, and they are calling out for all sorts of services. They are still suffering, let me tell you. Morgan, Blanchetown, Cadell, Murbko, that part of the electorate of Stuart and that part of the river are still in many ways suffering from the Millennium Drought, suffering from the lack of support from the government during that time. Of course, we come to that very large Mid North, Southern Flinders section of the electorate of Stuart, and I spoke earlier today about the need for freight efficiencies.

There are 30 different communities in Stuart; not one of them is the same with regard to their make-up, where the people come from, what they do, where they work or where they live. But there is one thing that is common between all of them: they are dissatisfied with this state budget. In rural, regional and remote Australia they are feeling completely forgotten by this government. The reason at the heart of it is that they look at this budget and there was not one cent for the upgrade of one school in regional South Australia, there was not one cent for the upgrade of one hospital anywhere in regional South Australia and there was not one cent for the upgrade of one road anywhere in regional South Australia.

Regional South Australians are pretty resilient. They do not want everything laid out for them on a platter. They do not want the government to do everything for them, but they do want to be given the tools they need so that they can get on and live their lives and be productive. They need schools, they need hospitals and they need roads. That is not everything, but it easily summarises the highest priorities that the people in rural and remote South Australia want from their state government. It is not one cent just in my electorate; it is not one cent anywhere for regional South Australia, in any of those three areas. That is absolutely shameful.

We move on to environmental issues, police, corrections, the Attorney-General’s Department, Aboriginal affairs, regional development, manufacturing, primary industries, trade, child protection, infrastructure, River Murray, road safety, on and on and on—these are all issues that are very important to people in regional South Australia, but not one cent spent to upgrade a school, a hospital or a road in regional South Australia is a dreadful shame.

But let me tell you that there is hope on the horizon. Let me tell you that we have made it very clear over the last few years that if we are successful at the next state election—and, let me be clear, I am a very cautious person; this is not in the bag and we know that we have to work incredibly hard to be successful at the next state election—there will be a huge change. There will be a huge change for all South Australia, not just for regional South Australia but for the people of Adelaide as well.

We will be very much focused on cost of living. We will be focused on reducing taxes and reducing charges. We will be focused on reducing red tape so that people can get on and live their lives and be productive, whether it is in their home or whether in their business so they can employ more people. We will be focused on productive infrastructure. We will establish infrastructure SA so that we know that when the government—a Marshall Liberal government—spends taxpayers’ money on infrastructure in South Australia it has been fully assessed.

It will not be a callous vote-grabbing exercise like the O-Bahn, for example, which the government has embarked upon. When we talk to people from the north-eastern suburbs—of course, good luck to them, that is fantastic, we do not begrudge them their good fortune—most of them cannot understand exactly why the government is spending $170 million to give them a four-minute faster commute. I say again: good luck to them. I am pleased for them that they will get that.

With trade and exports, we will significantly boost our performance as a state in that area to bring wealth from other states and other nations into South Australia. We will be very focused on regional development. We will also be very focused on getting the very best that we possibly can out of our state’s Public Service. We value South Australian public servants incredibly highly. We know that the overwhelming majority of them want to make a very positive contribution to our state, and that they are there to work hard and diligently for the right outcomes, but at the moment they are hampered from doing that.

We will unlock their talents, their skills and their abilities so that they can help us, and so that they can help all South Australians get the outcomes they deserve, and we will do it through much better budgeting than we have seen for the last 16 years.