Supply Bill II


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (19:40): I focused on two areas in my speech on supply yesterday, saying that really the dreadful financial management that we are all aware of has sent this government down two paths: one is the path of creating red tape and one is the path of being forced into choosing priorities that really damage the country areas. I have 10 minutes tonight, and I would like to just mention in a bit more detail my thoughts on that first vein.

Essentially, the poor management has led to the government having insufficient funds to do the jobs that it wants to do. It is a great shame if that is the case. When you get in that situation, you really have no choice but to decrease services if you do not want to increase taxes, and we all know that we are the most highly taxed state in the nation already.

Cutting services but trying to seem to be still responsible is the problem that the government has faced. What happens is that it goes down the road of 'user pays'. It still wants to regulate, it still wants to set the rules, it still wants to tell people and councils and everybody who will listen exactly what they need to do, how they need to operate and what their rules and regulations will be, but it pushes all the costs associated with that onto the users.

I mentioned yesterday two areas that really cut across each other and highlight a good example of the difficulties that we have. One is the River Murray levy that everybody in the state pays, even those people who do not actually get any water at all from the Murray, and one is the biosecurity levy that is proposed which, while everybody in the state will benefit from healthy biosecurity, only the primary producers in the state would pay, which is really at odds with itself.

What happens now is that this moves down the path of creating enormous red tape because when the body creating the rules and the regulations is not actually incurring the costs directly, there is less interest in the efficiency, and it is creating red tape everywhere. The government still wants to set the rules but make the users pay, so they do not really care how much the users pay.

We are already incredibly highly taxed. If you look at the things that continue to grow, that continue to bite into everyday South Australians, there is the River Murray levy, the biosecurity levy that is proposed, land tax continually going up, stamp duty, vehicle registration, boat registration, truck registration.

I think it would be remiss of me not to mention what is going on with truck registration for the heavy transport industry at the moment. What the government has done to transport operators who want to register a B-double in this state means that we have state-based operators who seriously consider registering their trucks interstate because it is so expensive for them, and some actually do, if they have the legal opportunity.

They can have interstate runs and, if they can possibly avoid paying the truck registration fees that they are hit with here in South Australia, they will, but then, of course, that means they get interstate-based drivers, they get interstate-based customers and their business shifts interstate. While they might still essentially be South Australian companies, when they choose to pay the lower interstate costs, a lot of the benefits that those companies create end up interstate as well, so we miss out.

It goes on: driver's licence, boat licence, firearms licence, hunting permits, payroll tax, emergency services levy, WorkCover. Look at WorkCover. The WorkCover levy has got so far out of control, both in regard to financial control and administrative control for this government, that it decided to take one of the all-time cop-outs and actually remove the bonus penalty scheme, which has previously been one of the foundations of the WorkCover scheme in the way in which it is set up and the way in which it operates so that businesses with a good track record, businesses which do their very best to support their workers, to provide a healthy, safe, productive and useful workplace for their people could have a lower WorkCover rate—and if people had accidents (whether they were because the employers were not doing the right thing, or perhaps through bad luck, but, one way or the other), if you had a workplace that had accidents you paid more and if you had a safe workplace you paid less.

I am astounded that members from the other side of the chamber who support workers and who are union members and union organisers (very often) allowed that to happen. The bonus penalty scheme was one of the best things to protect workers, to encourage people to have safe workplaces, and this government removed it because it was just all too hard to administer. I find that surprising and unacceptable.

Looking back at that list of things, we remember back to 2000 when the GST came in. The GST was brought in by the Howard Liberal government. The understanding was very clear across all the states that the GST would come in and that GST collected from states would be returned to states by the federal government; and, in fact, South Australia so far has actually benefited and got more than its share back from the federal government.

It looks like this government may be able to stuff that up as well, and it looks like we are going to lose the small additional benefit that we have recently had, but we will wait and see how good new Treasurer Snelling is on that issue. But in return for that extra GST money, the states were going to reduce or remove an enormous number of the state-based taxes. It was not going to happen overnight, it was not going to happen instantly: it was going to happen slowly and steadily over time as the states and as the agencies could actually manage it.

But then, of course, two years later, in 2002 we went from a Liberal to a Labor state government and, lo and behold, stuck in the mud, it became suddenly impossible. So, what should have happened—which was a strong reduction in state-based taxes—did not ever, ever eventuate. It could have but it didn't.

It would be remiss of me not to mention once again the Remote Areas Electricity Scheme. This is, as people have heard me say quite a few times in this place, just a shambles and a disgrace. The fact that the government is trying to spruik itself that it still gives a small subsidy, a $5.5 million subsidy, to outback areas, to 13 good communities throughout the outback, is shameful, when in reality what it is doing is that it is slugging homes, slugging families, slugging businesses and slugging visitors with increased electricity costs, in some situations significantly more than double their current situation.

That will hurt businesses more than anyone else, businesses in remote areas, which, if they cannot operate, if they cannot employ people, then the homes, the families and the people who live in these small remote towns will not have jobs. Not only will they get hit with their own electricity bill but they will get hit with lack of employment, reduced hours and, potentially, unemployment in remote areas.

I look at the impact that this has had on councils—this red tape, this cost shifting and this wanting to be the one who sets the rules but not the one who actually pays the price. Look at the impact that that has had on regional councils throughout the state. Look at what happens with rubbish dumps all over the state. Quite understandably, the standard of rubbish dumps needs to go up. We need to get better, all of us, as people in our homes and in our businesses, with regard to councils. We need to get better with the way in which we manage our rubbish.

But what the state government says is, 'Well, look, this is what you need to do now. This is what you need to do next year. This is what you need to do the year after that.' The rules are getting tighter and tighter; and, 'Yes, we know that that will be much more expensive for you, but, oh, that'll be your problem. You sort that out. We just give you the rules, and we know that the rules mean that you will incur far more costs, but you worry about how you're going to pay for it. Oh, and if you can't figure it out yourself, what we suggest you do is just pass that on to your local people in your councils. You'll sort it out somehow.'

Essentially, the further away you can get from the state government bearing the costs, the better as far as the state government is concerned, but it still wants to set the rules. What this is going to do, and I do not make any joke of this, is to completely undervalue state government. If over time this state government wants to have the responsibility for setting the rules but pass the costs on to other people, whether they say, 'Oh, that's a federal government issue', or, 'That's a local government issue,' or, 'That's an industry issue,' or, 'That's a small outback community areas issue. You guys all have to pay for it,' eventually we will not need a state government. Eventually we will not need a state government if we keep heading down that path. State governments are in place to provide services to people, homes, business, industries, communities and organisations that cannot do it directly for themselves. One of the main reasons to have a government is to provide these services.

If this government wants to set the rules but send all the costs and hard parts elsewhere, why do we have a state government? It will not be hard to set the rules and figure out what really needs to be done. If we continue down this path, the state government will do itself out of a job because of its own financial mismanagement.


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