Economic and Finance Committee: Annual Report 2014-15

25 May 2016
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Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 11:08 ): I rise this morning to speak very briefly on the 89th report of the Economic and Finance Committee of the South Australian parliament. This report relates to the period from July 2014 to June 2015. I was a committee member, as alluded to by the Chair of the committee (member for Little Para), from October 2014 through to the end of that financial year and, obviously, continuing on to the present day. 

I think it is interesting to reflect on what our standing committees of parliament do achieve in any given year, and the annual report to parliament provides the opportunity to do so. I really enjoyed being part of this committee: I think it does some quite good work, and we have the opportunity to delve into a range of issues that affect the economic standing of South Australia, something which, as we know at the moment, is not quite what many of us believe it could be. This committee gives us the opportunity to look at that in detail, bring in experts and outside witnesses to talk about various issues and actually undertake a bit of an analysis as to how particular issues and areas impact our state's economic progress. So, it has been good to be on this committee since October 2014. 

There are many things in the South Australian parliament that happen because they have always happened. I am very much of the view that the South Australian parliament needs to undergo a process of significant modernisation, and that is across the board. I think there are many things we do because tradition dictates that, and that is a good thing and we should cleave to history and build up a series of traditions and processes over time, but equally we should also continually be looking for ways we can improve systems and improve the processes of parliament. 

Part of a symptom of a long-term government and the tiredness that comes with that is, after some time, a failure to shake up the systems and processes of parliament. I am not speaking specifically about the Economic and Finance Committee here, but I think across all our committees there is an opportunity to look at how we could do them better. The member for Little Para referenced the hosting of the Australian Public Accounts Committee Conference back in April 2015. 

One thing I learned from that conference was the fact that many of our counterparts overseas and interstate actually have their committees chaired by a non-government member, and that is no disrespect at all to the member for Little Para's chairmanship of this committee: I think he is a very fair and a very balanced Chair and does an excellent job in that role, but I do think there is an opportunity to look at how our committees are formulated in the future and whether they should have a government Chair, because that is not always the case interstate and certainly is not always the case overseas. 

I have just returned from a week over in the UK, where I had the opportunity to visit my native Scotland and the Scottish parliament and look at their committee system, a very powerful committee system because it is a unicameral system of parliament in Scotland. Those committees, by and large, were chaired by non-government members and often had a balance of non-government membership so that the government of the day, both interstate and in overseas jurisdictions, did not necessarily have the ability to vote anything that they wanted through on these committees. 

Again, this is no reflection on the Economic and Finance Committee, and I am not saying that that necessarily happens there, but I think there is an opportunity in the South Australian parliament to look at our standing committees, look at how they operate and look at ways we can do them better. It has been good to be part of the Economic and Finance Committee over the past 18 months or so, and it has been interesting to be part of several inquires, including the inquiry into the National Broadband Network, looking at the rollout of high speed internet in South Australia and looking particularly at the economic opportunities, which can be grasped as part of the rollout of the NBN, and also looking at ways the rollout could be done better to maximise those economic opportunities. 

We had the opportunity as part of that to go on a couple of regional trips. We went up to Port Augusta to look at the rollout of the NBN there, and we also went to the Elizabeth area and down south to the southern suburbs, where we visited Aldinga and Willunga as part of that inquiry. It was a very interesting inquiry to be part of, and I learnt quite a bit personally as part of that process. 

The Economic and Finance Committee has had the opportunity, as is always the case, to look at the Sport and Recreation Fund, the emergency services levy process, and then we had two other specific and unique inquiries which have been undertaken by the committee, both of which are continuing to progress at the moment—that is, the labour hire inquiry and the inquiry into introducing a rate cap on local government rates to look at the impacts that that would have on local government and the opportunities that would present for South Australian households. 

The rate capping inquiry was one that I had the pleasure of being able to introduce to the committee, and I was very pleased to have bipartisan support in progressing that inquiry which has been a very interesting inquiry. I know there are differences of opinion on this side of the house, but again we have had an opportunity to have a fairly fair set of hearings. We have heard from councils, individuals, academics and people who have additional external expertise in this space, and that is the benefit of the Economic and Finance Committee. It allows us to step away from the hustle and bustle and the theatre of parliament and delve into these issues in a bit more detail. 

The labour hire and the rate capping inquiries are ongoing, and I think the rate capping inquiry is due to come to an end fairly soon, so it will be interesting to see the outcomes of that. I am not sure the two sides are going to reach a unanimous report on that issue, in the same way as we did in the National Broadband Network inquiry; regardless, it has been a good and thorough process. 

In closing, I would like to thank my fellow committee members, the current committee members being the member for Little Para in the chair, the member for Colton, the member for Wright and the member for Light; and from the opposition, myself, the member for Schubert and the member for Hartley. I would also like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the hardworking staff of the committee during the period that we are considering (July 2014 to July 2015): Susie Barber, Lisa Baxter and research officer, Dr Gordon Elsey. It is also worth giving thanks to Kendall Crowe, who has come on board to support the committee and who finished up last week after several months of service to the committee. I would like to thank the staff and my fellow members for their involvement in the committee and commend the 89th report of the Economic and Finance Committee to the house. 

Extracted from Hansard