Supply Bill 2014

17 June 2014

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:01 ): Much has been said about the state of South Australia's economy in this series of addresses about the Supply Bill, and there are many statistics which can be run out to underline this. We have heard lots of them over the last couple of days, so I will not go through all of them; but, suffice to say that South Australia is in deep trouble. Debt is soaring towards $14 billion, a deficit of $1 billion, and by 2017 we will be covering $1 billion every year in interest charges. That is more than $3 million every day. It is oft quoted that this is greater than the budget for the South Australia Police.

Imagine what could be achieved every day with that money: school upgrades, environmental projects, improvements to disability services and support for our regions. But, no, this is dead money lost to interest payments. Yet, the government tells us that much of this expenditure in recent years has been to keep South Australians in work. Has this been effective? Arguably not, because as well as a financial crisis we have a jobs crisis in South Australia today. In Adelaide's south, the area which I am privileged to represent in this place, 21,300 jobs have been lost in the last 12 months alone, with the jobless rate skyrocketing from 4.2 per cent to 7.9 per cent.

We could argue that things would be worse if it were not for the government stimulus, but there is no way of quantifying this, and it is often used as an excuse for 'fiscal indiscipline'. Debt is not necessarily a bad thing. Surpluses should be dipped into in hard economic times to help create jobs and keep industries working, but a general rule of thumb is that the projects funded should leave a productive legacy; that is, funding that helps to stimulate the economy today and helps us to grow and recover tomorrow.

Sadly, over the duration of this government increased GST payments and dividends from our property boom did not go into building roads, ports and other productive infrastructure. Instead, this funding was channelled towards a bloating of the public service and a multitude of big government initiatives which saw government creep further into the lives of ordinary South Australians. We are now competing with Tasmania—yes, Tasmania—for the most economically dysfunctional state in the nation.

I often feel sorry for Tasmania, which was actually a destination for my honeymoon and of which I obviously have fond memories. There is Tasmania, always down there at the bottom of the pack, every other state comparing their performance and using it as a benchmark for dysfunction. It makes you wonder what Tasmania did to deserve all this unwanted attention. Well, I will tell you, Deputy Speaker, what Tasmania did. It ushered in 16 years of dysfunctional Labor government. The latter term being a wacky alliance with the Greens which further trashed that state's historically weak economic foundations and drove the economy off a cliff.

However, all is not lost for Tasmania, because now it has a solid centre-right government which, if history is anything to go by, will turn the state around, and soon South Australia will be the state about which we will scare our children with stories, telling little Johnny, 'If you don't save your pocket money you're going to end up like South Australia.' We are rapidly becoming the state which is held up as an example of ill-disciplined fiscal management, sadly symbolised by our AAA credit rating, the loss of which, of course, the Premier saw as a badge of honour, describing it as 'expendable' in January 2012.

Our current situation follows 12 years of Labor government. As mentioned in my maiden speech a few weeks ago, there has never been a Liberal government during my lifetime in Australia. The Labor government commenced in March 2002 and my family moved here in December 2002.

Ms Redmond: Bad timing.

Mr SPEIRS: Very bad timing. We are talking about a generation of Labor rule. We cannot hark back to a time before this government to blame someone else for our economic situation today. Yet what have the contributions in this place done to assist? I sit in my new seat, trying to stay fresh and positive and hoping that we can all work together to make a positive contribution to our state, but I do find myself feeling rather disillusioned by it all.

Cast your mind back to the Governor's speech on the occasion of the opening of parliament. I actually felt sorry for His Excellency. This was his final speech in the role; all those years of loyally serving South Australia, rolling up to the other place to read boring speeches prepared by the government. And you would have thought he might be given something special to regale us with one final time. But no, the Governor's speech was beyond boring; it was mind numbingly dull. No disrespect to the Governor—and this has nothing to do with his delivery style—but I would have had more fun eating that speech than listening to it. Where was the vision, the plan for economic recovery, the tax reform, the planning reform, the local government reform, the Public Service reform, the plan to grow our jobs and exports? It was just empty, boring words.

When 2014 ticked over I decided to be a bit healthier leading into the election campaign. I am pretty healthy anyway, but you can always do better, so I started to eat quinoa. Now you can jazz up quinoa by adding all sorts of stuff to it but sometimes, because I am a bit of a glutton for punishment, I have quinoa porridge for breakfast—and I do not add anything to it. Well, when I eat my unsweetened, unsalted, empty quinoa it reminds me of this government; just a grey gruel of nothing, dull, uninspiring nothingness.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: But good for you.

Mr SPEIRS: Well, it is not good for you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because it discourages you from eating healthily in the future. South Australia deserves better. We are a great state. In speech after speech in this place people talk about what a brilliant place this is to live, work and play. So where are the ideas to make things a bit better? I want to throw some ideas into the debate today for our lifestyle, our business environment and our governance.

First, lifestyle. When I talk about lifestyle opportunities I mean for both our residents who live here as well as people from interstate and overseas. South Australia should be a playground for our whole region and we should be drawing people here from every corner of the globe, both to visit and to live. The Liberals went to the last election committed to growing our population to kickstart our economy, and I remain absolutely committed to that policy—a policy which, I note, the Hon. Patrick Conlon, a former Labor minister, vocally endorsed at a public function last week.

We should not have trouble attracting people to live, work and play in our state, but we do. Our population growth is sluggish, under 1 per cent, and we are losing our best and brightest to interstate and overseas. Some come back but many do not, evidenced by our net loss of 35,000 people over the past 12 years.

Yesterday the member for Finniss talked about things not going very well in his electorate. Electorates like his and electorates like the member for Schubert's should be alive all year round. Kangaroo Island, which the member for Finniss said was really struggling, has the brand and attractions to pull people from every corner of the globe. We should be leveraging this to have an incredibly successful tourism market. We should be overflowing with tourists, but the industry appears neglected and run down.

Businesses cannot even afford to open on public holidays and this disproportionately impacts our lifestyle and tourism businesses. I was down at McLaren Vale on Good Friday—and it is great to see the member for Mawson here—and I could barely find a restaurant open on Good Friday, in one of our premier tourist towns on a public holiday. Why? Because it was not worth these businesses opening their doors. That is a tragedy.

The Hon. L.W.K. Bignell: People may have religious beliefs and they don't want to open.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It is out of order to interject and it is even worse to respond to it so I will ask you to go on with your speech, and ask for no interjections.

Mr SPEIRS: I also want to put forth some ideas about South Australia as a place to do business. South Australia today is a bad place to do business with high taxes and dysfunctional WorkCover schemes. However, I want to particularly talk today about exports. We need to do much better in this area. An economy cannot be founded on servicing ourselves. We must export our goods and services elsewhere and get other organisations and societies hooked on what South Australia has to offer.

Yesterday, the member for Hartley rightly identified China as a place we must be directing effort to grow that nation's understanding of what South Australia can give them—and he is spot on—but there is also Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand—modern and populous nations in our region with rapidly growing middle classes. I applaud the government for following the Liberal Party's lead in developing a South-East Asia trade strategy, and I hope this does not just become another list of dot points on a website but becomes an active strategy that opens doors for South Australian businesses to get what they have to offer into these growing markets.

The third point that I want to discuss today is good government leadership. I am delighted that the member for Port Adelaide is the minister on duty at the moment. Yesterday, our leader, the member for Dunstan, talked about the need for renewal in the state's Public Service. You will note that I will not use the term 'public sector', a sterile, terrible term which takes the concept of service out of the institution. What is wrong with serving, I ask?

As members would know from my maiden speech, I have a great interest in Public Service reform having spent a number of years working at the heart of the Public Service in the cabinet office, a centre of politically neutral goodness. Some people believe that the Public Service is only there to implement the vision and initiatives of the government of the day and, to an extent, that is true. Therefore, a dysfunctional Public Service is likely to be a logical conclusion from a dysfunctional government. However, I like to think that an institution as large as our Public Service should be able to drive some reform and vision from within.

I am encouraged by the Minister for the Public Sector's statement yesterday that the government is setting up the office for the public sector which brings together a disparate bunch of officers who often do not know what each other is doing. Hopefully, this will give them some strategic rigour under the leadership of Erma Ranieri, someone who I personally have huge respect for.

One area I hope that this office will be able to drive is leadership reform in the Public Service. I believe that many of the problems facing the Public Service come back to leadership or lack thereof. Leadership in the service is so deeply politicised, so lacking in merit selection and so compromised by 'jobs for the boys and girls' that it cannot lead. You cannot be a leader when you cannot give truth to power. You cannot be a leader when you cannot cast your own independent vision. You cannot be a leader when you cannot ruffle feathers. If you are reliant on your job for the wrong reasons and you risk losing that job if you rub the minister up the wrong way, you cannot be a leader.

When you are talking about an institution as large as the South Australian Public Service, you cannot expect culture change to be driven from the bottom up. The bureaucracy is just too big, too unwieldy and too impenetrable for grassroots action to alter the Titanic's course. Granted, individuals and groups may be able to have some impact along the way but this will be isolated and ad hoc. A seismic shift in culture will not occur without the commitment of the leaders.

Let me tell you about those leaders. During my time in the Premier's department I had the opportunity to address the state's Senior Management Council on a number of occasions, and this is why I am so glad that the member for Port Adelaide is here because she is probably one of the few people in the building who would also have had the great pleasure of being in this room with the Senior Management Council at times.

Ms Redmond: Do I detect a note of sarcasm?

Mr SPEIRS: No sarcasm, member for Heysen. The Senior Management Council, always abbreviated to SMC by public servants (presumably to give it authority in the same way that ASIO has moved into the mainstream lexicon) is a quasi-public sector board made up of chief executives of each state government agency. They come together once a fortnight to discuss stuff, to monitor things and to remind each other that they are holding South Australia together, because our state is in such good nick, and all of that.

Invariably these meetings are held on Level 15 of the State Administration Centre, the austere, unmodernised office block which houses the Premier's and Treasurer's departments in Victoria Square. Level 15 is the Premier's floor, so you would tiptoe around in silence, looking at the weird artworks while you waited to be called into the conference room and enter the presence of greatness. Except once you got inside, you realised that, sadly, it is sans greatness.

These are the 'leaders' of the Public Service—the men and woman (singular) who drive forward change and implement the government's vision for South Australia. I would go there from time to time to update them on the projects I was working on. SMC is an old boys club. Once ushered inside you sit at the head of the table and look around—greyness everywhere. The silence is broken by a clinking teaspoon aimlessly stirring cold tea.

The sound awakens a fossilised executive who coughs and pretends to have been listening to the proceedings. He must ask a question. The topic is community engagement. He must sound trendy. He should mention social media. He waves his hand to the Chair and gets the nod. 'The FaceTube—my department is using the FaceTube. In fact just last week I appeared on the FaceTube. It can be used to get young people involved.' He goes back to sleep. It has all the makings of a sitcom, except it would be cancelled after the pilot episode.

I remember a man who had a beard heckling me once. I cannot remember what about and I did not take it personally. It was not about me: it was about him spraying around some testosterone and reminding his brethren that he was a tough leader. One of the more stressful moments of my Public Service career was taking a photograph of the Premier and the Senior Management Council together. It was for use in the front pages of Better Together—a community engagement strategy that I was involved in writing—and it was meant to symbolise the Premier giving chief executives the mandate to go forth and engage with the great unwashed.

We gathered all the chief executives in the Premier's press conference room and asked them to take off their ties for the relaxed and comfortable look. God forbid! It was as if we had asked Mother Teresa to cavort nude in the streets of Calcutta. 'I haven't taken this tie off for 28 years,' I am sure I heard someone wheeze. I was made the chief tie holder and stood awkwardly out of camera shot carrying a stack of Target ties, while the great ones stood awkwardly with the Premier, their shirt collars standing to attention in shock at their rude defrocking. The ones who still knew how to smile smiled, others grimaced, one curled up at the back of the room and went back to sleep, dreaming of his next appearance on FaceTube.

I digress. The point of my ruminations about SMC is that the place is devoid of leadership or inspiration. No-one wants to do anything; they do not want to push the boundaries, be creative, be different. They like the status quo. They like being homogenous, male, white, mindlessly dull, and they like knowing best. The good people—and there are plenty coming and going in the lower ranks—find it all too hard as their briefings are sent back and forth to have commas replaced with semicolons and superlatives removed from their text.

I once had a briefing that came back seven times for changes that really were not critical to the overall outcome. Eventually I put it up on the shelf and no-one ever asked me for it again. That was four years ago. In January 2014, when I packed up my desk, I slipped that briefing into the shredder. Goodbye, small innovative local government idea from 2009. I hope that that little insight into the Senior Management Council illustrates the magnitude of the shake-up required in Public Service leadership and I hope that the new Office for the Public Sector has the appetite to take it on. I know that the member for Port Adelaide is the person to lead that reform wearing her bright jacket because that will just blow the Senior Management Council away.

Those are just some ideas around lifestyle, our business environment and our governance that I would like to seed into this place and I will hopefully get a chance to build on them in future speeches.

There is no point just criticising. We need to be part of the constructive policy debate and use the privilege of being here and the access and resources which that brings to contribute ideas, and work across this chamber to make them happen. We have challenges in South Australia—that is for sure—but I believe that we have a tremendous number of things going for us. What I believe we lack though is the political will and leadership to drive serious reform.

Extracted from Hansard