Appropriation Bill 2017

04 July 2017

Mr SPEIRS(Bright) (17:51:25): It is good to be able to speak this afternoon on what is my fourth budget reply speech. It is hard to believe that four budgets have come and gone since my election to the state parliament. It is always good to be able to provide a reflection of my views on the state budget, how it might impact the state and also how it impacts on my local community, which I am privileged to represent. I will speak in more detail about my local community in my budget reply grievance speech at a later date.

Today, I want to focus for a short period of time on the budget and its response, or perhaps the lack of response, to some of the major challenges facing South Australia at the moment. We know that South Australia is a state which, as many people say, is transitioning from one type of industrial background to a different type of economy. There is no doubt that that is true, but that transition cannot be used as an excuse for allowing our state to slip into a situation where we are in significant, if not terminal, decline across a whole range of key areas.

We know that South Australia has the highest unemployment rates in the nation. We know that our youth unemployment level is catastrophic, and that can cause really significant long-term not just economic but also social problems and consequences for many people who face long-term unemployment or even generational unemployment, where unemployment is passed from one generation to the other. Great social problems come with that situation, so governments of all persuasions must put lowering unemployment and tackling the impact of unemployment at the very heart of their mandate.

We were told by the Treasurer that this budget was about creating jobs. We have heard that time and time again since I was elected. I believe this is the third budget in a row that was described as a jobs budget. Unfortunately, that has not taken us very far because we continue to have incredibly bad unemployment figures. They are not just figures; they are real people in our communities across this state—in our city, in our regional towns and in our country communities—who are facing life on a day-to-day basis without a steady income from a job.

The impact that has on their self-esteem, and the impact that has on our community's ability to function, cannot be underestimated. As leaders and elected representatives of this state, we must find solutions to our state's unemployment crisis. That is a word that is used fairly loosely by politicians and people in the media but, when you have the nation's highest unemployment and that is something that has been the situation for an extended period of time, I do not think it is a stretch to describe that as a crisis.

As well as significant unemployment problems, we heard last week that we have the highest electricity prices in the world. Again, that has a whole range of knock-on effects. Not only is it a residential problem hitting households and impacting household budgets, but it is also a real hindrance to the growth of existing businesses and the establishment of new businesses in our state.

In the news last week, we had the case study of the plastics recycling firm in Adelaide that saw its electricity bill rise from $80,000 a year to $180,000 per year. How does a business manage to absorb that level of increase? It is almost impossible to absorb that in the bottom line without making cutbacks to staff and perhaps cutbacks to innovations and investments that that business was going to take. Tragically, in the case of the business that I am talking about, they feel that they had no option but to close their doors.

As members of this place, we hear story after story of businesses that are facing similar situations as they come off one fixed electricity contract and move on to another, and their electricity prices jump up. The government needs to be able to intervene and come up with a solution that will stabilise our energy industry here in South Australia and give businesses certainty that power prices are going to be stabilised going forward and, if anything, lowered as well, because we will not get growth in many industries, particularly those that require a significant amount of power, without the energy situation in South Australia being fixed.

We know that we have soaring water prices. That falls under my shadow ministerial portfolio. We know there are real challenges there and that the government continues to place cost burdens on South Australian households and businesses. We had the emergency services levy at least double and in some instances triple and quadruple back in 2014, and we have continued to have rises to the emergency services levy in previous years—not in this financial year but in previous years. That is another significant cost burden hitting South Australian businesses and households.

Now we have the imposition of another tax by the government—another lazy tax. I believe that taxation is lazy and is not a good way of doing government—increasing taxation rather than looking for innovative and creative ways to grow and expand our economy—because we know that when you grow and develop an economy, that will lead to more taxpayers. That will lead to more people investing in our communities and more people who have jobs being able to have discretionary income so that they can buy an extra coffee at a local cafe, go away for a weekend at a South Australian tourism enterprise, put in a new kitchen or buy a new car.

When you have more people employed, and when you have a growing, expanding economy that attracts more people to invest, we know that that has a flow-on effect and can bolster all aspects of our economy. That is where we want to be in South Australia, and I am afraid that is absolutely not where we are at the moment. We know that the statistics do not back up any idea that South Australia's economy is recovering or growing. We know that is the case.

Unfortunately, the budget that was handed down a fortnight ago really does not provide any imperative to see a recovery in South Australia's economy. I think the budget was very far from a jobs budget: it was a tax-and-spend budget. It was based around an old, tired ideology that this government has perpetuated for many years. It was a budget that sought to strategically spend money in key seats that the Labor Party needs to hold at the next election, but it was not about creating an energetic, innovative, creative economy, and that is incredibly disappointing.

I turn briefly—and I thank the Deputy Speaker for indulging me with a bit of extra time—to some of the ideas that the Liberal Party has on the table to look at economic recovery in South Australia. We had the budget reply speech from the Leader of the Opposition this morning and he outlined a number of those matters, which I will reiterate because the Liberal Party is very serious about having a plan out in the public domain about economic development for this state. We have many more policies in the public domain than we had at a similar time in the political cycle in 2013, and that is something that we in opposition should be proud of. It is something that I can guarantee we will build on as we head towards the March 2018 election.

Briefly, I want to cover off on some of those projects and policies that we are promoting. One of them is Globe Link, the development of a specialised freight corridor around the back of the Adelaide Hills, and the creation of an export-specific airport at Monarto. We know that South Australia has a huge amount to offer to the world. We produce more food than we need, we produce more wine than we need, and we have fantastic products and services that we can sell to the world. The creation and development of Globe Link is certainly a long-term vision, but it is important to have that vision out there. It says that we want to make it easier to move freight around our state. Rather than bringing it into metropolitan Adelaide, it would bypass around the back of the Adelaide Hills.

We want to be able to get our produce to the world with an export-specific airport being constructed at Monarto, so I think that is an exciting policy. When I speak to people in the community, they tell me that they have a lot of time for that policy, and they are impressed that the opposition has put it out there even though it is a big-vision policy. It is one of those bigger ideas, but I think people want that from governments or potential governments.

Connected to that, in terms of economic development, we strongly believe that South Australia's economic recovery will be export led, so we have put out there as a public policy that we will have an export-specific minister with sole responsibility for selling South Australia to the world. As part of that ministry, we will be establishing four new trade offices in Japan, Malaysia, Dubai and the USA with, perhaps, a vision to expand those more in the future. We see it as so important to have an export-led economic recovery in South Australia. We are proud of so many things here, and we produce so many good things, and we want to be able to take those to the world.

We also have a real desire to reduce the everyday cost of living, so we are going to reduce the emergency services levy and take it back to what it was before the government's significant hikes in 2014. We want to put a cap on council rates, and we also want to undertake—and this is under my portfolio—a really detailed review of water pricing. These are all things that will hopefully put money back in the pockets of South Australians. With that, Deputy Speaker, thank you for your indulgence, and I conclude my remarks.