Budget Reply Speech

26 July 2016
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Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 17:25 ): It is always good to be able to talk on South Australia's budgetary environment, and the replies to the state budget give our side of the house the opportunity to do that. This evening, I want to just cover a few issues which I think are particularly pressing economic and policy issues for South Australia. I will then focus on a couple of items within my own electorate to which I would have liked to seen some attention paid in the state budget, but unfortunately that has not been the case.

The first issue I want to discuss from an economic point of view is South Australia's crisis when it comes to power prices. There is absolutely no doubt that South Australia is facing a very difficult situation economically because of a range of factors, many of which I would put down to the government's mismanagement, none more so than the difficulty that we as residents of South Australia and also as business based in South Australia are facing with regard to the surge in power prices that this state is enduring at the moment.

There has been a 280 per cent surge in spot prices for electricity in South Australia from July 2015 until July 2016. The spot price for electricity per megawatt hour is currently $279.50. In July 2015, it was $73.50 per megawatt hour, and a year before that, in July 2014, it was $51.76. This is a massive leap in the wholesale price of electricity, and it comes after the Treasurer said, 'I am quite confident that we will be fine,' before the Port Augusta power station was closed earlier this year.

It is quite clear that when it comes to electricity prices and the impact they have on residents and businesses in South Australia, we are not fine. This is a very difficult time for the state and we are certainly facing a crisis with regard to electricity prices. We saw just a couple of weeks ago the government having to run begging to the private operators of the Pelican Point power station to get them to fire up the power station, take it out of its mothballed status and get it up and running in order to plug the gap in our electricity production.

That is not the sort of situation that you ever want a stand-alone jurisdiction to have: having to rely on running to that operator to bring a facility out of its mothballed state, and also having to go begging our interstate friends and jurisdictions for additional power. It is a very difficult situation, and it is not one that this state should be facing. It is putting businesses into a state of crisis and it is putting many jobs at risk.

We have heard from businesses coming out publicly, and large business operators in this state are saying that the lack of stability in our wholesale electricity prices is putting jobs at risk. It may cause some of these businesses to slow or cease their operation. It is certainly something that needs urgent government intervention.

There is no doubt that we have heard statements from the Treasurer and from members of the government that this is something that the government is now paying attention to, but could it be too little too late? This certainly has not been a lightning bolt from the blue. There have been plenty of warning signs, and this is unfortunately a consequence, a symptom, of our rush towards renewables during the early years of the Rann regime.

It pains me to say that because I am someone who has a strong interest in and support for clean green industries, and particularly the renewable industry, but it is increasingly apparent that with the way South Australia went about embracing renewable energy, particularly wind power in the early 2000s, we did not have the appropriate policy framework in place, we did not have the appropriate agreements in place to manage our move into renewable energy, again, as I say, particularly with regard to wind power.

That has resulted in 2016 in our having among the highest reliance of wind power in the nation and, as a consequence of that, we have significantly traded away our ability to have energy security going into the future. It is made South Australia much more susceptible to peaks in electricity pricing, and these surges are hurting business, they are hurting business confidence and they will increasingly hurt South Australian households into the future. I think we are into a very hairy ride when it comes to energy security, moving into the future. It is going to be a real challenge for this state and a real challenge for political parties of both political persuasions from now going forward.

It is a huge challenge for this state, and I really hope that the state government rises to that challenge and that it is able to get the appropriate policy considerations in place to enable South Australia to say to significant businesses and householders that we will be able to control energy prices going forward. I fear that that may not be the case, that that security might not be reached and that it will be a very difficult time for South Australia with regard to energy prices in the future, and that will have a significant negative economic impact.

The other topic I want to discuss is Transforming Health. We know that the situation facing South Australia’s health sector at the moment is very problematic. Another thing that certainly this side of the house has been very keen to press in recent years is that Transforming Health is certainly turning out not to be what it was cracked up to be. I do not believe that Transforming Health is about futureproofing our health system. Instead, there is absolutely no doubt that Transforming Health is about getting our budget into a state where it can cope with the problem that is the affordability of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

As the member for Heysen said just a few moments before me, that hospital will cost this state $1.1 million every day for 30 years because this government chose to build a huge monolith—many people would say a tribute to former premier Mike Rann—further down North Terrace. There is no doubt that South Australia did need investment in new health infrastructure, but was a hospital of that size and scale required? It may very well have been required but is it affordable? That is the issue: can South Australia afford to be spending $1.1 million every day before there is a doctor, before there is a nurse, before there is medication, before there is high-tech medical equipment in the hospital? Is it something that is affordable?

Yes, it will be nice when it is open, and I am sure that it will be a fantastic part of South Australia's health infrastructure, but have we managed the health budget in such a way that we can afford it? I do not think we have, and I think that Transforming Health is unfortunately the very negative response to managing the introduction of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital into the health system. I am not sure that management is happening very well at all.

What are we seeing down in the southern area of Adelaide that I am fortunate enough to represent? We are seeing the closure of the Repat Hospital, and I know that is one of the most common issues to be raised with me in my community—the concerns of the residents I represent about the closure of the Repat Hospital. They feel that the closure of the Repat Hospital is removing a key platform within the health system in the southern suburbs. Without the services the Repat Hospital provides, many of the residents I represent feel that they will be squeezed into the increasingly monolithic Flinders Medical Centre.

The pressures on the Flinders Medical Centre are enormous. Imagine being an elderly person whose spouse is receiving treatment in that hospital and trying even to get a park, trying to find their way through that hospital, with the size and the scale of Flinders Medical Centre. I was told recently that that is the second largest medical centre in Australia. It is a huge precinct and it is increasingly unmanageable. Partly because of the size of the Flinders Medical Centre, we see significant pressure put on our paramedic services across Adelaide but particularly in the southern suburbs.

Our paramedic services are really, in my view, the glue that holds the health system together. I have two very close friends who are paramedics; in fact, it was a career pathway I considered earlier in my life. Because I have friends working in that sector, and because of my interest in the services that ambulance staff provide, it is an area I keep a close eye on. The pressures that have been placed on the ambulance service as a result of the Transforming Health process, which have flowed from the downgrading of three metro emergency departments and the centralisation of medical and surgical services, are dramatically increasing the demand for ambulance services, the pressures on paramedics, and the system is just not coping.

There has been a 6 per cent increase in emergency call-outs over the past year, but the current government has only increased the staffing arrangements for paramedics by 2 per cent, so that is just unsustainable. It is a real concern of mine, and I know it is a concern of many of the residents in my community who are using paramedic services or who feel that that is something they will need to rely on in the future. I watched with interest the very dignified process that paramedics went through with their silent protest, when they kept their lights flashing while ramped at hospitals in recent days, and I salute them for doing that.

They get on with their job. They are at the absolute coalface of healthcare provision in South Australia, and they are continuing with their job, fronting up day in day out, despite the significant pressures this government is putting on them. Their way of protesting is that rather than going on strike, rather than walking away from providing the key service they need to provide, they are still turning up for work but leaving their lights on when ramped as a way of letting people know that there is a real concern with the way the government is funding and supporting our ambulance service. I salute the paramedics who work day in and day out to keep South Australia's hospital system moving.

I also want to speak briefly about our child protection system and voice my disappointment that the budget did not provide significant additional resources to deal with the very pressing problems in the child protection system. This is yet another crisis, and I have used the word 'crisis' too much in this speech—a crisis with energy prices, a crisis with Transforming Health, and a crisis with child protection in South Australia.

There is absolutely no doubt that our child protection system is failing. We had the report released just a few weeks ago from Justice Nyland, and it was the darkest day for the current Labor administration. In its 14 years in power, that was the darkest day because on that day it became apparent that the excuses that we have had, the shuffling of bureaucracies, the restructures, the arguments for why the child protection system needed to be embedded within the education department, on that day all that fell apart.

There was blood on the hands of our Premier because it was completely apparent that the decision to embed the child protection system within the Department for Education and Child Development has led to young people, the most vulnerable people in our state, dying—and there is no doubt about that. The bureaucracy that our child protection system was embedded in did not allow appropriate resources to be in the right places at the right time to adequately protect our most vulnerable young people. That is heartbreaking.

I know it is heartbreaking for the minister to have been involved in the process over the years, and I salute the work of many public servants who have been trying their best within a very difficult system. I have on a regular basis Families SA workers coming to me and telling me confidentially stories about the horrors that are taking place within the child protection system. They feel entirely powerless, they feel that they are not listened to because of the bureaucracy and they are hoping that the removal of the child protection system from the Department for Education and Child Development is an opportunity to restart this incredibly broken system.

It is a tragedy that we need a child protection system, but we do, and it needs to be a safety net; that is exactly what government is for. It is to protect the most vulnerable and it is to make sure that there are appropriate checks and balances in place to support those who society has sadly failed. Those young people, those vulnerable people, had only the government to rely on, and sadly the government let them down. It was the Premier who continued on with this obsession that child protection needed to be embedded within the education department, and that is a tragedy. As I said, there is blood on the hands of the leader of this state. I wanted to speak briefly about a couple of local issues which were—

Mr PICTON: A point of order, Deputy Speaker: I think the member for Bright's comments, using terms such as 'blood on the hands', are really going beyond the pale of the standing orders, and I would ask you to ask him to withdraw those comments.

Mr Whetstone: When did you wake up?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Chaffey, you are on two warnings so I would not push it any further if I were you. It is not unparliamentary, so I will draw you back to the point of your speech which I am sure is not blood on the hands, it must be other things, surely?

Mr SPEIRS: I have moved on to local issues now, Deputy Speaker. I would like to welcome the arrival of Nicolle Flint as my federal colleague representing a significant proportion of my electorate. Her election on 2 July represents a new generation of federal leadership for my community, or a significant proportion of my community, and I look forward to working very closely with Nicolle Flint, the new member for Boothby. It was great to be able to be part of a number of election announcements during the 2016 federal election campaign. One of particular interest to my community was the federal government's pledge of $40 million as catalyst funding towards the grade separation of the Oaklands crossing at Oaklands Park. I have spoken many times in this place about the difficulties associated with the Oaklands crossing. My colleague, the member for Mitchell, has also raised it on far more occasions than I have.

Oaklands crossing is a traffic apocalypse in our community. It is a complete nightmare. We have a situation where the Seaford rail line, with its increased frequency of train movements across that crossing since the electrification, crosses Morphett Road and Diagonal Road very close to the Westfield Marion shopping precinct and the state leisure and aquatic centre. You have a confluence of a huge number of vehicles coming through that area every day. It is a huge traffic problem, and it has been identified by people in that community for around 40 years, I understand, as a huge problem.

For the first time ever, we have a significant envelope of funding on the table courtesy of the federal government. I would urge the state government to take that money, courtesy of Nicolle Flint and the campaign that Corey Wingard, the member for Mitchell, and myself have been heavily involved in, and use it as an opportunity to get that project moving to fix Oaklands crossing and see a grade separation in place.

Deputy Speaker, the time has not moved for some time. I am happy to keep talking, but I bring that to the attention of the house. I also want to encourage the government to look at providing some funding towards the Brighton sports precinct in my community. The Brighton sports precinct is a community facility that I have raised, year on year, since my election in 2014. Of course, that is the precinct to which they pledged $1 million in writing in the 2014 election, and I always take the opportunity to remind the government of that. I have that letter from the former member for Bright on my desk upstairs.

That letter quite clearly states that if a Labor government was re-elected in 2014 that they would provide $1 million towards the upgrade of the Brighton sports precinct. Specifically, that money was directed towards the Brighton Rugby Union Football Club. Of course, it was a great surprise to the sports minister and the Treasurer when it was revealed in this place, and it was a greater surprise for the community that I represent when the government chose not to provide resources towards that very important community facility.

It is an area that I am continuing to fight for funding on, and I would love to see the state government, in a future budget, pledge money towards the upgrade of the Brighton sporting precinct. That includes the Brighton football club, the rugby club, the lacrosse club and the cricket club—all really important sporting facilities, very heavily used and, like many sporting facilities built in the 1970s, in a sad state of disrepair and in need of an urgent upgrade. So, the Brighton sports precinct remains right at the top of my agenda in terms of community infrastructure and will be one area that I am continuing to lobby for because that sporting community desperately needs an upgrade.

Extracted from Hansard