Appropriation Bill 2015

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 15:56 :52 ): I rise to speak to the Appropriation Bill 2015, and perhaps in my contribution I will also respond to a couple of the points made by the Hon. Tung Ngo. I thought I would have a slightly different approach to my Appropriation Bill speech and have a look at some of the historical facts that have got us to this disastrous point today.

When the Premier delivered his first budget as treasurer a couple of years ago, he spoke of the sense of purpose, self-respect and security that well-paid employment brings. By that measure, South Australia's psyche is at an all-time low. Given that speech around 27 months ago, he said that South Australia's outlook was strong, and as mining wound down in other states, we would increasingly be seen as 'the next mining and energy frontier', and he was 'committed to the manufacturing remaining as a cornerstone' of our economy.

I believe in getting a fair go, like most South Australians. Indeed, every government and premier deserves one, but Labor has had four of them: four chances to prove that they can both create and execute a plan, not only to capitalise on good economic times, but to mitigate the bad ones. We have seen the state strategic plan, the 100,000 jobs commitment, the 30-Year Plan, the seven strategic priorities, and then the 10 economic ones.

There is talk of a plan to overhaul democracy itself. There is not time for another plan, especially one which targets record jobs and employment and 12 years on delivers the opposite; especially one which banks on our being the mining frontier and maintaining manufacturing as an economic cornerstone, only to see both industries grind to a halt two years later. This government has had a fair go and a chance to deliver, and now it is time for change.

If we look back some 13 or so years, it is no lie that winning elections has a lot to do with public perception. I think it is fair to say that, in the early terms of the government, perhaps voters had opted for change, and because their trust was still relatively intact they were less inclined to thoroughly check a government against its promises. Premier Rann knew this, he capitalised on it and it became entrenched in Labor's philosophy: promise the world and deliver an atlas. In contrast, previous Liberal governments had tidied up budgetary disaster. Those budgets were not exciting, they were not sexy, and nor did we attempt to market them so, but they were necessary and prudential and, ultimately, they delivered a clean financial slate for this Labor government.

In his inaugural speech, premier Rann spruiked a charter of budget honesty but quickly lost control of the public sector employees and efficiency in government service even somewhat successfully covering his tracks by changing what a measure of a budget surplus actually was. He relied on the fact that most voters would not look at the budget in forensic detail, and he honed his skill in manipulating the public perception. Even the media gave his budget a relatively benign treatment, and that legacy has clearly carried on, with the recent ABS stats showing that for the past five years Labor's forecast of our economic performance, the state's final demand has been overestimated. That is the key measure of economic growth and it means that Labor is even less prepared than we thought it was.

Premier Rann rode on the back of deals brokered by previous Liberal governments to achieve an AAA credit rating. He also relied on the fact that serious symptoms of poor government and in particular economic mismanagement would only manifest themselves years later. I take this opportunity to remind people of a 2002 key Labor election commitment which was to hold a drug summit. Despite his supposed tough on drugs stance he waited three years from the summit to progress any of the recommendations.

Sadly, 14 years on we are on the cusp of one of the worst drug epidemics in the nation's history. In South Australia, drug lab detections have more than tripled in nine years, alongside increased seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants and cannabis in the last 12 months. SAPOL has said that between August 2014 and February 2015 police have received almost seven kilograms of methamphetamine, arrested more than 270 people and uncovered 30 drug labs. This is bad news for our health, bad news for our economy and a metaphor for every other broken promise that Labor has made since.

Incidentally, there are some very disturbing facts that this year 2 per cent of the nation's population will try ice, and the recent stats show that 2.2 per cent of our population will try ice. We know that there are some significant impacts on the community if people become addicted to this material. I think it is just an example of a commitment that was made by a premier for the entire time that I have been in this parliament and yet, 13½ years later, we are in a worse situation than we were then. After nearly every commitment that Labor has made over the last 13 years to fix the job and fix the economy we are actually in a worse situation today than we were when we started.

I recall that there was the statewide distribution of premier Rann's famous pledge card. I still have a copy of it pinned up on my pin-up board, as if the current state of our economy is not a reminder enough of where he and his successors have failed us. One of the cornerstones was no more privatisation, a commitment which he reiterated in the 2006 election, yet in the last few years we have seen the privatisation of forestry, the lotteries, the South Australian Visitor Information Centre and travel centre, and the process is underway with the Motor Accident Commission. There was even some talk of privatising some SA Water assets, and I know the government has had some economic modelling done on it. It is one thing to commit to not selling off public assets and another to maintain that commitment through tough economic times because you have budgeted accordingly.

Crucial to premier Rann's illusion that he was actually doing something was the State's Strategic Plan of 2004. There began arguably a very effective strategy of distraction. This was drawing the voters' attention to long-term aspirational targets and away from any immediate failures. What has ensued in the decade is increasingly fanciful intangible goals designed purely to quash the preceding ones which remain undelivered.

Premier Rann promised that his grand plan would deliver state unemployment below the national average within five years; 11 years on, sadly, our unemployment is at 8 per cent which is 1.6 per cent above the national average of any of the states or territories in Australia. That is, again, another example of a promise made when Labor formed government some 13 years ago of where we would be, and that is below the national average, but now we lead the nation in an indicator of our economic failures.

He also promised that he would shirk the projected population decline but failed to effectively plan for an economy that would support any population growth. Eleven years on we are experiencing an exodus of skilled and experienced and qualified young people because there are no jobs. Meanwhile, our ageing population means that our existing bank of valuable and skilled experience has quickly been depleted at the other end. The government is cutting funding to a crucial workforce of skilled and young people.

Premier Rann promised that he would reduce the net loss of people from the state to zero by 2008 and that we would see a positive inflow by 2009. However, if we look at the facts, from 2003 to 2014 we were one of the only two states consistently recording a net loss—a net loss—yet this is a premier in a Labor government. Again, I am just demonstrating where they have continued to fail, where they said they would reduce the net loss of people from the state to zero by 2008. Sadly, we are losing people at about 3,500 per year.

If you look at the time line of job losses in South Australia over the past decade, which I will come to later, it is no great surprise that we are losing people in droves. Of course, it is not all to do with unemployment, but it is an essential measure of people's overall satisfaction with the state and what it is offering them in an employment and a lifestyle sense. Premier Rann targeted trebling our export income by 2013: the goal was $25 billion. Two years on from that deadline—we are now 2015—our merchandise export market is worth less than 50 per cent of the $25 billion: it is $11.36 billion.

With more international trade opportunities than we have ever had in this state, this Labor government is poorly positioned even to capitalise upon them. It is interesting to note that the federal leader, the Hon. Bill Shorten, wants to oppose the free trade agreement with China. While Premier Weatherill and his colleague, Daniel Andrews in Victoria, might argue against the federal opposition leader, he is the boss, he calls the shots, and if that is the path they go down and happen to form government in the future then we can look to an even bleaker future for our poor state, South Australia.

In Labor's second term, the magnitude of their financial mismanagement was becoming increasingly apparent. By 2007, South Australia was forecast to have the worst economic growth of all mainland states, and this was presenting in housing affordability and job losses, amongst many other indicators. Treasurer Foley's increases in stamp duty were blocking prospective first-time home buyers and, with the announcement that Holden would downsize, it became clear that Labor had injected millions of taxpayers’ dollars without negotiating the retention of a single one of the 600 jobs.

As Mitsubishi followed suit, with a closure costing some 930 jobs, it became clear that Labor had completely failed to protect South Australia's economy and had absolutely no plan to transform this state from its existing reliance on the manufacturing sector. This was happening six years ago, but it is only now that they are saying, 'We have to have a plan to transition our economy.' The indicators were well there. The Labor Party in this state has union members entrenched in it, and people I knew in the union movement were telling us this was going to happen.

Five, six or seven years ago, they were saying that it was on the cards, yet they have done nothing to prepare this state, to protect jobs in this state. All they have done is attack the federal government because they did nothing themselves. Instead, when this all happened, the premier, Mr Rann at the time, focused on PR damage control, spending about $25 million a term on spin doctors, and by 2009 Labor was spending some $40 million per annum on spin doctors. In reality, much of Labor's second term was spent minimising the fallout from growing negative attention on the premier and treasurer's personal lives.

Labor was hungry for a third term, and they rightly knew this time that public perception would not be so easily swayed. They certainly could not base their campaign on results—there had been none for the preceding eight years. The key would be obstructing the public's attention. Something far more grandiose was needed, so Labor's approach was to unveil a plan with enough shock factor to momentarily disrupt the growing negative sentiment: it was the announcement that Labor would create 100,000 jobs by 2016 in industries like mining and manufacturing. The only catch was that they would need two more terms to do it.

At this time, Labor also released its 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide. Its centrepieces were improved community engagement and revitalising the CBD with an extra 11,000 CBD dwellers. The city is certainly vibrant, but perhaps not in the way premier Rann envisaged. I recall reading in David Penberthy's column, 'You can feel the buzz in the streets, a hustle and bustle as people make their way from their former employer to a job placement agency, maybe even to a real estate agent as they ponder a new life interstate.'

As for public engagement, the 30-year plan itself was the most heavily criticised Labor plan ever in terms of transparency and how it was developed. Five years on, voters are so disenchanted with Labor's public engagement farce that Premier Weatherill is appealing to them through a fluff and nonsense campaign, called the 'Innovative public participation opportunities and participatory budgeting', which I will revisit later in my contribution. In any case, the strategy to deliver on the promises made in 2010 were irrelevant to premier Rann. Labor won its third term on tactics, not on popularity and certainly not on trust. Rann's parting promise of 100,000 jobs is the most stark example we have of Labor riding a 13-year tide of empty promises.

I now turn to the last four years with Premier Weatherill; from early in his premiership, it was clear that Mr Weatherill had no economic solution either. He maintained that South Australia was on the cusp of a mining boom and that manufacturing had a bright future. He banked on unprecedented wealth and economic opportunity well into the next century on the back of the Roxby Downs expansion. He said that enterprises would spring up from the expansion that had not even yet been imagined. I was reminded of his optimism when reading David Penberthy's piece a few weeks back:

Adelaide is rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the old economy to lead the world in industries which are just around the corner and will make themselves apparent soon. Our unemployment rate is the envy of many nations. They include Spain, Uganda, and at least two of the Baltic states.

I do not begrudge this government its efforts to try to foster BHP's expansion, but I take issue with Weatherill's claim that its focus has always been the diversification of the economy. Transforming the Economy, he labelled it, as it became a common theme coinciding with Holden's 2013 announcement that it would cease manufacturing in Australia.

My question is: where is there any evidence that South Australia has been transformed from an old-world manufacturer to a digital age economy? Where is there any evidence that the government is injecting additional efforts into new sectors that we still rely on? I turn to one I am the shadow minister for, that is, agriculture.

All this time the Labor government has had their premium food and wine from a clean environment initiative, and now of course we see them constantly talking about the opportunities for food, although their federal colleague, the opposition leader, does not want to sign the China free trade agreement. If you look at the budget, over the last seven years—and this is the PIRSA budget, the total amount for agriculture, food and fisheries—it has gone from $113 million in a steady decline and reached a low point of $59.8 million, so only about 40 per cent of the budget. In 2009-10, it was $113.5 million; in 2014-15, $59.8 million; and there has been a slight increase this year to $67.9 million.

So, all the time that they have been talking about the premium food and wine sector, and the Leader of the Government opposite me was minister for a time, they were talking it up but every year they put fewer and fewer and fewer resources behind it. Again, it was almost a hollow promise—they would talk the talk but would not back it up with the financial resources to make it work.

In 2013, Premier Weatherill released the seven strategic priorities. He targeted growing advanced manufacturing as a way for the future. To the Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, and Automotive Transformation: the northern Adelaide unemployment rate is now over 9 per cent. He sits in this chamber and it is a figure that I think he should be ashamed of.

In the first two years of the Our Jobs Plan, the government spent only $14.9 million of the $22 million budgeted, and 33 per cent of northern Adelaide businesses were reported at risk of closure as a result of the automotive industry shutdown. It said that Labor would realise the benefits from the long-term mining boom shortly after they announced all the extra mining jobs. They have since clarified that those jobs were estimated based on former commodity prices.

You have to question the thinking of a premier who announces that there will be an additional 5,000 mining industry jobs in the 12 months leading up to the announcement that commodity prices crashed by 25 per cent and mining jobs reduced by 22 per cent. It is a continued strategy of distracting the public from the reality of poor government, poor planning and poor decisions. The reality is that 5,300 mining jobs have been lost since the Premier made that commitment last November.

Only now, with BHP announcing its job cuts, does the Premier admit that his target is unattainable. With successive plans and targets, each more fanciful than the last, the Premier has painted himself into a corner and there is little more he can do but divert attention away from a fast-approaching and epic train wreck.

The seven strategic priorities aimed at creating a vibrant city that energises and excites is a recurring theme in Labor's plans. The Advertiser reported in July that there was a net loss of people from South Australia and it continues at about 3,000 per annum, and that South Australia shed 13,000 jobs in the mining and manufacturing sector in the 12 months to May this year. It is reinforcing that the ageing population is creating a worrying brain-drain. What is bewildering, though, is that, despite our high unemployment, areas like agriculture and horticulture are significantly affected by long-term vacancies.

On that note, I turn to our Minister for Higher Education, who has been pivotal in reinforcing that trend. Her management of the skills and training portfolio has been nothing short of pathetic, with cuts to regional-based training just highlighting that this Labor government has no concern for upskilling and growing one of the sectors that has the capacity to save our economic ruin. What is the Minister for the Status of Women doing to get more women better opportunities in the workforce?

At the same time as announcing the 100,000 jobs targets, premier Rann said there would be an extra 50,000 training places for women over the past five years. How has that target gone? The unprecedented unemployment rate in South Australia has been driven by a rise in women's unemployment, which skipped up to 7.5 per cent from 6.9 per cent in April and now is the highest rate since May 2000.

The other strategic priority was to keep our quality of life affordable for everyone. Last financial year, 35,000 South Australians were referred to the state government's debt recovery unit for being late to pay the emergency services levy. Property rates and charges, including the ESL, have increased by 17 per cent in the last year and the average household water bill has grown by 241 per cent since 2002.

In August last year, the Premier thought it was time for a few more initiatives to fail the public on. He was running out of ideas, so he boosted the seven priorities to 10 priorities. Paraphrasing Tom Richardson, Weatherill was dismissive about the striking similarity to the seven priorities, saying the previous ones that I have mentioned above were about broader things not actually connected to the economy, like growing manufacturing and affordable living. Only a premier who thinks those issues are divorced from the economy is capable of such ineffective leadership.

If I have not yet succeeded in painting a picture of why it is time for actual change rather than to just talk, let me point out that, around the time of the announcement of the 10 economic priorities, the Economic Development Board was also releasing the Shaping the Future of South Australia program. The first of its 10 actions for the state government was to develop a clear, concise, meaningful vision for South Australia that can be understood, believed and followed.

Thirteen years after taking office, the Labor government is not even at the beginning of an action plan: they are just beginning to think about making one. We have had enough plans, and we have failed them all. It is clear that this government is desperate: they are out of ideas and the distractions are not working any more. Five years on from the 100,000 jobs commitment, they have delivered a so-called jobs budget which only commits to a 1 per cent jobs growth.

The federal government department for employment has provided a five-year forecast that South Australia will have the lowest jobs growth of all states and territories. It is interesting that New South Wales will have an extra 350,000 jobs between now and 2019—the federal Department of Employment has released these figures—the Victorian economy will have 300,000, Queensland will have 250,000 but South Australia will have less than 55,000.

I think we were all baffled a few weeks ago with the unveiling of Premier Weatherill's democracy manifesto. He said that the old days of announce and defend decision-making were over and that a new era of genuinely engaging people in debate and decide had arrived. What he meant was they have actually sold off everything that was nailed to the ground, there is not much left to announce, so all they have left is to flog government itself. The 24-page document speaking of foresight, fresh thinking, challenges, catalysing action, collaborative economic pilots and a festival of innovation and democracy, did not have the one word in it that every reader was looking for—jobs.

Recently, we have seen other examples that voters are not buying the distractions any more. Premier Weatherill was using the time zone debate as a diversion from important economic issues. Overwhelmingly, South Australians are not interested in that discussion, and the Premier's attempt at leadership is proving less effective, as his time zone proposal was scrapped only a few weeks ago.

If the Hon. Kyam Maher's new best friend, Hon. Martin Hamilton-Smith, the Minister for Trade and the Minister for Defence Industries, had ever listened when he had been a member of the Liberal Party party room, he would have known that this is not an issue that the broader community was ever interested in. But, sadly, listening was not one of his strong points when he was a member of the Liberal Party, and I suspect the Labor cabinet will find that out for themselves as time progresses. But I am distracted.

This government has had four chances in 13 years. It continues to blame external economic pressures under which every other state seems to be thriving or at least doing a fair bit better than us. In fact, if premier Rann and Premier Weatherill and their Labor team had fulfilled every promise made since 2002, South Australia would be protected and our economy would be safe.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For 13 years this Labor government has continued to make promises that it has continually failed to deliver, and we have had the same result every time. Just as a little summary, we have a drugs epidemic with ice. It is a tragedy affecting thousands and thousands of families. We have more young people these days leaving the state than ever before.

In fact, I have met young families with young children who are thinking of leaving the state because there is no future here. We have the highest debt this state has ever seen. We have the highest unemployment rate this state has ever seen. We have the lowest business confidence in the nation and, of course, ours is the highest cost jurisdiction in the nation, and our standard of living is declining with increasing pressures from water, electricity and emergency services.

The Hon. Tung Ngo said in his contribution that the Weatherill government had an economic plan. Well, I have just covered the last 13 years of plans and it is plain to see that the government has failed on every one of those. If this state does not change its game plan, if we do not give another government a chance, then this insanity will just continue.

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