Appropriation Bill 2017

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) (12:30): I rise to speak to the Appropriation Bill 2017. I will start my remarks with a quote from Raymond Spencer, the chair of the Economic Development Board. I put on the record that I know Raymond quite well; our sons are together at school and I have had a quite extensive interaction with Raymond over the years. I think it is important to look at a speech he made about three and half years ago. He said:

I believe that South Australia is at a pivotal time in its history. This is the decade when it will be decided whether it's a new dawn or approaching dusk, whether South Australia continues to be a glowing example of one of the world's greatest places to live or a 2030 Harvard case study entitled 'Lost Opportunity'.

it is three and half years later, and when we look back I think we have lost a fair opportunity in those three and half years. Other members of the Economic Development Board I have spoken to—not Raymond, other members—have been frustrated, and I know that Steven Marshall and our team have also been quite frustrated. You have a high-quality bunch of people providing good advice to the government but our economic standing in the community is sliding, with higher unemployment, lower productivity, lower exports. Look at all the indicators. Exports are dropping, even our tourism numbers—although our tourism minister would claim we are growing, we are actually shrinking in the national pie.

I said to one of the members of the Economic Development Board, 'Either you guys are giving them really bad advice or they’re not listening.' His response was that he could not quite work it out but it was either that they had an incompetent bureaucracy or an incompetent government that does not listen. These people are frustrated. They have been providing high level advice on how they think we can get this state back on track, yet on every indicator the state's economy is declining.

The government's response to most of its crises is to tax more. We have the state bank tax that members have been addressing—I heard the previous speaker speak a little about the state bank tax—and the removal of the emergency services remissions, which is really just another tax on property owners, and there is the car park tax that was defeated after the last election. Again, just another tax is the solution. There are the NRM levies and a whole range of other levies, which are effectively taxes on people, especially our primary producers. We have seen this over the last nearly 16 years now.

We had a River Murray levy earlier in the piece. The solution to any problem is that they will just tax it. Well, as you know, Mr President, you cannot tax yourself back into recovery. If you look at Raymond Spencer's words regarding a new dawn or an approaching dusk, this is an approaching dusk that has pretty much been led by a very incompetent government whose only solution is to tax more.

It beggars belief some of things they have been spending money on. We have seen a massive increase in government advertising, we have seen a massive increase in waste. In passing you meet various people who work in different government agencies, and they comment on the waste they see in their particular areas. It is a common thread, the waste of money and resources. It will be an interesting journey for whoever wins the next election, because we will either go down a path of 20 years of this incompetent mismanagement or we will have the potential, as Raymond Spencer says, for a new dawn and an opportunity to reset the state's economy.

You only have to look at the biggest issue that is facing South Australians, namely, electricity. The Hon. Gail Gago, the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis and I were on the ERD committee some 15 years ago when we were warned by Lew Owens that if you had too much renewable energy you could risk your network security and drive the cost of electricity up. It is interesting to note some facts the Treasurer put on the table. This is in response to a Dorothy Dixer question in the House of Assembly on Tuesday 14 February. I think the question was from Mr Eddie Hughes:

My question is to the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy. Minister, can you explain to the house the operation of the state-based renewable energy target and its commonwealth equivalent?

So, that was the nature of the question. In his answer he talked about renewable energy and said:

…this government set South Australia's renewable energy target at 50 per cent of power generation by 2025, subject to the commonwealth government retaining its renewable energy policy.

He then went on to say, and I think this is one of the most important facts I have yet seen in this whole debate:

More than $7 billion—

that is $7,000 million—

has been invested in renewable energy projects in South Australia, with about 41 per cent of that in regional South Australia.

That is from renewable energy: wind and solar. In the last 10 to 12 years, we have had $7 billion invested in renewable energy in South Australia, yet we have one of the world's most unreliable networks, as we saw with the events that unfolded last year, and one of the most expensive. This is all at a time when we have had this $7 billion—not necessarily of government money but from superannuation funds and private companies—and mums and dads putting solar panels on their roof because they thought it was a good thing to do. We now have this $7 billion investment. You would assume that with a $7 billion investment you would get a good outcome, not one where prices are going up and the security is unreliable.

Of course, we have seen the government allow the Northern power station to be bulldozed. I always have a simple view of these things: if you own South Australia or if you were a responsible government trying to make sure that their flock of 1.7 million people was going to be well catered for and not put at risk, and if you were going to take a big part of the energy supply out of the equation, you would make sure that you had a guarantee that it was there somewhere else. However, with this government we have seen that it is not. After $7 billion of private investment in the renewable energy sector over the last decade, or a bit more, we still have an insecure and unreliable system.

There are now two different options on the table. We have the Liberals' option for energy security. The three things that are most important to the Liberal Party are to make electricity affordable, reliable and secure. That is why one of the major planks of our policy will be a $200 million interconnection fund to provide for an interconnector to New South Wales.

It is interesting that, when you look around the world, every country that has a large amount of renewable energy and a large penetration of renewable energy is interconnected. There are some examples in Europe where parts of some countries have 120 or 130 per cent of their actual daily use available from renewable sources. However, when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine, they are 100 per cent interconnected to another country that has either a nuclear power station or a coal power station.

So, the only way that really works is to have high-level interconnectivity, yet we have seen this government saying, 'No, we want to go it alone and build our own power station.' If you actually look at some of the facts, it is expected to operate in a one in 10-year event by 2019-20. It is a huge investment in something that we may never use. It is a bit like the desal plant: we have to have it because we need to be secure. We needed a 50-gigalitre plant; we did not need a 100-gigalitre plant for water, and exactly the same could be said.

We needed to keep the Northern power station open until we had a better, more sensible, secure supply of energy. We have $500 million being spent by both political parties in response to the fact that we no longer have a Northern power station. For $24 million, you could have kept it open for another three years, and you may well have been able to keep it open for a year or two longer if you had needed to, but you could have had a proper exit strategy for that power station to not leave the 1.7 million people, the flock of South Australians, exposed.

From a farming analogy, if you had a flock of 1.7 million sheep and you wanted to make sure that you could provide water for them and you had an old coal-fired pump that was pumping water and you had a whole bunch of new windmills, you would not bulldoze the coal-fired pump just on the view that you thought the windmills would be pumping water. You would not ever take the risk that you would leave your flock, the people of South Australia, exposed and at risk, which this government has done.

Of course, you see the exposure as mums and dads are paying much more for their electricity. Earlier this week we saw in the newspaper 102,000 people getting food because they cannot afford to pay their food bills and their electricity; elderly people not being able to pay their electricity bills; businesses having to shut on a regular basis because they simply cannot afford their energy bills. Only a couple of days ago I was talking to one brand-new small business that said their electricity bills had gone up. They budgeted on $30,000 a year, which I thought was excessive. It is now well over $50,000 a year and they are not sure if they can keep the doors open.

For many of the small businesses around the state that the government has given money to, whether it is regional development fund money or some of the other grant programs, I wonder whether there is a clawback provision if they shut their doors. Maybe that is a question for question time and not the budget speech, because I doubt whether the minister will have it. But I am aware that for some of these grants you actually have to commit to milestones and you get funding as you employ people. I am told that if you do not complete what you say or you shut your doors, you have to pay the money back. If you have had to shut the doors because electricity is too high so you cannot afford to pay that bill, is the government clawing back money from those small businesses? That is maybe a question for another day.

Mr Acting President, I am aware of the time. I have quite a significant amount more to go. I am just wondering whether I can seek leave to conclude.

The Hon. K.J. Maher: How much more?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: I did want to speak a lot more, but I am aware of the time. I will just make a couple more quick comments then, Mr Acting President, on a couple of the areas that I am responsible for.

I am the shadow minister for tourism, agriculture and regional development. On tourism, it is interesting that minister Bignell and the government claim they are getting growing numbers. We are growing but at a much lower rate than the rest of the nation. Last December, China Southern Airlines announced three flights a week to Adelaide. In the same week, they announced three flights a day to Melbourne and Sydney. So, while we have some growth, we do not have enough growth.

We have just seen the opening of the Convention Centre. It is a wonderful, wonderful facility. That is why the opposition was very happy to commit $40 million over the next four years to the events and convention bid fund to attract more people to Adelaide and to the Convention Centre. Again, I come back to the simple view that, if you owned it and it was your own private investment—the Convention Centre is probably worth $1 billion now with the last $300-odd million that has been spent—you would actually be out there marketing and selling it.

We had the International Astronautical Congress here with a bit over 4,000 delegates. You almost want one of them a month. You want that place humming every month of the year. It was a great event. My understanding is an approach was made nine years ago and then the last four years have been the build-up to have that here.

These things do not happen overnight. You have to have money and effort in the marketplace to go out and promote them. That is why we were very happy to commit to a $40 million fund to attract conventions and events to South Australia. We are very surprised that that is some $19.5 million more than the government; it is almost double. I find it almost unbelievable that the government would do that after investing that money. Only Labor would spend all that money and then not go out and market it. It is a bit like the field of dreams: build it and they will come. Well, it is a very competitive marketplace.

New South Wales is out of the market, with building Barangaroo. Sydney is out of the space a bit at the moment, so there is a little bit of a vacuum that we could try to fill, but sadly, that has not happened. I do hope that the government come to their senses during the election campaign and up that offering, because whoever wins the next election, the taxpayers of South Australia need that Convention Centre full every day of the year, if it can be. We know the impact of jobs in our hotels and restaurants, the benefit of having tourists here and growing that market. There are some wonderful opportunities.

Just quickly, in agriculture, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to grow that sector. The government largely relies on what drops out of the sky, and if we have a good year they go out and brag about the great season we have had, when Mr Bignell and his team have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

We see what is happening with the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme. They are putting water on the market that is more expensive than the existing system and they wonder why there is no uptake from farmers. It does not make sense that you would try to almost gouge farmers, and I am told that was just SA Water's initial offer. They are the only supplier of water. Why would they go out with an initial offer and then go and negotiate it back? Why would they not just come up with a price that is fair and equitable?

These farmers are going to compete against other farmers in other parts of the nation, in Werribee and other parts. You have to compare apples with apples. They are using recycled effluent. We have to make sure we are competitive, but this government does not understand that. It beggars belief that SA Water would say, 'Oh well, we will go back and make another offer.' I cannot believe that minister Hunter would actually think that was a sensible way to do it, except that, as I said at the start of my comments about taxing, it is just another way of grabbing revenue out of hardworking Australians, especially that group, where we have huge opportunities to expand our horticultural sector.

We have seen some of the things that Sundrop is doing up in Port Augusta and D'VineRipe in Virginia. I am not sure when they are going to make the formal announcement, but I know that Sundrop is about to start the construction of the strawberry and blueberry operation in Millicent at the back of Kimberly-Clark, using the effluent water from Kimberly-Clark. That is a really great thing to do, to take that effluent water and turn it into strawberries and blueberries.

If you think about it, you have tomatoes and high-value products being grown at Port Augusta right the way down across our climate zone, right to Mount Gambier and almost to Millicent. The opportunities are immense if we get the right settings there. That is one of the reasons we have proposed the Globe Link proposal, and in the long term an international freight airport, because we cannot just flood the market and drive the price down locally. We have to make sure that if we have this produce we have an access to market.

I will conclude my remarks by repeating Raymond Spencer's words, that I think at this next election we are either going to have a new dawn or we are going to stay in the same dark, dusky old place that South Australia is in. South Australians will have a clear choice next election: if they want change and they want a new dawn, they should vote for a Marshall Liberal government.

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