The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) (12:38): I rise to make some remarks around the Budget Measures Bill, with a particular focus on the element of the bank tax. As members would be aware, the Hon. Rob Lucas, who is our lead speaker and shadow treasurer, has put on the record that the Liberal Party in this chamber is not supporting the bank tax and that we have the view that the rest of the community, or a large percentage of the South Australian community, does not support it either. We will take that part out of the Budget Measures Bill, or recommend to the Treasurer that there be a change.
I have been a member of this chamber for nearly 16 years, and, in the very first budget that treasurer Foley delivered, they broke a promise that I think they had made to the Australian Hotels Association around the gaming tax. That laid the foundation for a government that tries to tax a sector when they see it doing well, or even if they just have a perception that it is doing well, they will tax it.
If you look at some of the other taxes—they call them levies—in one of the earlier budgets, premier Rann and treasurer Foley introduced the River Murray levy. As it became less popular, it was used to focus on projects on the River Murray, but again it was taxing South Australian water users to actually put money into another project when the government should have been able to manage their budget in such a way that they were able to provide those benefits for the River Murray.
From an agricultural point of view, we have seen the NRM levies continually go up. I am not sure that the landowners are really getting the value for money that they expect to get. Also, we have seen the remissions of the emergency services levy. Again, it is a $90 million hit on the community because the government cannot manage its books. We have had myriad other little levies and changes that have been quite small over the years that we have not agreed to. One was the biosecurity levy, again, to tax farmers and people in regional South Australia.
It comes as no surprise that this Treasurer and this government would say, 'Here is an opportunity. We will tax the banking community.' I heard the remarks of the Hon. Mark Parnell talking about sectors that do particularly well and he quantified it. I think I heard when I was leaving my office that it was something around $34 or $35 per person—he did try to quantify it. It is very easy in these taxes to say, 'It is only a tiny bit. It will not matter. Nobody will actually notice it.' Of course, we know that the banks always pass these taxes on in some way, shape or form. Businesses do; that is how businesses, where they can, will pass the costs and charges on. So, in the end it will be borne by the South Australian community.
I do not do anywhere near as much overseas travel as ministers sitting opposite and some ministers in other chambers, but I do get around a little bit and speak to the international business community. The discussions around South Australia and the parlous state of our economy and the government that we have here really started a few years ago, but built to a bit more of a frenzy. Firstly, of course, around the statewide blackout last year, there was a whole range of commentary asking how a state in a modern First World country could go into total darkness and then have such an unreliable, expensive electricity asset.
Then, of course, there came this decision of the Treasurer this last budget to say that he is going to introduce a bank tax. Again, it sends a very solid message to the international community that our only solution to managing our economy is to increase taxes and charges. There is nothing about trying to cut the size of government, cut government spending, and cut government waste. We have seen the advertising that is going on at present around the government's energy plan. They could have spent a little bit of money keeping the Port Augusta power station open and not have to spend $550 million on an energy plan and the many, many millions of dollars being spent on the advertising campaign.
You think back to some of the comments that have been made, and I noticed in today's paper that the Treasurer rebuts the comments made by those who are opposed the bank tax, asking how they explain South Australia's climbing business investment. Tesla, Neoen and Solar Reserve are the first ones he leads off with. SkyCity is another one. BHP, OZ Minerals and the Macquarie Group are others he mentions.
The first three are a result of the government totally mismanaging the electricity industry here. Effectively, we are paying the world's highest prices for electricity for one of the most unreliable services, so these businesses are investing because South Australians are paying not a tax but you could say an extra cost on their electricity because the assets have been so badly managed. The only reason for that investment being attracted is the poor management of our electricity assets.
SkyCity has taken six years, maybe even longer. I think it was the 2010 election when they were looking at building a new casino and had some discussions with the opposition. That is seven years ago, so it has taken a very long time and they are reluctant to actually come to the table. I am pleased that they are now, but I think it indicates that a lot of the investment is coming off the back of opportunistic investment because the government has managed the state of affairs so poorly.
I echo some of the comments of the Hon. Robert Brokenshire. There is an opportunity for the Treasurer to take a calm approach to this. There is one measure that will be removed or will be recommended to be removed. All the others can pass, if he chooses; the ball will be very much in his court.
I have had discussions with him and he certainly has not been that calm on this particular issue, but I think there is an opportunity for the Treasurer to show a little bit of maturity and say, 'Okay, I have a suite of measures I would like to introduce. One that the majority of South Australians don't want. Here's an opportunity to put the others in place and we will leave this one aside.' I suspect we are not going to see that. I suspect the Treasurer will insist, because he has made it very clear and he has painted himself into a corner.
I can see the government advertising now: the Legislative Council, the Australian Conservatives, John Darley and the Liberal Party are denying business all of these other benefits. We know the games he is going to play. He could actually give those benefits to businesses and the community if he set this part of the bank tax aside.
When the Premier made comments in relation to some issues about regional South Australians and what they might want, such as, 'Well, they don't really vote for us so it gives us the freedom to make decisions we like to make,' I expect the Treasurer thought, 'Well, the big banks don't vote for me or the government so that gives us the freedom to make those choices.'
It is time this government started listening to what the people want and started taking actions that will actually grow our economy instead of taxing it out of existence. I learnt that in grade 3 economics, if there is such a thing—it would have been very early in my primary school days. Maybe the Treasurer did not do that course in grade 3, I do not know, but very early in my education we were given a demonstration of how economies work and how you can tax them more or you can grow them.
I went to a public system, so it was in Bordertown Primary School that I would have learnt that. Sadly, that is 45 years or maybe 50 years ago. Even then, it was pretty simple: you cannot just keep increasing taxes to grow the economy. You have to do it in other ways to stimulate growth. With those few words, I indicate that I am delighted that I am part of the Liberal team that will not be supporting this bank tax.