The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 15:53 ): I rise today to speak about the importance of South Australia's regions and the utter neglect and disdain with which they are treated by the current Labor government. It is hard for South Australia's regions to gain assistance from this government when the Minister for Regional Development is the member for Frome in the other place. I hold great fears for our regions while he is the regional advocate around the cabinet table.
We only have to look at his utterly embarrassing and incompetent conduct in the past week as he sat silent and mute while the biggest issue to face our regions in years unfolded. Obviously, I am talking about Arrium. With thousands of regional jobs at stake, the member for Frome has not done anything to support regional businesses and families that are being affected. I put to you, Mr President, that even a government puppet can read a press release and a prepared ministerial statement before question time. However, apparently even this was too hard for the minister.
Hearing the member for West Torrens shield minister Brock yesterday in question time was cringe-worthy and embarrassing. I would very much like to know what the people of Port Pirie think about their representative's performance of late. Last year, in The Advertiser's government ministers' report card, minister Brock scored a humiliating three out of 10, the lowest of any government minister. Quite frankly, how he even managed to get three is beyond me. After his repeated displays of incompetence since, none more alarming than his action—or lack thereof—regarding Arrium this week, I look forward to reading the next report card. Aside from the abject failings of minister Brock, this Labor government continues to neglect regions at almost every chance it gets.
It is widely acknowledged that South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent on earth. We know that we have had some significant issues with drought in the South-East. As much as many of the members opposite like to play the blame game with the federal government, when it comes to drought concessional loans the state government has well and truly dropped the ball. The federal government has put up some $150 million in the Drought Concessional Loans Scheme in 2015-16; $10 million was set aside for South Australia exclusively. The Australian government stated that this funding may be increased subject to demand.
This money is supplied by the federal government and is to be administered by the state government. You would think that if someone gave your constituents access to this kind of financial assistance, you would do everything in your power to ensure that as much of that financial assistance was distributed as possible—not our government. When it comes to our regions, every issue is put on the backburner. Thanks to the state government's administration of this scheme, only one drought concessional loan has been approved in South Australia to date. In fact, in an ABC article late last Friday, 8 April, it was reported that the state government had spent only $500,000 on drought relief—a pitiful amount.
An issue I raised in question time today was the mobile phone blackspot program. It is another regional issue that has been ignored by this Labor government. Again, the federal government contributed some $100 million to this program. Every other state in the country has contributed to the funding to ensure that their state received additional regional phone towers—every other state except South Australia. How can this state government justify or defend this?
It beggars belief that we have had ministers and former ministers during question time saying that this was an old issue, that it was last year's issue. We did not get any answers last year, and today minister Kyam Maher failed to answer the question as to why they had not spent money in the previous year. One can only hope that they will spend some money this year to support our regions, especially in relation to important mobile phone coverage.
They will probably hide behind the excuse that we have a state debt of some $13 billion and an interest bill now of some $700 million. When your books are that much in the red, I guess that is what happens. You cannot provide funding for basic regional infrastructure and assistance because, as we all know, the Labor government does not really care about the regions because their election future very much hinges on what they can do in the city. While the member for Frome remains our state's regional advocate around the cabinet table, I do not believe our regions stand any chance at all.
It is interesting when we look at the way to sum up this government's performance and sum up the way the community views this government's performance. A constituent provided me with a copy of some correspondence with the member for Finniss on the particular issue of branding and branding SA. He said:
Mr Bignell has simply withdrawn more services from the agricultural industry and will continue to collect revenue to bolster electoral benefits in the metropolitan region.
I think the following quote from this particular constituent sums up the feeling of regional South Australians about this government:
In future I will be branding my bulls 'ALP SA' on the grounds that they;
- Spend a lot of time bellowing;
- Only work for 3 months of the year;
- Expect the best feed in the paddock;
- Accumulate a high class manure in quantity; and
- Screw everything in sight.