Appropriation Bill 2015 - Estimates Committees
Wednesday, 29 July 2015
Mr GOLDSWORTHY (Kavel) (17:29): I am pleased to make a contribution in relation to what did and did not take place in the estimates committees. I particularly want to commend the members for Bright and Chaffey, whose contributions I have sat here and listened to over the past little while, for the accurate assessment and summation they have made concerning how the estimates committees are conducted.
I would like to make an observation. I think it was the 14th series of estimates committees I have been involved with and, this year, if I total up things correctly, I think I sat in on 10 different portfolio areas of responsibility across both chambers. I want to make the observation the members for Chaffey and Bright and, no doubt, other members on this side of the house have made, that is, the more competent ministers conduct themselves reasonably well, they do not take questions from government members, they do not take Dorothy Dixers, they do not make long opening statements that wind down the clock and they do not take a lot of questions on notice.
The less competent ministers always look to take Dorothy Dixers and they obviously always have pre-written answers to those questions, again in an effort to wind down the clock. It is really the usual tactics from the government in relation to how they deal with estimates. As I said, if a difficult question arises that might pose a bit of a problem or it is in an area where the minister feels vulnerable, they will often take the question on notice and come back at quite a later stage in the process and deliver an answer.
Another tactic I have noticed is that the government members sitting on the committee raise points of order on anything that gets a bit tricky or a bit difficult for the minister, particularly a less competent or inexperienced minister. It is a tactic that the government members raise a point of order if they see an opportunity to, again, wind down the clock so the minister is not necessarily exposed to more questions from the opposition. I could also comment on the member for Wright's contribution, but I do not particularly want to waste my precious time in the house on making comments in relation to what that member has said.
The first committee I sat in on was the one relating to agriculture, food, fisheries and Primary Industries and Resources. I am very interested in agriculture, horticulture and viticulture because all those primary production pursuits are undertaken in the electorate of Kavel. Obviously, we have a big horticultural industry, with the apple and pear industry, and we have a big viticultural industry, with the vineyards and wineries. Also, we have an area to the east of the electorate through what we call the Bremer Valley, through the townships of Callington and through there, which is an agricultural district. While the electorate of Kavel does not cover every area of primary production, particularly obviously in relation to fisheries and things of that nature, we do cover a reasonable spectrum of production.
Agriculture and the associated industries are a key part of our state's economy. They are major industries within the state, and they are a significant economic driver within South Australia. It was one of the first industries that commenced when the state was settled. Farming, agriculture, animal husbandry, running stock and the like are what actually got the state established, and then mining and other activities ensued.
I know from my own personal experience about how the state benefits if we have a strong, vibrant and profitable agricultural sector. I worked in rural South Australia in my previous banking career for quite a number years (probably 10 or a dozen years, if I count them up) and I know the effect that a good season has out there in the rural sector, and I know the really positive impact it has on the local economy—and when I say 'local economy' I am talking about the machinery dealers and the stock and station agents.
In banking, customers would pay their loans, make loan repayments, and if they had good seasons they would look to buy new machinery, which would obviously help the banking industry; we would write new business and keep things clocking over there. They might buy some more land if a neighbour wanted to retire or for whatever reason wanted to exit the farming industry, so the whole thing cranked along.
The government knows that agriculture is a key part of our economy and, while they pay lip service in terms of supporting the industry, we do not see any real tangible results from their efforts. There are trade missions to China, and that is all good, but the things that really matter are the free trade agreements the federal government negotiates through the hard work of the very competent and accomplished federal minister, Andrew Robb. He is an outstanding minister, and he and his department and others have worked very hard to achieve these free trade agreements.
But what do we see from the Labor Party in relation to the free trade agreements? We see at their national conference on the weekend that they voted against it. We have asked questions in the house today about who voted for them, but no answer. The Premier was not there; he had to go off and do something else. Well, that is all very well and good. And then we have the unions, the CFMEU, running television advertisements opposing free trade agreements with China.
We have had the Treasurer get up and try to lecture members on this side of the house on where we need to take control of what is happening. Well, my advice to government members is: you need to take control of what your party is doing and what the left wing of your party is doing in terms of the CFMEU. You, the members opposite, the government members, need to take control of what is happening within your party structure because it is painting a very negative image to a key market—the Chinese market—when we have the national conference of the Labor Party voting against these free trade agreements.
It is a very bad look and it is sending a very bad message, and the government members, as I said, need to seize control of what is going on. We do not need the Treasurer lecturing us when he had trouble in his own backyard over in Melbourne on the weekend. The Treasurer needs to look in his back garden, clean his mess up and take control of what these left wing unions are doing in terms of the CFMEU.
The government members need to check out what they are doing before they look to criticise anything over this side of the house. I move on in relation to some other committees I sat in on. There was the Disability Services committee, and there were some issues with the NDIS which were raised. Obviously, it is a very important scheme. There was also the committee in relation to Veterans' Affairs. I think the Veterans' Affairs portfolio is actually very important, and I think it should have a higher profile. I think it needs a higher profile in government. I have made this statement before: everybody knows a veteran. It does not matter whether your close relatives have not been involved in serving in the Defence Force; everybody knows a veteran. It really goes to the heart of our community and our society. I think how we deal with veterans' affairs is indicative of what is important to a government and to the parliament.
As I said, we should honour and value the contribution made by our veterans, and then, obviously, care for them on their return to their duties on Australian soil. We know that PTSD is a big issue. It is or may be an issue for every returned serviceman and woman. It can affect any serviceman or woman from any conflict over the history of our nation, whether in World War I, World War II, Vietnam—we know there are some issues with the Vietnam vets—Korea, and the more recent conflicts in which we have been involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict. I believe that the Veterans' Affairs portfolio should have a higher profile within government.
We also had a look at emergency services. I sat in on the Emergency Services committee and we raised questions in relation to the emergency services levy hike. I made these comments and observations in my budget speech, but really, the Premier—sorry, not the Premier; well, him too—the Treasurer has had his way with the 9 per cent ESL hike. He has got his way in terms of having a backdoor tax on the family home.
The Treasurer was out there early on saying, 'We are going to consider it; we want to talk about it, but it is not our policy,' prevaricating and wobbling around it. But, he has got his way, because we have seen the 9 per cent hike on the ESL, which is a direct tax on the family property. That issue was raised.
The member for Morphett, as shadow minister, was the opposition lead in the Emergency Services estimates committee. We asked the minister about the ESL hike, and he talked about how we needed additional funding for the Sampson Flat fires. The question was: what are we going to do if we have another bad fire next year?
Mr Duluk: Put up the ESL.
Mr GOLDSWORTHY: Does that mean that we are going to put up the ESL again? We have a 9 per cent hike; does that mean we are going to have another hike in the ESL if we have a bad fire event in the 2015-16 fire season? The minister could not really answer that question. This is a pretty fundamental issue we are dealing with, because we want to know the answers to those questions. We need to know, and the public of South Australia needs to know, if we are in for another ESL hike. It is very important. Every property owner in South Australia needs to have a clear answer to that question, but unfortunately the minister—
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis interjecting:
Mr GOLDSWORTHY: It prompts me to talk about the reason for the establishment of the ESL. It was the previous Labor Bannon government that almost bankrupted the CFS. They had an enormous debt that they could not manage and the poor old CFS volunteers were out there running sausage sizzles and fundraising events to try to assist the brigade. I will tell you: the CFS brigade in Mount Barker were so short of money (they had two units in their station) and so bereft of funds from the previous Bannon Labor government that they could only afford the diesel to put one unit out on the ground if there was a call. I know that for a fact, because the brigade members have spoken to me about that.
If the Treasurer wants to raise issues like that, we have got all day and every day to respond. It was only out of the necessity to get the CFS and emergency services adequate and satisfactory levels of funding that we introduced the ESL. It was a consequence of the abject of failure of a previous Labor government. I only have a short time to go, Deputy Speaker.
I just want to close my remarks in relation to the local government estimates committee I sat in on. The member for Bright gave a pretty good summation of what took place in the local government estimates. The Minister for Local Government is a genuine person. There is no question about his integrity and he is an honest person. I do not doubt the integrity of the minister for one moment. However, anybody who observed the minister in the estimates committee knows he was struggling.
He relied heavily on his advisers. There were Dorothy Dixers and every tactic, every trick in the book that the government has to lessen the time for exposure to opposition questions was taken. As I said, I do not doubt the integrity of the Minister for Local Government for one moment, but any observation shows that he was struggling.
Another important area of the estimates committee I was part of was that of road safety. I have a very strong interest in road safety, obviously representing an electorate that has many kilometres of winding road, up and down dale. I have said this before and I will keep on saying until I leave this place: I am a very strong advocate for guardrails. I think guardrails—whatever you want to call them: crash barriers, Armco; whatever the name is—are a very important tool in terms of infrastructure and improving our road safety, not just on the Adelaide Hills roads but all around the state.