Appropriation Bill 2017 Estimates Committee
Tuesday, 8 August 2017
IN PARLIAMENT: Mr GOLDSWORTHY (Kavel) (15:55): It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Heysen and to sit here and listen to her eloquent words and her contribution. I have been doing that for the best part of 16 years because we both entered the parliament at the same election. I join with the member for Heysen because this will be my final contribution in relation to the estimates process, as I am retiring at the election in March next year. What the member for Heysen said in her contribution pretty much hits the nail on the head. We know that estimates is basically the committee stage of the Appropriation Bill or the budget bill. As has been the case over the last 16 years, I sat in on a number of the committees, committee A and B in both chambers. I sat in on the status of women and ageing, and the member for Ramsay was the minister responsible for that committee. I then had industrial relations with the Attorney General, the member for Enfield. I had infrastructure and trade and small business, and the member for Waite was minister responsible for those portfolios. That is a fairly broad cross-section of ministerial responsibilities.
In relation to the process undertaken here in the South Australian parliament concerning estimates or the committee stage of the bill, it is interesting to make a comparison with other parliaments in Australia, particularly the federal parliament. It is my understanding that the House of Representatives does not have estimates committees following the bringing down of their budget but that the Senate does. The Senate has a different configuration in relation to the estimates committee process: they have rolling estimates conducted throughout the course of the parliamentary year, again across a whole range of ministerial responsibilities. When I was doing a little bit of part-time work for a particular federal member of parliament, I had the privilege of travelling to Canberra while the Senate estimates committee was being conducted and I sat in on that process. That was obviously many years ago before I entered this place, so longer than 16 years ago, but I found it quite an interesting experience to witness the Senate estimates process. As has been the case over the last 16 or so years of being a part of the estimates process on this side of the house, on the opposition benches, I have witnessed the varying capabilities of each individual minister in their grasp and knowledge of their areas of responsibility in their respective portfolios. The ministers who are across their issues or their areas of responsibility and who have a thorough understanding of the detail of their portfolio responsibilities can often answer questions put to them by the opposition members without any reference to their departmental heads, their ministerial staff or even their notes.
We see mountains of files brought in for the estimates committees, huge lever-arch folders full of notes and information. I have seen that the ministers I regard as more capable, who are across their portfolio areas, do not need to refer to their officers or their notes. Conversely, on the other side of the equation, the ministers who tend to struggle with their overall performance and their knowledge and understanding of the issues within their portfolio responsibilities are constantly referring to their officers, chiefs of staff, departmental heads and their notes.
At one particular committee I was part of, I think that for pretty much every answer to every question—not every question, but pretty much every question asked—a note was extracted from a huge, voluminous lever-arch folder and a response was read. The response did not necessarily match up with the question but, nevertheless, the minister read the response. That was the supposed answer to the question. In some cases, it was not really an answer to the question, but it was the response the minister provided.
I join with members on this side of the house—as I said, the member for Heysen hit the nail on the head—in saying that the extensive period of preparation of the departments and ministerial staff for the estimates committees is disproportionate to the information that is provided. It is weeks and weeks of preparation, probably months; who knows? The government members, government ministers, government staffers and bureaucracy certainly know. We have a pretty good idea that it would stretch into months of lead time in preparing the massive volumes of text. The astounding part of it all is that, as the member for Heysen said, when the opposition asks a question, notwithstanding the fact that there is mountains of information, mountains of notes and reams of information, the minister cannot provide an answer, so they have to take the question on notice and provide an answer at a later date. That is quite astounding when arguably months of work go into this process.
Obviously, the ministers would have an understanding of the budget before we receive the budget papers on budget day. I imagine that there would be quite a lead time prior to budget day when the departments and the ministers' staff would be heads down and feverishly working away on every aspect of every budget line and every budget paper for which each individual minister has responsibility. But they cannot, or maybe they do not want to, answer the question because it might be a bit tricky. It might be a bit sensitive, so they like to use the old stalling tactics and come back later when the issue is perhaps not the topic of the day or the week.
I have not seen any change in the way the government has run estimates over the last 16 years. The exchange in some of the committees is perhaps not as inflammatory as it may have been in those earlier years when the then member for Port Adelaide was the treasurer. Those particular estimates committees were always a bit of fun; you never knew quite what was going to take place. In those early years, because I came from a banking background into parliament, I was obviously keen on understanding money, so I would sit in on the Treasury estimates as a new member. It was interesting because you did not quite know what the then treasurer might come out with. Over some of the years, some of the carry-on was quite extraordinary. I remember one committee had to be suspended one year. I cannot remember the year, but the committee actually had to be suspended because things got a bit too willing and a bit too heated. We had to have a little break for a half an hour or an hour. We went off until things calmed down and we could come back and resume. There were accusations being thrown around of people telling lies or something of that nature. I must admit that was a bit of an eye-opener in my earlier years of being a member. After 16 years in this place, you have perhaps seen not everything but most things that can be thrown up in the course of parliamentary sittings. As I said, I think the more competent ministers are across their issues and areas of responsibility. They can answer questions without reference to briefing notes, or whatever you like to call them, or without reference to their departmental officers. I remember one year when I was the shadow minister for local government and, with every question that was asked of the poor old local government minister at the time, there was this little conflab or communication between the minister and his chief of staff or one of his senior officers on every question before the minister was prepared to provide a response, which I found interesting.
The process of estimates is the committee stage of the legislative process. We all work through the debate on the second reading of the budget bill and, in essence, the estimates committee is the third reading. In the second reading, we on this side of the house communicated our reservations about the budget, particularly about state bank tax. In the weeks since it was announced, we have seen massive opposition to the state bank tax from the community and the business sector, right across many sectors of the South Australian community. This government hopefully has only another 7½ months to run. Over the 16 years that this government has been in power, they have implemented really what is a failed economic model, and I spoke about this in the second reading speech on the budget. We have some of the highest unemployment in the country, we have the highest electricity costs in the world, we have some of the highest water costs in the country, we have one of the highest taxation regimes in the country and we have some of the lowest economic indicators in the country.
In their quietest time, government members must realise that the way they have been running the economy, through high taxing and high spending, is a failed model. The economic indicators of high unemployment, high energy costs, high water bills, high taxation, low productivity, and all those sorts of things, point directly at the failed model that this government has put in place. I have said before that you cannot tax your way to prosperity; it is a failed economic ideology. I cannot remember the name of the writer, but it was interesting to read in recent weeks that South Australia is a government state. I think the lines were that South Australia is a government state: if you want to do business in South Australia, you do business with the government. I believe that is the ideology of the state Labor government; it is in their DNA. They like to control whatever they think they are in charge of. It has nothing to do with the free market. They do not let business go and let the private sector manage themselves because they are the engine room of the economy. They do not like that. They like to be able to control things. I will have a bit more to say about this before I leave this place, but it is a part of their ideology. They purposely implemented this model. If you want to do business in South Australia, you have to do business with the government. In terms of all the big infrastructure works—roads, hospitals, The QEH, and all of that—if you are in the civil engineering business, the only major works or the only major bit of business that you can get is to contract to the government. That is a real issue that the Civil Contractors Federation have raised over the years. If you do not do business with the government, you are going to go out of business. I believe that is the ideology that the Labor Party likes to push through the community.
I have lots more notes that I could keep on about, but I have pretty much used up my time. Things change, but things stay the same. I am retiring, but the estimates committee process has stayed the same for 16 years. I listened intently to the member for Heysen's contribution. It may not change in the future. We do not know, but it certainly will not change if we do not have a change of government. The final thing I want to say is that if the voting public of South Australia want to change the government, the only way they can bring that about is to vote Liberal.