French statesman Charles de Gaulle reportedly once said, `In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.’ Whilst that is a peculiar quote, I raise it today because when I was thinking about this latest budget I got a real sense of the electorate’s being betrayed and let down by what the budget has delivered or, rather, will fail to deliver.
A definition of `betrayal’ is `to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining or fulfilling trust’. In 2002 the Rann Labor government was given the trust of the electorate and, in 2006, was trusted by an even bigger majority of South Australians. That year’s budget delivered little for South Australians, as had previous Labor budgets. This time around, the people of this state had a right to expect more from a government that, let us be honest, is flushed with funds from GST revenue and record tax collections. As the Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith has stated:
South Australians have only received debt and disappointment. They have been betrayed by this latest budget.
On election night last year the Premier said:
As we form a new government on Monday or Tuesday of next week, we are going to continue to get results for South Australia and that is what we dedicate our second term to.
What a load of malarkey. This government’s main goal has been to continue to try to govern by managing the media but it is evident that the Premier—Media Mike—has lost some of his shine. Only recently the Premier stormed out of FIVEaa’s studio as he reportedly did not appreciate the line of questioning and felt that he had been set up by the program. If that is true, it is just childish behaviour. We hear reports of journalists being removed from media conferences, of government ministers refusing to appear on certain programs, and of government media advisers not returning calls from certain reporters. One might ask: are we living in modern South Australia or Stalinist Russia?
Perhaps the Premier needs to learn how to roll with the punches and to realise that things will not always run his way. I believe that this budget demonstrates that things most certainly are not going swimmingly for the Rann Labor government. There are more holes in it than in a piece of Swiss cheese. This budget has presented health as its major focus but it has got things wrong in a number of ways. The idea of the $1.7 billion Marj hospital is flawed. Regrettably, a wonderful lady and an icon of South Australia has been embarrassed by the hullabaloo that the hospital plan has created, when it is questionable that it should even be built on the rail yards.
We have argued that the need for a new hospital in the city’s west was never mentioned in the state’s infrastructure plan or in the 2003 Generational Health Review. It truly has just popped right out of left field and, while impressive in design, the closure of services at the QEH and Modbury Hospital and the scaling back of health funding to regional South Australia is indeed regrettable. I also note, in the recent report prepared by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, that the national body has called for redevelopment of the existing RAH site, and it was pleasing to see the Liberal opposition’s argument being backed up by a highly regarded, independent body. That is the story of this government; in this latest state budget it presents a couple of grandiose projects, such as the tram extension and the new hospital, but it is not enough to get the juice out of the orange because, when you delve a little deeper, it is clear that there is not much happening.
When the Treasurer delivered his budget speech he mentioned that the government was getting on with the job of securing Adelaide’s water supply, so let us look at what is happening with water infrastructure. We can see that increased restrictions are this government’s solution; while it dawdles with desalination we could and should be getting on with the job right now. Other states are investing in desal while our government sits on its hands. Significant investments in stormwater re-use and waste water capture appear to be many years away and, personally, I just cannot get my head around why a government would give priority to increasing a reservoir’s capacity—a plan that is 10 years away, to boot—when we are struggling with a very small issue called the distinct lack of rain. Desalination is the key; stormwater re-use and waste water capture are the keys. Let us use a resource we already have, not one that we hope will eventually fall out of the sky at a more consistent level.
As an opposition, it is our role to pick holes in the budget and question aspects of it that we do not think are right or in the best interests of South Australia. Consistently, since Labor came to power (and especially in this latest budget), it has become clear that not enough is being done to increase our economic growth. Treasurer Foley forecast 2.5 per cent growth in the last financial year and delivered 1 per cent; the prediction is for 4 per cent growth next year if the drought ends—but don’t hold your breath. South Australia’s competitiveness and economic outlook, compared to other states, should worry us all. Small business still has to contend with the worst payroll tax regime in the nation. Certainly, the levy rate reduction must be welcomed, but this government can afford to go further and it certainly should have. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures clearly show that our share of the national jobs market is tumbling, and the lowest payroll tax threshold in Australia is clearly a disincentive to job creation while the national jobs market continues to boom.
Small business continues to have to deal with far too much red tape. I see that the Competitiveness Council has dedicated a website to red tape reduction, and this is to be commended, but I will watch with interest to see that the target of at least 25 per cent reduction in red tape by mid 2008 is met by this government. The government has committed to undertake a series of industry reviews; we will be very keen to see the outcome of those reviews and will be watching this matter very closely. Taxation in this budget is up across the board on property, gambling, insurance and motor vehicles. Only the other day a young person commented to me that the rise in motor vehicle tax and the rising cost of bus tickets would be felt really hard by young people—he should be thankful that the Howard government was able to again deliver him tax cuts to make things a little easier.
Relative to CPI, the increases in government fees and charges are, to put it simply, unfair. Emergency services, the River Murray, and natural resources management levies all increased significantly. Given the rise in fees and charges across the board, one could be forgiven for being taken aback by the debt in this latest budget. The amount of debt created by this budget is alarming; figures showing that general government sector debt will exceed $3 billion by 2011 are truly startling, considering that the former Liberal government had the discipline to reduce debt. WorkCover’s perilous state has been well documented in this place, so I will not even begin to quote those frightening figures again.
Regional South Australia misses out again. Several major new road developments are 10 years away while the inner city tram line goes ahead at lightning pace. Regional infrastructure is in decline and food producers may have zero water allocations at some point in the near future. Rural health services are neglected under Rann’s Labor government and we continue to hear stories about disgraceful waiting times and of people needing to travel for miles to receive treatment they cannot obtain near their homes.
Forward planning and sustainability in this budget are a big concern. There is not enough planning in place should the economy stumble, and the Rann government continues to piggyback on the strong economic conditions created by the Howard government. The Liberals will continue to call for a 20-year vision for South Australia, instead of short-sighted quick fixes.
Finally, and briefly, as Liberal spokesman for racing I will continue to monitor and watch with interest what results from the Bentley report into South Australian racing. The majority of the industry appears to be getting behind the proposals and, if the government does the right thing by racing, it looks like the industry can move ahead. I repeat my calls for betting tax reform to happen sooner rather than later, as the industry sorely needs the extra funding. I also call again for the correct decision to be made in the selection process of the new super board. It appears, at this stage, a compromise may be reached. I support the bill.