I rise to make some comment on the Appropriation Bill which, as promised by the opposition, passed the other place unfettered, as I predict it will here. Despite the predictable scaremongering from the Treasurer that we planned on blocking supply, no such thing occurred. However, the opposition does have a few concerns with the budget—in fact, we have many concerns with the budget—and in particular some nasties the government refers to as reforms. I refer, of course, to the new car park tax and the increases to the emergency services levy.
It is important to recognise that having concerns or even recommending amendments, which is all we are constitutionally limited to do in this place, is not the same as blocking supply. I do note that in addition to this bill it has been foreshadowed that a budget measures bill will be introduced, and it is this bill that has much of the proverbial devil within in its detail.
The glaringly obvious thing about this budget is that it does not fix the problems it is intended to fix—or that the government says that it will. As many of my colleagues, both here and in the other place, have acknowledged, one of the major problems right now is, of course, unemployment. In the last 12 months South Australia has lost in excess of 19,000 jobs. The unemployment level is currently well over 7 per cent, the highest in mainland Australia. In May alone unemployment jumped by 0.6 per cent, although that may change soon, given the upturn in business confidence we have seen in Tasmania as a result of the election of the reformist Liberal government under Premier Will Hodgman.
South Australia is on track to become the worst performing economy in the commonwealth. The growth figures are poor also. In the last three quarters the South Australian economy has contracted. It is unsurprising why our young people are leaving in droves. Last year we had a 30 per cent increase in net interstate migration. It is an easy enough pattern to see: growth is poor, confidence is low, emigration is up.
The Liberals went to the election promising significant payroll tax relief, and Labor matched that commitment, only to say a mere three months later that it cannot afford it and that that relief will end. Not much of significance has changed in the last three months. There was not another financial crisis, which we know ministers opposite like to carp about a good six years later. If the situation is so dire now that payroll tax relief can no longer be granted to small business, why did the government promise it at the election in March? The Premier and his government could not possibly have been lying to the people of South Australia, could they?
Perhaps the Premier recognised his own incompetence and that is why he gave the job to the member for West Torrens. Either way, it is a broken promise and, frankly, an unnecessary one. Why would Labor promise tax relief it could not afford? It was forced into matching the commitment the Liberals made as it was popular with business people, the job creators of this state. It is pretty simple: either do not make the commitment when it is clear that it was unsustainable, or cut spending to ensure it is sustainable. Neither was done, and now we have a broken promise which has broken the will of business people in this state. Is it any wonder that confidence is down?
A common scare tactic used by Labor against cutting spending is that services will be reduced—services to the most vulnerable in the community. It is the same tired argument that Labor has been rolling out for the entire life of this government. It is hard to sustain that line when there has been almost $4 billion of unbudgeted expenditure. This expenditure is not the crucial social programs in communities. This is not doctors, nurses, teachers and police, which are always budgeted for. This is spending on the run. In household budget terms, this is not your meat and vegetable money, this is your chewing gum and magazine money, and those opposite spent $311 million last year alone. The figure is $4 billion and growing over the life of this government.
This is frustrating to families and business owners who have to stick to their budgets. They only have a finite amount to spend, which is the exact point of a budget; yet they are still being slugged taxes—families even more so now with the latest increases to the emergency services levy which is linked directly to land value, 98 per cent of which will not be spent on emergency services.
An emergency services levy which is not spent on emergency services sounds as silly as the save the River Murray levy for a river with record flows and charging a victims of crime levy for a victimless crime. If the government wants to raise a tax without taking it to an election, at least have the stomach to call it what it is: a land tax. Labor loves to talk about how it looks after the most vulnerable in the community and deliver services better than the Liberals, therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that if taxes are going up South Australians would be receiving better services. Strangely, this is not the case.
If we look at the health portfolio the government has shelved upgrades to the following hospitals: Flinders Medical Centre, worth $100 million; The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, worth $125 million; the Noarlunga Hospital, worth $31.3 million; and, finally, the Modbury Hospital expansion, worth $27.8 million. I think those voting Labor in the electorates of Cheltenham, Croydon, Elder, Florey, Kaurna, Mawson, Newland, Reynell and Torrens have every right to feel betrayed by this government's action. Would Elder, Florey and Newland have returned a Labor member if they knew that their local hospitals were no longer being upgraded?
Another broken promise (and one that Labor previously formed as the backbone of their platform in the past) is no privatisations. This has been promised by Labor governments past at almost every election, and the promise continues to be broken. This time it is the Motor Accident Commission which is going. The understanding is that the money stowed away for compulsory third-party insurance claims will now be moved into consolidated revenue and the insurance offered via contract.
The problem here is that, in a similar way to the Lotteries Commission and the forests before it, is this a long-term benefit for all South Australians? Revenue from the lotteries, for instance, went back into hospitals and community sport. Is there any chance of that steady funding source being replaced? A once-off payment for the sale of an income-producing asset to pay wages is not a very smart way of going about your business.
A more efficient way of doing it would be to reduce Public Service numbers, as promised. Divestiture and borrowing to fund wages is, at the very least, short-sighted and, at worst, gross economic and financial mismanagement. This lack of action constitutes another broken promise from this Labor government—this time around Public Service reduction targets. Before we got to the figures we saw the usual game playing from Labor. The farce that was estimates was on show for all to see. The Treasurer stated that specific figures of targeted voluntary separation packages were not in his area; they were under the purview of the Minister for the Public Sector. When it was the minister's turn, she then said that it was the responsibility of Treasury to give those figures. Once again, more smokescreening and delaying tactics.
Finally we got the numbers, and a new figure of 208 reductions out of a target of 2,240. On top of that, the Minister for Health stated that his department had only met 277 reductions out of a targeted 959. Why are ministers not being forced to meet their targets before taxes are raised and assets are sold?
To compound this issue the government has been promising surpluses on top of its increases in spending. In 2008, the government predicted that this year the state budget would be in surplus. We know that the ministers opposite love to blame the global financial crisis. According to the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, the global financial crisis is still alive and well here in South Australia—it is so rife and so global that New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australian are all running budget surpluses and have positive growth. The minister is half correct: there is still a crisis but it certainly is not global; it is limited to South Australia and it is a crisis of the making of the minister and her colleagues.
Rather than fudging figures and using fanciful predictions to prop up income levels resulting in false surpluses, why not work hard to actually produce fair dinkum surpluses which would not then embarrass the government and make Labor look like it is such a basket case. What those opposite continually fail to realise is that their actions affect and reflect on the entire state and everyone in it. Supporting the local economy should be basic for the government; however, we have seen continually decisions made that adversely affect the local economy.
Take stationery contracts for instance. Following the disgraceful cartridges scandal ('cartridgegate' as the Hon. Mr Lucas likes to call it), rather than weed out the bad eggs, the malpractice and toxic culture which led to this happening, the government decided to centralise all stationery contracts and limit purchasing to two overseas companies. The result was that good contracts between schools, departments and local suppliers were torn up. If not for the good work of KW Wholesalers to lobby the government on behalf of its workers, there would have been significant job losses as a result of this autocratic and arbitrary decision. I know there were good stationers in this state who lost significant contracts as a result. To them, the government should apologise.
Another example of this is the purchase of Victorian-made state flags which electorate officers give out to organisations and schools in the community. One would assume that, at the very least, we should purchase state flags from a local manufacturer. South Australian flags from Victoria. Imagine what Knuckles Kerley would say!
Finally, I want to talk about the waste of taxpayer money in government advertising. Last year, we had the It's More Than Cars campaign with Chinese-made shirts which, of course, did nothing to stop the closure of Holden. More recently, we have had $1 million spent on an advertising campaign condemning the federal government for its budget, which is extraordinary insofar as it flagrantly violates government advertising rules by using the likeness of the Premier. It was blatantly political and did nothing to benefit the people of this state. If anything, it demonstrates that this government's priorities are wrong, wrong and wrong. I commend the bill to the council.