The inventor Thomas Edison once made the wise comment that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. When I reflect on this latest Rann-Foley budget, I cannot help but think how these words ring true. This is a budget of missed opportunities because the Rann government has not had the courage, nor has it worked hard enough, to make the bold decisions that will deliver real results for South Australians.
The signs last March—just in case members missed them—said `Mike Rann gets results’. The only result we have seen thus far from this second-term government (and from its fifth budget) is more money for the government’s coffers. It is the highest taxing government in the state’s history. It is not interested in tax reform and it is not interested in grabbing hold of great opportunities for this state.
One area upon which I would like to focus today in response to this budget is the value of young people to this state. It saddens me again and again to see young people leaving South Australia to chase better opportunities interstate and overseas. This budget has done nothing to start addressing this really sad situation. When I speak with young people about buying a house in South Australia, it saddens me to think that there is no offer of a reduction in stamp duty for first home buyers. The affordability of housing in South Australia can and should be a key factor in keeping our young people here. Where is the good news in this budget for young people looking to buy their first home? It is nowhere to be found.
Jobs growth is vital for our young people, and it is also an area in which this budget has failed them. Youth unemployment is still very high, and the government has increased TAFE fees instead of trying to attract more young people to study at TAFE and get a start in their career. This government has done nothing to encourage small business to employ more young people. As a former small businessperson, I must admit that I feel lucky that part of my life is behind me now that this government is at the wheel. Treasurer Foley has previously admitted that we need to reduce taxes on small business in this state to remain competitive, but what has he done about it? We have the highest payroll tax regime in the whole of Australia at 5.5 per cent and our payroll tax threshold continues to be the lowest at $504 000. A tax to employ people is a disgrace. At the end of this term of government, South Australian businesses will be paying close to $1 billion a year in payroll tax instead of employing more young people.
Families have also received no joy from this budget. The emergency services levy, the River Murray levy and the natural resource management levy all remain in place, yet there has been no reduction in land tax with collections set to increase to $342 million in 2006 07. Families are also affected by high stamp duty, and there is no tax relief on the horizon. Families will also be the big losers when the Education Works Strategy closes 17 schools and kindergartens, and that is at the very least. Call me crazy, but I just cannot see how a government that calls itself pro-education and promises more teachers and better schools can close 17 schools while avoiding job losses for teachers and support staff. I congratulate the spin doctors—calling those closures super schools certainly has hoodwinked most of South Australia.
Rural South Australia has missed out in this budget. Over $3 billion will be spent on health this year, yet just $1 million has been allocated to regional health for new capital works. Country people need better roads. We have a road maintenance backlog of $200 million, but a measly $3.4 million has been committed statewide to address this significant problem faced by rural South Australia. Rural communities are doing it tough, and they face up to one of the worst droughts on record. Labor always forgets the bush, and this budget shows that it has done it again with further cuts to funding for agriculture and wine, and the State Food Plan has been reduced yet again.
Not so long ago, South Australian food producers were leading the way with the support of the former state Liberal government; now the industry is struggling. This government and, indeed, this budget have been of no assistance to our once incredibly healthy primary industries. Certainly, the drought is having a major impact, but talk about kicking someone when they are down! As far as the state government’s recent $4 million assistance package is concerned—what a joke! With the amount of revenue that this government collects, this level of assistance is mean-spirited and simply not good enough. I read today that the Victorian government’s relief package—this is a Victorian Labor government—for farmers is $110 million more than what Premier Rann and Treasurer Foley have offered. It is just a disgrace when this government is swimming in money.
The Rann government has the unenviable title of being the highest taxing government in the history of South Australia, while it collects an extra $2.7 billion more to spend every year than the former Liberal state government. I will repeat that figure—$2.7 billion—and what do we see for it? Members opposite would have heard my colleagues and I report this figure often of late, but I really hope that, just because we have mentioned it often, the gloss does not wear off. It is a massive figure. It is an absolutely gigantic amount of cash, and what have the people of South Australia got in this budget considering all the extra money that is available? Not much; not very much at all, I can tell you.
Of course, this extra $2.7 billion has helped towards vitally important projects, such as the tramline extension, which will wreak havoc on city traffic and be of absolutely no use to the majority South Australians. It will pay the salaries of fat cats in the Public Service, and members will recall the Treasurer (Kevin Foley) saying years ago that they would receive a very vigorous tap on the shoulder—ho, ho! It will cover the millions of dollars required to be wasted on opening bridges at Port Adelaide, and it will take care of the $2 million needed to host a guitar festival in Adelaide. It will also take care of $1.4 million to run the Thinkers in Residence program. Perhaps Premier Rann’s next thinker in residence should be someone who can tell the Treasurer how to effectively and responsibly spend his government’s extra $2.7 billion that is coming in each and every year. But there is no need for this, as my colleagues and I are happy to tell Mr Foley, the Treasurer, free of charge.
Premier Rann and Treasurer Foley need to work harder at creating exciting opportunities for this state. Now that the Premier’s failed bid for the ALP national presidency is over, he needs to knuckle down with his Treasurer to get the state moving forward, instead of appearing only for the good news stories. This budget was a flop from the same old Labor that took over from a Liberal Party that had fixed up the disgraceful mess left behind by Labor, only for Labor to mess it all up again while trying its level best to put a positive spin on things.
We need only to look at the missed opportunities in this latest budget and at the huge cost blow-outs in infrastructure projects, and in WorkCover’s unfunded liability, to see the pattern forming again. This government is all talk and no action. It is high time that it did something bold and exciting for the people of South Australia, instead of hanging its hat on a tramline extension or claiming federal government projects as its own.