TUESDAY 30 MAY 2017
Supply Bill 2017
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 18 May 2017.)
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 15:31 :27 ): I rise to speak on the Supply Bill. I note that both the Greens will be speaking today on the Supply Bill, a double treat for the chamber.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I will resist the interjections of my non-Greens colleagues and note that while the Hon. Mark Parnell will raise issues that I certainly concur with in relation to the defunding of the Welfare Rights Centre of South Australia—and indeed what I would call yet another attack on the poor—I wish to turn my attention in this Supply Bill debate to a tale of what I would call two cities or two parts of North Terrace.
The most visible part of the current state government's efforts, of course, is the new RAH, soon to be opened at the far western end of North Terrace. This brand-new $2.3 billion hospital is variously touted as the most expensive hospital in the world or the third most expensive building in the world. Walking around it on a politicians' tour recently in our high-vis vests, sensible shoes and construction hats, I have to admit: it is certainly a stunner. But I think the sting in the tail is yet to come. When we see the staff and patients finally move in and start using the facilities, those facilities, yes, will be beautiful, but scratch that glossy surface and will they be fit for purpose?
Imagine the most expensive hospital in the world, built with the bureaucrats and builders calling the shots and only calling in the medicos for a proper second opinion well after those final licks of paint have dried and the cranes have long moved on. No need to imagine: people of South Australia—through you, Mr President—I give you the new RAH.
During the build itself those clinicians have not been twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the paint to dry on the new RAH before raising their concerns and in some cases alarm. They have taken time out of their busy schedules to construct their case, write pleading missives to bureaucrats and ask for responses and face-to-face meetings, and they have largely been ignored, not just for months but in fact for years.
Imagine, then, my lack of surprise to learn that 14 heads of departments at the current Royal Adelaide Hospital have described the outpatient facilities as 'woefully inadequate and not fit for purpose'. The CEO of SA Health has conceded that at this stage about some 10 per cent, or around 37,500, of expected outpatient appointments annually will probably have to occur elsewhere, or indeed there has been talk of some sort of a night shift. This is no surprise to me. The walls may be beautiful, but the very foundations of this shiny new hospital are built on fiscally shaky ground.
Those heads of departments have written to the CEO not for the first time, but most recently in May this year. Having asked to see the facility's design and details for over two years, 14 of them have now written a joint letter to SA Health CEO, Vickie Kaminski, saying that they are not prepared to accept the outpatient facilities as 'it asks for an unacceptable level of compromise that will jeopardise patient care and safety, which we cannot condone'. The letter they have written goes on to say:
Unfortunately, this only confirmed our long held apprehension that the outpatient facilities are significantly inadequate both in design and fitness for purpose, let alone in the availability of sufficient space for this directorate's current level of activity.
Their letter lists a dozen objections, including 'insufficient rooms to accommodate our current activities' and lack of space for trainees or families. The lack of provision, it is reported in the Sunday Mail in an article by Brad Crouch, for multidisciplinary services is 'clearly not functional'. The letter goes on to state:
The destruction of multi-disciplinary clinics is a highly retrograde step, sending our function backwards by several decades.
It is no surprise to me that this has occurred. Imagine then, when confronted with this news, being told by the health minister that it is actually a good thing that this bright, shiny, new hospital is a year and a half behind schedule because, once we do open the doors in September this year, we hope, it will be a cost and we will be forking out another $1 million a day to a private consortium just to keep it running.
So, according to the health minister, we have done well because we have saved around $365 million so far with the hospital being behind schedule and will probably save another lazy $100 million before we see the very first patients even treated. Only in South Australia, some might say. But, sadly, unlike the Hills Hoist or the Balfours' frog cake murals on the walls of this lovely new hospital, this result is not a product of South Australian ingenuity. It may well be a product of South Australian political stupidity, but it is of course a product of a very flawed PPP process.
A PPP is a public-private partnership and it has been the funding model favoured by this Rann/Weatherill state government. They are, of course, nothing new. In the United Kingdom, the PPP by another acronym, the PFI (private finance initiatives), has seen that nation's National Health Service pay, for example, the Edinburgh infirmary hospital some seven times over the amount they would have paid had they used a public process, but that particular hospital will remain the property of the private operator. We have seen this system tried in the UK and we have seen it fail, but we have not learnt the lesson here in South Australia.
Of course, for a government, and this state government, the PPP looks better for the books. However, for the public this private partnership, like so many in the UK before it, is a dud deal. Under these PPPs, government payments to private companies are stamped as expenses, but it is all smoke and mirrors; it is debt and it is daft. The end result has hit not just our hip pocket in this case but it has hurt our health system. The new hospital may be a builder's and a bureaucrat's dream, but if it is not fit for purpose it will be a patient's and a medico's nightmare. It is already on the sick list even before taking the very first patient.
A little closer to this parliament on North Terrace is a tale of a much smaller piece of infrastructure, a piece of infrastructure that is no longer there, a piece of infrastructure that once existed below what is now the biomedical precinct on North Terrace West—the Adelaide city skate park. I note there is no money for the new Adelaide city skate park in this Supply Bill, and has not been announced in any way in the last few years by this state government. That is despite the fact that a new biomedical precinct now stands tall at the western end of North Terrace where once the Adelaide skate park stood. When it was announced to be built, the Premier promised that a new Adelaide city skate park would be built and would be supported by the state government.
A modern city, a vibrant city needs more than wine bars; it also needs a safe place for positive youth development opportunities. Now more than ever, our state has an opportunity to build an even better facility than the one we had before. I have a note that skateboarding is no longer a form of simply rolling around and being rebellious on four wheels, and it should not be dismissed.
Just yesterday, I read a story about a 10-year-old girl from Western Australia who lives in the small town of Denmark. Her name is Isi Campbell and she is a skateboarding prodigy. She has to travel to the Eastern States because of the lack of skate park facilities near where she lives, but she has been so determined that she is looking at competing in the Olympics. Yes, that is right: the world now takes skateboarding seriously, even if this state government does not.
Young Isi is looking at competing in 2020 when, for the first time in history, skateboarding will become an Olympic sport. However, here in South Australia such dreams are being dashed before they can even begin. Skateboarding representatives say that the current temporary skate park, which is being used by as many as 80 skaters on a good day, is just not up to scratch for this kind of usage. To quote Jarrod Knoblauch:
It's the same sort of skate park that a country town has, where eight kids skate it every week but when you've got 80 dudes skating it in one day, things are going to fall apart.
Respected Adelaide BMX figure Matt Hodgson has also pointed out that it is not even worth the time it takes to ride across town. Matt Hodgson has a background in BMX, which was previously catered for by the Adelaide city skate park but is not catered for by the temporary response that we have seen since the loss of the Adelaide skate park. Matt said, 'It's not built for us…It's fine for skating but it doesn't have any of the components of the old city [skate] park.'
Those components, of course, are that it was built for purpose, it suited skaters, scooters, BMX and it was fit for competition. There was a promise by the Premier of this state that there would be a new Adelaide city skate park when the state government took that land to build the biomedical precinct. That was prior to the 2014 state election and yet here we are in 2017 and still there is no skate park for the skaters.
There have also been complaints from the public—and I note a news piece recently on TV—regarding skateboarders, who are using the ledges in front of the Museum as a place to hang out and skate, being a nuisance. I have raised this matter in this place not just once in a motion, not just twice in a motion but, of course, this third time. Each time I have been told by the state government that it is too soon to commit to a skate park. Well, it was not too soon in 2013 and certainly it is not too soon for those people who are now having to deal with skaters resorting to skating out the front of the Museum, because if the city does not have a skate park, the city will become a skate park.
If you cannot get the basics right and you cannot keep your promises as a Premier to the skating community of this city then you do not have vibrant Adelaide. Indeed, if you cannot keep those promises and if you forget the skaters it may be a small thing, but it will be something that the skating communities, their friends and their families who vote next year in the state election will remember and will hold in mind when they cast their ballot.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:43 :52 ): The purpose of this bill is to enable the government to continue to pay the wages of public servants. It is important that any state budget is used efficiently for the benefit of the people of South Australia and not wasted on unnecessary matters—for example, with regard to the O-Bahn project. The government embarked on this project to reduce travel time for residents in the north-east to go to the city and return by avoiding delays at intersections such as Botanic and Hackney roads. It was suggested that, for each of the approximate 1,000 bus journeys made on the O-Bahn each day, travellers would save 3½ minutes.
In reality, I understand the 3½-minute saving would only apply for two hours each day, that is, between 8am and 9am and 5pm and 6pm, Monday to Friday. Furthermore, the savings did not take into account the additional time taken to walk back to Rundle Mall or North Terrace from Grenfell Street for passengers working in those areas.
In the 2016-17 budget, the Valuer-General was provided with an extra $2.8 million to commence a five-year rolling revaluation program. I have made several attempts to obtain specific details of how the project was to be undertaken; however, the information I have been provided lacks detail and direction for the project. We are now within three weeks of the 2017-18 budget being presented to parliament. Not only should the Valuer-General be able to articulate details of the revaluation program, they should also be able to provide details of what has actually been achieved in the past year since they received the additional funding.
In July 2015, PIRSA commenced an investigation into the problem and possible solution to spray drift issues between dryland farming undertaking grazing and cropping activities and adjoining vineyards within areas in the Barossa Valley. After questions were raised about the project, I was advised that the investigation was being undertaken by an informal committee which had no terms of reference and no projected time line. Under persistent questioning, a final report was produced with no effective recommendations. This informal committee has now been dissolved and replaced by a new committee comprised of the CEOs of PIRSA, DPTI and Primary Producers SA. I question the effectiveness and purpose of the initial committee if a new committee is now looking at the same issue two years later.
In the 2016-17 budget, the Investment Attraction Unit within the Department of State Development had a target to distribute $15 million to attract businesses in South Australia. In questioning at the Budget and Finance Committee, it was revealed that the $15 million target had been achieved at a cost of $13.6 million to the state. This seems like an extraordinary use of public moneys.
There have also been large-scale failures within large and medium-scale government computing systems. The health department and Treasury has spent well in excess of the budget amounts to develop the EPAS and RISTEC systems. The Department for Communities and Social Inclusion had to scrap its attempt to develop a pensioner concession system when the cost escalated to about 10 times the original estimate. Whilst it is important to make sure that computing systems are developed correctly, it is also important that customers (in this case, government departments) know what they want the system to do so that the software developers create programs which do what is needed in line with approved budgets and time lines.
These are but a few examples of the sort of inefficient outcomes of the Public Service, and government should ensure that these are not to be repeated in the future. With that, I support the second reading of the bill.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL ( 15:48 :04 ): In debating the Supply Bill, I want to draw attention today to how the federal and state governments are letting down some of the most vulnerable people in our state. I am referring to the decision that was announced last Friday afternoon to close three important community legal centres, namely, the Riverland Community Legal Centre based in Berri, the South East Community Legal Service based in Mount Gambier and the Welfare Rights Centre based in Adelaide. Depending on who you talk to, these closures are either the result of federal government funding cuts or they are the result of the state government failing to properly manage its own processes and budget. Regardless of who was to blame, the ones who will suffer are clearly some of the most vulnerable people in South Australia.
Let us look at what these community legal services do. The two country services (in the Riverland and in the South-East) are what are referred to as generalist services: they provide a wide range of legal advice on a wide range of legal problems. I have some experience with both of these services. In the 10 years that I was working for the Environmental Defenders Office we would often visit the Riverland and the South-East and both of those centres would lend us an office and would put us up for the day. In my time there I saw the range of work they did and the quality of the work they did.
It is not just high-level legal problems and it is not just major cases that are going to end up in the Supreme Court. I think a lot of us forget that ordinary folk do not have a lot of interaction with the law. Most people do not really understand how the law works and they do not know what to do when they are faced with a legal problem.
One conversation I had with one of the solicitors in one of these centres was about a client who had walked in the door recently, an elderly lady whose husband had just died and she did not know what to do. What do you do legally? She did not have family or kids to support her. What do you do? Here was a shopfront where there were sympathetic people who understood the law, if there was a legal issue involved, but who could otherwise help direct the person to other places that could be of more practical assistance. If there is a legal problem, they will identify it; if there is not, they will reassure and calm the person. For people and clients like that a Skype service, an internet-based service or even a phone service just does not cut it.
The two legal services in the Riverland and the South-East also provide outreach services to the prisons that are in those areas. That is not terribly sexy work and it is not necessarily popular work. As Judge Peggy Hora, Thinker in Residence and a person I have quoted many times in this place, said about all these prisoners, 'They're coming back to us; they're coming out of prison and they're coming back to us.' They can come back to us with even more legal problems than they went into prison with or they can come back to us perhaps on a bit more of a level field and maybe with a chance to get back into society and to rehabilitate. So, they are important jobs that these country legal services provide.
Most of us know that a huge proportion of the population receives some form of social security benefit, whether it is aged pensions, unemployment benefits through Newstart, the disability pension or any of the other pensions, payments, allowances and concessions. We know that things go wrong when you have massive bureaucracies such as that administered by Centrelink. Sometimes things go wrong because of stuff-ups, sometimes it is human error, sometimes it is computer error, sometimes it is just appalling government policy that makes life overly difficult for people and discriminates against people and kicks them when they are down.
We know that mistakes happen often in the social security field. In fact, whilst I am always loathe to bring too many personal examples into this place, one of my kids once had an exchange with Centrelink over an imaginary application for a disability pension. When my child said, 'I have never applied for a disability pension. I am not eligible for one, I don't want one. I am a student.' The best they could do was say, 'We are sorry, you have been rejected for a disability pension.' You have to wonder. This stuff would do well in a Yes Minister script or even a Monty Python script.
We know things go wrong. Where do you go when things go wrong? You go to the Welfare Rights Centre. They are the experts. They know how all of these bureaucracies work. They know what people's obligations and rights are. There is more than just that, there is more than just the provision of legal advice to people who walk in or ring up. They also provide a duty solicitor service to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and also a duty solicitor service at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Welfare rights are there to help those who have no-one else to help them and to advocate on their behalf. They also provide an outreach service to the APY (Aboriginal) lands. They go there two or three times a year, providing legal services.
There is even more than that. Another service they provide is a Housing Legal Clinic, providing essential legal advice to those who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. One of the great things about this particular service is that it leverages around $600,000 worth of pro bono legal assistance from the private legal profession. These are organisations that run on a shoestring. The annual budget for the South East Community Legal Service at Mount Gambier is something like $522,000 a year; it is about half a million dollars a year to serve that entire community. It is money well spent and it pays for itself.
Following the announcement of these three centres closing, the National Association of Community Legal Centres has sheeted home responsibility to both the federal and the state government. According to the national association's media release from yesterday:
People in South Australia will miss out on essential legal services as a result of the decision of the South Australian Government to close three of the eight Commonwealth funded Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across South Australia…
'We are extremely concerned about the decision to close three of these centres—the Welfare Rights Legal Centre, that provides expert social security law assistance; South East Community Legal Centre based in Mount Gambier and Riverland Community Legal Service in Berri.'…
'The closure of these centres and the move to the centralisation of access to legal services will act as a barrier for people getting the help they need from local community-based services. People in places like Berri already face barriers to accessing services and now their nearest CLC will be hundreds of kilometres away.'
When it comes to whose fault it is, I will give you two contrary opinions. The first one we will get from the Attorney-General, Mr Rau. In his media release, which I think is best described as an attempt to put lipstick on a pig, he acknowledges that the commonwealth recently announced additional funding for community legal services and he complains that the detail was only made available to the state government in recent days. Mind you, that complaint did not stop him from closing these centres. He says:
The additional C ommonwealt h funding does not reverse the F ederal cuts to community legal services sector in South Australia.
If we contrast that with the media statement, again from yesterday, from the peak body, the National Association of Community Legal Centres, their spokesperson says:
We are very disappointed that the South Australia n Government has made this decision despite the Commonwealth Government reversing the funding cuts facing CLCs in the recent Federal Budget.
I think that both levels of government need to bear responsibility, but our focus here is on what the state government can do. The government says that it is not cutting these services, but that they are going to be provided in different ways. As I have said before, there is going to be an emphasis on telephone advice, they are going to use the Legal Services Commission as a central clearing house and I guess people, if they are able to, will log onto computers, but what is really unclear is whether the shopfronts will be maintained, whether the hours will be maintained and whether local solicitors and support staff based in the local community will be retained.
According to the Attorney-General, services in Adelaide's south, in the South-East of the state and in the Riverland will now be provided by Southern Community Justice Centre. I have no beef with that organisation. They do good work; I have no criticism of them whatsoever. I guess you could say that providing some service is better than providing no service, but it is still very unclear whether the quality and quantity of services that those country communities have enjoyed up until now will be able to be met in the same way under new management.
It is clear that cost cutting has gone on, and it seems pretty clear that other organisations have sniffed the wind and put in bids for much lower levels of service. It appears that that is what has happened here. Similarly, the service provided by the Welfare Rights Centre appears to have gone to Uniting Communities. Again, I have no criticism of that organisation; they do fine work. They have entered a field that was much lacking in South Australia, that of consumer credit, so I take my hat off to them, but if this is just about cost cutting, shutting shopfronts and closing a specialist service that has served the South Australian community for decades, then it is just not good enough.
The next step, of course, is what can be done. I will refer to the media release put out by the National Association of Community Legal Centres. They have made the following call to the South Australian government. I think they are on the money, and I echo these calls. They call on the South Australian government to do its part in ensuring that the people of South Australia can access the legal help they need by—there are four dot points—firstly, increasing its contribution to community legal centre funding. The three centres had never received state funding; they were commonwealth funded. The state government always avoided sending money their way—they said, 'No, you can rely on the feds'—and now they are not prepared to step in and save those essential services.
Secondly, they call on the South Australian government to make a decision on the allocation of the additional commonwealth funding that was provided in the 2017-18 federal budget as soon as possible. We know that much of that money has been earmarked for domestic violence services. I think it is probably fair to say that that is exactly a lot of the work that these community legal centres do—it is in that field—so there is no incompatibility there.
Thirdly, they call on the state government to revisit its decision to de-fund these three centres. Finally—and I guess this is the fallback position at the end of the day—if the government is committed to closing these centres, they call on the state government to provide transitional funding and support for the people, communities and centres affected. I think that final point is an important one.
Having spent a fair bit of my life working in and with community legal centres, I know that there is a lot of sacrifice. We have lawyers, paralegals and administrative people who work for far less pay than they would get in the private sector or even in the Public Service. People work in these areas because they appreciate the need that they are serving. Sure, they get satisfaction out of it, but they work very hard. As I said before, it also leverages a lot of pro bono assistance. These community legal centres are great training for young lawyers. It exposes young lawyers to issues and to people that they might not otherwise be aware of.
I can say, as a fact, that my early work at the Fitzroy Legal Service exposed me to a side of life that I had not imagined. It was a long way from the middle-class suburbs, where I guess most of us grew up, to the streets of Fitzroy in the 1970s—a very different world. We know that community legal centre lawyers work in a tough environment. It can be frustrating but it can also be rewarding. I think the government owes it to these people, who have served the South Australian community for so many decades, to not leave them in the lurch, to provide them with funding and to provide them with some certainty so we can ensure that the important work that they do will continue.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.