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Speech: Appropriation Bill 2023

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:43): I, too, rise to make a contribution to the Appropriation Bill 2023. There is no doubting that the impact of COVID-19 on our economy and our society is now being brought to bear. We are on the other side of the pandemic crisis, but the priorities have now come full circle to battling a housing crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, growing levels of poverty and inequality and, of course, the climate crisis.

In that respect this budget is, to say the least, underwhelming. It would be an understatement to say that the Greens are disappointed by the lack of action on climate change in this budget. It is outrageous that in a time of climate crisis, after watching the Northern Hemisphere essentially burn, over the next four years the Department for Environment and Water budget will be cut by $88 million, and that of course is on top of previous cuts over the past two decades. Yet, this government is willing to spend over $5 million on establishing an office of AUKUS while gutting Green Industries SA, essentially halving their budget.

We also know that the El Niño weather patterns will hit South Australia very hard. Greg Mullins, who is the founder of Emergency Leaders for Climate Change, has warned us that:

The El Niño event is like adding fuel to the fire—literally. With the warmer and drier conditions it brings, it's likely we're looking at an extended and potentially volatile fire season.

Our climate is changing and it impacts on our lives in many ways. Those who already live with poverty and disadvantage will continue to be the hardest hit. Governments do have an obligation to address climate change, its causes, its impacts on the natural environment and its impact on people, animals and infrastructure. Sadly, the Treasurer did not once mention climate change or the climate crisis in this budget statement. I am not sure where the Malinauskas government has been, but they do have some tough decisions to make.

The Greens are also frustrated to see that preparing for and preventing climate change was largely ignored in this budget. While the government's spending has been focused on emergency capacity—that we, of course, do need—and expensive infrastructure and equipment spending, including an aircraft for increased aerial firefighting capacity, coastal and estuarine risk mitigation and flood barriers, there are many missed opportunities to mitigate and to address the causes of climate change and to grow our climate and disaster resilience, that of the people and communities, beyond investment in just assets.

We do need better funding for our CFS facilities. We are not even talking about gold standard facilities, we are just talking about ensuring a tap, a toilet and no asbestos or mould, and that other work health and safety standards are met. Our CFS volunteers not only generously donate their time and energy but they sometimes put their lives on the line for us. In South Australia, we are lucky to have world-class fire and rescue services, over both career and volunteer.

Through the Greens' questions in this place, we now know that around 90 CFS stations do not even have internal toilet facilities. That is almost one in five of our CFS facilities across the state. As we approach an extended period of hot, dry and dangerous fire conditions, the state government must urgently ensure a proper audit of those CFS facilities across our state.

As I have said before, the importance of a tap, a toilet and a place to change means diversity in our volunteer firefighting service. It means that they are given the respect and dignity they deserve. It means that they do not have to strip off, either before or after doing a shift, in front of their colleagues.

It is a disincentive to diversity, in particular to having more women involved in our Country Fire Service, and it is something that this government could address almost overnight, by not only doing that audit but by identifying where the greatest need is and ensuring things like change facilities, which are important not just for dignity and respect but for the very safety and health of those firefighters.

I note that we do have a cruel summer ahead and the CFS needs are just one part of ensuring that we are best prepared for the climate crisis in South Australia. Those firefighters deserve the best from this government, and I hope that we will see action on that soon.

Another area that I wish to reflect on is that of dog and cat management in this state. In 2018, a joint report published by the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League stated that the current management systems and implementation of the Dog and Cat Management Act are simply ineffective. South Australia has the second highest ownership of cats in the nation, with 37 per cent of South Australian households owning approximately 397,000 cats. That is no small number; however, our Dog and Cat Management Act fails to address the issue of the 171,000 unowned or semi-owned cats in our state.

Since 2018, this has led to a 20 per cent increase in shelter intake at the RSPCA alone, and that number is increasing. The resources of rescue charities, both large and small, are struggling to cope, and we get back to that cost-of-living crisis as well. This is resulting in poor welfare outcomes for both the cats and of course those who care for them.

There is no particular statewide figure published, but it is estimated that at least 43 per cent of the annual intake at the AWL and the RSPCA is potentially euthanised, simply as a result of overbreeding. The 2022 announcement of the Dog and Cat Management Board that they were to have a $100,000 fund for subsidised desexing is, of course, a step in the right direction but is absolutely not enough. It depends on councils being motivated to become involved, and we cannot rely on that particular motivation to avert what is an overbreeding crisis.

The board has said it themselves, not all councils have taken up the offer, and that is because the funding requires them to make a co-payment and councils in the most severe financial distress simply cannot afford this. It is not illogical to observe that those who have the money to put in for the co-funding are the most likely to take up the co-funding option and are best placed, whereas those in the most need will be least able to take up the desexing funding option.

We need dedicated funding in targeted areas of our state to implement free cat desexing programs to get the cat population under control. It is clearly an unsustainable situation for organisations such as the AWL and the RSPCA, and the many rescues—and there are so many rescues—who rely predominantly on community goodwill, volunteer effort and community donations.

Targeted low-cost desexing programs, which have been shown to be effective in increasing desexing rates, also have good, strong community support. Ongoing low-cost desexing programs have helped to achieve what is called zero euthanasia of all healthy and treatable stray and surrendered cats and dogs in places like the Gold Coast. In fact, while that is the second largest council in our country, it is an exemplar of how best to manage this issue of cat overpopulation. It is good for our native flora and fauna, it is good for our pets, and it is good for those volunteers who donate their time in those particular animal shelters.

While I am on cats and dogs, despite our greyhound racing industry currently being the subject of an independent inquiry, I note that in the budget this year Racing SA and Greyhound Racing SA got a funding boost. The government has announced funding to be given to horse and dog racing from its betting operations tax doubling, going from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, or an estimated $6.5 million in revenue across the racing industry. That is money going to prizes when it could be going to people in need. This is despite all attitudes that have been reflected in national surveys towards greyhound racing, revealing that 69 per cent of Australians oppose the use of taxpayer funds to prop up the greyhound racing industry.

'What is the return on investment of these public funds?' is a reasonable question to ask of this budget. Where could we be using our money to invest better in community programs and looking at, rather than fuelling the epidemic of gambling and gambling harm, the culture of an industry that is defined by animal deaths being acceptable and part of the business model, and where profits are put before welfare?

Further, on the point of sports, we have also seen our major events fund receive an extra $20.8 million over four years, including the 'hotly contested' LIV Golf tournament. The LIV Golf series is a large-scale effort to sportswash Saudi Arabia, using top-level sports to distract from their human rights violations, and we in South Australia have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is the major shareholder of this controversial new tour. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund, and the Crown Prince now wants to release his Vision 2030 plan of making the country more modern and less dependent on oil money.

Again, we have fallen for it. We have let our state be a puppet of the Saudi regime. I have to say that the fact that this government has so far refused to comply with this council's motion for an order of the production of documents, and the Premier has blatantly refused to reveal just how much taxpayers have spent on funding this tournament—a tournament that does not need our money, but it does need our credibility—is unacceptable.

The South Australian public deserve better. They deserve not only to know how much money was spent on this but what the conditions are. That motion of this council should be respected by the Malinauskas government and I note that, to date, it has not. Despite that motion passing the parliament earlier this year, my office has yet to receive those documents relating to payments or agreements made to host the LIV Golf tournament. How this government can speak up and talk about responsibility to the state and yet fail to be transparent is something for them to reflect upon.

Sport has received a lot of attention this year, with another $18 million allocated to the SA Motor Sport Board to support the Adelaide 500. We know that that was a Malinauskas election promise, but we do not know where this funding is going. In an article published in The Advertiser on 10 October, the Adelaide City Council Lord Mayor said:

The SA Motor Sport Board…had sought access for an extra 16,000 square metres of Rymill Park to potentially operate as an RV park for this year's event.

Yet, under our South Australian Motor Sport Act, they can potentially do this, not with any decision of the Adelaide City Council but simply that decision is now in the hands of the Motor Sport Board. This is a dangerous precedent that has undermined the integrity of our Parklands and, yet again, is an example of the desires of a few outweighing the needs of many and the cost-of-living crisis going unaddressed and the climate crisis simply being fuelled.

It would be great to see the establishment of a South Australian First Nations Voice to Parliament. However, we are incredibly disheartened by the lack of investment in First Nations issues. I note that earlier today the minister talked about the I believe $800,000 or $700,000 given to the Ernabella Arts Centre.

I know that the APY Art Centre Collective—which is an exemplar, a shining example of how art can strengthen communities, can bring wealth into communities living in unacceptable poverty, can empower artists and can use art for absolute purpose—is currently suffering through what I would call a racist campaign by The Australian. This is the time that the Malinauskas government should be stepping in to support the APY Art Centre Collective in their time of need and standing against the concerted attack that The Australian newspaper has waged against that art centre, possibly because they were involved in the debates and supported the yes campaign in the recent referendum and possibly because they were seen as tall poppies who needed to be cut down.

We have had one particular inquiry find that there was no evidence that the provenance of the work was as The Australian had suggested over repeated articles and over many months with a sustained attack on the integrity and credibility and careers of those artists. We have not seen any evidence of The Australian's claims borne out and, I note, The Australian did not provide the full video footage to that first inquiry that they claimed supported their argument.

I hope that the current inquiry that is ongoing, that the South Australian government is part of with the commonwealth and territories, gets hold of that full video. I certainly would be very pleased to see the artists and the Anangu and the elders given the respect that they deserve by having that full footage released and having their voices actually heard in that debate. But when you stand up for something that the Murdoch empire does not necessarily support, we know that there is a cautionary tale there to those people that they may well find themselves the target of such concerted attack as we have seen in The Australian against the APY Art Centre Collective.

So I single them out, that the Malinauskas government should be looking at supporting them, because I note that they have lost both philanthropic and state government support in recent years. They are certainly a shining example of how art can empower Anangu and have been so successful around the world that they deserve a little bit more support than they are currently getting.

The government, of course, has also failed to give additional funding to the Aboriginal Ranger Program despite calls from the community, native title groups and stakeholders. It is good for people, it is good for nature and it is good for culture. More Aboriginal ranger jobs will benefit South Australians and South Australia, as well as our First Nations South Australian community. The previous commitment of 15 rangers, but for those rangers to only be within national parks, is good, it is a welcome step forward, but it does not go nearly far enough.

South Australia, of course, was also supposed to have a 'globally significant' cultural institution drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors per year to our capital city but, after five years, the Tarrkarri project is currently in limbo. South Australia's dedicated Aboriginal arts centre is quite literally currently just a hole in the ground. The pitch by the previous Premier was 'sharing 60,000 years of stories and songlines with the entire world', and when construction got underway in late 2021 we had hoped for so much more.

A centre bigger than the South Australian Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia combined, Tarrkarri was designed to showcase Aboriginal art, history and culture, but what we have seen is no additional funding allocated here in this budget and, of course, reviews, leaving the future of the centre in doubt and being told by the Malinauskas government that their intention is to make it better. I do not see how not providing money and certainty and security makes it better, and the fact that it is currently still in limbo, with the government now calling for philanthropic funding to offset the costs without putting up any of their own money additionally, does seem counterintuitive, and we will be watching closely what happens next with Tarrkarri.

Aligned with the targets set in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Greens have also called for substantial change in order to reach those targets and, in particular, for concrete action to be taken to reduce the incarceration and criminalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and adults. I do acknowledge the work of the minister in this area. There has been much good work.

The fact, however, that much of the year's budget is directed towards capital expenditure and infrastructure, such as the construction of new facilities and accommodation at Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, suggests that there is insufficient resourcing still for preventative programs to reduce reoffending and support young people to make positive life choices, reduce that over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in our youth justice system and better support the complex needs of children and their families.

I am, as a Greens member of this place, saddened by the lack of a target to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Raising that age from 10 to 14 years would be a significant step towards reducing the number of children and young people in that youth justice system and enable better supports to be put in places where they are needed. I note that my colleague the Hon. Robert Simms does have a bill to effect that, and I know that he has been having good conversations in South Australia with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Attorney-General in both of those roles. I note that the ACT is currently leading the way—where we do have a Greens-Labor government, I think for the fourth term in a row in that particular jurisdiction—and leading the way not just on that issue but on many other issues.

There has been a lot of praise given to the Malinauskas government for abolishing stamp duty for first-home buyers, something that I do emphasise is not uncommon around this country. While the Greens welcome that as a first step to helping those in our state get into the housing market, does the government actually know what the average cost of a home in metro Adelaide is with their particular scheme? According to an ABC article published in 2023 in July, the average cost of a home in Adelaide is now $700,000, so I am not sure where exactly the government is expecting these first-home owners to buy, particularly given the new developments in places such as Riverlea and Angle Vale are averaging between $650,000 and $700,000.

Again, I commend the work of my colleague the Hon. Robert Simms. We need more, not just affordable housing but more public housing, more housing in general. We need to turn this debate on its head and stop expecting a private market system to provide what is a basic human right.

The demands on our health system in this current climate are costing the government more than $1.3 billion over the next five years, and yet there seems not much money in the budget for mental health. I note that the state budget does not address the needs of the thousands and thousands of people living with mental ill health in our community, who deserve better and are not getting the supports they need.

I note also that the unmet needs report was shelved and only under public pressure finally released. I find that quite disappointing because the delay of the release of that report meant that it was not out in the context of the framing of this particular budget that we debate now in this parliament. It kicks that can down the road for the next budget, so I do urge the Malinauskas government and look forward to hearing Mid-Year Budget Review announcements to address those unmet needs.

South Australia pays 61 per cent more per person per day for an inpatient bed for mental health than the rest of the nation. We are dealing with tight budgets in the coming years, and this government does need to look at investing in community-based mental health care and support. That will reduce demand for other mental health services, and it is a better outcome for the consumer. It is better, of course, to keep people well and in recovery than to see them enter the acute side of those services.

The government can put money into community-based mental health supports. I know that they are addressing ramping in many ways, but this will cut back ramping and create savings in other areas of the health budget. It would be a much better investment of our money to ensure that people get the support they need to actually stay well in the first place rather than enter acute care. The consequences of not doing so is that people with severe mental illness will continue to churn through emergency departments and acute wards as well as other health, welfare and community services, and indeed places like public libraries.

I note that public libraries are really desperate post-COVID for additional funding. They serve many needs in our community in this digital divided age. People see libraries as a safe place when they are homeless, when they are lonely, when they are in need, when they do not have access in this era to computers or even phones. So I commend the work of public libraries but note, again, that that is sadly missing from this particular budget.

If the government did invest in community-based mental health supports, they would save money. It might not be immediate, but it would be in the short-term and then the longer term, and it would mean better lives for South Australians. It would help the thousands of people who are living with mental illness get the support they need and reduce their need for other health services. It is a missed opportunity. It is disappointing that that unmet needs document was kept under wraps until this budget was already out. It should have been a centrepiece of this budget.

With those words, I do say the Greens certainly have appreciated in many areas working collaboratively with the Malinauskas government, but I would point out that they have some choices to make here. The Greens have outlined what our choices would be. We will put community first. We will fight against inequality, and we will support addressing real climate action. It is now time that we should be talking about that post-COVID, once-in-a-generation opportunity that we were promised by the Premier, of a society that is free of poverty, free of greed, working for the benefit of the many, not the benefit of the few—as COVID did to us, turning the way we see the world on its head, but turning it on its head for the better.

With that, we look forward to working continually with all in this place for those outcomes. Those are the Greens' principles and we will stand by them. We pride ourselves on having policies, having our four pillars of environmental sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and peace and nonviolence. They guide all of our decisions.

We have established and consulted on policy across the board that we take to the election and we will stand by those policies, such as the state Voice to Parliament. We had a policy for Truth, Treaty, Voice, and we will work every day in this place to ensure that that policy comes to fruition. I note the Malinauskas government had a policy for Voice, Treaty, Truth. It may be in a slightly different order, but in fact the Uluru Statement from the Heart needs all three parts of those calls to ensure that we work towards true reconciliation and truth-telling.

On that note, I also have a commitment regarding the state archives that currently are inaccessible to Aboriginal people in relation to their own stories of their own lives, that have been kept from them through bureaucracy and a previous Attorney-General changing the rules on them after a stolen generation member managed to use those documents to ensure a significant and precedent-making compensation claim. That is part of the truth-telling work that we have ahead of us.

I hope that we will see money allocated again in the Mid-Year Budget Review to ensure that truth-telling can happen, that people have access to their own archives, their own histories, their personal histories, well before they pass, that they are not kept waiting so long that it is their children or their grandchildren who are the ones who finally get to access those archives. It needs to be done in a timely way, and the digitisation and acceleration of making those records accessible for Aboriginal people in this state I think is a priority as we move ahead. With that, I commend the bill.

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