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Speech: Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens in support of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023. A summary of this bill is that it enables the board to address the issues of entering into a broader range of commercial arrangements, including commercial partnerships and joint ventures, as requested by the relevant board. It also has an option to introduce paid parking on Sundays and public holidays as a future possibility, in line with similar changes occurring across the City of Adelaide.

I note that, yet again, here we are in post-truth politics in this place, unfortunately. Again, I say to the Liberals: I know what you did last summer, which is that you lied about a picnic tax. Here we are yet again this week in parliament, debating what should be straightforward but which has caused undue consternation in the community.

The Greens do understand that our green space needs to be a priority, with services to our community. This bill is straightforward. There is no mention of a new so-called picnic tax, as the Liberals campaigned upon, for South Australians. It instead has done what the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium board has asked it to do: broadening their powers to engage in commercial activities that are in line with its broader purpose, simply bringing it into the 21st century.

There is a balancing act of course between commercial engagement and sponsoring community events, and this will allow them to attract more visitors to our much-loved gardens and allow us all to enjoy them in different ways. We have been so lucky to have a city located adjacent to stunning green spaces, where many of us do enjoy a picnic, a wedding or an event, such as the Fringe, Illuminate, Moonlight Cinema or WOMAD, where some of our most fascinating and stunning wildlife call home.

In November 2023 the Adelaide Botanic Gardens won a world accolade at the International Garden Tourism Awards as a garden of the world worth travelling for. Fortunately, for those of us in Adelaide we do not have to travel that far. We cannot also forget our other botanic gardens: Mount Lofty, dedicated to the cultivation of the world's cool climate plants; and, Wittunga, a hidden oasis with an extensive collection of waterwise plants.

To ensure the board can continue to maintain these beautiful gardens and deliver these dynamic events that we all enjoy so much, their powers need to be updated and extended from what is currently in the act. This is a change that mirrors the powers of museums and art galleries, for example. It is not controversial, it should never have been controversial. The Liberal opposition made it controversial by engaging in a little more of what I am calling post-truth politics.

Bringing more people to experience our gardens and all they have to offer, from all over the world, is a change the Greens welcome and are very happy to support. We do bemoan that the debate has come to this. I draw the attention of members of the council and the community to two pieces of correspondence. One is dated 13 November 2023, and is addressed to the Hon. David Speirs MP, Leader of the Opposition. It comes from the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium and is signed off by Judy Potter, the Presiding Member of the Board of the Botanic Gardens and cc'd to the relevant minister. The letter reads:

Dear Mr Speirs On behalf of the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium, I am writing to you to express our disappointment at the 'No Picnic Tax' campaign you are prosecuting in South Australia in response to the proposed changes to the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium (BGSH) Act 1978.

A central tenet of this campaign is the incorrect claim that these changes to the Act will result in the introduction of general entry charges to the Adelaide Botanic Garden, the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and the Wittunga Botanic Garden.

As I carefully explained to Mr Batty, and the staff from your office when we briefed them on the changes of our act on 28th September at your request, the Board has never had any intention to levy a general entry charge to the Botanic Gardens and has no intention of doing so in the future. Indeed, further amendments to the Act, which I am advised were filed in Parliament on October 18th, enshrine this stipulation into the Act.

No proposed changes to the Act reference general entry charging, with the exception of special sites and projects that have been subject to entry charges for many years, and across multiple governments. Given that we were very clear with your team on this, statements that there is a plan to introduce general entry charges across our sites, and the stress that this claim is causing our loyal visitors and our staff, are particularly disappointing. Your passion for the gardens is well understood to us and we would like to ensure you fully understand the Board's position and intentions.

Free daytime general entry to BGSH sites is a fundamental part of our ongoing success in serving the community of South Australia. Thanks to the hard work, innovation and creativity of the Gardens' staff in building on our core offer with special events and programs aimed at growing and diversifying our audience, we have seen significant growth in visitation over recent years, leading to a 6 year high of 1.3M visits to the Adelaide Botanic Garden in 2022/23.

Under your letter of direction as our Minister (17th September 2021), the Board was asked to pursue commercial opportunities to supplement our State Appropriation within the extent of our powers. We have found that the 1978 Act is limiting in what we can pursue and needs to be updated to be fit-for-purpose in 2023 and beyond. The fundamental objective of these changes is to give the Board the flexibility to pursue commercial opportunities consistent with our mission and purpose, and it is the responsibility of the Board and Minister of the day to ensure that these activities are in line with that purpose and with community standards.

Parking fees at our sites have long been part of our operation, and funds raised from these go directly to support the important horticultural, conservation and public engagement work of the BGSH. The modification of the 1978 Act's blanket ban on parking charges on Sunday were proposed to better enable the Board to manage parking demand at a time when parking charges apply across the City on Sundays. Again, I was clear with your office that there was no immediate plan to implement this, rather it was to give the Board the flexibility to respond to parking demand over the future life of the act.

Mr Speirs, the Board takes its responsibility to ensure that the BGSH serves its community very seriously. The Board and I would strenuously oppose any proposals to introduce general entry charging to the sites we manage and the suggestion that we are seeking to do so is a misrepresentation of the Board's position, and of the changes that have been proposed to the Act. On behalf of the Board, I ask you to correct the record on the suggestion that general entry charges are being introduced, or even contemplated, by the Board.

Noting we have not discussed this with you in person as you were not able to attend the briefing, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you at your convenience.

Yours sincerely Judy Potter Presiding Member

This was followed up on 2 February 2024 with again a letter to the Hon. David Speirs, Leader of the Opposition, which reads:

Dear Mr Speirs

I refer to the Board's letter to you on 15th November 2023 regarding your campaign around entry and parking charges at the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium sites. It has come to our attention that, in spite of the Board clearly setting out the fact that this campaign is promulgating misinformation, there are still leaflets being handed out containing such misinformation and suggesting that general entry and parking charges are being planned for the Wittunga Botanic Garden. To be absolutely clear, there is no plan from either Board or Government to introduce any such charges at this garden. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.

I can also state that suggestions that we have seen in the media that either the Premier or the Deputy Premier have sought to have general entry charges introduced to any of our sites are also incorrect.

The Board is particularly concerned by the continuation of this campaign of misinformation, after I have both briefed your office on the actual intents of the Board, have written to you to formally correct the record, and have flagged the negative effect this is having on our community, visitors and staff.

I note that we have not received a response from you to our earlier letter. I remain available to meet with you to brief you directly in case you remain unclear on any aspect of the amendments to the BGSH Act.

Yours sincerely Judy Potter
Presiding Member Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium

I seek leave to table these two documents, the letters of 15 November and 2 February, from the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium presiding member to the Leader of the Opposition.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: It had not been my intention to read those letters out today. They were provided to me in the briefing. I share the concerns of the board about the lies and misinformation put out by the Liberal opposition with regard to this particular bill. It should not have been a controversial bill. Indeed, it was a bill initiated at the request of the Leader of the Opposition when he was minister. Politics is yet again being played in this place. The Greens support the bill. We look forward to its speedy passage and we hope that in the future, the Liberal Party will not continue to play post-truth politics with the people of South Australia.

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