Appropriation Bill 2013

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (16:23): I, too, rise to make a contribution and just highlight what inefficiencies and deficiencies this year's state budget has, in particular, to assist the rural and regional areas of South Australia. As everyone here knows, I am the representative of the regional area of Chaffey, which is one of the food bowls of South Australia. It is one of the agricultural capitals of South Australia with over 4,000 small businesses, and many of them are bearing the brunt.

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (16:23): I, too, rise to make a contribution and just highlight what inefficiencies and deficiencies this year's state budget has, in particular, to assist the rural and regional areas of South Australia. As everyone here knows, I am the representative of the regional area of Chaffey, which is one of the food bowls of South Australia. It is one of the agricultural capitals of South Australia with over 4,000 small businesses, and many of them are bearing the brunt.

We are regularly seeing businesses closing. It is about confidence; it is about these businesses being unable to go on. Just in the last month alone, I have seen over a dozen businesses close their doors in the townships of Renmark, Berri and Loxton. What it shows is that South Australian consumer confidence is at an all-time low, particularly in the regions.

It is not just Chaffey. I regularly speak to MPs for other regional areas and they say that the confidence level is struggling and when confidence is struggling, people are not prepared to invest. People are holding any savings that they have. Any plans that they have to increase their presence in their business or to invest in their business are just not going to come forward.

I am not going to touch on all the numbers. I think the leader and the shadow treasurer have done an outstanding job in giving an overview of what this government has done with the budget and the way it has mistreated South Australia. Really, once you push the gloss off the budget and look into the detail, it shows that this is a government that cannot be trusted. It is a government that continually puts smoke and mirrors in the way of the reality of what this budget will really mean to South Australia. What it means to regional South Australia is something that I will touch on.

It is quite clear that this budget has been a pre-election budget. There is no doubt about that. The election is coming up in March and there are sweeteners for marginal seats here in South Australia, for city seats here in South Australia. I did look at the budget on face value and I looked at some of the government's spending in some of the regions, but it is giving with one hand and taking with the other hand.

If we look at biosecurity, the government is giving a little sweetener in one area and taking a big chunk of the budget out of biosecurity. If we look at PIRSA, SARDI and Rural Solutions, they have been absolutely cut to the bone and, to be quite honest, I thought there was nothing left to cut out of those departments, but the government has found cuts that are going to hurt every institution in the regions of South Australia. Really, the state budget has failed to help stimulate growth in South Australia.

Small businesses with payrolls between $600,000 and $1 million will receive a temporary tax concession, while businesses with a payroll between $1 million and $1.2 million will receive a declining rate of concession. Why is this happening for one year? Why aren't we trying to stimulate the economy to drive some confidence into some of these small businesses.

This really says, 'We're going to help you this year, and then next year, you're on your own. There's no help at all.' Looking at how these tax concessions are going to help, it just makes the complexity of doing business here in South Australia that much tougher again. It makes it much more complicated.

Again, these people are going to have to go to accountants and work out the change of this tax regime for one year only.

It is a bit like when the government gave water to permanent plantings, particularly in Chaffey. It allowed these people to be in business for one more year and then when it came to the next year, when they really needed it, when the drought really bit, they said, 'No, you're on your own. We're not going to give you help this year. We will give you exit strategies; we will pay you to leave the land, but we're not going to give you any help so that you can continue to be part of the food bowl of South Australia.'

You can continue to put food on people's tables—three meals a day, seven days a week—and that is just something that people seem to expect. In these food bowls in the regions of South Australia—whether it is horticulture, agriculture, viticulture, all the permaculture—these industries are there for the long haul and the government continues to treat them as a short-term prospect when in actual fact they are there for the long haul. They are not there just for one generation or two generations.

Many of the big agricultural businesses have been there for generations and they are there for a reason and that is because that is what they do as a business. They continue to help the state's economy; they continue to help with the state's bottom line. They continue to be one of the primary economic drivers in this state as they have been for over 100 years, and yet, when times are tough, they get pushed to one side.

We look at mining and we look at defence, which have come and gone over time. The hole is dug in mining and, when the hole is empty, they have received all their assistance, they have received all the tax concessions and they have received all the huge amount of diesel rebate, which is much, much more than the agriculture sector gets. It is one of these feelgood decisions: 'While we are in government for four years, we will make a decision that will last four years.' Again, that is why I continue to go on about what is going on with their priorities.

What is the future for food production? Will our future generations of farming families be able to come in and have a succession plan? Are we going to put these businesses on the line and watch them disappear? Are we going to watch foreign investment take over? Are we going to watch that foreign investment use their workforce to come in, harvest crops and send them back over to their country under a low-tax regime with no input to our economy and no multiplier effect, if you like?

With South Australian businesses, again, we compare land tax, WorkCover and premium rates with other states. I have constituents with businesses, constituents who are part of the labour force, who come to me and say, 'Living in South Australia is a disadvantage. We are going across the border. We are going to work there because we don't pay the WorkCover premiums that we do here in South Australia. We don't pay the payroll tax. We don't have the land tax that is an absolute killer to progressive small business, so we are moving.'

I get constituents coming to me on more than a regular basis to say, 'This is simply too hard. We are on low wages and our cost of living is astronomical. We just cannot afford to do what we are doing.' They have friends and relatives in other states who are saying that they are paying less payroll tax and their WorkCover levy is having less of an impact, for example, in Victoria than it does here in South Australia.

Everything is passed on. The council rates are higher. Why are the council rates higher? The RDA is now receiving no state government funding. The state government has now passed on a cost to local government, so that local government is now passing the cost on to the ratepayers. The RDAs are an essential part of our economic development, they are an essential part of progress in the regions and yet the state government have wiped their hands and given the responsibility to local government, with some help from the federal government, but that is a cost that they will pass on to their ratepayers and, again, that is a cost that will increase the cost of living.

Every one of these responsibilities that the state government pushes on to the next institution, or passes on to the next pain taker, is passing on the cost of living here in South Australia. We look at some of the costs and, obviously, the cost of living. After 11 years, we are in our third term of Labor and it is becoming as absolutely clear as the nose on your face that this government is continuing to pass on charges with the benefit of sweeteners within a budget cycle.

In the past year, property charges have increased at twice the rate of CPI, state taxes have increased at three times the rate of CPI, electricity bills have increased at greater than five times the rate of CPI, of course, gas bills have increased at seven times the rate of CPI and the big one is water. Water bills have increased at 11 times the rate of CPI.

That is why constituents are saying, 'It's too hard to do business here in South Australia. It's too hard to pay the bills. We are going. We are moving. We are going interstate. We are going to a place where the grass is greener.' Guess what? They get there and the grass is greener. It is easier to live, it is easier to do business and there is less red tape.

We have some big almond businesses up in Chaffey. They are a world-leading institution in the processing of nuts and are essentially a co-op, but they are now reducing their presence, reducing their footprint here in South Australia and moving to New South Wales. Why are they moving to New South Wales? The cost of doing business is much cheaper in New South Wales. Why are they growing their almonds in Victoria? Because the Victorian government want to help them. They want to put power on their properties. They want to help them with water security. They want to help them with R&D. They want to help them get on with doing business.

Again, that is another burden in South Australia. Every time business goes to the government looking for power upgrades or water security, the government cannot give it to them. They are not prepared to give it to them. They are prepared to spend many millions of dollars on their priorities with superways, overpasses and the Adelaide Oval. It is a fact of life that we are going to invest money into those infrastructure projects, but the government's priorities are wrong. It is not infrastructure that is driving our economy. It is infrastructure that is making their marginal seat campaign look good. It is propping up votes for a government that is desperate—absolutely desperate—to remain in power, and they will do that at any cost.

That is why this side of the chamber continually goes on about what this government's inefficiencies are with infrastructure spend, productivity spend, looking after food production and looking after the regions. I will go on about exactly what horticulture and agriculture mean to this state. The electorate of Chaffey has about 16,500 square kilometres and a population of about 40,000. As I have said, there are about 4,000 small business in that electorate and 3,000 of them are food producers, yet we are seeing them disappear one after the other. Why? Because the South Australian government cannot give them business security or the confidence that doing business here in South Australia is a good option or a good business decision. It is a good business decision for them, as they see it, to move interstate, because the cost of doing business is cheaper.

There have been budget cuts to core funding for research groups like Primary Industries and Regions SA and SARDI. They are having their budgets continually cut. I do not see where there is an increase in the budget for primary industries. Since I have been in this place for three years, we continually see that the budget is cut year after year. If we look at SARDI, the budget is cut. If we look at Rural Solutions, the budget is cut.

We have a primary industry research centre in Loxton up in the Riverland. That was one of the cutting edge and leading R&D centres of South Australia. We took that R&D to the world. We proudly hold our head high. As the member for Colton would know, South Australia leads in water efficiency. Why do we lead in water efficiency? It was because of those gains that were made at Loxton. It was the gains which were exported around the world and which led us to be world leaders in efficiency with water use, moisture monitoring, plant genomics and planting types. That is why it is important that we have these R&D centres within the region that they are designed to help.

We cannot have R&D centres in Adelaide looking after what is going on in the Riverland, the Mid North or the South-East because it is not climate compliant. The grassroots knowledge of what is going on at Waite is not reflective of what is going on in the Riverland. Those budget cuts at the core groups of research and development—and independent extension is what this state should be looking at, focused on giving us a competitive advantage. Whether we are dealing with our competitors interstate or overseas, or whether we are dealing with an export market—the export markets are what drives the regions.

We can comply with putting the best standard of food—clean, green, world-leading food—onto our plates here in South Australia, but we do have to compete on a world stage, because that is what drives our economy. That is what drives the R&D arm to make us better. But all of a sudden, without the R&D, without the independent extension, without the support, with businesses being harder and harder to compete with—as I have said, across the border or overseas—we are going to lose that expertise.

We are going to lose that competitive advantage that we have had for many, many years. In some cases, such as with water efficiency, we have gained that competitive advantage over 40 or nearly 50 years now. We did that with extension, we did that with the R&D centres that the state government provided. It provided that for one reason, and that was to make South Australia a better place, a more productive place.

The Minister for Agriculture says she is hopeful but cannot promise that this budget will not have a detrimental effect on farmers in South Australia. What sort of leadership is that? 'I'm giving you a budget, but I hope it won't hurt the viability of your farm. I hope it won't affect the viability of your performance in dealing with a world market.' What sort of leadership is that? That really does beggar belief.

The $17.9 million decrease in PIRSA's net cost of services across three initiatives, from an estimated spend of $97.6 million in 2012-13 to just $79.7 million in 2013-14, is another highlight of just how we are going to be left in the dust when it comes to competing with our interstate and overseas counterparts. It really does beggar belief that a government's priorities are so wrong.

Let us look at biosecurity in this state. As the member for Hammond suggested, it was great to see $1 million extra go into the budget over four years for fruit fly; so that is $250,000 a year going into the budget for our biosecurity. It is about protecting South Australia: it is not about protecting the Riverland. If we look further into the budget regarding biosecurity, while they are giving $250,000 a year to a state that is world-renowned as being fruit fly free, if we look across the page, they are going to take another $700,000 out of the fruit fly strategy for the sterile insect technique.

They are going to take that out. While they have their lights on when giving $250,000, they are taking $700,000 with the other hand. That is why this government cannot be trusted, particularly with the regions, particularly with food production, agriculture and horticulture. It is about having that edge on putting food on the table and doing it efficiently and effectively so that we are leaders.

Let us look at water. Obviously there is disappointment in the mothballed desal plant; that will happen, inevitably. Water prices have nearly trebled since the desal plant was announced. If we look at the one-off water rebate, which has now been scrapped, sadly, very few constituents in Chaffey were eligible for that because they were living on lifestyle properties. Living in Chaffey is a lifestyle now?

That was just another smoke and mirrors exercise.

If we listen to the Premier, he has been the champion of the river, the basin plan, and yet he still has not signed up for the intergovernmental agreement. We still cannot get the funding out of the federal government because our Premier is too busy schmoozing up to the Prime Minister with other important issues now, because he has got his headline act with the basin plan. I think it is outrageous that every water user, every South Australian, has been hung out to dry when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin agreement. I think it is just outrageous.

Rural roads have received very little funding over this budget period. Will we have to reduce the road speeds to deal with the backlog of road maintenance? It is very, very sad. In terms of the hospital upgrades, we heard the Minister for Health today say that he is going to do a review of PATS, which helps the regional people who need help with medical procedures when they come to Adelaide. I note that there is only one government seat that is eligible for that PAT Scheme. That is probably why the minister is not going to put another cent back into the PAT Scheme.

Yesterday, I was cut short as I had just started talking about the lack of budget support for rural roads. Rural roads are almost the artery for infrastructure and commodity movement here in South Australia. Sadly, for the last 10 to 15 years, what we have seen is a centralisation of a lot of the grain terminals and wineries. We are seeing a centralisation of most commodity industries. They are starting to move to larger towns and, in some cases, they are moving interstate because of the cost of doing business here in South Australia.

What we are seeing is increased road traffic. We are seeing increased numbers of trucks and we are seeing specifically increased numbers of EB trains or B-doubles. The reason we are seeing that is economies of scale; we are seeing cost efficiencies coming into play. But what that means is that we are seeing more trucks on the road, more wear and tear on the roads, but we are seeing no more maintenance. We are seeing no more money put towards the maintenance of our country and regional roads.

I live on those roads. I live on the Sturt Highway, which is the main highway from Adelaide to Sydney, and I am seeing an increased number of trucks on almost a daily basis. Every trucking operation I visit and every transport operation I talk to, their numbers are increasing. They are putting on more trucks, more trailers and more drivers because we are using road transport more often, but we are not maintaining the roads. We are not looking after the roads that are moving our produce and freight from terminal to terminal, and it is becoming dangerous.

The Sturt Highway is a federal road; yes. It is a much more busy road than it was five years ago; yes. We have got the federal maintenance programs underway, but when we look behind the scenes at our state and council roads, they are continually being degraded. I think, as every regional member here would know, the biggest issue on our state roads are the shoulders. The deterioration of those shoulders is due to trucks passing and the roads getting narrower and narrower.

I have issues with trucks banging mirrors on corners and I have issues with trucks not having a line of sight going around a corner. We are seeing continued injuries and road accidents on our regional roads and yet we are now seeing a road maintenance backlog of well over $200 million. We are seeing our road fatalities increase on regional roads; we are seeing our accidents increase on regional roads, and yet we are seeing no more funding, no more support being put into the maintenance of those roads.

That is something that is very, very disappointing particularly. The regional bent on this budget is almost a highlight that it does not matter: it is out of sight and it is out of mind. Again, I call on the state government to put some priority into maintenance and upkeep to keep our roads driveable but, more importantly, to keep our regional roads safe.

The government has taken $100 million from the Motor Accident Commission to prop up its road safety, yet MAC is supposed to be a dedicated fund to look after people injured in road accidents. So the government has actually gone to MAC and agreed to take the $100 million and I will say that MAC has given it willingly so that money can actually be put towards dedicated funds, but it is not what that organisation is there to do. It is about the government taking responsibility; it is about the government being smart with getting commonwealth funding to upgrade our roads.

I notice that the Premier and the Minister for Infrastructure were at an opening of a mine recently down at Mindarie and people came up and said, 'Oh, it's great to see that the state government has upgraded the shoulders on the roads away from the mine.' It was a federal government project, the Black Spot Campaign, that upgraded the shoulder. It was not the state government.

By the way, the road does not finish at Karoonda. The ore that comes out of the Mindarie mines does not stop at Karoonda: it goes all the way to the ports; it goes all the way to the export terminals to be exported overseas. Again, that just highlights that the government is hiding behind a federal campaign saying, 'Isn't it wonderful that we've upgraded this road away from a mine?'

The Risky Roads campaign was organised by the RAA here in South Australia and seven of the 10 problem roads that are part of the Risky Roads campaign—believe it—are regional roads. Why are they regional roads? Because we have not got a budget for the regional roads maintenance program. Again, it is just another thing that really does grind my gears when I have to travel on those roads. My electorate is ever-increasing in size; the roads are ever-decreasing in quality; they are ever-decreasing in safety, and it is something that really does need to be put on the agenda.

The government cannot continue to ignore the condition of our roads. Yes, it is fine to do the upgrade of superways and duplication of southern expressways, but they also need to have that balance. They need to make a priority of looking after our regional roads. It is becoming dangerous; it is becoming ever-increasingly busy, but we are not looking at making those roads safer, particularly for the cars, particularly for our youth.

We have L-platers in the regions on a federal highway because that is how they get from one town to the next; they have to drive on a federal highway. They are dealing with B‑doubles; they are dealing with oncoming traffic; and they are dealing with traffic that is doing 110 km/h. Recently I had some young friends of my children up to visit and they could not believe the number of trucks on the road and the danger they faced just leaving my driveway onto the Sturt Highway. They came back almost in a sweat, not realising just exactly what they were up against on those roads.

We deal with the lack of width of lanes and we deal with the challenging conditions of road surfaces. We are dealing with the poor condition of many road markers. It is not about just often dealing with their poor condition, it is about dealing with them not being there. We deal with the need for road upgrades and the continual repainting of white lines, and the markers are missing, the reflectors are missing and the white posts are knocked over.

We have agricultural machinery and wide loads coming down the highways knocking over kilometres of white posts. Six months later those white posts are still lying in the bushes because they have not been fixed, so there is an issue with priorities on our roads. It is about dealing with the hazards and the danger that people are continually being faced with—whether they are truck operators, constituents driving from town to town, or young L-platers or P-platers having to deal with a very dangerous situation.

As I have already said, there are an increasing number of trucks on our regional roads. As the member for Hammond would know, one thing that was highlighted when we were on the grains committee was the danger of carting grain on our roads. There was the danger of trucks passing on the bends, knocking one another's mirrors off and not being able to see sight of vision around the corner because of overhanging vegetation. Keeping our roads safe is about putting a budget towards that overhanging vegetation.

There are issues with country health. Again, we see numbers being reduced in our country hospitals. If we look at education, obviously there are going to be hundreds of full-time jobs lost with these budget measures. If we look at grassroots sport in our regions—something dear to your heart, Mr Deputy Speaker—we see a reduction in funding for recreation, sport and racing. Yet, these are the priorities: a $3 million lift at Adelaide Oval. Where are the priorities? Grassroots sport is what this state was built on. If we look at some of our premier sportspeople, where do they come from? They come out of the regions.