Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:11): I, too, rise to make a contribution on the most recent budget handed down. As a regional MP and as a representative in this chamber, I stand here quite disappointed. There were a few small nuggets of hope, but from what I have seen in this place for a number of years now, and as one who has been here longer than most, it was a budget handed down by a Labor government that was quite typical of what Labor do.
Sadly, the regions have been cast aside. I understand that the philosophy of Labor is about looking after marginal seats or city-centric rhetoric. It has a typical flavour about it, and that is that there are those who receive and those who do not. Reflecting on what was a very short stay in government, the Liberal state government can hold their head high because I think there was a much better balance of governing for all of South Australia, not just for the city, not just for the country, but there was a fair balance to undo what had been forgotten for 16 long years.
Our infrastructure network had been left with a significant backlog in maintenance. We saw one of the largest infrastructure projects in the state's history—that is, the north-south corridor—partially started and partially finished. What we are seeing now is that the government are kicking that can down the road and that has seen a significant long-term impact on the progress of that project.
These large infrastructure projects are very hard to start and very hard to continue, but they are even harder to restart once they have been pushed aside. What we are seeing now is that the north-south corridor project has been held up for all sorts of political reasons, and that is because there is a priority given elsewhere: there is a priority given to election commitments and there is a priority given to those who were promised more at the most recent state election. That is something we will reflect on for many years to come.
I do not want to prattle on about how bad it is and what the priorities are, but it is a fact of where we saw the priorities lie. One of the biggest hurdles that every South Australian, every Australian, is facing at the moment is a state government that has the ability to create positivity, whether it be the cost of living—everyday householders, everyday people are doing battle with making ends meet, making sure that their remuneration covers the cost of living, covers the cost of doing business, covers the cost of a satisfactory education system—or making sure that when we need a doctor, when we need the health system, it is there to service our needs, and making sure we all have a roof over our head.
One of the really important aspects lacking in the budget is the ability to give the primary sector recognition and acknowledgement of just how hard it is. They, too, have those day-to-day living expenses. The cost of doing business has never been greater than it is today. Not just here in South Australia but globally, it has become harder and harder. It is very evident now that in this most recent budget there is almost nothing for people living in the regions and, just as importantly, for those people who produce our food, produce the fibre, make sure that every South Australian has three meals on the table a day, make sure that food is affordable, make sure that we have a workforce that can rise to the occasion, make sure that we have a workforce that is able to plant, pick, process, pack and get it to market. We are seeing a lot of headwind there.
We have seen almost nothing in the budget, bar some exaggerated biosecurity announcements. There was a headline that there will be $25 million extra for biosecurity to combat one of the world's most invasive species, which is Queensland fruit fly, yet once we break down that announcement there is very little to see. There is a reannouncement of some of that funding, there is about $10 million of money that would be considered new money, but once we look at the obligation of the government there is a large component of a federal tip-in and a diminishing amount of money from the state government for their responsibility to keep biosecurity as an absolute priority, particularly with food production in South Australia.
Having a fruit fly free status for many years now is being questioned. I acknowledge the good work the current government has done, the ongoing good work by a former Liberal government, because it is an invasive species that, if we do not continue to have the eradication programs in place, will take over. It will change the way we live our lives in ways we cannot understand. Looking across the border—my community lives on the border—there is not a backyard fruit tree that is not infested by Queensland fruit fly, and there is not a vegetable patch not impacted by the Queensland fruit fly.
If we reflect on commercial orchards, commercial crops, it is coming at great cost to have that fruit, those vegetables, that produce, treated. I say to every person in this chamber that we as legislators have a responsibility. As biosecurity legislators, we must continue the fight. The eradication agenda must continue so that we have a competitive advantage when we go into our markets, whether it be a domestic market, a global market or international markets. We have to continue to have that advantage, and that competitive advantage is about being fruit fly free.
It is about having a status of area of freedom so that we have an advantage over our competitors, so that when we put our product into a market at a price we do have that advantage. It is pertinent for the government of the day to continue to satisfactorily fund those biosecurity programs. I cannot emphasise enough that we must have it as a priority, we must have it as an agenda item and the Treasurer must continue to honour the reputation that South Australia has long stood by, that is, having that fruit fly free status.
Again, we look at the ability for a government to promote our product into interstate and international markets, and it is about how we better serve our economy. I am privileged to have the trade and investment portfolio. As a shadow minister, it is pertinent for me to remind the minister on a day-to-day basis that we have to do more. It is one of the most important portfolios as an economic driver. When we are exporting products, we are bringing new money into our economy. When we are selling products into existing markets or ongoing markets, it is putting new money into pay packets, it is putting new money into investment, it is putting new money into the technologies that we need to be globally competitive in.
Sadly, we have seen very little in the way of government putting money into and investing in our food production, in our markets and in making sure that we do have satisfactory representation on our global shores, in our global markets, in those new markets or emerging markets that we so desperately need to hang onto or grow. Every other competitor internationally is also looking into those markets to get their produce into their warehouses, onto their shelves and onto consumers' tables. That is why we need that competitive advantage.
It is also very important that when we are opening up new global trade offices, when we are opening up new understandings of what the world is calling for, we are looking at ways we put more protein into some of those emerging markets or emerging economies. It is more important than ever that we learn how to grow better protein, that we learn how to grow more protein, but we need to learn how do it better and how to do it cheaper. In other words, how do we be more globally competitive?
I think it is very important that the government of the day has a much straighter focus on how we drive our economy. We talk about hydrogen plans, we talk about defence, we talk about all sorts of longwinded projects that are a long, long way away. They are not renewable. We look at some of the government's priorities, particularly with defence, with energy, particularly with hydrogen. What we need is the ongoing commitment to a renewable commodity, which is food, which is the primary production, which is exactly what the regions of South Australia put on our tables every day.
I cannot emphasise enough that we need to earmark more money and that our government's commitment needs to be about producing and making sure our primary producers, who predominantly live in the regions of South Australia, have the tools in the toolbox not only to grow the food but to get it to market, making sure that we have roads and infrastructure that are of a satisfactory standard and not just neglected, as we have seen in this most recent budget.
I have spoken about the primary sector in a little verse, but to attract people to our regions we need a satisfactory regional health system. Very little money in this most recent budget would see the very much-needed upgrade of our regional health system—hospitals, attracting doctors, attracting nurses, making sure that we have satisfactory ambulance networks, making sure that we have all of the health system in train not only in the city but also in the regions so that we can actually sustain a regional economy that was a growing regional economy. Only a short four years of a Liberal government saw that turn around from an ever-diminishing regional population that we saw leaving the regions for Adelaide.
South Australia is in a unique situation. As you know, Deputy Speaker, South Australia has one city and only a couple of satellite large country towns, those being Mount Gambier and Whyalla. That puts us at a disadvantage when we are looking for more stability in our regional centres and making sure that we have those health facilities needed, making sure that we have education programs in our regions, making sure that we do not just see technical colleges out there in the city—there is also a need for that education program to be in our regions. Some of the great educational institutions have historically been in regional South Australia. There does need to be a refocus, a readjustment, on making sure that the regions of South Australia are also given that ability to coexist.
As I have spoken about the cost of living, energy has been probably one of the biggest contributors to the increase in cost of living. I know that as of 1 July we are going to see up to a 30 per cent increase in our energy costs. In the great electorate of Chaffey, we are large consumers of power. The majority of that power consumption is used for re-lifting water. A lot of it is used for processing food, vegetables, horticulture, fruit, and also sustaining one of the great narratives within primary production—the wine industry, which uses large amounts of power.
I have constituents who are already receiving large requests by power companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars as a one-off cost to adjust. That is not about the cost of power; that is only about the supply of power. There has to be something that the minister within the government of the day can do. There has to be something that the Technical Regulator can be a part of to hold these power retailers to account.
As I have said, due to lifting water and the high cost of manufacturing and processing, food comes at a great cost. Not only is that passed down to consumers in some way, shape or form, but what we are seeing now is that the margin for primary producers is becoming so skinny that we are seeing a lot of questions being asked by banks and by an aged primary sector. That is really worrying me, as a member of this place who represents a large amount of primary production—a lot of small family businesses, some 6,000. What we are seeing now is that there are a lot of questions being put into play, particularly within the wine industry.
I see that there is an emerging issue that every South Australian, every Australian, will feel the brunt of, and that is the engine room of the wine industry in Chaffey. The engine room of the wine industry is on its knees. The most recent vintage has seen large amounts of fruit right around the state—not just in the Riverland, not just in Chaffey—either left on the vine or harvested onto the ground. That is going to have a telling tale maybe not this year but in the vintages to come.
Obviously, we are feeling the effects of the COVID hangover, particularly with the middle class. What we are seeing now is that the cost of relief is going to hit that middle class even harder. Interest rates are having a profound impact on mortgage repayments and this, coupled with power, coupled with the cost of food, coupled with the cost of doing business, is going to see South Australia worse off under the current conditions. That is why I am calling on the government of the day to put vision into the way they run the state. Get the Treasurer to put some vision into his budgets, not just look at pet projects, not just look at marginal seats and not just look at a city-centric budget.
Again, what I am seeing is that the issue around the China fallout has had a profound impact on every economy that deals with China. China is still our largest trading partner, and we are very, very small fry, but we still rely heavily on inputs or imports from China. We have to make sure that this government, this state government, works better and more cohesively with our federal government.
I know that I have met with federal government counterparts over a number of meetings in recent weeks to look at ways that we can not only rekindle the relationships that we have with China, but diversify our markets, making sure that we are not totally reliant on one global economy, that we are reliant on many. As Australians, as traders we suck because we are reliant on sugar hits. We have existing markets that have been in play for many, many decades and yet we have sweeteners that come along and we drop our long existing relationships with countries for a new sugar hit; someone who pays a few dollars more, someone who is offering to take every piece of fruit that we have on the property.
I think we need to look at ways that we can diversify our economy more, and that is the job of the government of the day. That is a job of not only the state government, but working with the commonwealth government, working with the federal government, to making sure that we do take advantage of the Brexit, we do take advantage of the European Union; making sure that we have trade offices that have staff, that have the lights on; making sure that when we have delegations who go to those countries that there is a reception party there, there is someone there giving them a hand to making sure that South Australia is in better stead for growing our trading economy.
There is much more to be said, and I will do that at another time, but I think what we have seen is a city-centric budget that has very much disappointed me as a regional member of this place, and I look forward to the government of the day being more responsible when it comes to the state of South Australia, not just the city of South Australia.