Parliament Speech - Address in Reply 2015

Responding to the Governor's speech, I spoke in Parliament on Wednesday 11 February on local issues including our excellent CFS brigades, sporting clubs and schools - and statewide issues such as education reform and senior concessions. 

Address in Reply Speech - 11 February 2015

First, I begin by paying tribute to the Governor for his fantastic speech in opening this session of parliament yesterday. I have heard a few governor's speeches over the years, and I have to say that this was by far the most interesting and contained the most number of new policy proposals that I have ever heard in a governor's speech. I also congratulate the new Governor on taking up his role. I have known the Hon. Mr Hieu Van Le for a number of years, and I was particularly delighted to see his ascension to this high office. He is somebody of immense credibility, honesty and commitment to the people of South Australia. 

I have been very pleased to see the large number of people from all across the state to whom I have spoken who have commented on what a great job he has been doing in the short time he has been in the role as Governor, and the huge number of commitments that being the Governor takes on, whether you are Chief Scout or patron of any number of organisations. It is quite a busy job, and our new Governor is doing a fantastic job in taking on that role. 

I also congratulate our new member for Fisher, who gave her first speech some one hour ago; I think that it was one of the best first speeches I have ever heard in this parliament or in other parliaments. I think that you would be hard pressed to find a first speech given by a member which showed more commitment and more passion and which gave us more insight into her life story and what drives her to serve the people of her electorate than the speech we have just heard from the member for Fisher. Having known her for the past few years, I am very confident that she will not only make a tremendous impact upon this state but also in helping the people in the area of Fisher, which is near my electorate. I am very happy to have her in the south as well as a fellow member there. Of course, she also takes over from the Hon. Bob Such, who did a tremendous job in Fisher. I think that that electorate is going to be very well served. 

I would like to talk a bit about some of the things that have happened in my electorate over the past year, since we started this parliament, and then go on to some of the broader issues that were dealt with by the Governor in his speech. Of course, in my electorate, which is the southern most tip of Adelaide's metropolitan area, transport is a massive issue and has always been a massive issue and will likely always be a massive issue. This year has seen some amazingly good news for the people of Kaurna and associated electorates down south with the opening of the Southern Expressway, which is now a dual carriageway expressway. There has been huge happiness expressed by people all around the south that this project has been delivered and is finally open. 

We have also seen the opening of the Seaford rail line extension and the electrification of the Noarlunga line, which is now the Seaford line. Both of those projects have meant that, over the past couple of years, there have been a lot of delays and disruptions to people's lives as those transport projects have been implemented. The Southern Expressway was closed for large parts of the day and, when it was open, it had reduced speed limits and, of course, for a long time, the whole Noarlunga line was shut down while the track was relaid and the electric lines were installed. 

So, people are delighted to see both those services back up in operation, but also I thank people for their patience in dealing with their daily commutes or businesses in their getting back and forth around the area. We now have a truly world-class transport link between the southern suburbs and the city, which will only be improved by the government's commitment to upgrade the Darlington interchange over the coming years. This will be yet another improved transport link, which will remove one of Adelaide's worst bottlenecks, which is, I understand the busiest section of road in all of South Australia—the Darlington interchange. 

The other fantastic thing that has happened since the rail line was reopened is that express services have been reinstituted on the Seaford line. There are now two services in the morning and two in the evening, both to and from the city, which take people very quickly to their office or their place of work in the city. People are very happy to see those services reinstated, and I pay tribute to the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure for his hard work, not only with the department but also with the commuters who use the Seaford line, in finding a solution to address those issues. As we see more and more electric trains being delivered on the Seaford line, we know that the timetable is going to improve over the coming year. There will be a chance to look at improving it even further and ensuring that we can remove any of the delays that are happening at the moment on that line. 

As with all members of this house, a lot of my work has been in the electorate working with community groups—of course, mine in the southern suburbs. I really want to pay tribute to some of those fantastic community groups that I have had the privilege of working with over the past year. There is a huge number of sporting groups, whether they be brand new sporting groups, such as the Aldinga Soccer Club, which had its first season last year and had a tremendous record of success with just one season in the league in which it is participating, or more established clubs, for example, some of our football clubs, such as Christies Beach, Port Noarlunga and Aldinga. 

Of course, Aldinga Football Club shot to national prominence last year when they hosted the Shane Crawford comeback game, in conjunction with The Footy Show, which helped put Aldinga Sharks on the map and has helped their resurgence as a footy club in inspiring more juniors to participate. I certainly thank The Footy Show and Channel Nine for their help, but also all the members of the community for putting on that great event that saw some 5,000 people turn up to Shark Park or Aldinga Oval to see that game. They were very privileged to be the joint winners of the City of Onkaparinga's best community event award for 2014 and I think that was very well deserved. 

But there is a whole range of non-sporting clubs as well, whether they be the Rotary Club of Noarlunga, which I have been honoured to be an honorary member, or the RSL club of Port Noarlunga and Christies Beach which I have had a lot to do with as well as the member for Reynell. There is a huge number of community groups doing fantastic work in the south. 

As well as that, I know all of our communities rely a lot on the work of schools. I have been very privileged to go around and visit all the schools in the electorate and have hosted a number of morning teas for teachers which has been very well received, I have to say, giving them an opportunity to talk to me about issues they are seeing in the education system, to talk about what is happening in the school, and how the government can better support the important work that they are doing. I am really excited when I see lots of school leaders and lots of teachers who have great ambitions for their students who do not want to see their students just ticking the grade, but want to see them striving to do the best that they possibly can. 

I particularly would like to note Seaford Secondary College in my electorate, which is the high school right in the heart of the seat of Kaurna, and their principal Cez Green. She is a fantastic advocate for the students in her school and wants to make sure that they have every opportunity to succeed as much as if they were going to any other school in South Australia, even in much richer areas of our city. I have been very happy to work with them and look forward to doing so in the future. 

Also it has been great to meet lots of emergency service workers in the south, whether they be people who work in police or ambulance, but also our CFS workers at the Aldinga and Seaford stations. I particularly pay tribute to them for their hard work on the Sampson Flat fires that we saw a couple of months ago. I think this was one of those fantastic moments where we saw people from all across the state drop everything to try and contribute what they could to serve other South Australians in need. No better example can you see of all of South Australia being brought together as a community, but particularly those firefighters who put themselves in harm's way from my electorate. I pay tribute to them. 

We saw an amazing picture go viral on Facebook from the Aldinga CFS station where they arrived back late one night at 4am to see somebody had got out there and printed a massive sign on their garage doors of the station saying thank you from all of us. I think that just summed up what tremendous heroes they are and what gratitude we have for all of the CFS workers in this state. 

In terms of other events that we have been doing in the community, I have been very happy to host the Premier, Jay Weatherill. We had a forum on a lot of the issues that we are seeing coming out of Canberra, particularly cuts to our hospitals and schools from the commonwealth government and their not honouring signed agreements that we have seen. 

We have also hosted two seniors forums in the electorate that were very well attended and I thank the Minister for Health and the Minister for Ageing for attending them and discussing issues that our seniors in the southern suburbs have faced, but I also thank all of the not-for-profit and government groups that came out and held stalls at those seniors groups that really made them such a success. 

I think broadly for our state we have fantastic years of growth ahead. There are some fantastic developments on the horizon, whether they be the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, further upgrades to our north-south corridor or discussions about how we can best place our health and education systems for the future. 

In the Governor's speech, I was very delighted to see his discussion of reforms to the education system in South Australia, particularly how we can improve our schools. I think first and foremost the reforms included getting some of our head office staff of the Department of Education and Child Development out from the middle of the city and into the regions. I hope that will be able to see some of those staff members out at Noarlunga, as well as, I am sure, Elizabeth and Port Adelaide, and in country regions of the state as well, where they can be more in touch with what is going on with the schools— 

Mr Griffiths: Someone said it—country regions. Beautifully worked. 

Mr PICTON: Yes, absolutely—where they could be more in touch with what is happening in the schools and can also help boost the economies in those areas. Say, in Noarlunga, if we can get more department of education staff working there, then that will help other businesses which provide food or services for people in that area. I am sure the same is true for everywhere else in the state. 

We have seen other states do this quite a lot, in terms of decanting a lot of their public servants out from the city centres into regional or suburban areas. Particularly New South Wales and Victoria have done quite a lot of this over the past couple of decades. I know Victoria now has a number of government departments in areas such as Geelong and Bendigo. I think that that is a fantastic thing that we should be looking at in South Australia. I know that the government has made a commitment to move more government staff out to Port Adelaide, which I wholeheartedly support. I think that is something we should see more and more of. 

The other things that were talked about in education included the development of more super schools, as they were known a few years ago, amalgamations of schools, where we can bring together schools which were created when there were boom times of children in a particular area and schools had to be brought up to a high capacity. Many of them are now at much lower capacities than what they were designed for. If we can bring together those schools, there can be more subjects taught, there can be better resources, and the savings can be pumped back into those schools and the education system. 

I am very delighted to see that that is going to be a continued part of the government's agenda, but I also think that it is important that we also provide more resources for growing areas of the state, such as the peri-urban areas of Adelaide, whether they be the southern suburbs, the northern suburbs or some of the Hills areas that are seeing quite large growth in student numbers. I hope that that is going to be a continued part of the government's plan, to provide enough classrooms and teachers to make sure that those schools meet the requirements that we have for our children. 

I think that the other fantastic thing we are seeing is a renewed emphasis on improving standards for schools, bringing back what was originally brought in many years ago in the Bannon government. Minister Crafter, I think in fact, when he was the education minister, brought in the ability for schools to be reviewed when standards were slipping to find out the reasons that that is happening and what can be done to remediate those schools and to try to improve them. I think when that government lost and the new government came in and looked for savings that was one thing that was cut, unfortunately, but this government—and I pay tribute to the previous minister, minister Rankine—is now bringing back the ability to review schools and to see where we have standards slipping in particular schools and to try to remedy them with good actions. I pay tribute to that. 

There are a number of other reviews that the government has started that I think are really important. They are probably not front page exciting material, but they are very important to our state. First and foremost of them is the paper that the Attorney-General released a couple of months ago on justice reform. This is probably one of the first times that we have seen a top to bottom review of our justice system to see how we can improve the outcomes that we are getting, right the way through from when somebody is arrested to when they are incarcerated, and to try and work out where the blockages are in the system and how they can be fixed. 

A lot of the time you look at the blockages in a particular area, say, Corrections, and the blockages have been caused by another part of the system, whether they be when someone is arrested or how they have been granted bail or how a trial is proceeding; so you really need to look at the whole system. I think it is fantastic that that is now happening, and I look forward to further papers that, I understand, the Attorney will release in coming months with detailed reforms in those areas. 

The other area of reform that the Treasurer has just released a paper on today is about our tax system in South Australia. I know everybody is very interested in that. I think that that paper is really about how we create an efficient system of taxation in South Australia that can provide the revenue that we need to provide the services in schools and hospitals that all of us in this chamber, I am sure, agree should be provided, but how those taxes can be provided in a way that is efficient and fair. We as state governments have a bit of a random assortment of taxes that are available to us with the commonwealth/state break-up of taxation powers. 

There is a bit of a limited scope in what is available, but working with what is constitutionally available how we can best allocate them across the state so that not only are they efficient, encourage growth and investment but also fair to all citizens. I look forward to seeing that. As I said in my first speech, the issue of vertical fiscal imbalance is very important for South Australia. We are very reliant on grants from the commonwealth government, particularly as states such as Western Australia continually claim that they should be getting more funding and we should be getting less funding. That is a real risk for our state. 

One last area that I would like to talk about is the area of concessions. Unfortunately, we saw in the federal government's budget last year not just a cut but a complete tearing up of the agreement that has been between the states and the commonwealth for I think well over 20 years of how concession payments should be made and what concessions should be covered, and funding from the commonwealth to the states to enable that to happen. In its budget last year the state government was able to cover one year of the council concession cut, but we said, 'We are hoping to get the federal government to reverse that. We will not be able to cover it in the future. If they do not reverse it, then of course we will have to review that in due course.' 

We are now seeing local councils agitating about that. I think some councils have said that they will support seniors' concessions in their areas, which is fantastic, but I know a lot of councils have said that they are not interested in doing that at all, and they are pushing the buck back to the state government now, as well as the federal government, and saying that we should be covering them. We are left with this problem where the federal government has cut funding of some $30 million, which is equal to the cut of $30 million that the council concessions cost, but local government is saying that the state government should fund it. Of course, we are saying that the federal government should meet their requirements under the agreement and fund it. 

One thing that I found very disappointing in the campaigning, though, is that, while all councils, as I understand, have sent out letters to their residents pointing out the issues and directing them to various federal and state MPs, in my area the City of Onkaparinga and its mayor Lorraine Rosenberg sent a letter to residents, including me, that was completely inaccurate. It said that the council concessions were some $61 million a year and the state government funded over half of those concessions and that we had cut our funding of those concessions to the tune of well over $30 million, in addition to the commonwealth $30 million cut. 

Now that is completely incorrect. All the other council letters that have gone out to people across the state have not said that. As I understand it, the website of the Local Government Association is now correct, but there has been no retraction issued to people in the City of Onkaparinga by its mayor, which I think is disappointing because she has really misled residents as to the state of affairs of funding. The cut is almost exactly equal to the cost of the council concession. There is not some extra $30 million cut that has been found from the state government. There was a $30 million cut from Canberra and the cost of the concessions to councils was $30 million. 

I hope that that can be corrected. I know that this is a very important issue for people in my area and all across the state, and I hope that the federal government is going to be able to reverse that and provide funding for people and give people the peace of mind that they will be able to pay their council bills in the future. 

To sum up, I think we saw a fantastic speech from the Governor yesterday. I think it has outlined some amazing areas of reform that have really put this government at the forefront of trying to think about and develop policies as to how we can improve and grow and create a fairer and better state, and I think that that will benefit not only the people in Kaurna but also people across the entire state. 

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