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27 Feb 2015

Address in Reply

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:26 ): I am pleased to support the motion for the adoption of the Address in Reply. I acknowledge the service of the Governor, His Excellency Hieu Van Le AO, and congratulate him on his appointment. I express my appreciation for the service of the previous Governor, Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce AC, CSC, RANR.

I would like to acknowledge the service to this chamber of the Hon. Arthur Whyte AM, former President of this place. I did not have the privilege of meeting Arthur, but I have heard much about him and extend my condolences to his family on his recent passing. I congratulate my colleague Sam Duluk on his election as the new member of Davenport in the other place. I am confident that he will make a great contribution to the life of this parliament and the people of this state.

South Australia has a proud history of social harmony which has been founded on a strong economy. The strength of the economy has delivered not only prosperity but opportunities for its citizens. While other colonies were established as convict settlements, the vision for South Australia was a community with political and religious freedoms together with opportunities for its citizens to prosper through enterprise and farming. Since its founding, the state has largely relied on the produce from its fields and the minerals beneath these pastures. As the Governor has said, the state faces the challenge of transitioning its economy and finding its niche in the global economy.

We must seek to diversify our economy if we are to provide the generations coming after us with the opportunities for employment enjoyed by South Australians in the past. But things are not well in this state. Our state GDP growth is poor. Businesses are closing. The resource sector is struggling. Real unemployment is growing and youth unemployment in some areas is appalling. People are leaving to seek opportunities they cannot find here.

It is all very well to promote a vibrant city. Those who dwell in this city can have a drink in a small bar, listen to live music or walk across that stark, cold, chaste and expensive concrete bridge and witness a sporting contest, but I do not necessarily see what this offers our communities in the regions or the unemployed in the north. How do the most disadvantaged in our community benefit from the oval? I suspect they cannot even afford the trip into the city, let alone a ticket to an event.

One cannot help but recall the fate of ancient Rome. Rome suffered from high unemployment and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. To prevent civil unrest, gladiatorial games were used to entertain the people. Public infrastructure like the Colosseum was built to accommodate the bread and circuses campaign. Are we rambling along the same trail?

A key role for any government and the parliament is to support and encourage the citizens in times of change. The retreat of manufacturing in this country must be followed by the creation of new opportunities. It is the role of government to not only explain the change and its consequences to the community it serves but also create the environment for new enterprise to flourish and innovate.

We all understand the angst and uncertainty felt by the workers at Holden and the other businesses that will be impacted by its closure. This industry and its operations have been struggling for some time. I do not accept that its closure should be portrayed as a surprise. Those of us in parliament that have had corporate experience (although I acknowledge we are increasingly a rarity in modern political life) know these types of decisions have a long gestation. We should have been preparing for this event a long time ago. More money should have been and be spent on preparing and assisting the community for change that has long been known to be coming.

It disheartens me that this government only reacts, and seems unable to anticipate, cloaking its neglect with false indignation. We must all work together to urgently implement initiatives to reinvigorate the north of our state. Our northern communities are an important part of the capital for which all Liberals have a great affinity, for their very existence are a product of the imagination, drive and vision of the great Liberal, Sir Thomas Playford.

It is not the characteristic of a strong and capable government to simply blame others—in this case, the federal government. I remind those that inhabit the government benches that the current federal Coalition has only been elected for a relatively short period. Much of what we have been experiencing can be attributed, using their logic, to the poor decision-making by earlier federal Labor governments.

I will take the high ground and not press the point, but I cannot help thinking, each time that I am berated from the government benches for mentioning one issue or another, of the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, and the memorable phrase, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ The government should cease its begging for funds from the federal Treasury and learn from Oliver’s experiences: always be pure of heart and self-reliant. Our goal as a state should be to shape and secure our own future.

I welcome the initiative to debate the expansion of the nuclear industry in this state. I do not profess to be well read in the industry, so my own views are therefore not settled. Like some honourable members in this chamber, I query the need for a royal commission, which has powers to compel witnesses and seize documents. The inquiry should be embracing the community debate, not compelling evidence; nevertheless, I wish the endeavour well. But, we should ask ourselves—that is, all of us in the community—do we really want to live in a state that boasts of fine food, wine and green pastures in the shadow of a large, industrial complex that is guarded by high fences, razor wire and armed security guards?

There may be great economic benefits, but all initiatives carry risks and costs. We must have our eyes wide open to the risks, not just covet the revenues. Nor should we rely solely on the platitudes and assurances of global corporate executives. Understanding the right balance between protecting the environment and creating a new industry will be one of the key responsibilities of this commission. I support all initiatives that sensibly seek to protect our environment. It is a noble ambition to build a new industry on sustainable industries.

If it is going to have any chance of success, it will require the involvement of our universities, which I believe are the real engine rooms that will drive the growth of our state. As the Governor has advised us, a key to ensure our prosperity is to seek out trading opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region. Our universities already have strong links into Asia. My own university (the University of Adelaide) enjoys a deep relationship with the people of Singapore. Before the people of this state elected me to serve in this place, I had the privilege of working in the business school. The business school teaches into Singapore, as well as attracting students from all over the region to Adelaide.

We should seek to build on these successes. New bureaucratic bodies will not bring success by themselves. Governments do not trade and create wealth; business trades and creates wealth for the community that nurtures them. Only sustained community commitment and enterprise will bring success. This government should aim to be one of the smallest employers in the state and overshadowed by industry, rather than proudly declare itself as the largest.

I welcome the government seeking dialogue with the community on tax reform, but the debate in this state should not just be about taxation, but also the services we need as a community as well as the efficiency of our public sector.

I know that many in this parliament see the Nordic countries as a role model. I encourage the government to investigate the workings of the modern Nordic state. They offer a blueprint on how to reform the public sector, making the state more efficient and responsive. The Nordic countries learnt that a tax and spend strategy did not work and they changed their ways. They managed with an eye on the long term. Taxes were cut, the books were balanced and the reform pursued. The performance of government, especially in the areas of health, were measured. In other words, the governments held themselves and their bureaucracies to account. I do not suggest the model adopted by these countries is perfect, they still have challenges, but their collective experience can inform us on the best way ahead.

I note the initiatives in health and education. I offer a word of warning to this government: both appear to involve an element of consolidation. There are proposals for super schools and the rationalisation of health infrastructure. Aggregation always looks good on paper, or should I say PowerPoint, the medium so favoured by the consulting class. Magical phrases such as ‘economics of scale’, ‘efficiency dividend’ and ‘improved resource utilisation’ have, no doubt, been bandied about in the halls of government.

Even a light reading of history will teach you that the merging of operations often leads to failure. What inevitably occurs is that the management team grows to manage the new entities at the expense of the frontline services. We have seen this in health with the growth of managers outstripping the growth of nursing staff. If we are to aggregate bodies in an effort to make the public sector more efficient and responsive then superior and committed leadership as well as management will be required. If these attributes are lacking then success will be threatened.

We in opposition do not wish upon the government the curse of failure, rather we wish you well, but we will hold you accountable to the people for your decisions and we make plain from the outset that we are not attracted to the mantra that bigger is better. We instinctively favour localism over centralism.

I do not have much to say on the issue of time zones. I find it hard to categorise this issue as visionary. It is a topic that has enjoyed much debate in the past. I have spent a large portion of my life travelling to the east hunting business opportunities for the benefit of our state. I have never found central standard time an encumbrance.

I agree with the sentiments of the government that we must do all that we can to guarantee the independence of our parliament. However, I am not convinced that there needs to be any reform of the workings of this chamber. I have not observed any serious community push for reform of the upper house. In my short time in this place I have not experienced the wilful obstruction of the government’s agenda, rather I have witnessed noble compromise and the forming of consensus for the benefit of the people of this state.

I acknowledge the valuable work of the crossbenchers and greatly respect the diversity of their views and opinions which enrich the democratic process and life of this sovereign chamber. I can only suspect that the suggestions of reform originate from the darker corners of the government’s consciousness. They will be forthrightly resisted by me. I aspire to contribute to the life of this chamber. I did not come here to tear it down or emasculate it. It is inconsistent to argue, on the one hand, for measures to strengthen our democracy and, on the other, advocate for a measure that makes parliament a body that simply acquiesces to every government decision.

Seeking to undermine a chamber that is elected by proportional representation is not consistent with the desire to encourage all South Australians to fully participate in our democracy. A strong, confident, dynamic government embraces accountability, it does not shy away from debate or seek to undermine a chamber that its people do not wish it to control.

I support the government’s new-found desire to review the justice system. While this government has travelled a long way down the road to Damascus before its conversion it has much to do to repair a system which has suffered from the government’s own aggressive policies in the name of being tough on crime. All of us in this parliament want to work to ensure our people are safe to live their lives. Many in the legal community believe the callous policies of this government have contributed to the higher crime rates. Judges should be allowed to judge individual matters on their merits. Rehabilitation after sentencing should be a major feature of our prison system.

I urge the government to rediscover its progressive social values and revisit the benefits that can flow from compassion. I strongly support the government’s initiative that all departments obtain White Ribbon accreditation. I have recently undergone the training to be a White Ribbon Ambassador and thank the Hon. John Dawkins for sponsoring me.

The government noted the contribution that premier Don Dunstan made to multiculturalism in this state. I wish to also acknowledge the contribution of former premier David Tonkin, who also made a significant contribution to multiculturalism in this state. David Tonkin was one of the state’s great leaders. In 1974 he successfully introduced a private member’s bill to outlaw sex discrimination, the first such law in Australia. He also introduced legislation leading to the establishment of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission in the 1980s. I reflect that their leadership and vision may well have derived from the schooling that they both shared. It may also account for my own pursuit of ensuring justice for all citizens of our great nation state. I support the motion.

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