Appropriations Bill 2022

Thursday June 16, 2022

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:33): I rise to make a brief contribution to the Appropriation Bill. I will turn my mind back a little to a bit over 12 months ago and the disappointment that my community felt with the state budget—$2.3 million for the entire Limestone Coast specifically in the state budget. Granted, there were other buckets of money that we needed to compete for at a state level.

Instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for ourselves, what we decided to do was get on the front foot, consult deeply and regularly with key stakeholders and pretty much put together a Future Mount Gambier and district document that we could take to both major parties and sit down in a constructive way and talk about Mount Gambier's future and the investment that at a community level we saw was vital to move our community into the future.

After extensive consultation, I want to really acknowledge the Mount Gambier city council, the District Council of Grant, the Regional Development association and, to a lesser degree, the Limestone Coast Local Government Association. We looked at all the plans that were in place and tried to coordinate a document that would encapsulate the main elements of those plans and consolidate it into one document going forward.

That led to the Future Mount Gambier and district document being developed. It was an $85 million ask at that stage, highlighting key areas like forestry, housing for all, infrastructure investment fund, tourism, cross-border commissioner, TAFE, drug and alcohol services and mental health services, just to name a few. It really spelt out what the investment was, where it would be targeted and then the benefits leading from that.

Once that document was put together, I sat down with the leaders of both major parties and stepped them through what this document actually meant, and answered any questions but predominantly talked through the opportunities for South Australia with investment in the Limestone Coast. I think all our regions are highly productive areas and can contribute greatly to the wellbeing of our state, and investment will unlock that potential and that growth that all South Australians will benefit from.

I was really pleased in August of last year, after the invite went out to all the leaders, including minor party leaders, to launch this document in Mount Gambier. The leader of the Labor Party showed an interest, rocked up and listened firsthand. My only concern was that it was still during the COVID days and we had a cap at the venue of 100 people, and we had responses from about 120 to 130 before we could cut it off. There was great interest in this.

August in Mount Gambier is sometimes not the balmiest of weather, but on that night the leader of the Labor Party certainly met and spoke with our community leaders about how important this document was in informing the foundations of our community moving forward. I reiterate that the invite went out to all leaders, even minor party leaders. From there, we see in this state budget a large number of commitments that I think have been generated predominantly from the Future Mount Gambier document, and it is really pleasing to see.

This is not my document: this is our community's document. I am not standing here taking any credit for it. The City of Mount Gambier strategic plan covered many of these things, so did the District Council of Grant's strategic plan and so did Regional Development Australia's strategic plan. All I did was combine and consult on that so, really, this budget is recognition of all those plans, some of which were collated into one document.

I want to talk a little bit about what some of this will mean. I was at a forestry awards night on Friday and somebody sat next to me and said they were from Victoria lobbying the state government. They asked, 'What would be the three things that you would talk about if you were in my position talking to the Victorian state government?' It caused me to reflect a little bit on that.

The forest industry 20 years ago would be unrecognisable today. Things have moved on so much: the technology, the skills base. If you walked into a modern-day mill, such as a OneFortyOne mill now, it is almost 'spot the human'. It is highly technical, a rapid rate of knots producing a high-end, quality product. So I drilled it down to investment in innovation and investment in skills because the skills workforce in 20 years' time in the forest industry is going to be unrecognisable to us today.

Skills and innovation are two of the key things in this state's budget, with an investment in our forest industry for the innovation hub called the centre of excellence. The technical college that is going to be built in Mount Gambier but will service the whole Limestone Coast and the $5 million upgrade to the existing TAFE facilities is that investment in the skills going forward. We have to make sure that that money is spent appropriately and gives the best return on the investment for our industry.

There are also other investments, such as the investment in fire towers. The greatest risk to the forest industry is fire. A fire will wipe out entire plantations—35 years' worth of investment gone in a single day. Serious investment in early detection and early response is vitally important. It is so pleasing in this state budget that this government has actually listened.

That is a theme that I will talk about briefly. I see this state government as not a government that thinks it knows it all, particularly in my region. It has been prepared to come down, listen and adapt plans where there could be improvement made, and the technical college is one example of that. Initially scheduled to be at a high school, there were some problems with that. Putting it at TAFE will really open that technical college up to the entire Limestone Coast as it will be owned by all the schools, not just one school.

Fire towers are another example where the state government has listened to the community's concern because fire protection is not just a forestry industry issue: it is a community issue. Most fires do not start in a forest. They start on farmland or out of forests on the side of a road, for instance. If a fire gets hold, our communities are at serious risk. So, whilst it is an investment in the fire towers, it is also an investment in protecting our community.

The cross-border commissioner is something that I have been belting on about for many years. I think it could be six-odd years. I have previous party room papers that I have presented. Again, we have a government that is prepared to listen. Whilst it is for the entire border regions right around the state of South Australia, particularly for my region and the member for MacKillop's region, we have a unique opportunity, and I am unashamed to talk about it.

Some of our potential lies in Victoria because they have a bigger population base and they are located right on our doorstep. We would be crazy not to engage actively with the state of Victoria for our community's benefit and, in essence, the state's benefit. I will give one example. From Mount Gambier, it is about two hours to Warrnambool versus pretty much five hours to Adelaide, so it makes sense that some health-related services could and should be accessed by our community if they cannot be delivered in Mount Gambier. We need ways of working with the two health bureaucracies to make sure that the experience for our community is maximised through accessing services in Warrnambool.

People would say, 'Well, how does that benefit South Australia?' It takes a load off the Adelaide hospital network if we are able to work with the Victorian health services, particularly Warrnambool, which is a large centre. That takes a level of coordination. That is just one example of a role the cross-border commissioner I see as having. I could go back to forestry and I could go back to a lot of industries where there is great opportunity for South Australia by tapping into the 4½ or five million people who live in Victoria, some of whom are close to the South Australian border.

Again, in this budget we have initiatives that people initially might not actually understand the importance of. One that comes to mind is the ambulance response. For three years, I had ambulance officer after ambulance officer in my office talking to me about how stressed and stretched that service was because of chronic underfunding, so I was really pleased that there is a $7.4 million contribution to our region for the employment of 24 new paramedics and another 24-hour shift. Again, it takes the stress off, and the retention of paramedics will be higher because they are actually getting the support that they need.

As to crayfishing, this is an area where there is not a lot of love in some parts of the community because there is a feeling that most crayfishermen are pretty well off. Well, the last two or three years that the industry has been through, and if you are not a generational crayfisherman—i.e. you have bought in, in the last decade—your break-even point is about $55 a kilo for crayfish. It is no real surprise that the price fluctuates from between $50 and $60, so some days they are losing money even when they go out and other days they make a slim amount.

A contribution of a 50 per cent reduction in the fees they pay to PIRSA will make a huge difference. What it will mean is that outside industries or companies cannot prey on family-owned businesses who are on their knees and take their licence or buy their licences out at rock-bottom prices, and that actual licence holder lives overseas or is a multinational company that is not residing in our area. It is a very important initiative not really understood by many, but this will keep family businesses within families of the Limestone Coast and that money staying in our region.

There are other examples. New Zealand is one where the multinational corporates wait for these opportunities, buy at rock-bottom prices and then dictate what will or will not happen, and all profits leave the country and end up overseas, let alone leave our communities. I am very grateful for this budget. I think it is a fantastic budget, and I am really excited to see what the community of the Limestone Coast does to not just pay back but really contribute back to the state.

There are some areas that I think can still be improved. I do not think the government should be expected to do everything for everyone. It worries me that we are entering a society where everything is blamed on the government and everything is expected of a government. I think one of the opportunities is how a government can activate and enable community contribution, and one of the areas where I see it most importantly is in our health system.

There are hospitals just over the Victorian border that will raise $200,000 or $300,000 a year—that is the community who will raise that—to put back into the hospital. That does not happen in my electorate because those who would be prepared to do that see it as money going into a black hole that lives up in Adelaide, and we never see a return on that for our local Mount Gambier hospital. There are opportunities there, where money raised locally is quarantined for the Mount Gambier hospital, or any other hospital in our electorate, and spent back there.

The empowerment of volunteers in our hospitals is an area that needs encouragement. When I was growing up I knew a lot of people who volunteered in the hospital sector, and now it is virtually nil. When I talk to people about that, there is a feeling that they are almost discouraged. There is so much red tape and bureaucracy that they cannot be bothered. Actually, the hospital itself perhaps gives a feeling that it is more hassle than it is worth. However, I see volunteering as another area where government can enable and activate community engagement—in particular, going forward, in hospice care, giving dignity to our community who are at end of life, having those support structures around them.

Of course, the government plays a major role in enabling private enterprise and private money coming into regions. There is a lot of good work that has happened in that space but, again, it is an area where I see continued effort from a government attracting private dollars into the Limestone Coast as beneficial not just to our community but also to the state. Overall, I am extremely pleased with this budget. I think it will unlock a lot of potential that has been held back in the Limestone Coast region. I am excited to go forward, and I think there are still areas we can work on.

Tourism is the greatest untapped industry in Mount Gambier and on the Limestone Coast, and it is an area that needs focus on product development. You have to have a reason to go to Mount Gambier. I have spoken with Rod Harrex and the SATC before about stopping spending money in doing room upgrades: nobody is going to travel to Mount Gambier because they are going from a four-star room to a 4½-star room, but they will go to Mount Gambier if there is a zip-line or a tour on the beaches. There are products they want to experience from a tourism point of view.

I am really excited to work with the tourism minister to unlock that potential. A lot of it will be private capital coming in that will provide those products and experiences for people coming to Mount Gambier and the greater Limestone Coast region. There is great opportunity, and it is an exciting time to be living on the Limestone Coast. I am really looking forward to the next four years. I think this is the start of a jobs bonanza: move to the Limestone Coast, there are good jobs there, and help build the community.