Cross border commissioner bill 2022

Wednesday July 06, 2022

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (16:32): I rise to make a contribution to the Cross Border Commissioner Bill 2022. This has been a very long time in the making. The other day I looked at when I first raised this, and it was a party room paper in 2016. I then pursued it through a notice of motion in 2018. If we reflect back, it would have been a very timely and opportune moment to establish a cross-border commissioner because at that stage we had no idea that COVID was just around the corner, and March 2020 rolled through pretty quickly. It is important to put context into it.

This cross-border commissioner is not set up as a response to the COVID pandemic. It is actually set up, as it says in the bill, to facilitate 'improved outcomes for people and businesses in cross border communities'. That is very important, and the opening sentence of the bill indicates what its objective is. We then roll forward past 2018, and in June 2021 I called for another look at the cross-border commissioner, with the thought at that time that the cross-border communities needed a representative on the Transition Committee and that this role would be able to facilitate that.

I certainly acknowledge my colleague just over the electoral border of MacKillop. The member for MacKillop was arm in arm with me during the pandemic because both our offices got worked to the bone, to be honest. There were issues every day, deeply concerning issues for individuals, such as not being able to travel across the border. I am not going to speak for the member for MacKillop, but I certainly felt that the concerns were not being heard or acted upon in Adelaide and the reagitating of the establishment of a cross-border commissioner sat pretty well.

I was really quite dismayed at the government's response to that, after enormous pressure being put on. In fact, certain MPs took a little time out and had to reassess where they were at. That was the level of concern our communities were facing. In response, after pretty much trying to push the government to a conclusion, they came back with a regional representative from PIRSA being the representative on the Transition Committee.

It just showed to me that they had missed the point—and I am not disrespecting the person who went on from PIRSA; he is an absolute gentleman and a great public servant—that we needed somebody who lived, worked and breathed in a cross-border community to understand the issues and perhaps some of the solutions that the Transition Committee could have supported in our area.

That is where we have come from, and it is really pleasing to work with this government. The now Premier has honoured every commitment that he made before the election. He has been very honest about things that he cannot do, but everything that has been committed has been budgeted for and will be delivered, and I thank not only the Premier but the government for that. If the member for West Torrens keeps going the way he is going, he is sure to make sure that I am not the member for Mount Gambier at the next election because with those kind words I am losing votes every time.

You sit there as an MP and you can be frustrated, you can be angry and you can throw rocks. It is very easy to do. There is always an issue. You can prosecute almost anything that you want and make the government look pretty bad, or you get proactive. In my case, we put together a Future Mount Gambier document to take our community and the next generation into the future. That document clearly stated the need for a cross-border commissioner and many of the objectives that we put in there have now been funded and will be enacted under this current government.

I am convinced that the cross-border commissioner will play a critical role in improving the lives and working conditions of our cross-border communities. I see this as a productivity driver, I see this as a jobs creator and driver, because the amount of red tape and duplication are a handbrake on local communities that are trying to operate across a border community. Those limitations are real and the cost to business is real and the end result of that is fewer people employed in that process.

Of course, I see it as better outcomes for our community members. The member for West Torrens went through a list of areas that I am sure we will see great improvement on. That includes water—water allocation, water usage, smart usage of a finite resource across our borders. It also includes fire, and not just fighting a fire but also the coordination, preparation and preventative measures before fire season comes around or is upon us. One of those is Eaglehawk smart technology.

Instead of putting a person in fire towers every day, which they do every fire season—and there are about six of them—technology can detect a puff of smoke up to nine or 10 kilometres away, during the night-time as well. This is the type of technology that this government is investing in for our community to be safe moving forward. We can work with the Victorians because the forests obviously straddle both sides of the border and they are in both states.

Tourism is the most untapped opportunity in the South-East that I can put my finger on. Most of our assets are free. You can walk around the Blue Lake, you can go to the Valley Lake, you can go to the sinkholes and you can go to a whole range of free, natural attractions. However, we have not taken the next step and done a value-add for those who want to spend money, who may want to go on a gondola up to the top of the lake or may want to go down a zipline. This is private capital that can be unleashed, of course promoting Mount Gambier and the South-East to Victorians and cross-border communities.

In terms of health, a large number of people use Warrnambool for specialist services because it is two hours away versus five hours to Adelaide. Trades we have touched on. Dual accreditation is needed, which is limiting some of the ability to work on both sides of the borders. In terms of education, we have a number of students who live on the Victorian side of the border and go to school in South Australia, but the bus will not pick them up because they are quite literally 15 metres over the imaginary line. Disease, pest management and control, transport, agriculture, fishing—there are a whole range of areas where I see a cross-border commissioner being very active.

I was really pleased to hear the lead speaker from the Liberal Party talk about red tape. The last thing I want to see is this legislation getting bogged down in red tape—excessive reports, excessive annual plans. I can go into a number of office buildings in Mount Gambier and pull off their annual plans that took two, three, four months to put together, and then they spend another two or three months reporting on the annual plan. We want this person on the ground from day one doing and not writing and justifying.

That is a really important point because the amendments I have put forward aim to do exactly that: they aim to cut out excessive bureaucracy, excessive red tape. It is important to understand how we got to this point. The amendments made in the other place I believe were made with very good intentions, but, from what I can see, many of the amendments introduced in the other place actually come from the Kangaroo Island commissioner bill 2014; in fact, some of them are word for word.

People need to realise that the two commissioners are extremely different in the intent and objectives they are trying to achieve. I will read a couple from the headline of the Kangaroo Island Commissioner Bill 2014. This was a commissioner whose primary act was to develop management plans in relation to the coordination and delivery of infrastructure and services on Kangaroo Island. I will just say that again: the development of management plans. That was the main aim of the Kangaroo Island commissioner bill of 2014.

If you go further, that commissioner had to deal with one council primarily, primarily one local MP and primarily one state government. If you contrast that with the cross-border commissioner, they will be dealing with over eight councils, the borders of which directly adjoin a state border, over five state MPs, two federal MPs and up to five different state governments. The roles are therefore incredibly different.

The development of management plans in relation to the coordination and delivery of infrastructure is not the primary focus of the cross-border commissioner, and I have just gone through the areas that I see the cross-border commissioner focussing on. This is the most important point: you cannot transpose one commissioner's bill onto another. It is not fit for purpose, and it will see the position bogged down with plans before they even start the role, and this is exactly what I am trying to address with my amendments going forward.

In fact, I have been advised that if the bill goes through unamended we will likely see a practical outcome that involves something similar. The position will be advertised and then be filled around late September. There will be up to three months' consultation with all the councils I have just talked about, which will see it through to the next year, and then they will need to begin the reporting process into the annual report, which is tabled in parliament before the end of the financial year.

These amendments, I think, were really well intended, but again unintended consequences have the outcome sometimes of bogging down a cross-border commissioner before they even get on the road and start making some great improvements into these areas.

Another concern I have is that this person will be appointed by the government. The Minister for Primary Industries in the other place has made an open commitment that this position will be advertised. If you think about it, I am really confident that we will find somebody who should reside in Mount Gambier. They will be dealing with Liberal, an Independent and one Labor MP, so it makes sense that they are apolitical in everything they do because they will be working with a broad spectrum—in fact, the broad spectrum—of MPs in this house.

That is not a concern that I hold. What I would like to see is that this position be advertised and then the person appointed as soon as possible so that we can really start getting on the ground. As the bill states:

An Act to establish a Cross Border Commissioner charged with facilitating improved outcomes for people and businesses in cross border communities...

That is the objective of this bill, and I would like to see us enact it as quickly as possible without the red tape and without excessive plans being put in place. I will talk more about this during the amendments, but some of the role is not clearly identified yet, so we have to have flexibility for the commissioner.

They could have written a beautiful annual plan at the start of 2020. About three months in they would have quickly realised that COVID is a pressing issue, and that three months' worth of work would have been completely wasted because they are focusing on an issue that has come up.

I do sincerely acknowledge the intent behind the amendments in the Legislative Council. I am seeking to remove most of them. One that I am certainly not removing is the requirement for this bill to be reviewed after three years by an independent reviewer and then every five years after that. That should give some comfort that there is an appropriate mechanism.

The review will be completely independent of government and able to highlight areas for improvement but, of course, the annual report that will be tabled every 12 months gives every MP the opportunity to have input and oversight over what the commissioner has done. As a local MP, I guarantee you will have great input into working with the commissioner in delivering better outcomes for your community and for regional South Australia.