Appropriation Bill 2018

Second Reading

I am very proud today to rise and support the state budget of 2018-19, the very first budget of the Marshall Liberal government. Elected after 16 years of Labor's financial mismanagement, our government must now act to clean up Labor's mess. South Australians understand the financial state of affairs that was left to us, and they know that together all of us must put our shoulders to the wheel and return the budget to a sustainable position.

With this budget, South Australia sees decisive action and determined economic political leadership. The Marshall Liberal government is committed to financial repair, and it begins in this budget. In addition to getting the state's finances in order, we said before the election that we would deliver our election commitments to create more jobs, lower costs and provide better services for South Australians.

As members know, we have already delivered many of our commitments, and this budget delivers more of them. I commend the Treasurer for his budget speech. I am so impressed that I asked the Premier to get it autographed by the Treasurer, because it will be an important document for the future.

Which indeed he did. What is also important to note is that it is clear that the deficit of some $397 million left in this last financial year, which was paraded by the former government as going to achieve a $12 million surplus, has cascaded into this massive deficit. Shamefully, the former government knew full well before they left office that it was heading towards at least a $200 million deficit and they said nothing.

That identifies the level of deceit that applied to the daily operations of a government that would never tell the truth to South Australians. That situation has been revealed, and the former government can bleat all they like about the position that they claim was going to occur, but their own advisers and their own documents reveal this shameful concealment.

I would also like to say that in a circumstance where you keep spinning lies, eventually the public wakes up—and they did in March 2018. That deceit and deception are now over and we are committed to a transparent administration. We have started straightaway with this budget. It is important to ensure that we no longer have fake news, that we do not have fake budgets and that we do not have made-up figures. We have a situation where the former administration, now led by one of its ministers in the opposition of today, continues to bleat out fake news. He makes Donald Trump look like a rank amateur. It is just appalling to think that they continue to fail to face up to what they have done and what legacy they have left to South Australians.

I want to highlight some of the important savings measures insofar as they relate to the area of the Attorney-General's responsibility. In contributing to this debate, it represents somewhat of a change from previous years, when attorneys-general did not rise to support their treasurer—in all the time I can remember being here—let alone their own cabinet collective decision-making. Let me start by providing confirmation of the significant additional funding to the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption and the Office of Public Integrity to support the performance of statutory functions, along with the delivery of education programs and investigation activities. This also delivers a key election commitment to enable ICAC to conduct public hearings.

The funding boost of $14.5 million includes $7 million over four years to support operations and a further $7.5 million of investing expenditure over four years for IT system upgrades, office accommodation fit-out and the establishment of a hearing facility, which will allow access to both media and the South Australian public. I did offer the Sturt Street courts that were renovated by the previous government, but they are not fit for purpose. They still sit in decay after a $10 million spend, which is just so symptomatic of the administration of the previous Labor government.

As I have said before, the previous government was addicted to secrecy and continually blocked attempts to legislate for open ICAC hearings, despite the ICAC commissioner, the Hon. Bruce Lander QC, calling for the ability to conduct maladministration and misconduct investigations and hearings in public. Our government has introduced legislation to enable those public hearings, and now we are backing that up and funding it in the budget. The ICAC has demonstrated a clear need for extra funding to do its job in recent years, funding which has not been provided by the former Labor government, notwithstanding submissions presented to them. We recognise the importance of an independent integrity body and we are proud to resource it properly.

Let me refer to Forensic Science SA, which will be aided with an extra $1.5 million over four years for coronial services. The FSSA provides independent, high-quality, expert scientific evidence, opinion and information to the justice system and to the South Australian community. It is an essential service, and I would like to acknowledge and thank Professor Chris Pearman and his team for the vital work that they do. The additional funding is to support an increase in the number and complexity of post mortems and pathology reviews requested by the Coroner.

There could not be a member in this house who does not hear the plaintive claims of their constituency about the delay of funerals, the delay of coronial inquiries, the delay in their laying to rest a loved one or at least an inquiry into their cause of death. Last year, in my response to Labor's appropriation bill, I said in relation to FSSA:

…the failure to deal with the performance indicators in respect of turnaround times was a direct reflection of the government's failure to provide adequate resources...

Under this government, FSSA receives a much-needed funding injection.

I am very pleased that the full-time community legal service will be reinstated in the Riverland as a result of our allocation of $600,000 over four years. This will provide people in the Riverland with access to legal services when they most need them. This is good news for the people of the Riverland, after the service closed in 2017. This demonstrates the Marshall Liberal government's commitment to the Riverland and to the regions, and I thank our Premier for understanding its significance. Again, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who again falsely claims a reduction in relation to services, we are rebuilding regional services and reopening offices. This is an important part of access to justice for our regional South Australians.

The budget provides additional funding of $750,000 for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for the prosecution of a number of complex criminal cases currently being conducted. These cases require the application of significant legal resources in a dedicated capacity for extended periods of time. High profile cases, such as the NCA bombing and the ongoing prosecution of Sturt police officers arising from an ICAC investigation, are the types of cases that obviously require additional resourcing. The government takes its responsibility seriously in this regard.

The budget provides $146.4 million in the financial year just concluded to support South Australia's participation in the National Redress Scheme for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. This is probably the thing I am most proud of in the new government: making that decision early, paying up the commitment early and now providing the legislation, which is on its way through the parliament. This figure is an estimate based on the actuarial assessment commissioned by the commonwealth, which estimated up to 1,690 eligible applicants may have been abused within South Australian government institutions.

As members know, the National Redress Scheme was a recommendation of the commonwealth's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Our government believes that joining the scheme is the best means of providing a measure of justice to those victims. As I have previously said, the stories presented at the royal commission opened our eyes to the prevalence of institutional child sexual abuse, the failure of institutions to respond, and the lifelong impact it brings to bear. The commission's findings are powerful and far-reaching.

The scheme will be administered by the commonwealth Department of Social Services. The South Australian Government Financing Authority (SAFA) will manage the administration and payment of the redress claims assessed by the national scheme operator. Funding for the payments has been sourced from the Victims of Crime Fund and, at the completion of the scheme, any residual balance will be returned to the fund.

The consolidation of the Independent Gambling Authority is a budget measure that will reduce expenditure by $236,000 in 2018-19, with ongoing savings of $483,000 per annum from the 2019-20, producing a $1.7 million saving over four years for taxpayers. Savings will be realised through the consolidation of the IGA within Consumer and Business Services, which will perform the regulatory functions of the IGA. The Liquor and Gambling Commissioner will become the sole regulator and assume the operational and enforcement responsibilities previously under the IGA.

The consolidation of operations into a single gambling regulator is consistent with the recommendations of the Administrative Review of Gambling Regulations in South Australia by His Honour Tim Anderson QC, initiated by the former government, and will simplify the regulatory framework for the industry. Regrettably, this report was kept concealed for two years but is now before the parliament, and we are pleased to announce this initiative, consistent with their advice.

The Office of the Public Advocate has been allocated $1.2 million over two years to support clients living with disability to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This will help clients secure the best possible plans and funding for support services as they become participants in the scheme. Around 700 clients of the Public Advocate are expected to become NDIS participants, and significant work is required to assist and support them to access and remain in the scheme. This is much-needed funding. I was appalled to hear the Leader of the Opposition today treat the NDIS as something his federal counterparts proudly paraded as an idea that was initiated under their administration federally but now, suddenly, it is some shameful privatisation of a much-needed service for those in our disability community.

As a result of the financial mess we inherited from the former Labor government, the delivery of this budget has forced the government to make some hard decisions. These decisions have not been easy, but are necessary to ensure that the government delivers its election commitments. It commences the task of financial repair, while maintaining a budget discipline around the forward estimates. The priority for this government is to ensure that our state is respected again as an engine room in the Australian economy and not the recipient of dismissive scoffs from other states.

It is also a priority that our state deliver a future for our children and provide them with a secure, inspiring, exciting future, a place to work and play, and not a place from which to flee to try to secure employment elsewhere and, finally, that we ensure that our state is a sanctuary, a safe, protected and productive sanctuary, for those who are most vulnerable in our community and where they can have a future that gives them that opportunity.

It is certainly true to say that when we receive budgets I remember my father's words: 'It is very important to pay well those who work hard, to provide for those who can't and to starve those who can but won't'. Our priority must be to protect the vulnerable, to ensure that we give them a future and to work hard to ensure that those who are prepared to resurrect the status of our state, the economy and the future for our children, do have our priorities and do enjoy that support as we go forward.

One of the matters I feel rather sad to have announced is the discontinuance of the sentencing council. This will, of course, save $100,000 a year, but it is a council, in my short time as Attorney-General, whose advice I have valued. It was previously chaired by the Hon. Kevin Duggan AM QC, and the current chairperson is the Hon. John Sulan QC. Both have been very supportive in providing us with advice in relation to restorative justice, and I commend them for all their work during the time they have operated, since 2011.

Surely, we will have to rely on many internal people within the Attorney-General's Department, but I am assured that those who have served on this council will continue to make available their support and advice on an individual basis. I certainly will value that. I make the point that one of the greatest concerns I had when coming into office was that when the former government dealt with the sentencing law reform and rewrote the Sentencing Act the sentencing council was not asked to express a view or consulted in relation to the bill that came to the house. I found it absolutely stunning, and I felt sickened by the fact that they had been ignored when they are a body supposed to be there to provide advice to government.

I also make the point in relation to the sentencing review that this is an issue concerning to us as a government looking forward to future areas. Apart from the major indictable reform the former government brought in, which became effective in April, clearly there are some difficulties with that, but we are trying to work hard to make sure it works. In relation to sentencing law review, in 2011 and then in 2012, the former attorney-general introduced legislation to provide for sentence discounting. At the time, I made the point on behalf of the then opposition that this had been a practice which had been considered overseas, in the United Kingdom, and abandoned and which had been considered in other states and at the least reduced. But, no, the government wanted to press ahead with what has been colloquially called 'the supergrass amendments'.

We indicated at the time, and the Hansard is there for all to see, the concerns we had in moving to a 40 per cent discounting in relation to sentencing and whether that would have any actual impact, given the experience around the world, as to the encouragement for early guilty pleas. I made the point that plea bargaining is something that the public does not always understand in relation to having a full understanding of how it applies and why it can be important for there to be a negotiating option in dealing with the settlement of cases that are being prosecuted.

The government went ahead with it anyway, and I think it is fair to say that when the government appointed the Hon. Brian Martin to do its review of that legislation, to see whether it had been effective, both in the early guilty pleas and in the supergrass opportunities given to criminals to assist the prosecution in relation to successfully convicting others, there were some significant limitations identified in respect of this legislation.

It is fair to say that, although there had not been much opportunity in the time that that review had passed, there was certainly an indication that on balance there had not actually been a translation into a reduction in the median number of days to finalise major indictable matters and in relation to early guilty pleas. On the supergrass matter, the reviewer said that it was too early to tell at all. We are down the track a few more years and clearly we need to look at this data again.

This is a matter that I think a new government needs to take up because the former government's option was to introduce legislation, give criminals a much greater discounting than applied anywhere else, much to the concern of victims and general disquiet in the public and then not make any provision for what was still a burden with some provision of sentencing so that people were then shuffled off into the opportunities of home detention. You can see where I am going here.

The former government's way of doing this was to do an early deal, reduce the number of people going into prison, pretend to the public that they were strong on law and order and then, when it came to the crunch and they were not prepared to put any money into extra prison beds, give them home detention. That was the modus operandi of the former government. We do need to look at this issue again and we do need to identify whether there has been a direct benefit and whether there has been the important consultation with victims that was highlighted back in that report in 2015, which the former government either did not read or did not care about, but they certainly did not do anything about.

I look forward to continuing to seek advice from the judiciary, the legal associations and people who work in this field, both at a government level and in the private sector, to ensure that we do make provision for a fair system in respect of sentencing. In relation to the Legal Services Commission, there are some other initiatives that have been announced, and I look forward to making a further contribution in respect of a budget of which I am immensely proud.