Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:57): I rise to speak on the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island Bill 2014. Let me first disclose that I was born and raised on Kangaroo Island, the beneficiary of 11 years of education at the Parndana Area School. I continue to be a ratepayer, one of the 40 per cent who live off island. I am a patron of the KI Pioneers Association and the Parndana Show. I remain a passionate advocate of Kangaroo Island and its people.
The peak governing body for islanders is their elected Kangaroo Island Council, complemented by appointed and elected boards, committees and councils representing the schools, the hospital, volunteer associations and organisations, the environment forums, transport operators and the like, including farmers. The funding, advocacy and influence of these vary. The state and federal governments contribute funding and services, as applies across South Australia, in consultation with local governance.
The bill before us proposes the establishment of a commissioner to be appointed and paid for by the state government. The commissioner can be a public servant. He or she has a role to prepare management plans and principally to provide better coordination and delivery of infrastructure on Kangaroo Island and for other purposes. The Minister for Planning claims this is necessary to support him, the proposed minister for Kangaroo Island, to be the new king of Kangaroo Island, with an advocate to present priority positions in cabinet.
The bill will operate, he says, by compelling state authorities, including public servants, public corporations and the local council, to provide information and prescribe contracts to the commissioner. Refusal or failure to comply can result in a name-andshame listing in the commissioner’s report to the minister and Premier for most state authorities.
For councils, their penalty is to be reported to the Minister for Local Government, and he or she then has the power to take action under section 272 of the Local Government Act. That act allows for the minister to refer the breach to the Ombudsman for investigation. Action on that report can result in a declaration that the council is in default and, subject to the process allowing the council to plead its case for mercy, it may find itself and/or its members under suspension and subject to an administrator being appointed.
Management plans are to be developed after consultation with the local community by the commissioner, and once in place he or she maintains them. The commissioner must provide an annual report to parliament. Commissioners operate in South Australia in varying roles, representing the police, victims of crime, health and community service, corruption, legal services, public employment, industrial relations, equal opportunity, liquor and gambling, small business and highways, to name just a sample. There are varying levels of independence in their operation and powers of enforcement. To my knowledge, South Australia has no other commissioner of a geographical area, and across Australia no other island is subject to a commissioner in their governance structure.
In recent years, the state government appointed a KI Futures Authority with a small executive to prepare a report for the government. It published the Paradise Girt by Sea report outlining priorities for Kangaroo Island in infrastructure planning and services to advance the industry and economy of the island, recognising the environment, lifestyle, primary industry, tourism, transport challenges and other pursuits and aspirations. I recall numerous reports over my lifetime, most identifying common challenges, but this was a useful contemporary assessment. From there, the authority has promoted planning reform, marketing ideas, energy, water and transport options and supported selected projects and enterprises. This work is not without merit, but it does not address the core infrastructure prerequisites for the island, including its economy, water, roads, transport and energy.
Historically, state government has provided its usual services to country regions and, in recognition of the unique isolation of being an island, included a sea transport service (the latter was discontinued under the last Liberal government) and consideration of the sealing of the South Coast road and subsequent contribution to road maintenance, currently around $2 million a year. With an increased burden of waste disposal, environmental laws, deteriorating infrastructure, stagnant ratepayer revenue and increased regulatory compliance obligations, the local council has floundered and plunged into debt to cover repeated annual deficits, borrowing around another $1.8 million in the previous financial year (I do not know how much it was to the financial year just completed) to meet its expenses.
Whilst I have expressed my views as a ratepayer on some of the management and project decisions of the council, I do not reflect on the efforts of the council and staff, but the position is clear: the council is in a financial mess and its back is against the wall. To date, I suggest the government has not helped, but it has in fact taken advantage of this dilemma by failing to provide or subsidise infrastructure obviously needed and opting to just prepare more reports.
Secondly, it has bought up more land on Kangaroo Island, reducing the revenue base of the council. Thirdly, it has improved its own assets—that is, the government's assets—with boardwalks and walking trails, primarily supporting income from tourists for government and not for the local people. Fourthly, it has imposed regulation resulting in costly compliance to islanders. Fifthly, it has sponsored planning reform, with a new DPA, carving out the coastline to further advantage the government in control and income and depleting the council's future role. Sixthly, it has increased levies, taxes and charges, adding to the already high cost of living. Seventhly, it has reduced education and health services, making it even harder and more expensive for families. The list goes on and on.
Unsurprisingly, the council supports this bill. They are desperate. Amongst individual islanders, however, submissions are split. Some support and some oppose, but most, I suggest, do not even know what is going on or have any clue about what is actually being proposed by the government. The Local Government Association has assisted the council (as a member of that, that is to be expected), most particularly with the amendments re the strengthening of consultation clauses the government will apparently present.
In a meeting with the chief executive officer, and from some subsequent correspondence from the LGA's chief executive officer, it is clear to me that the LGA has not considered the broader legal issue of the implication of this bill, including the cost to council in compliance with the legal expense and representation when there are disputes, and we understand what a hefty imposition could be imposed on the council as a result of getting through that consequence. Secondly, there is the extension to other council's jurisdiction in South Australia, as has been flagged by the minister at the Adelaide public meeting. Thirdly, there are the difficulties of council's power under the Development Act.
As independent legal advice has confirmed to me, the minister already has the power, pursuant to the Development Act under section 57, to enter into land management agreements with the owners in relation to development, management and preservation and conservation, as has been outlined by our lead speaker. Here is where the current position is clear: in those circumstances, the minister must—must— have regard to the appropriate development plan, not 'maybe' or 'think about it' or 'tinker with it', but 'must'.
To avoid that, the appointment of a commissioner with the proposed powers will circumvent this and consequently derogate the council's powers. That is the real consequence of what this bill presents for the people of Kangaroo Island. I will not support this bill because it will:
undermine the elected council as the people's voice;
not help the council with its financial predicament;
dilute the council's principal role in planning;
add another level of costly bureaucracy of over $1 million a year; $6 million has been allocated over the next four years from an Adelaide-based commissioner;
not bind the government to do anything about the infrastructure challenges that the island currently faces; and
waste valuable time to consult and prepare more plans when the council's strategic plan, the RDA reports, and the countless management plans that are already there for action identify those priorities.
With this bill, the minister is a wolf in sheep's clothing and nothing less than that. It is a disgraceful attempt to undermine the independent governance for the people of Kangaroo Island. He has an army of qualified public servants and administrators to advise him. If he were genuine about the belief that there is any commitment by his government and that there is any waste already in government services, he would call a meeting with the relevant ministers and sort it out.
If there is an overlap, if there is an inadequate provision of service. if there is a circumstance where there has been a waste of government services—I have heard the minister come along to public meetings and talk about giving inappropriate subjects at the local school. What piffle, what absolute piffle!—if he has any problem with this, he can go and speak to the other ministers. He has a whole army of people in his department who could sort that out. He has to have the courage himself as the planning minister, as the minister who allegedly gives a toss about the people on Kangaroo Island, to go into his own cabinet and make the decision on infrastructure they are seeking.
Islanders do not expect it all at once, but if the minister is bona fide in his commitment to Kangaroo Island as being unique, as being an important part of South Australia, he would confirm that if he went into this cabinet and started the list. Stop spending any more money on bureaucracy, more reports, more plans and start delivering projects that support island development and not government enterprise. I oppose the bill.