Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 23 March 2016.)
Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (12:05): I rise to speak on the Supply Bill 2016, introduced, as we do each year, preceding the announcement of the state government's budget proposals and the consequential bills for the allocation of moneys for government. We do this because we need to continue the expenditure for the government and its employees pending the Appropriation Bill 2016 receiving assent. In this bill, $3.444 billion, or up to that amount, is proposed to be available for appropriation to ensure the continued orderly delivery of government services and payment of personnel.
I place on the record, in speaking to this bill, the urgency within the Attorney-General's portfolio of the need for the government to seriously address the critical infrastructure of our superior courts. We now lead the nation, unfortunately, in one more indicator of dysfunction, and that is the capital infrastructure of our superior courts. We have now the worst superior courts in the state. Having had a kaleidoscope of announcements and cancellations of a courts precinct proposal for a rebuild and upgrade of those facilities, we are now left with a situation where, during the year, we had flooding in court chambers and courts, which required the closure of facilities and which of course shut down certain aspects of the operation of the court. That is how ridiculous it has become.
We have had examples, of course, where we have mattresses at the end of stairways to protect staff in case they slide down into a damaging situation. We have had a situation where a former Chief Justice in a wheelchair was unable to access his own court. The situation is laughable. It makes us the laughing stock of the nation, and I would expect the government to progress that.
The last round of announcements, having cost millions of dollars to prepare the tendering and the like for the last proposal for the courts precinct, came at a time when the government said it simply did not come within budget. They had the opportunity, as was disclosed in subsequent documents produced under freedom of information, to progress with the court rebuild. They could have dealt with the rebuild of a great Taj Mahal for new offices for the department of the AttorneyGeneral at a later stage, but no, they still elected to do nothing to remedy the situation. We will wait for the government's budget this year, but again, it is something that is quite critical.
The second matter relates to the District Court. Last year during estimates, the Attorney-General announced that he was considering a restructure of the superior courts. That was code for abolishing the District Court, having one trial court, and ultimately having a court of appeal. That is a structure which I think has some limitations. It would be replicating what we have in the Northern Territory if we were to go down that route, but if the government presents a sufficient case for restructuring the superior court, we would have a look at it.
We would look at any sensible proposal from the government. It is just that, in a year, we have not seen anything, and we have a situation where the government—pending no decision on this, and no presentation of a case to consider for reform—continues to strip the courts of their full complement of judges. The District Court is currently running at two judges short of the current workload. Remember that we have overloaded prisons; we have continuing law and order work that needs to be done; and we have the imminent retirement of the Chief Judge of the District Court.
We have a situation where the government's response to this—to the outrage of the courts, including the Chief Justice, who says that the full complement of judges is the critical issue to dealing with the problem with overlisting and, therefore, the consequential repeat of cases that are listed for trial, witnesses turn up, the claimant is ready, the defendant is ready to stand trial, and people spend money to turn up to court only to find that there is no judge available and that they have to come back in months or the following year, so it is quite an unsatisfactory situation as far as the progressing of people's rightful opportunity to have access to courts—the government's answer to that recently was for the Attorney-General to announce that he was going to deal with the shortage in the Supreme Court by elevating, for 15 months, three judges from the District Court and bringing in a judge from interstate.
The one from interstate was to deal with a case where there was a significant conflict of interest in any of the local judges hearing it, so therefore they quite rightly—as is appropriate from time to time—brought in an interstate judge. Three District Court judges were gazetted and announced to be appointed by the Attorney-General to do work in the Supreme Court. Now all that does is completely undermine the capacity of the District Court to continue to function on its inadequate means as it is.
To illustrate the height of arrogance which the government has reached in dealing with the management of reasonable funding to ensure that we have access to justice and that law and order continues to operate in our state, he did so without having even consulted at least one of the judges and, as a consequence, that judge said, 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to stay in the District Court; that is my commission and, notwithstanding that you have put in the Gazette that you are sending me to the Supreme Court for 18 months, I won't be accepting that.'
It possibly would have offered him higher duties, potentially higher remuneration, all of those things, but he stood by the principles of ensuring that his court, to which he had been appointed, was not going to be left in a desolate situation of not being able to manage, and he made it quite clear that he would not be going. Good on him for having the courage to say to the AttorneyGeneral, 'No, I'm not going to abandon the responsibility that you as Attorney-General, and your government, gave me in appointing me to the District Court. I will stay here for the long haul and I will undertake my duties.' I want to give special commendation to His Honour Judge Barry Beazley, who has declined to accept that appointment and who continues to work in this role.
If it is the government's intention via the Attorney-General to continue this practice of elevating people from Magistrates Court to District Court, from District Court to Supreme Court, a practice which is frowned upon in many jurisdictions as making people more and more likely to respond to the requirements (if I put that in a general sense) of attorneys-general of the day; and judges being vulnerable to falling into line with what they might consider to be putting them in favour with an attorney-general, in the hopeful expectation that they might receive some advance or promotion up the court structure, it is a practice that is frowned upon, for good reason.
It is something which, unfortunately, this Attorney-General has moved from occurring occasionally—and sometimes there can be some justification for doing that—to becoming the norm. I have to say that whatever his proposal to restructure the courts, if he is going to continue this practice it will be roundly condemned from this side of the house.
The second matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the house is the plight of young families in my electorate and in surrounding areas—-the electorates of Dunstan, Morialta, Hartley, and Unley, in particular. We have a crisis in respect of access to public schools (particularly primary schools) in the whole eastern and southern metropolitan area. It was so critical that last year I wrote to the newly-appointed Minister for Education (Hon. Susan Close) to alert her to this problem and to note the critical situation in respect of enrolments being at, or near, capacity in the eastern region.
I asked the minister to consider granting approval to build a new school in the eastern region, and that whilst there had been some extra students provided for at Marryatville High School, it did not address the demand in the primary schools. Her response dated 27 June 2015 was to suggest that she was familiar with the situation and that she had approved four additional relocatable classrooms at the Linden Park Primary School.
Furthermore, the minister suggested that there was adequate capacity to deal with further enrolments in the eastern area, and identified 181 student vacancies across the six schools. Within months, that was exposed to be completely unreliable information. We only need to look at today's paper to appreciate why; that is, because the department clearly does not have a clue about the capacity of schools across the state, which is alarming enough, as many of us in the house expect a government department to keep an eye on the capital needs and requirements for each of the schools in our public school system. They also need to do that to ensure that there is an equitable advance of capital redevelopment in areas of need throughout state, instigated in an orderly fashion.
In fact, today's revelations tell us that that situation is not case and that the opposition's call for there to be an audit in relation to the schools as to their capacity and the capital works requirement of the schools needs to be attended to immediately. More pressing is that the minister indicated that she was going to address the Linden Park Primary School problem by adding four relocatable classrooms, and I would invite anyone in the house to go down and look at Linden Park. It was highlighted a week ago in the press as being one of the most successful primary schools in South Australia in NAPLAN testings in years 3, 5 and 7, and identified as the most successful school overall in respect of its students—and it has over 1,000 students.
I do not know how many other schools in members' electorates have three different lunch breaks, but we now have a situation at Linden Park where, in order to fit the children in the school space outside the classrooms, they have to have three separate lunchtime breaks. The school is, basically, in the thirds. I cannot remember exactly the times of opening and closing, but, for example, the first lunch break is from quarter to 12 to 12.15, when the first group goes out to play on the oval; then from 12.15 to 12.45, the second group gets a chance to play outside; and then, following that, of course, the third group. I do not know how they deal with recess times or whether they can get out there at all, but we have classrooms being convened and having their studies in the library (resource centre, as they are now more aptly described), which again limits the capacity and opportunity for the rest of the students to use that resource centre during the school day.
We have a chronic situation. I really shook my head when I got the minister's letter last year, but then I found that during the preparation for 2016 there was a chronic problem with children being able to fit into all of our local schools: Linden Park was full, Burnside Primary was full, Glen Osmond was almost full but soon filled up, Linden Park was at capacity, and we had Rose Park Primary School, which not only was full but also has now been advised that it has about 25 students in its school now over and above the approved number allowable for the area of external space outside a built area within the school grounds, and that they have to actually reduce their number of students in the school next year. How will that happen? Nobody knows!
Let me give an example. As I understand it, at Rose Park Primary School they will lose about 50 or 60 year 7 children who will finish at the school and presumably go on to other schools for their senior education, and that is the normal course. They will lose some at year 5, because some of those children might transfer to other schools, and of course you will have the normal loss of children whose parents might move out of the district, move interstate and the like.
They have 50 or 60 children in the Rose Park Preschool, near the school, who are increasingly taking on numbers because the number of preschools under this government of course has reduced, so there is a whole cohort of children at the preschool who in normal years would expect to transfer to the Rose Park Primary School as the year 7s and some of the year 5s and 6s move off—that is the normal course. However, next year they will have to lose about 25 kids: they have to move from something like 585 students down to 560. So, somewhere they have to find 25 places—they will have to take fewer children who are destined to come into the school under ordinary circumstances, and they will have to find somewhere else in the state to go.
I have had a good look around my schools, and at the moment the only spare space will be for children to go up the hill to the Uraidla Primary School. There are a few vacancies I think at Crafers school. That is their option, because in all the schools around them—Parkside had a few vacancies but is now full, etc., etc.—there is no room left. I do not know what planet the minister is on when she sends me these letters denying there is any demand.
We have a situation not only where they have zoned our schools now, where they have capped the schools for obvious reasons, but, having bungled even the register and auditing of schools to ensure that they are not over subscribed, one of my schools in the seat of Bragg is now facing the situation where 25 children in the local preschool will be sent somewhere because they will not be able to get into the local school.
Unsurprisingly, I receive letters from concerned parents who live in the area, who have built their house in the area, have bought a home in the area, have had their children—some have been there for years—with reasonable expectation that their children will go to a local school. If they cannot fit into the exact one next door, they expect to the nearest one. But, no, there is no room in the inn in the eastern suburbs, and the government has its head in the sand when it comes to appreciating how difficult is this situation.
Some parents will accept and meet the cost of transferring children to independent schools, but that is not ideal. We have a law in South Australia, under the Education Act, which requires children to go to school from age 6 to age 17 in this state; it is compulsory. This government has an obligation to ensure that we provide the services in public education for that to occur. In fact, because of those laws we have an obligation to ensure they have transport to be able to get to them, which is one of the reasons the education department has an obligation either to pay a fee to parents to get their children to school or, alternatively, provide a yellow bus or private operating bus to do that.
I ask the government to, firstly, come down and explain to the people in my area at a public meeting—I will be holding it in about three weeks—who is going to get in and who is going to get out. Who is going to be in the lucky dip? Who is going to be in the lottery for their child to have access to school and who is going to miss out? They are at least entitled to know that before we get to the latter part of the year. I ask the government to seriously consider that, and the invitation will be issued shortly.