Today, Mark responded to the Government's Budget Measures Bill, and outlined the Greens' opposition to the proposal to abolish the Office of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island and repeal the Act.
Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Budget Measures) Bill 2018
I rise to speak to the second reading of this bill. The budget measures bill is always one that attracts some controversy. It does that for a number of reasons, one of which is that there are always things in here that do not necessarily belong in a budget measures bill. The other area of controversy is around the disallowance of certain elements in that bill. Most years, it seems that we have a debate about whether it is appropriate for an opposition and the crossbench to oppose a measure that is in the budget measures bill. I think it is fair to say that it is a rule that exists, I think, in the imaginations of various members, but it certainly has not been applied in practice. We only need go back as far as the car park tax to see that the opposition had no qualms about opposing measures that were in the budget and required legislation through a budget measures bill.
This particular piece of legislation is long. There are 146 clauses in the bill. There is one clause that I am opposing. I would urge all honourable members to join me in opposing clause 63. Clause 63 of the bill is the one that abolishes the Office of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island. I note that our colleague the Hon. Clare Scriven spoke at some length about this in her contribution to the Appropriation Bill. I align myself with her remarks. She has made the point that this office has been important for Kangaroo Island, it has done good things and it does not deserve to be abolished.
In her contribution the honourable member referred to a couple of lines in a letter that I think all members of parliament received from Mr Tony Nolan, Chairman of the Kangaroo Island Industry and Brand Alliance. His letter, I think, is very informative. I propose to read it onto the record. It is not long but it is important. The letter says:
I note with concern that on October 18th a Bill to repeal the Commission of the Kangaroo Island Act 2014 has passed the House of Assembly.
When I met the Premier in July at the opening of the Kangaroo Island Airport I was keen to tell him more about the extraordinary value of the Act for the businesses of Kangaroo Island. He made a commitment at the time to consult further with the Island's industry associations before proceeding. However, no such discussion has taken place.
Since then, I have also noted with concern the flagged de-funding of the Office of The Commissioner…in the budget—although I acknowledge gratefully the funding for this financial year. In tabling the Bill in the Legislative Council this week, the Treasurer has noted that he recognises the value of Kangaroo Island to the State and 'we will ensure our resources are directed to support the island's economic growth and community services rather than supporting unnecessary bureaucracy'.
In fact, it is exactly the unnecessary bureaucracy that the Commissioner is helping us to overcome in our unique isolated remote community when trying to deal with government. The Office of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island (OCKI) is not another layer of bureaucracy, but the knife that slices through and gets things done. The Act has been helping us to liaise with government departments, with outcomes and actions that we could only dream of previously.
When the legislation was crafted and brought into law in 2014 it recognised the unique challenges faced by Kangaroo Island, a place that is so important to South Australia and the nation. The national and international recognition of Kangaroo Island draws more than 200,000 tourists a year. However, the small population on such a large island creates particular challenges, including with access, freight, housing, roads, financial viability of local government and development of industry.
This enabling legislation was supported in the Legislative Council by members of the ALP, Greens and Family First.
The Office of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island was founded to give a voice to our complex issues, directly to Cabinet. OCKI has achieved much in its 3½ years and I attach the annual report for 2017-18 and commend it to you.
A review of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island Act 2014 was conducted in 2017 by the Parliamentary Committee for Environment, Resources and Development. It found the Act had operated efficiently and effectively and recommended only minor adjustments.
Repealing this act would be a backwards step for Kangaroo Island and the many projects under way with the Commissioner's support. It would be a blow to business confidence and undermine the work being done by the Island's industry groups.
I urge you to vote against repealing the Act, which will be a vote for the community and industry of Kangaroo Island. Please contact me if you would like more information.
Chairman, Kangaroo Island Industry and Brand Alliance.
I note that support for the Office of the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island is not just from private industry groups. A lot of individual citizens made submissions to the parliamentary inquiry last year and one that I note, and I will not read it all out, but Rodney Harrex, the Chief Executive of the South Australian Tourism Commission—so we are talking a government body—wrote an extensive submission and concluded with these words:
In summary, the Office of the Commissioner plays a valuable role in coordinating the resources needed to enable Kangaroo Island to seize the opportunity to increase its appeal as one of Australia's greatest and best-known tourism destinations.
That is the official word from the South Australian Tourism Commission. I mentioned that there were many submissions. I will come to the findings of the inquiry, but I will direct some remarks to our friends in the SA-Best party, because one of the most supportive submissions received by the inquiry last year was from Rebekha Sharkie MP, federal member for Mayo, which includes Kangaroo Island. Again, I will not read her whole letter but she concludes with these words:
I am pleased to provide my full support to the ongoing role of this important office and look forward to seeing the role continue to provide advocacy and support for the people of Kangaroo Island.
So we have the support of the Labor Party, the Greens, who are strong supporters of the office of the commissioner, and we have Centre Alliance supporting it at the federal level, so I really hope that our colleagues in SA-Best get on board as well.
I mentioned the inquiry, and I think this is important because the act that set up the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island did have a review clause in it, and the government decided, I think quite reasonably, that that review was best undertaken by one of the standing committees of the parliament and they gave the job to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee.
The committee took evidence from several dozen witnesses. We went over to Kangaroo Island, we heard from people in person and, at the end of the day, the conclusion of the committee was that the office should continue. There was no recommendation to repeal the legislation. In fact, I mentioned the Tourism Commission before—other government departments were standing up in line to congratulate the commissioner and to talk about the importance of the office, and I will mention a couple of words from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure's submission that there was a 'positive increase in economic and investment interest' with the commissioner 'playing an active role' recognising the necessity for an 'on the ground connection'.
They listed four projects as an example of where the commissioner played a positive role. They were the golf course, the American River Resort, the Plantation Timbers port proposal and the airport upgrade. I know there was a lot of controversy over these projects—there always is—but at the end of the day government agencies and industry groups are saying that this is an office worth keeping. The conclusion of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee states in the last paragraph:
The government wanted a vehicle whereby the potential for Kangaroo Island could be realised. Various plans saw an island doubling its population, similarly expanding its farm gate income and with a huge boost in tourism. Strategic plans factored this into the State's strategic documents. The Commissioner for Kangaroo Island Act was designed to make this happen. The Committee is of the view that the act is delivering on these goals.
This was not a very radical committee. Let's have a look at who was on this committee and who put their name to this. The presiding member was the Hon. Tom Kenyon; Mr Stephen Griffiths MP served on that committee; Mr Eddie Hughes; the Hon. Michelle Lensink put her name to this report as well; the Hon. Tung Ngo; myself; and Mr David Speirs MP was on the committee from 29 March 2017, so he put his name to this as well.
Here we have it: an act of parliament that the people of Kangaroo Island say they appreciate and want; industry says it; government says it; members of both major parties and the crossbench say they want it to keep going, yet we find it in the budget measures bill being repealed. The final thing I will say in relation to that is that, whilst the government will no doubt make a hue and cry about why we should not do this, there is a difficulty that we face in this chamber and that is that we can insist that this act stay on the statute books. We can simply do that by opposing clause 63 of this bill. What we cannot do is we cannot force the government to put any money into it. People might say that is a hollow victory.
I would hope that over time, despite the protestations of the new Mayor of Kangaroo Island, the government will listen to industry groups on the island who are getting advantage from this, and they will thank the upper house for having kept the architecture alive—that we have kept the bill on the statute books. All it requires for them to do in one of their next three budgets before the next election is to re-fund the position.
If, in four years' time, there is a change of government—the Greens might do very well; we might be on the Treasury benches—we will not then need to re-legislate to have a commissioner for Kangaroo Island; the architecture will be there. I am expecting that the government will do what they do and they will come out and say that we have no right to mess with the budget measures bill. I certainly propose to mess with it by ensuring that clause 63 does not pass. I would urge my Labor colleagues to join us, and I would urge the crossbench members as well to get behind the Greens and let's keep the office of the commissioner alive until the government sees reason and starts to re-fund the position.