Appropriation Bill 2018
Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (20:52): I rise to commend the Marshall Liberal government for a firm yet fair state budget. Treasurer Rob Lucas promised the budget will not 'end at the tollgate', and I am pleased to finally see a focus on the regions, which contribute so much to the state's economy. In my electorate of Mount Gambier, a city of more than 27,000 people, residents want to see tangible investment in their region from the state government. They want to see funds directed towards areas such as health services, education, mobile blackspots, roads and infrastructure.
The 2018 budget has delivered in many of those areas. Probably the biggest win for my electorate was the $2.1 million to upgrade and expand the Mount Gambier hospital's renal dialysis unit. This funding will bring about a major and lifesaving change for local patients undergoing renal dialysis and, importantly, bring Mount Gambier hospital's renal dialysis services in line with other regional hospitals in the state.
The funding of the statewide meningococcal B vaccination program is also great news, and this began as a grassroots campaign in my electorate. In March, Mount Gambier resident Alli Schleef started a petition calling on the state Liberal government to fund the B strain vaccine for children across the state. That petition was signed by 4,600 people from my electorate, and thanks to their voices this vaccination program will help prevent more unnecessary deaths from this disease.
Funding to complete the Penola bypass was also very well received in my community. It is hard to believe, but the idea for the bypass first began in the 1950s, showing just how patient regional residents are in waiting for major projects to be funded. Two years ago, the bypass was dubbed 'the road to nowhere' after work ground to a halt with just the first stage completed. It was quite unbelievable that you would drive halfway around this bypass, then hit a T-junction and have to come back into the township of Penola and then continue on the main road.
The road that will now be completed will allow up to 500 heavy vehicles a day to bypass Penola's main street and allow this small South-East town to flourish without having B-double trucks shake the buildings when they pass. It will also allow tourists using the Southern Ocean Drive touring route to visit Penola and our internationally renowned Coonawarra wine region without having to deal with cattle and log trucks. However, I would like to see part of the $315 million of the regional roads and infrastructure fund allocated to specific regional projects in the area of Mount Gambier. Billions of dollars have been spent upgrading and maintaining city roads; however, the regions have to wait to see extra highway lanes, shoulder sealing and even the fixing of potholes.
The injection of $10 million towards addressing some of the state's biggest mobile blackspots is also welcome, and this is an issue that I have ranked as one of my main priorities. In the city, it is taken for granted that you can get mobile phone service everywhere, but in my region the service drops out and is unreliable in many areas. Even at the Glenburnie saleyards, a multimillion dollar livestock centre, there is no tower, and it is a standing joke that agents have to climb the fences to get service. I have nominated several priority sites in my electorate as a matter of urgency and look forward to this work commencing.
As a former educator, I was pleased to see a record spend in this year's state budget on education—the biggest in the state's history. This investment is good news for the next generation of South Australians and will help develop and prepare them for their future. Along with the big ticket items, including $27.7 million to transition year 7 students into high school, it was good to see smaller yet no less important additions, such as a review of school bus services in regional areas.
I was also pleased to see that all graduating teachers will have to pass a numeracy and literacy test. This is one area where we need an increase in focus. The quality of our teachers is paramount. In fact, in many studies it has been shown that the level of a student will not overtake the level of a teacher. So, if we have teachers who are barely passing year 12 graduating as teachers, unfortunately the level of attainment for those students will not surpass the level of their teacher.
Increasing sporting vouchers from $50 to $100 for primary school children is another budget measure that I welcome. Sport is important for getting children outside, active, participating in a team environment and having fun. It develops positive self-esteem, teamwork and cooperation skills that continue well into adulthood. Many talented players from my region have gone on to become sporting stars at a national level. Many families have children playing multiple sports, and this increase will help those families that may be struggling with household bills to continue with their children's sporting commitments.
On that point, the rising cost of living and the subsequent impact on household budgets is an issue my office hears about every day. The $360 million reduction in the emergency services levy will mean a saving of around $145 for the average South Australian household per year. Measures such as these will have a positive impact upon household budgets as will the Home Battery Scheme, which will allow 40,000 homes to invest in battery storage systems. The reliability and security of the state's power supply is an issue affecting every South Australian, and the $184 million energy solution is a good start towards addressing our energy concerns now and into the future.
I have often stated that I believe that renewable energy is the way forward. Mount Gambier is home to one of Australia's most significant forestry regions. It has been stated that renewable energy from timber waste products could supply more than 5 per cent of South Australia's entire electricity needs. My region is well placed to lead the way in renewable technologies, such as wood biomass. All it needs is support and investment.
While it was good to see $192 million invested in regional health services, our region has two very specific needs that were not addressed in this year's state budget: drug rehabilitation and mental health services. Our region needs drug rehabilitation centres that offer ongoing support and treatment options for those in the crisis of addiction rather than short-term populist measures. Methamphetamine (ice) is having a devastating effect in regional communities, particularly Mount Gambier. People are losing their jobs, families and livelihoods because of this insidious drug.
Regional families with an addicted family member have an additional problem: the tyranny of distance to access treatment and facilities. In Mount Gambier, the largest regional city in South Australia, there are no dedicated drug rehabilitation beds. Six rehabilitation beds for Mount Gambier were announced in October last year as part of the state government's 'Stop the Hurt' strategy. They were supposed to be operational by early 2018, but here we are in September and still no beds.
People needing detox facilities or long-term rehabilitation have to go across the border or to Adelaide five hours away. The waitlist for counselling and support services is often months long. I am heartened to see the state government has pledged to run a trial of the intensive outpatient Matrix drug program in the Riverland region after being launched in Adelaide earlier this year.
The results of this program, which takes a vastly different approach to traditional drug treatment programs, have seen significant reductions in methamphetamine use and relapse. More than 75 per cent of participants use drugs for five days or less during the program and 48 per cent did not use at all. It is obviously early days and more work and research needs to be completed to determine the long-term results; however, I would like to state on the record right now that I would like to see Mount Gambier become one of those regional trial sites.
In the area of mental health, the same issues are occurring for those in regional communities: long waitlists and not enough services or ongoing support. They are issues that require long-term solutions, not stopgap measures, and I will continue to lobby strongly for more funding, resources and facilities in these areas.
The area of regional tourism deserves a notable mention, as I come from a region gifted with incredible assets that merit greater recognition on the state's tourism agenda. In the South-East, we are lucky enough to have some of Australia's most incredible natural features: volcanoes, sinkholes and cave systems, which are internationally renowned and attract thousands of tourists each year. Seeing Mount Gambier's Blue Lake in summertime, when it has undergone its spectacular natural colour change, has to be seen to be believed.
The activation of these natural assets in developing a master plan to guide our city's future tourism projects is a priority during my time as the member for Mount Gambier. Although it is good to see an increased focus on attracting major events to South Australia with the $40 million event bid fund, there needs to be regional inclusion.
It was announced that Mount Gambier's Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre will share in $1 million with three other regional theatres for substantial sustainment works. I would like to see more dedicated funding towards arts events and projects for the regions. A case in point is the Mount Gambier Fringe festival. Run in conjunction with the successful Adelaide Fringe, the event has gone from strength to strength since it was first run in 2017, and this year attracted more than 12,000 people to the event. Next year's event is going ahead with approximately $20,000 less in the kitty from the state government. By comparison, the 2019 Adelaide Festival received $1.3 million in this year's state budget, bringing total government funding to more than $9 million.
But let's end on a good note. In regional areas, 60 per cent of the population engage in volunteer work, whether it is running a barbecue at Bunnings for a sports club or donating their time to the local animal shelter. These people are the backbone of our community—those who actively donate their time for a good cause. The removal of the $60 volunteer screening fee is a small gesture but one that will reward our volunteers and benefit many regional organisations and events that depend heavily on volunteers to run. One of these is our famous Generations in Jazz festival, which has grown exponentially over 30 years thanks to the valuable contribution of volunteers, some of whom return year after year. I commend the government for rewarding our hardworking volunteers.