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New Women's and Children's Hospital Bill Speech

1 November 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Greens welcomed the announcement of a new Women's and Children's Hospital last month. Indeed, the need for a replacement for the tired Women's and Children's Hospital has been apparent for many years and, in 2021, we saw the Marshall Liberal government announce plans for a new hospital next to the Royal Adelaide.

I do not want to engage in a debate about which proposal is better or which side of politics got it right and the differences between the Liberal and Labor proposals, but we do believe that a new hospital is desperately needed for South Australian women and children. However, it is important to note that the bill we have before us today is not about whether or not we have a hospital. Instead, it is about the location of that hospital and, in particular, the implications of that for heritage and our Parklands.

This bill vests specific power in the hands of the minister. It removes the state heritage protection value of the old police barracks, and it is our responsibility as legislators to consider the implications of this. South Australians should not have to choose between a new hospital or our iconic Parklands and heritage buildings.

On 27 September this year, the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, the Premier, was quoted in InDaily as saying, 'This is going to be a binary choice'—a choice between heritage on the one hand and health on the other. Well, we in the Greens reject that argument. It is not a binary choice. We can have both; it just takes imagination from government. The people of Adelaide and the people of our state do not have to choose between heritage and hospitals or parklands and hospitals; indeed, there are many cities around the world that preserve their heritage buildings and preserve their green space and still have world-class hospital facilities.

The problem here is that successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, have viewed the Parklands as free land. They view the Parklands as a land bank, and there are any number of meritorious proposals that could be advanced by governments of the day with respect to our public green space: hospitals, schools, universities and housing.

As the world's first public planned park, the Adelaide Parklands are an integral part of the design of the City of Adelaide. They are unique and they are enjoyed by all South Australians, but over time we have seen their inherent value being degraded—again, by both sides of politics. I am not simply criticising the Labor government here; I note, of course, that the Marshall Liberal government, despite promises made, had an abysmal record in that regard.

In the initial statements made about the hospital, Minister Picton has made it clear that there will be a net loss of Parklands. At least, that is the undertaking that the government has given, but the numbers do not appear to add up. In a statement released by Minister Picton on 19 October, he states that 30,000 square metres of inaccessible Parklands will be restored, yet meanwhile the hospital site and the blueprint that has been tabled demonstrate that there will be a footprint of 40,000 square metres. The car park would add another 13,000 square metres of loss. To make up that shortfall, we would need to see a commitment of another 23,000 square metres of Parklands to achieve the government's goal of a net zero loss of Parklands.

Labor's refusal to add the Adelaide Parklands to the state heritage register just two weeks ago is proof that they are wavering in their commitment, at best. Their statements around the future expansion of the hospital are further proof of this weak support for our public green space. Again, the Premier was quoted as saying at the time, 'By choosing to build on the barracks site, we leave room for future RAH expansion and we leave room for future Women's and Children's expansion.'

I note that the former Labor minister and Lord Mayoral candidate Jane Lomax-Smith has referred repeatedly to bracket creep; that is, governments taking over a portion of Parklands and then expanding their reach over time. I agree with the former Labor minister in that regard: it is concerning when we see governments expand their reach into our public green space. We do not want to set a precedent here that our Parklands can be swallowed up and seized every time there is a project of public merit—and there are lots of important projects that are worthy of support.

We also need to consider the implications of this bill for our heritage and the value of heritage listings. The whole purpose of heritage protection is that it is not meant to be held hostage by the government of the day. I have heard the Premier make comments in the media, where he has said, 'Oh, well, the old police barracks aren't exactly attractive. No-one goes there. It's not like it's a building on North Terrace.' That is beside the point.

It is not for members of parliament to make their assessments on what constitutes heritage values. We have an independent, peer-reviewed process. The power to do that is vested in the hands of the Heritage Council, and they are the body that should make those decisions, not the Premier, not individual members of parliament. The Department for Environment's own website describes a heritage place as follows:

A heritage place can be inspiring and intriguing and discovering the history of a place, especially if you're connected to it, will enrich your life. It's not just 'old' buildings that are heritage-listed, a place may be of value for reasons of history, social and cultural importance, design merit or rarity…it actually has to be a place that we want to keep because it tells our story and displays our uniqueness.

The criteria there is not, 'Oh, well, this is aesthetically pleasing,' or, 'The Premier thinks that this particular building is attractive.' That is not part of the criteria that the Heritage Council takes into consideration. Heritage protection provides benefits to our community. It tells our stories. It improves our tourism, and it gives our places meaning. Heritage is not about protecting pretty places. Heritage is about our history. The Thebarton Police Barracks are part of our history, and they have stood there for over 100 years.

I highlight for your benefit, Mr President, that Labor made commitments prior to the recent state election to add further protections to heritage laws through extensive public consultation. In their policy document announced during the election, they stated that a Malinauskas Labor will legislate to require proposed demolition of state heritage sites are subject to full public consultation and a public report from the SA Heritage Council. This is not the standard that they have applied to this bill. This is a case of Labor doing one thing before the election and now doing something very different when they find themselves on the government benches. Where is the public consultation?

The policy goes on to condemn the previous Liberal government for its actions on the Parklands, saying that the Marshall Liberal government showed its disrespect for Adelaide's heritage when it decided to rezone large parts of the Parklands. I agree with that, of course. But as I have said previously in this place, talk is cheap. It is easy to be critical of what the government is doing, but it is another thing entirely to actually put your money where your mouth is when you are in a position to make change. It is disappointing that the Labor Party have chosen not to take Parklands protection seriously now that they are in government.

The government is setting up a false choice here between heritage and a hospital. I want to make it very clear and to restate comments I have made previously that the Greens are not opposed to a new hospital, but we do have some concerns with elements of this bill. That is why we believe that the parliament should be given an opportunity to fully consider the implications of this bill through a parliamentary committee. I gave notice earlier of my intention to move for us to do that, to ensure that there is a select committee that could inquire into the implications of this bill for heritage protection and for our Parklands.

I also want to put on the public record correspondence from the Lord Mayor, Sandy Verschoor, that I received today. In the correspondence from the Lord Mayor, which was sent on behalf of the City of Adelaide, of which members will be aware I used to be a member, it stated that 'we respectfully request that final consideration of the Bill be delayed until such time as the impacts of the legislation are fully considered, tested and understood'.

Full consideration, I submit to you, Mr President, is vital if we are to ensure that we are not eroding heritage and our Parklands without considering the implications. To that end, I was concerned to note in the letter from the Lord Mayor that the advice of the Adelaide Park Lands Authority has not been sought in relation to this proposal.

It is very concerning that the authority has not been asked to have its say on the implications of this proposal. That is very concerning. I am also concerned about the speed with which this legislation is being advanced. I am concerned that it was only introduced into this place two weeks ago, or not even, and we now find ourselves in a position where significant reform with implications for heritage and Parklands is going to be advanced.

We will be moving a series of amendments at the committee stage to address some of the concerns that I have raised. Fundamental to the amendments that we are moving is a belief that we do not have to choose between heritage and a hospital, that we can do both. Indeed, the Greens amendments would allow us to do both. Some of our amendments relate to removing the sections of the bill that give the government the power to move police horses to other parts of the Parklands where they see fit, including their stables and infrastructure. We want to remove that part from the bill.

We want to maintain the heritage listing of the buildings that are implicated, which would ensure that the government would need to follow the standard heritage process. We are also wanting to ensure that there are no permanent fencings or barriers being built to close off the public green space, and we are also moving to ensure that the Parklands are not further impacted or, rather, we do not see the loss of the olive grove by having the car park being contained within the build of the hospital.

We believe that these are very sensible amendments. They would allow us to progress with building a hospital while also being sensitive to our Parklands and our heritage. With that, I conclude my second reading remarks, but I will obviously have more to say in the additional stages of the bill.