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Supply Bill 2024

4 June 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:48): I rise to speak to the Supply Bill on behalf of the Greens. In doing so I indicate that the Greens will honour the convention in this place of supporting supply and will, of course, support this bill.

I want to use this opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the issues we would like to see the government focus on in Thursday's budget. I think the number one issue for South Australians at the moment is surely the cost-of-living crisis. That is the water-cooler conversation out in the South Australian community, and I think that is the benchmark against which the Malinauskas government's budget will be measured. People want to see the government taking meaningful action on cost of living. It is a shame that the Hon. Clare Scriven is not in the chamber, because she will be delighted to know that I did make a submission to the government in that regard.

I want to talk a little bit about some of the issues that I flagged in that letter that I wrote to the Treasurer, the Hon. Stephen Mullighan. One of the issues we really want the government to take action on is, of course, rent prices. I have talked a lot in this chamber about spiralling rents, and the concerns that we have around rent prices. Over just the last year, rent prices have soared by 10 to 30 per cent across 92 suburbs.

I do want to acknowledge the leadership of the Malinauskas government in reforming our rental laws last year, and the Greens were pleased to work with the government to make some important changes to rental laws. One of the areas where we could not get the government to take action was on rent prices.

I previously had a bill in this chamber that would have capped rent increases in line with CPI. We could not get support for that—in fact, no other political party was willing to support it—and so I have introduced another bill which would freeze rents for the next two years to provide relief to people who are struggling with skyrocketing rents. I really urge the Malinauskas government to support that, and also to ensure that in this upcoming budget there is provision made for concessions for renters to address some of the cost-of-living pressures they are facing at the moment.

We are also calling for the government to take action on minimum rental standards. We are very concerned that many tenants are living in housing that is expensive to heat and cool and does not meet community expectations. We know, of course, that that results in increased energy bills for people who are already dealing with the rental crisis. We need to ensure that there are standards that keep our homes cool during summer but also warm during the winter months, and we are heading into the winter period at the moment.

We also need the government to take action in terms of building more public housing. I do recognise some of the announcements that the government has made in that regard, but the Greens are concerned that existing public housing tenants are going to be displaced, and that there is not a clear plan in terms of managing what is happening to those tenants during the construction phase.

We also need to see a public builder established, so that we can fast track the maintenance of existing social housing stock. I think all members of the South Australian community were dismayed to hear the news of subcontractors not being paid for their work by private provider Spotless. That is appalling, and the government needs to take real action on that in this budget. Set up a public builder, so that we can fast track the construction of public homes, but also fast track the maintenance work that is long overdue.

I note that the Liberals have spoken a little bit about the housing crisis in their remarks. I am not surprised because it was the Liberal Party that invented the housing crisis in Canberra with the policies of John Howard. The chickens have now come to roost through the exorbitant negative gearing policies, which the Liberal Party ramped up, and the capital gains concessions.

All of these things have overheated the housing market and, of course, they were aided and abetted in that project by the Labor Party here in South Australia that sold off our public housing stock. It has been a bipartisan project that has created the housing crisis, but the Labor Party here have a responsibility to do what they can to fix it, obviously here in South Australia but also over in Canberra, and they need to radically ramp up the investment in public housing.

We need to also see action on education in this budget because many families are already paying exorbitant fees to send their children to public schools, and the Greens have been calling for many years now to scrap public school fees, so that these schools are accessible to everybody. It does seem very unfair that parents are paying quite excessive materials and services charges and other fees, particularly in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. We need to see adequate funding for our hospitals and our public health system. I do recognise that the Malinauskas government was swept to power on a pledge to fix our health system, and they have made some progress but they need to do a lot better. We need to see the implementation of the recommendations of the Ambulance Employees Association, including the provision of specialised transit wards.

We also need to see more GP positions being created, and the Greens have been calling for that: GPs who are focused on free consults for people with a health care card. We also need to see the government scrap ambulance call-out fees. It is really concerning to us that pensioners and concession card holders are being slugged up to $1,200 for a call-out fee for an ambulance if they do not have insurance. That is really concerning because what that means is that someone could be dissuaded from calling an ambulance if they are in a crisis situation and if they need help.

Finally, we need to see some action on public transport, and I do agree with the remarks of the Hon. Ben Hood. We do need to see a focus on regional public transport, and public transport across the board. In Queensland, the state government there have announced recently 50¢ fares for public transport to try to get people onto public transport, recognising that people are facing pressure at the bowser because we know that petrol prices are going up and up. That would be a really good initiative that the state Labor government could implement in this coming budget, to try to get people back onto public transport.

Also, there is a plethora of really good ideas in the report of the Select Committee on Public and Active Transport that was handed down over 12 months ago. If the minister is ever willing to meet with me, I would be happy to talk to him about those ideas. There are some really good opportunities that the Labor government could take up in this budget when it comes to public transport infrastructure if they are willing to make that a priority, recognising that it would reduce some of the cost-of-living pressures that families are under and also do something good for our environment, which we know is desperately needed.

In concluding my remarks, we really hope in the Greens that the government take serious action on the cost-of-living crisis that is gripping our state. I think that is the standard by which the community will measure the success of this next Labor budget, and I really urge them to heed the advice of the Greens and all the community groups that have been calling for support for South Australians who are struggling in the middle of this crisis.