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Pages tagged "Human Services"

Public Health Bill: COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight

19 May 2022

 

ROBERT SIMMS MLC: This is the amendment to establish the SA public health COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight Committee. The intention behind this amendment is to ensure that there is maximum accountability and transparency in this bill. Like the Hon. Connie Bonaros, we had very clear feedback in the Greens that, were a bill like this to be legislated, it was really vital that the parliament have the opportunity to disallow new health directions, and that is what this committee does. It is a powerful committee in that it has all of the powers that a usual parliamentary committee has, but it will be able to review any new health directions relating to close contacts relating to COVID-positive people and be able to make recommendations to the houses of parliament for disallowance.

This, we believe, is a much more effective way of managing the pandemic directions in the long term. It provides an opportunity for parliament to really consider the impacts that these restrictions have on the health and wellbeing of South Australians. It has been based on the Victorian model, which is widely regarded as best practice. We understand there are, of course, some distinctions based on our different jurisdictions.

It is important to know that South Australia does not have a human rights charter to protect human rights, which is something the Victorian legislation has protected. Obviously, for us in the Greens we would love to see a human rights charter being put in place; that would be a very good accompaniment to the other legislation we are dealing with.

This committee will be made up of five members, two from the House of Assembly and three from the Legislative Council. The amendment would ensure there is a majority of non-government members. That is a really important inclusion worth highlighting, because it means the government is not in a position to dominate this committee. It means the committee will be able to provide frank, fearless advice, genuinely independent advice, direct to the parliament for its consideration.

The committee will be in place only for the duration of the bill. We agreed earlier today that would be six months. It will provide reports to each house of parliament, it will make recommendations to parliament. There is also a requirement that the minister will table a copy of any directions within two sitting days in each house, and that any such direction is then referred to the committee. As I stated, this allows for disallowance in both houses.

We think this is a really important addition. It is one that will provide better outcomes in terms of directions but also give the South Australian people a level of confidence that the parliament is having oversight over these important directions.

We talked a little bit about the evolving space of this pandemic. We have come out of the phase where these decisions were being made by health experts alone, and are now moving into another phase of the pandemic where politicians and the parliament need to be more actively involved. It is only appropriate that if the health minister is being charged with making these directions, the parliament has a role to play and that there is an independent oversight that operates outside of the government. We think this is a really important step in that regard.


Bill to Restrict the Privatisation of State Assets

18 May 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in relation to the State Assets (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill. This bill seeks to prevent the sale, disposal or lease of certain state-owned assets unless reviewed and recommended by a parliamentary committee and approved by both houses of parliament. Privatisation has had a disastrous impact on South Australia and it has been a bipartisan sport here in SA, a joint project of the Labor and Liberal parties. Both have an appalling record when it comes to selling off our state assets.


We have seen the negative outcomes of privatisation on South Australia's rail network, on our housing and our energy providers. Privatisation has resulted in degradation of infrastructure and a reduction in services. These things are well known and they are well documented. Past governments have seen privatisation as a measure to boost proceeds and to reduce spending, while the public have suffered the consequences.


In 2001, SA Unions argued that publicly owned assets and public services are funded by South Australians to meet the needs of the community, not to generate profits for corporations. We in the Greens agree. Last year, the ACCC chair, Rod Sims (spelt S-i-m-s, not a relation) said that privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation creates private monopolies that raise prices, that reduce efficiency and harm the economy.


The privatisation of ETSA is one of the worst examples we have seen in South Australia. We all know the devastating impacts that privatisation project had on our state. It has delivered higher electricity prices and the public know it. Research from the Australian Institute back in 2019 found that 40 per cent of South Australians blame privatisation of our state-owned electricity provider as the single biggest reason for power price increases, while three out of five people (60 per cent) consider it to be one of the main sources of upward pressure on prices. That makes sense because we know that once you sell off a key asset you lose government control and you allow private corporations that are focused on making money to hike up prices.


In the 1990s, the Public Service Association warned that increased privatisation would result in profits being put before services, higher costs for taxpayers, less efficient services and a diminished revenue base for the state. These outcomes have been seen in the years that have followed. It is our most vulnerable people who bear the burden of increased costs and diminished services.


As the cost of living continues to skyrocket as a result of inflation, we have a responsibility to consider in this place the impact of privatisation on public utilities that are relied on by all members of our community. This bill would act as an important safeguard for our public assets. It would ensure that governments cannot conduct future sell-offs without appropriate parliamentary oversight. We want to see community services being put before private profits.


Last year, the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia, which I had the honour to chair, heard from witnesses that there was a need for improved transparency measures in relation to current and future privatisations. Under this bill, any future attempts of privatisation of state assets would require the government of the day, whether it be Labor or whether it be Liberal, to convince both houses of parliament on the merits of the case and that would increase transparency and accountability.


I must acknowledge that this is not a new concept. A very similar bill was introduced in New South Wales by the Labor MP Daniel Mookhey and it passed the upper house in late 2021. As a result of that reform, New South Wales has seen greater parliamentary oversight over privatisation and that is considered a really important safeguard in that state.


I hope that we in this place will follow their lead. It is certainly my hope—hope springs eternal—that the Labor government will see merit in this proposal, given it has been advocated for by the Labor opposition in New South Wales, but that the Liberal opposition will see the merits of this proposal as well, because it is a safeguard that would operate irrespective of who is in government.


I do want to put the old parties on notice that we will be bringing this to a vote, not today obviously, but in the fullness of time I will bring it to a vote to test support for this very important proposition so that the people of South Australia can see who is in favour of stopping privatisation, who is in favour of more safeguards and who is supportive of the fire sale that we have seen over the last several decades.


Under previous governments, trams, trains, medical administration, the Remand Centre and service centres have all been privatised. We need to protect our state-owned assets from future cost-saving cash grabs. This bill enables future privatisations not to proceed without parliamentary approval. It ensures that there is more transparency, and that can only be good for the people of our state. I commend the bill to the Legislative Council.


Motion: COVID-19 Rental Affordability

10 February 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:


That this council—

  1. Notes the extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, expired in December.
  2. Recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant, and subsequent restrictions have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many now being unable to meet rent payments.
  3. Calls on the Marshall government to—
    1. (a) immediately provide a moratorium on eviction for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19; and
    2. (b) provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.


This motion calls for an extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, and we note that that expired in December. It recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant following the Liberals' decision to open the borders without appropriate preparation, which occurred last year, has led to a series of restrictions that have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many people now being unable to make rent payments.


The motion calls on the Marshall government to immediately provide a moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19, and provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.


This is not new to this chamber; I have talked a lot about this issue since I began my term in the parliament back in May last year. At that time, the moratorium on evictions for people experiencing financial distress was due to expire and the Greens worked hard to get it extended and appreciated the support of other parties here in this place to make that happen. We were able to secure an extension of the moratorium until December, but it expired in the lead-up to Christmas.


I am very concerned that as the economic crisis and the public health crisis have deepened, vulnerable people are not getting the protection they need. We know that if somebody is evicted out of rental accommodation they are at high risk of falling into homelessness and insecure accommodation, and that can really create long-term issues for somebody in terms of being able to access housing and have a roof over their head and a place to call home long term.


I am also very concerned about the plight of many businesses in the CBD, many of which are renting commercial tenancies. I have spoken to many businesses, and I am aware of many that are reporting that it is going to be really difficult for them to pay their rent and that, if they cannot do so, their business is going to close. What I am calling for is for the government to put a moratorium on these evictions and to actually provide some adequate support to struggling businesses.


I recognise the government have put forward a support package, but it has been inadequate. It has not hit the mark. We need to ensure that there is a more appropriate investment in support for businesses that are struggling and for vulnerable renters. I do say also that I hope that after the next election in the parliament we have an opportunity to review renters' rights here in South Australia and take steps to strengthen renters' rights more broadly.


We need to look at rent caps. It works in other places around the world, yet we have not used it here in South Australia. There is something seriously wrong when we have a housing system that treats housing as a commodity. We have a housing system that allows some people to own numerous properties when others do not have a foot in the door, do not have a place to call home, do not have a roof over their head.


I think there is something seriously wrong with that system. We need to recognise that housing is a human right. That means changing the Residential Tenancies Act to restore the balance between tenant and landlord. It means ending things like the no cause eviction process we have in South Australia. Mr Deputy President, you would be aware that when somebody reaches the end of their tenancy the landlord can simply say, 'We are not going to renew your tenancy.'


That creates a lot of anxiety for renters. It means that they are often reluctant to report issues around inadequate housing, or report maintenance issues that need to be actioned, because they live in fear and anxiety that their tenancy may be terminated or may not be renewed. That is a terrible thing and it puts tenants and it puts renters really at a significant disadvantage in terms of being able to assert their rights.


But there are other things that other states look at too. I know my predecessor in this place, the then Hon. Mark Parnell, introduced a private member's bill to provide a presumption in favour of tenants being able to have pets. Other states have done that, but we do not do that in South Australia. That needs to be looked at. Also, we have bidding wars that occur in South Australia, where if someone is trying to get a rental property they are often at the mercy of a market that allows people to just bid against each other. All these things need to be addressed.


We need to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure that renters get the protection they deserve, but in the short term the government should step up and provide protection for renters experiencing financial distress during this economic crisis. I asked the minister about this yesterday. I did not receive a satisfactory answer in terms of what measures are in place to help people. It is not good enough to say, 'We will refer you on to a support service.' We need to ensure that people have protection now. We need to ensure that they know they are not going to be evicted, that they are not going to be kicked out onto the street.


Anyone who lives in the CBD area will be aware of the significant issue we face around homelessness in our state. It is a significant problem for us to address. It is deeply saddening to see more and more South Australians sleeping on the street. If we do not put these sorts of protections in place, I am very concerned that we are going to see more and more South Australians living on the streets and facing insecure housing. I commend the motion.


The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (11:46): I rise today in support of the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and thank him for his advocacy of some of the state's most vulnerable citizens in our community. When we think of the basic needs we all have, secure housing is right at the top of that list. All members of this place should be aware of the ongoing rental affordability crisis in our state. Given previous debates in this place just this week, we should all be aware of the impact of COVID-19 on the financial security of many casual workers.


While those opposite claim that their government was well prepared before the opening of our borders in November, we have many examples of the impacts they were not prepared for. Some seem not to have even been considered at all. Being prepared means planning for events before they occur. It means looking to see what happened in the past and what has happened in other states and predicting what might happen and what the impact could be. After all, it is only the government that has the most recent Omicron modelling available to them. It means learning from the past so that the outcome is better the second time around.


Two years into this pandemic, this government can hardly say the impacts of COVID-19 on our small businesses and financially vulnerable citizens were unpredictable. This government had two years of lessons from other jurisdictions. Not only could they learn from the experience of other places that had a suite of policies that had been designed to avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic ready to go but, instead of learning the lessons or maintaining these policies, this government opened up with no safety nets and no protection.


The Marshall Liberal government let our small businesses, casual employees and our most vulnerable citizens bear the brunt of COVID-19, when they should have been more prepared to protect them. Back in September, we saw the expiry of sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 emergency act, which had, up until then, put in place protections for rental and commercial tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID pandemic. These protections protected tenants from increased rents and terminations of tenancy if the tenant was unable to pay rent due to the impact of COVID-19 on their business or employment.


Those opposite might have hoped that we were all suffering from short-term memory loss, Omicron may have been new and we may not have known much about that variant, but we did have some idea of the impact any variant of COVID-19 would have on our workforce and any business, especially the hospitality sector. The Hon. Robert Simms touched on this, but the hospitality sector has been particularly impacted.


This government did not even need to look that far to see what potential effects may occur. They could have looked to our neighbours in Sydney and Melbourne to see the impacts our state would face when this outbreak would eventually hit. In Sydney and Melbourne, casual workers were again losing shifts and their personal financial security. Mixed messages and unclear communications of restrictions saw small business hit by the shadow lockdowns—that is, customers avoiding businesses they perceived as dangerous.


In New South Wales, although dining was not restricted beyond one in two square metres, not only were concerned customers staying away and leaving dining rooms empty but staff who had no isolation available to them were unable to work. Some businesses were losing so many staff as close contacts that they were unable to be open.


As I mentioned already, all this was happening before the much more highly transmissible Omicron began to circulate in our community. The writing was on the wall. The protections for residential and commercial tenants had expired and alarm bells were being rung by multiple organisations and industry associations—as well as my colleague the Hon. Rob Simms—about the bomb that was about to go off in our state.


Yet, nothing from this government. No plan and no protections for those at risk were put in place. When this government could have extended sections 8 to 10 of the act, which would have provided a safety net in case an outbreak caused the same issues that were unfolding in other jurisdictions, it instead let them expire.


When COVID-19 first came to South Australia, the stress of the financial impacts that would be overwhelmingly borne by our casual staff and small businesses was blunted by protections put in place by the federal and state governments. JobKeeper, eviction moratoriums, tax breaks, grants and other incentives were used by all other layers of government to buoy the economy from the worst impacts of this pandemic.


These economic levers recognised the potential for the pandemic to cause significant and lasting damage. Of course no-one expected these things to last forever, only for as long as they were needed, for as long as COVID-19 threatened to wreak havoc in our community. So why was it, when our state was experiencing the pandemic most acutely, we were taking away the restrictions that the community needed?


The decision to let sections 8 to 10 expire has caused additional stress to thousands of vulnerable South Australians who are at risk of eviction through no fault of their own but from a lack of planning by this government for the predictable impacts of COVID-19, impacts that were obvious even before Omicron. We remain in the middle of a global pandemic and are feeling the worst of it in South Australia in our community without the safety nets designed to navigate the pandemic at its worst.


Labor will be supporting the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and calls upon the Marshall Liberal government to learn from their mistakes and support South Australians by recalling this parliament—which might be too late—to fix sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act.


Select Committee on Privatisation in SA Hands Down Report

17 November 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:


That the report of the select committee be noted.


Very briefly, the privatisation committee was established back in May and handed down its report earlier this week. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the committee for their efforts: the Hon. John Darley, the Hon. Heidi Girolamo, the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos. I also acknowledge the contribution of the former member, the Hon. David Ridgway, who departed the committee in June. I acknowledge the work of Leslie Guy in the Secretariat and I want to thank her for all of her efforts in ensuring that the committee ran so smoothly and that we were able to provide a timely report to this chamber.


In terms of a brief summary, we received 22 submissions and there were six public hearings. The committee heard a range of evidence. In particular, it is clear that privatisation has had adverse impacts on services in South Australia and also on the experience of many staff working in public services that have been privatised.


The report made a range of recommendations for the future that would improve the accountability of private corporations that run public services and safeguard them against the sell-offs of our public services without due consideration of the impact. In terms of some of the key recommendations from the majority report, these include:

  • the establishment of an independent regulatory body to provide oversight over services that have been privatised;
  • the establishment of a standing parliamentary committee to review existing privatisations and make recommendations on any proposed privatisations prior to government approval;
  • subsidiaries of multinationals awarded contracts for delivering public services to publicly report on their domestic and international revenues and tax payments;
  • protections of employment standards for those working in government services that are privatised; and
  • a moratorium on further privatisations on government services until all recommendations are actioned.


That is just a snapshot of the recommendations. There were 13 recommendations in total, and I certainly think that if these were implemented they would greatly improve the transparency around privatisations in our state. With that, I conclude my remarks.


Christmas Day Amendment Bill

26 October 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I also rise in support of this bill. In doing so I want to begin by praising my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC for her leadership on this and for her long-time efforts here in this parliament advocating for the rights of working people. I also acknowledge the leadership of the union movement in running this campaign, in particular the SDA and the good work they have done in bringing this to the attention of people in this parliament.


As has been stated, over the last 18 months essential workers—that is, people working in our supermarkets, in our petrol stations, our fast food and hospitality outlets, allied health services, our medi-hotels, our aged-care homes—have been working incredibly hard to keep South Australians safe. They have been doing that during this once-in-a-century pandemic and during a once-in-a-century economic crisis.


What do they get in return for their hard work? A piece of coal from the Liberals this Christmas. I am not referring to the climate change policy, the woeful policy that Scott Morrison has announced, but rather the incredibly—


The PRESIDENT: The Prime Minister the Hon. Scott Morrison.


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Hon. Prime Minister Scott Morrison.


The PRESIDENT: Thank you.


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I am of course referring to the Grinch-like behaviour of the state Liberal Party and the appalling way that they have approached this issue, and their refusal to recognise the rights of workers and recognise the fact that Christmas Day should be a public holiday for everybody.


There has been a lot said about the benefits of this bill. I will only speak briefly, but I want to read into Hansard some of the stories of people who will be directly affected. There have been some open letters sent to the Premier, talking about the benefits that will flow from this bill for families. I will start with one from Amber, who is a healthcare worker. She writes to the Premier:


Dear Premier,


I am an essential worker at a regional hospital. Throughout all of COVID, I and so many others have gone to work to keep normality and services open.


As life continues to be hard for all families, we essential workers still go to work on public holidays. Like Christmas day. A day when we essential workers would LOVE to be home with our families after everything Australians have endured [over] the last 18 months. But we have jobs to do, and part of what makes our lives a little more worth going to work [for], is the public holiday pay.


That pay helps alleviate a little of the financial burden with the extra pay from working the public holiday. But you don't want to give SA families that. You don't want to help out those families. You don't offer any incentive to hard working people who have gone to work still.


No reward for medical workers, or any workers. No thanks, we know you can't be with your families here is compensation in your pay.


The writer asks:


[Mr Premier] Will you go to work on Christmas Day, while thousands of us do? No, you won't. Will you stand up for the SA people you serve, and give them the public holiday pay they deserve, while you sit at home?


Beth, a Kmart worker, has written:


Dear Premier,


I would…like to know your reasoning for not declaring Christmas Day public holiday, as it should be. Thousands of workers are going to be working that day, and missing out on valuable family time on what is one of the most special days of the year. At a time when we should be at home with our loved ones, and showing them what they truly mean to us, you're more than happy to allow workers to miss out on that time with no compensation.


No amount of money can…compensate for lost family time, but having to go to work and get paid like it's [just another] day of the year is [an absolute] disgrace.


I cannot help but agree with those sentiments; it is a disgrace and it is one that the parliament should put right and we have an opportunity to do that today. It is really disappointing that we are in this position. The Liberals are creating a nightmare before Christmas for South Australian workers and it is time for this parliament to put that right.