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Motion: General Practitioner Payroll Tax

20 March 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:40): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that:

(a) the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners South Australia (RACGP SA) has launched a campaign for the state government to stop applying payroll tax to general practitioners; and

(b) South Australia is in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and many people are already struggling to cover the costs of essentials like medical appointments.

2. Notes that:

(a) the patient engagement platform HotDoc has released figures that show that 95 per cent of clinics are planning to increase patient fees by an average of $12 per appointment in response to the payroll tax and only 28 per cent of patients would continue to see their regular GP (albeit less regularly), if fees increased; and

(b) the Queensland government has provided a payroll tax ruling clarifying that patients' fees paid directly to a GP for their services would not be subject to payroll tax.

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to align with the Queensland government's approach to rule out payroll tax on patients' fees paid directly to GPs for their services.

This is a really important issue for this parliament to deal with. I note that the Hon. Connie Bonaros advanced a motion on a similar topic and I certainly share the concerns that she has expressed, but this motion from the Greens goes a little bit further than that because we are not just calling for an amnesty, we are calling for the Labor government to go a step further and that is actually rule out applying this payroll tax to GP services.

Queensland has done that. They have actually provided a payroll tax ruling that clarifies that patients' fees that are paid directly to a GP for their services would not be subject to a payroll tax. Well, the patients and medical practitioners of our state do not simply need an amnesty—in effect, a stay of execution—what they need is certainty going forward and for this money grab to be ruled out.

I understand that the state Labor government are in a difficult financial position. I understand that and that is through no fault of the government. We know of course the significant costs that have been associated with managing COVID, not just here in our own state but right across the country. But budgets are about choices and this government does not have to go down the path of slugging medical practitioners, and slugging, by extension, patients with increased fees. There are lots of other alternatives.

The Greens have referenced previously work of the Australia Institute, which finds that there was about $150 million that is going to fossil fuel companies in subsidies, direct money from the state government. That money could be put into our health system to deal with the crisis that we are facing. That would be an appropriate course of action, rather than a money grab that is going to cause vulnerable South Australians to be paying more to go to see a doctor. That is not something we want to see.

The Greens certainly support the campaign of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for the government to stop applying payroll tax to the work of general practitioners, indeed all healthcare professionals. We are concerned that going to the dentist could also become more expensive in South Australia should this medical tax get the green light from the Malinauskas government.

I want to reference some of the work of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). They claim that the payroll tax for GPs would result in higher fees for patients, reductions in bulk billing or more GPs leaving the workforce. That, of course, would not be a good outcome for patients or the medical profession in general. We look at that with the backdrop of the ramping crisis that is getting worse and worse in this state.

Some might say, 'Do not trust politicians when they talk about dealing with these matters.' I will not repeat the phrase, but some say, 'That is all BS'. The reality is that people do rely on parliaments to deal with these sorts of matters. People do rely on governments to solve these sorts of matters and they do not expect budget black holes to be plugged by the sick in our community.

Out-of-pocket costs for medical services are rising and South Australians are unable to afford basic health care and the Greens believe, of course, that everybody is entitled to that. Last year, a Productivity Commission report showed that there was a 50 per cent increase in Australians who delayed or avoided seeing their doctor because they could not afford it. That was up by 2.4 per cent of people to 3.5 per cent. At the same time, GPs are increasingly being forced to stop bulk billing to ensure they can afford to stay afloat.

That same report also revealed there are approximately three million avoidable presentations to public hospital emergency departments that could have been handled by a GP. The reality is that if we do not fund GPs appropriately, if we do not invest in preventative care, you are going to see more people presenting in emergency and we know that our hospital system is already struggling to cope.

As we face both a cost-of-living crisis and an emergency health system at full capacity, we need to be looking at what we can do to relieve the pressure, not just compound it. In June last year, the Treasurer issued an amnesty on payroll tax to tenant GPs to 30 June of this year. This came after the Supreme Court of New South Wales Court of Appeal found that tenant GPs who pay a percentage of their earnings to a clinic rather than being paid a wage count as employees for payroll tax purposes.

The decision by the New South Wales court caught practices by surprise and according to the RACGP gave them no choice but to raise patient fees. The state government amnesty was welcomed by the RACGP to give them time to work through the implications for tenant GPs.

It is my understanding that it is not just general practitioners who fall into this category. Yesterday, a dentist contacted my office and reported that dental and psychology practices are also potentially impacted by this ruling, so the Greens call on the government to rule out applying this new tax not just to GPs but also to medical practitioners. It is important that we consider the impact that this could have on our health system in the middle of this health crisis.

Data from HotDoc reveals that 95 per cent of clinics are planning to increase patient fees by 12 per cent in response to this payroll tax. That is a terrible outcome for patients who are already feeling the pinch. Research from The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has shown that 48 per cent of patients would move to a different GP if they stopped bulk billing. Any sensible person would look at this and realise that this will end up with bulk billing facilities being overrun and being more burdened than they are at present. It will also result in patients either delaying their health care or forking out money they cannot afford to pay for the services they need.

On 21 February this year, the Queensland government issued its own ruling that patient fees paid directly to a GP for their services will not be subject to a payroll tax. The Queensland ruling applies to medical centres where medical practitioners are conducting business or providing medical services and I note that this would capture dentistry, psychology and other medical services in addition to GPs.

This motion aims to put into action the calls from the RACGP for the Malinauskas government to match Queensland to exempt medical practitioners from payroll tax both to support healthcare professionals and to also ensure patients are not being slogged for extra fees in the middle of this cost-of-living crisis.

This is a government that was elected on a platform of fixing our health system. Well, you cannot fix our health system if you price South Australians out of getting in to see a GP. You cannot fix our health system and you cannot get ramping under control if you make it more difficult to get in to see a doctor, dentist or psychologist.

All of these things are fundamental to our health system, and we cannot see South Australians being priced out of getting the care that they need. So I really urge the Malinauskas government not just to extend the amnesty but to actually rule it out, knock the nail on the head and bring this matter to a close so that there is certainty for our medical professionals and certainty for vulnerable people in our community: the sick who need the support of those professionals.


Grocery Pricing

7 February 2024

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.A. Simms:

1. That a select committee be established to inquire and report on grocery pricing in South Australia with particular reference to:

(a) the trends in grocery pricing in South Australia, compared to other states in Australia and internationally;

(b) the disparities in grocery pricing between metropolitan and regional areas;

(c) the impact of high grocery prices on consumers, particularly for those on low incomes;

(d) the relationship between wholesale prices paid to farmers and the retail price paid by consumers;

(e) the prevalence of food insecurity in South Australia;

(f) the prevalence of price gouging practices and anti-competitive behaviour among grocery retailers and the impact on consumers;

(g) factors contributing to high grocery prices;

(h) potential opportunities for further regulation of grocery retailers and opportunities for state government intervention; and

(i) any other related matters.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (18:19): I want to thank all members who have participated in this debate: the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Nicola Centofanti, the Hon. Ms Game, the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Hon. Ben Hood and the Hon. Mr Ngo. I think it is really welcome to see that this chamber is taking this issue seriously and there seems to be a consensus across this chamber of parliament that this is an important issue for us to deal with. We certainly welcome that in the Greens.

It is, as has been observed by other speakers, a really important and timely issue for the parliament to deal with. Indeed, just this week new data has come out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that actually demonstrates that Adelaide not only leads the nation when it comes to inflation but also leads the nation when it comes to the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages. We have seen in Adelaide a 16 per cent increase in the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages over the last three years—that is ahead of every other capital city in the country. I think it is important for the South Australian parliament to look into this matter.

As has been observed, there is a real issue also with respect to the prices being paid to farmers and local producers for their goods. They are being dudded, and that is happening at a time when you have big corporations like Coles and Woolies making record profits, ripping off consumers in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. I really hope that this inquiry can hold those big corporations to account, hold their feet to the fire and really expose some of the price gouging practices.

I might just briefly indicate the Greens' position on the amendments. The government has reached out to me regarding their amendments. We are happy to accommodate those in order to get this committee over the line. I am aware of the amendments that the Liberal Party have put forward. I guess of concern to me is the fact that the Liberal amendment seeks to remove the potential for the committee to consider options for regulation, and I see that as being a key action point for the committee. It is important to shine a light on what is going on, but we need to insert some verbs in there as well and actually look at what we can do. The potential for regulation, I think, is important, so for that reason we will not be supporting the Liberal Party amendment. As I indicate, we will support the government's amendments.


Motion: Grocery Pricing

30 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:26): I move:

1. That a select committee be established to inquire and report on grocery pricing in South Australia with particular reference to:

(a) the trends in grocery pricing in South Australia, compared to other states in Australia and internationally;

(b) the disparities in grocery pricing between metropolitan and regional areas;

(c) the impact of high grocery prices on consumers, particularly for those on low incomes;

(d) the relationship between wholesale prices paid to farmers and the retail price paid by consumers;

(e) the prevalence of food insecurity in South Australia;

(f) the prevalence of price gouging practices and anti-competitive behaviour among grocery retailers and the impact on consumers;

(g) factors contributing to high grocery prices;

(h) potential opportunities for further regulation of grocery retailers and opportunities for state government intervention; and

(i) any other related matters.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

In moving for this inquiry, the Greens recognise the significant cost-of-living crisis that we are facing at the moment, and the impact that this is having on some of the most vulnerable people in our state. Since September of last year, we have seen a 4.8 per cent increase in food prices nationally and, in the previous year, there was a 9 per cent increase in food prices nationally. I understand that here in South Australia over the last five years, grocery prices have increased by 20 per cent.

Examples of some of the price increases over the last five years include the price of wholemeal sliced bread, which has gone up from $1.80 to $2.70; white sliced bread has gone up from $1.50 to $2.70; peanut butter was $5.70 and is now $6.40; white sugar has gone up from $1.79 to $2.20; and instant coffee has gone up from $7.50 to $11.50. Meanwhile, you have the large supermarkets making an absolute motza. Coles made a $1.1 billion profit last financial year; that is an increase of 4.8 per cent. Woolworths made a $1.6 billion profit, up by 4.6 per cent.

A report by UBS, an investment bank, has shown that prices have increased at Coles and Woolworths by 9.6 per cent between May 2022 and May 2023. I note that this is a figure that is disputed by Coles, but this is the assessment of the UBS. Let's consider the other cost-of-living pressures that people are facing. Indeed, Foodbank's 2023 Hunger Report found that:

  • in the last year, 3.7 million Australian households experienced moderate to severe food insecurity;
  • 48 per cent of the general population now feels anxious or struggles to consistently access food;
  • 77 per cent of those households experiencing food insecurity did so for the first time this year;
  • 56 per cent of food-insecure households did not get help in the past year; and
  • high living expenses is the most common reason given for food insecurity.

The ABS data shows that households are cutting back on clothes, shoes, furnishing and household equipment due to cost-of-living pressures, and South Australian household spending has increased by 3.7 per cent.

We are seeing the cost of everything going up. The cost of electricity is skyrocketing, the cost of fuel is skyrocketing, interest rates are going up and up and up, rents are going up and up and up, and meanwhile we have big corporations making record profits. How can it be that we have South Australians who will struggle to put food on the table this Christmas while we have Coles and Woolies and the big food retailers making an absolute motza? How can that be right? Surely we have to do something. That is why the Greens are calling for this inquiry, because it is time for this parliament to step up and hold these big corporations to account and to see what can be done.

It is not right that we have families that will struggle to put food on the table this Christmas while Coles and Woolies make record profits—that is not right. We need to do something about it. I plan to bring this to a vote in the new year, and I urge all members of parliament to get on board and let's see what we can do.

New South Wales has had an inquiry into food prices. Victoria announced an inquiry into food prices earlier this week, and that was led by my Greens colleagues in that state. It is a key priority for us in the Greens, but it should be a key priority for everybody in this parliament, particularly as we head into the Christmas period.


Appropriation Bill

17 October 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:11): I rise also to speak on the Appropriation Bill. In so doing, I echo many of the comments made by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. I want to reflect on the failure of this Labor budget to really tackle inequality. In doing so, I want to start with the housing crisis.

We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis we have seen in generations—in generations. We have a record low vacancy rate for rental properties. We have a waitlist for public housing of almost 20,000 people. As a result, we have people sleeping in cars, people sleeping in the street, people sleeping in tents. There are people who have employment who are not able to afford to find a place to live.

I do want to recognise the leadership of the Malinauskas government in attempting to tackle the crisis. They have taken some welcome steps. I know that Minister Hon. Nat Cook is passionate about wanting to address the homelessness crisis, and I know that Minister Hon. Nick Champion is equally passionate about wanting to see more land released for housing. We welcome that, but the government needs to do better. They need to do much, much better and we need to see a more radical approach being taken to housing policy here in this state.

This approach of simply saying, 'Let's let the free market decide,' is not working. It is turbocharging this crisis. Let's look at the rental crisis, where we have a record low vacancy rate and where we see rent prices climbing up and up and up. Rent in the city over the last two years has gone up by 20 per cent. In some regional areas it has gone up by 70 per cent.

What action has the government taken on rent prices? They introduced a bill that prevented people from being able to advertise properties in a range, which they said was banning rent-bidding, which we know did not actually ban rent-bidding. It does not prevent somebody from offering a bid above the asking price and clinching the property. It was a step but, quite frankly, far too little to have a meaningful impact on this crisis. They need to take action on rent prices.

I introduced a bill in this place that would have capped rent increases in line with inflation, a simple proposition, one in line with the model that has been in operation in the ACT over many years. I could not get one other political party in this place to support that bill, not one—not the Labor Party, not the Liberal Party, not the SA-Best independents, and not the One Nation party.

It is outrageous that not one party would step up and support renters in this place, not one party. Instead, they kowtow to the likes of the Property Council, they kowtow to the big end of town who are advocating for the interests of landlords at the expense of those South Australians who are feeling the pinch of this housing crisis. The Greens will continue to hold this Labor government to account on that. They need to do better.

I am not just here to complain about the lack of leadership in this regard. The Greens have also put some concrete ideas on the table. I am a proud South Australian but sometimes Victoria comes up with some good ideas. Recently, they suggested a levy on the Airbnb sector, the short stay accommodation sector. That would have a really positive impact in terms of incentivising more housing back onto the long-term rental market.

Mr President, I ask you to consider whether it is fair, whether it is equitable, that in the middle of the worst housing crisis we have seen for generations we have perfectly good properties sitting there vacant for six months of the year while people sleep on the street. That is not right in our society. At least the Andrews government in Victoria, in introducing a levy, are trying to address that, and the money raised could be put into social housing. So the Greens support that and we urge the Malinauskas government to take some lessons from what their counterparts are doing in Victoria.

We also urge them to look at applying a tax on vacant property and vacant land. In Victoria, they apply a tax of 1 per cent on property that is vacant without good reason for six months, and on land that is vacant without good reason for five years—1 per cent on the value of the property or the land, with the money again going to boost social housing. We need that investment in housing in our state and we need to crack down on land banking. That is what the Labor Party is doing in Victoria—they should be doing it here.

We also need to ensure that there are better concessions available for renters and that is why, in the lead-up to the recent state budget, the Greens called for an increase in the Cost of Living Concession for renters so that it was at the same level as home owners. We have called for that over the last two budgets, the first two budgets of the Malinauskas Labor government, and they still have not delivered it.

We also want to lift the eligibility for the Cost of Living Concession so that it is in line with the threshold for the Low Income Health Care Card and introduce a partial concession for low income earners who live in share housing. That would really help give a helping hand to those renters who are doing it tough. And, of course, we need to build a lot more public housing. We have been calling for 10,000 public homes over the next 12 months—that is 10 times what the Malinauskas government has put on the table—because we know that whilst what they are doing is a start it is just not enough.

It is not just in the area of housing where the Malinauskas government have failed to take action on the inequality crisis that is engulfing our state. They also need to invest more in our public schools and in providing support to parents. We have been calling to increase the South Australian government's share of the Schooling Resource Standard funding from 75 per cent to 80 per cent for public schools. We have also been calling for the government to abolish materials and services charges and other fees for parents at public schools so that public schools are actually free.

We want a universal free, healthy breakfast and lunch program in every public primary and secondary school in South Australia, and I do want to acknowledge the leadership of the minister, the Hon. Blair Boyer, in that regard. The government has put more money on the table for free breakfast programs in some schools, and we welcome that. That is going to help a lot of kids, but they need to go further and make it available in every school.

We also want more money to upgrade infrastructure in our public schools. By way of example, I recently went to my old stomping ground, Aberfoyle Park High School. I think I am one of the few people in this parliament who went to a public school. I am proud of that.

 

Members interjecting:

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: There are a few in this chamber, but not many in the other place. I am proud of that, but I might say that it was very disappointing to go to that school and see that it still has not seen the investment in infrastructure that is needed, 20 years after I graduated. There needs to be more money for maintenance of our public schools.

The other area where the Malinauskas government needs to step up, I would suggest, is in public transport policy. We conducted a major inquiry into public transport here in this chamber, and six months on I could not get the Minister for Regional Development to actually read the report for some time. I understand she may have done so recently—I certainly welcome that; that is a real move in the right direction—but we have not seen action in terms of the recommendations in the report.

That is, what is the government doing about rail for the regions? What is it doing to ensure that people living in regional areas have access to public transport? Where is the money for cycling infrastructure, when South Australia falls so embarrassingly behind other jurisdictions? There is lots of work to do, and the Greens will continue to push the government to go further.

In respect of transport, we saw recently that there had been a decline in the use of public transport over the last few years. We have been calling for free public transport to try to get people back onto the network and, in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, to try to provide relief to families who might be struggling with the rising cost of petrol.

There are lots of things the government could do, and the Greens will continue to put forward positive ideas here in this chamber. With that, I conclude my remarks.

 

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.


Public Finance and Audit (Auditor General Access to Cabinet Submissions) Amendment Bill Speech

17 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:25): I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this bill. I am disappointed to hear that the Labor government will not be supporting it. The argument seems to be 'Well, the Liberals didn't do it, so we are not going to do it either.' That is not a very compelling argument, with respect to the Leader of the Government in this place. It is not a very compelling argument to say, 'Well, the Liberals were poor on transparency, so we are going to be poor on transparency, too.' We need to do better than that.

We welcome the bill that has been put forward by the Hon. Heidi Girolamo. In the Greens, we recognise that the role of the Auditor-General is crucial to scrutinise and ensure transparency and accountability of the government of the day. In his 2022 report, the Auditor-General stated that:

At the time of writing, we had requested but not received a number of cabinet documents to fulfill my legislative obligations to form opinions.

The Public Finance and Audit (Auditor-General Access to Cabinet Submissions) Amendment Bill 2022 ensures that the Auditor-General can access cabinet submissions as required to undertake their statutory duties. The Auditor-General is an independent authority and a level of separation is necessary to ensure true accountability when auditing the South Australian government; however, we need to ensure that the Auditor-General has the power they require to access records.

Most notably, in his report the Auditor-General made it clear that he had requested documents pertaining to the payment of sporting clubs and local infrastructure grants. There have been accusations of pork-barrelling over grants. Regardless of what these grants were, the Auditor-General should have had all the relevant information at their disposal to be able to make a suitable review of the processes involved. In relation to the case of sports grants, the executive director of The Centre for Public Integrity has said:

Election commitments around spending should still go through proper processes…there needs to be criteria. There needs to be open tender.

Of course, we know what can happen when that does not occur. We saw it with the Morrison government and the complete fiasco that unfolded there about the sports rorts. We do not want to see a similar culture take hold in South Australia. I am not suggesting that is what has occurred. We want to ensure there is not the potential for that kind of culture to take hold in South Australia, so this is a very important safeguard. Scrutiny of these processes is the role of the Auditor-General, but if their office does not have access to the documents they require, scrutiny is impossible.

As I said, it is disappointing to hear that the government will not be supporting this. I fear that it may suffer a similar fate to the other bill that passed this place relating to the disclosure of diaries. The Greens have been pushing for increased accountability no matter who is in government, whether it be the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. Members will recall that I put forward a bill in this place that was passed with the support of the opposition and the crossbench that required ministers to disclose their diaries. Unfortunately, that has been held up in the other place by the Labor government and I fear they are now going to stall on this bill as well.

That is a disappointing outcome because sunlight really is the best disinfectant in our democracy. We should let the sunshine in and, no matter who is in government, we should be subjecting all ministers to appropriate accountability, so the Greens will be supporting the bill.


Matter of Interest: 2023-24 Federal Budget

17 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:24): The matter I rise to speak on this afternoon is one that will be of importance to all South Australians who are dealing with the cost-of-living crisis that is engulfing our country and that is the Anthony Albanese government's second budget. This budget is a betrayal of the Labor Party's promise that no-one would be left behind. Despite a worsening cost-of-living crisis, Labor is committed to stage 3 tax cuts that will cost the budget $313 billion over 10 years—$313 billion that will go to some of our nation's highest income earners when one in six Australian children live in poverty. What an outrage.

These stage 3 tax cuts will turbocharge inequality, disproportionately rewarding men at close to double what women will receive, with 65 per cent of the benefits flowing to men over the next decade. Just over half of the total cost of the stage 3 tax cuts, $157 billion, will flow to people earning over $180,000 a year, and previous analysis has shown that the top 1 per cent of income earners will receive more than the 60 per cent of Australians who are on lower incomes combined.

It is telling to note what was missing from Treasurer Jim Chalmers' budget speech—he did not even mention climate change once, not once, despite the fact that his budget pledges $41 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. Let's not forget also this is a Labor government that is committing $368 billion to nuclear submarines—to building war machines—here in our state.

The cost-of-living measures in the budget do not even begin to address the scale of the rental, housing and poverty crises that are engulfing this country. There is nothing in the budget to ease the burden for those who are dealing with student debt, yet uni students are bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis in our country, with many regularly skipping meals, falling behind on rent and being forced to abandon their degrees in favour of paid work.

The Labor Party have increased JobSeeker and we welcome that, but by a measly $2.85 a day. That is $2.85 a day, bringing JobSeeker to $50 a day, when the poverty line sits at $88 a day. How is someone in trouble meant to survive off that? It is absolutely pathetic. The Labor Party has also cut $74.3 billion from the NDIS over the next 10 years and all these decisions have been made in the context of delivering a $4.2 billion surplus—money in the bank while people sleep on the street. Talk about warped priorities.

The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said that the government has had to make some tough choices. I do not accept that. The tough choices are being made by the ordinary men and women of our country, including South Australians, who are doing it tough, who have to choose between whether or not they can put food on the table or whether or not they can pay their rent on time or whether or not they can pay their electricity bills. These tough choices are being imposed on them by this Labor budget because of the failure of leadership that we are seeing in Canberra, and this is happening in the middle of a once-in-a-generation inflation crisis, where again ordinary people are paying the brunt for inflation that is being turbocharged by large corporations.

We forget that the cause of this inflation crisis is not the ordinary Australian. The culprits are big banks, the energy and mining sectors and supermarkets that are making record profits. In fact, The Australia Institute estimates that surging corporate profits are to blame for more than two-thirds of our nation's inflation problem.

I would urge this chamber to look at The Australia Institute's analysis of ABS National Accounts data from the December quarter of 2019 to the most recent September quarter of 2022 where it was found that 69 per cent of inflation above the mid-point of the Reserve Bank's 2 to 3 per cent range was attributable to rising corporate gross profits. This crisis is being driven by corporate greed; that is what is driving this crisis. Yet, we see a budget that is going to prop up the big end of town, giving them support, giving them more relief, while ordinary Australians do it tough.

Time expired.


Question: Labor's Attack on Worker's Compensation

2 June 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question on the topic of injured workers to the Minister for Industrial Relations.


 Earlier today, representatives of a number of South Australian unions sent a letter to Labor MPs. In that letter, it was stated that, as reported in InDaily:


…the Return To Work SA board has 'undertaken no steps—


this is from the union officials—


to ensure the scheme was adequately funded'…


'Instead, they have allowed the underfunding of the scheme to develop to a point where they have threatened a massive increase in the RTW Levy unless the government cuts entitlements,' the letter said.


'The unelected Board of a government agency should not be making law. That's not their job; it's yours.'


It says to the Labor MPs. The letter goes on to say, according to InDaily, that they have:


…'lost faith' in the organisation's board and management, arguing RTW's 'mismanagement of injured workers' entitlements [has] led to this ultimatum being placed at the feet of your government'.


My question to the minister therefore is: why hasn't he met with the ReturnToWork board and does he have concerns about the lack of representation of unions and working people on the board?


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, I had discussions with the department, who liaise with the board. Do I have concerns? Yes, I do.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: can the minister explain what his concerns are and what action he will be taking?


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his questions. Certainly, there have been representations with those who represent employees that there is not an employee representative on the board. I know that sometime ago the board went from a representative-type board to a skills-based board, but that is a concern of those who represent employees and one I will be having a very good look at.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: what action will the minister be taking in response to those concerns?


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question. Once again, it is something that in very recent times has been a representation made to me, and I will be looking at that.

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: if that was the view of the government, why didn't they flag that during the election campaign? Could it be because they knew working people wouldn't support them and wouldn't support this attack on their rights?


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question. We made no commentary about the Summerfield case or any potential about it during the campaign, except to say that we couldn't make a decision from opposition without having government advice and knowing what the actuarial situation was.


The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Hood was on his feet first. The Hon. Mr Hood has a supplementary question.

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: does the minister have confidence in the ReturnToWork board?


The PRESIDENT: Minister, you can answer the question.


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question. I have not had a meeting with all members of the ReturnToWork board; I will seek to do that in the future. I have had concerns raised with me that return to work rates have been cut over time, aggressively perhaps, and also that no provision seems to have been made in contemplation of the Summerfield decision, so they will be issues I will be raising with the board.