Appropriation Bill 2015


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:55): My voice is fading fast, so I will not detain the house for the full 20 minutes on the Appropriation Bill. I could provide you with some prepared remarks, but that would require me to write it in advance and that is against, of course, Westminster practice and procedure, as Erskine May tells us; instead, I offer just a few remarks on the Appropriation Bill ex tempore.

The Hon. A. Piccolo: That would be good.

Mr GARDNER: I am glad that the minister is looking forward to them because they affect him as much as anybody. The first point I wish to make about the Appropriation Bill is that it is another one in a long line of Labor budgets that is disappointing for the future of South Australia. It is disappointing, particularly given that I, and I think many other members of this house, came into this place because we wanted to see South Australia provide employment opportunities for our next generation so that those who have children or those of us who do not, but when we do have children, will be able to see them grow up in this state, find jobs they want to do in this state and stay in this state.

When I am old and unable to work and look after myself, they will be able to look after me in my dotage in this state without inconvenience because they will still be here; that is terribly important for me. Yet this budget we have been presented with by the Treasurer, this budget described as a 'jobs budget' supposedly, contains a suggestion that employment in South Australia is going to grow by 1 per cent over the next 12 months—less, in fact, by 0.25 per cent than the prior budget forecasts before this budget were handed down and 0.75 per cent lower than when the first forecast for this financial year was being presented.

As we are on the first day of the 2015-16 financial year with 1 per cent employment growth ahead of us, I would just make the point that if this were a jobs budget according to this Labor government, I would hate to see what a non-jobs budget would be like. If this is a jobs budget with 1 per cent employment growth, what would they be serving up if they had been focusing on something else, I ask you, Deputy Speaker? That is very disappointing, but, as my voice unfortunately fades, I do wish to make a couple of comments on the portfolio areas which I have the privilege of serving Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition as its spokesperson.

In the police area, I note that there is nothing in the budget papers to suggest that the government is going to be able to meet its Target 300 promises. Once you take into account those sworn officer positions which have been reassigned out of sworn officer positions—custodial, management, solicitors and so forth—the net jobs increase of sworn officers from when the promise of the Target 300 was made until the revised and rephased second-time promise of 2018 is not going to be met. They are going to fall well short.

We have had the redescription of the target to include cadets. We have had the redescription of the target to be net above attrition as long as you take out all of those jobs that are no longer sworn officer jobs. But the government and previous ministers are clearly on the record on numerous occasions saying that we had 4,400 sworn officers at the beginning of the promise and at the end of the promise we would have 4,700 sworn officers. This is the evidence that was given to the Budget and Finance Committee. This is the evidence given by former minister Foley, by former minister O'Brien and others.

When we get to that delayed promise date—originally, it was supposed to be by 2013; now it is by 2018, after the next election—I am afraid that, under the government's budget settings, reconfirmed in this budget, they will still fall short of their election promise, taken to two elections, of 300 extra sworn officers on the beat, on the streets (and all the other words they used) over and above attrition.

That is deeply disappointing, but I do certainly appreciate that South Australian police have had some extra equipment in this budget and I congratulate the government for that. I particularly congratulate the government for finally committing the necessary funds, after six years of trials, so that South Australian police can have the body-worn cameras. That will enable ease of evidence gathering, reduce the likelihood of vexatious litigation and claims against police and assist in the daily progress of so much of their work.

I think the money committed is enough for 1,000 cameras, which is, one would hope, enough to make that facility available to those officers on active duty. There is obviously a little bit of work to do in relation to the regulations of how they are to be used, when they are to be switched on, when they are to be switched off and so forth. The opposition is happy to work with and assist the government in any way we can to ensure that this piece of kit is available for use by police officers.

Of course, the opposition is pleased to support that, as it was, in fact, the centrepiece of the Leader of the Opposition's speech to the Police Association last year—an early commitment that, 3½ years from an election, the Leader of the Opposition is willing to commit the opposition, 'a future Marshall Liberal government', to the purchase of body-worn cameras for police officers in South Australia. I identify that, at the time, of course, we also very much encouraged the government to take up this prospect, so I congratulate them for doing so now.

Just to finish on the matter of the police, there will obviously be some changes in the administration of South Australia Police in the next couple of weeks. Commissioner Gary Burns has a couple of weeks left. I note that his wife, whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to on Friday night at the Police Association dinner for retiring members, is particularly excited about this fact and well she might be.

Commissioner Burns, as has been stated previously, has decades of good service to the people of South Australia and we look forward to working with Deputy Commissioner Grant Stevens as he takes on the new role of police commissioner, as we do with Assistant Commissioner Linda Williams in her new role as deputy commissioner—South Australia's first female deputy commissioner of police in the 100th year of women in South Australia Police.

I note the appointment of two new assistant commissioners in recent days and we look forward to working with them in their new roles. One of them will fill the role left vacant by Linda Williams and one will replace Assistant Commissioner Madeleine Glynn, who is retiring after decades of incredible service to the South Australian public and the South Australian police force.

Madeleine Glynn was of course the acting deputy commissioner at one time in her career. She was, I think, South Australia's first female assistant police commissioner, so I would be surprised if she had not, in fact, at least in that acting capacity, been South Australia's first deputy commissioner. She has had a long and distinguished career herself, serving in a range of different areas within the police force. She is from a policing family and I know that she will continue to be a significant part of the South Australian policing community and the South Australian community in retirement. We certainly wish her well from the opposition benches, and I am sure the minister does as well.

Just in the last couple of minutes, I wish to pay a little bit of attention to Corrections. I was interested to hear on the radio this morning Mr David Brown say, as I have heard the minister say on too many occasions to remember, that we have had an 'unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers' over the past 18 months. I promise you that that phrase has been drilled into my mind—'an unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers'.

The Hon. A. Piccolo: It's true.

Mr GARDNER: The minister interjects that it is true, so I suppose all I am left with is to cast some suggestions about the nature of the definition of the word 'unprecedented' because, over the last 12 months, the increase in—

The Hon. A. Piccolo: 8.4 per cent.

Mr GARDNER: The minister says '8.4 per cent' which is interesting because in the budget papers it suggests 11 per cent in prisoner numbers, but the budget papers may well be slightly off. The budget papers present an estimated result and the minister may well know the figure as it was yesterday. So let me just stick to the figures in the budget papers because it is comparing apples with apples. As the minister knows, if you take a point in time comparison—and we had this discussion in estimates last year—and there is a certain number of prisoners on 30 June every year that is one figure, but the figure in the budget papers is average daily prisoner numbers, and the average daily prisoner numbers over the last 12 months—and while I do not have the figures in front of me, I promise you that it is 12 per cent, maybe 11 per cent, it is over 10 per cent and less than 13 per cent.

The Hon. A. Piccolo: This is unprecedented.

Mr GARDNER: Well, the minister keeps saying, 'It is unprecedented.' The year before it was 10 per cent and in 2008 it was 11 per cent.

The Hon. A. Piccolo interjecting:

Mr GARDNER: In 2007-08, and the minister might care to go back, it was actually the same. Do you know what the Hon. Carmel Zollo, the minister for corrections at the time, said? You will never guess. Check out what was in parentheses before, and I checked one of her press releases, 'There's been an unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers over the last 12 months.' It was 10 per cent and 10 per cent and 8 per cent. 'An unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers.' Over the last two years, 10 per cent and 10 per cent, 'An unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers.' The department had this growth of between 0.5 per cent one year and 5 per cent for many of the others, and then they have had two years of 10 per cent plus.

Over the last 12 months the growth is exactly the same, if not slightly more, but only by a margin of error as the year before, and it is a similar growth in the year leading up to when we were talking about building a new prison at Mobilong. I understand that 10 per cent over the last two years is higher than the three years before, but the minister suggesting that this has never happened before in the history of the South Australian community is dead wrong based on the numbers just seven years ago. The fact that it is unprecedented does not actually also abscond the minister from responsibility and his government from responsibility—

The Hon. A. Piccolo: Absolve.

Mr GARDNER: Absolve, sorry, thank you.

The Hon. A. Piccolo interjecting:

Mr GARDNER: The minister can abscond all he likes but it does not absolve him from responsibility.

The Hon. A. Piccolo interjecting:

Mr GARDNER: The minister will have to forgive me as I am speaking without notes and with a serious cold at the moment, so I ask for that wave of forgiveness for absconding rather than absolving. It does not absolve the minister and his government from the fact that they have put into place the very settings, and they have understood the different approach by police to, for example, domestic violence offences, whereby far more are being locked up than before for similar offences, and that is quite important work that is being done. But all of these things, whether it is the bail breaches which are now hundreds that have been increasing prisoner numbers or whether it is the capture of historical sex offenders which also led to an increase—

The Hon. A. Piccolo: Domestic violence.

Mr GARDNER: Domestic violence was the first one I identified, sir.

The Hon. A. Piccolo: Sorry.

Mr GARDNER: That's alright. All of these things are results of either policy decisions or trends in society that are readily identifiable, or in fact approaches within the corrections department, for example, in the way in which people who are released on parole might be returned into custody for bail breaches. It is also as a result of decisions within government to do with funding of courts, for example, which is contributing significantly to the extraordinary delay in matters being held before the District Court, and the extraordinary six, seven, eight month waiting lists for cases to be heard, to the point that we have this farcical situation where significant numbers of prisoners are now spending more time on remand awaiting trial than they end up getting sentenced to.

The minister might care to have a look at the length of time served in police watchhouse cells by prisoners sentenced to serve terms of more than 15 days—which is actually an offence under the act but no penalty is applied to the government of course as it does not in these things. There are prisoners who end up serving more time in prison than they are sentenced to because of delays in the court system. So the government cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for prison overcrowding when not only is it a failure of planning but it is a failure to even think about planning for the situation they find themselves in.

Over the next 12 months the budget papers identify that the number of the average daily prisoner population is a total of three prisoners less than the approved capacity in the prisons; the budget papers identify that over the next 12 months there is an approved daily prisoner capacity that is only three beds more than average daily prisoner numbers. Given that on your average weekend people being picked up for various offences causes the population to spike significantly, I do not need to tell any member here that three above the average daily prisoner population means that there will be a significant number of days where the population spikes above that approved capacity.

That means we will continue to have this situation where prisoners are being housed in the City Watchhouse and in the Holden Hill police cells. In fact, it used to be the Sturt police cells as well, but the police are so sick of this situation that they have said that the corrections department can no longer use the police cells at Sturt to hold their overflow prisoners. They have also said, in correspondence that we have received through FOI recently, that the basement of the watchhouse is now also out of action for Corrections overflow use.

So with all of the increase in spending on new cells that has come into effect since last year's budget, over and above last year's budget, with all the extra shipping containers they have plonked on the sides of the existing prisons, with all the current overflow into Holden Hill and the City Watchhouse that is happening at unprecedented levels despite the not quite unprecedented growth in prisoner numbers, despite all of that there is still going to be this situation continuing. If prisoner numbers remain static—and I know the department has predicted a 2 or 3 per cent growth in prisoner numbers over the next 12 months, despite the fact that for the last two years it has been over 10 per cent—if all that remains static, we are still going to have this overflow into the Watchhouse that is unbudgeted.

Last year the blowout was $9 million just on the unbudgeted overflow into the watchhouse. In addition to that there were tens of millions of dollars worth of extra cells put in; the total in the budget, over the last few years, of ongoing construction work on new infrastructure is $200 million plus on new cells. This is the cost of the government's rack 'em, pack 'em and stack 'em policy of the last six years. This is the financial cost; forget the human cost, this is just the financial cost to taxpayers. This is $200 million in infrastructure.

The prisons budget from year to year has blown out by 20 per cent in the last two years, from under $180 million to over $220 million a year just in custodial management. That does not include rehab, that does not include Community Corrections. There is a 20 per cent blowout in just the staff costs of keeping people locked up in cells before you even spend a cent on rehab; that is a 20 per cent increase there, $40 million a year there. Deputy Speaker, I am sure you will be interested to know how much extra the government has correspondingly put into rehab: CPI, barely CPI. It may be less than CPI; we will check. It has gone from about $23 million to about $24 million, and we are spending from $180 million to $220 million a year alone in keeping people locked up.

It is $40 million extra a year in financial costs and $200 million in infrastructure costs just for keeping people locked up, because the government did not do the work prior to the 2010 election to ensure new facilities. All these things could have been managed so much more easily in a custom-made facility; instead, we have paid out $10 million to the PPP partner not to build that new prison and we are left with a situation where we have these rapidly expanding costs that the South Australian taxpayer is burdened with.

That is money that cannot be spent on things we want to spend it on. That is money that is not available for the Repat Hospital, that is money that is not available for improved services at Modbury Hospital, that is money that is not available, according to the government, to install better park-and-ride facilities at Paradise Interchange. There is not a project that the government could imagine that could not be paid for had the government not mismanaged the prison system so badly over 13 years; mismanagement, poorly guided policy and absolutely no interest in improving the situation.

Members may ask what we could do better, and I have alluded to it before. It is a matter of priorities and forward planning. As far as infrastructure goes, we need to get ahead of the game because otherwise we will be constantly spending extra money on the overflow capacity in the City Watchhouse and the Holden Hill police cells and everything else. That is far more expensive than actually managing somebody in a prison. If you get the infrastructure right ahead of the game, if you spend the money ahead of the game, then you do not have all those overflow costs, which are extraordinarily futile and a stupid waste of money. The second (and perhaps more important) question is: are the right people in prison? I know there is some work being done on this; but we have a high remand rate that is 10 per cent higher than the national average. No other state in Australia has anywhere near as many people on remand as we do; no other state in Australia has anywhere near as many people serving more time on remand than they end up being sentenced to. It just does not happen anywhere else. Thirty-five per cent of South Australia's prisoners are on remand—it is extraordinary. Get the remand rate down and you might actually find that there are some people who end up needing to serve fewer days in prison because they have not been sentenced to so many days.

The third point I make is in relation to rehabilitation. Eighty-seven prisoners will receive rehabilitation programs this year, according to the budget papers—87 out of a daily prison population of over 2,700. Eighty-seven out of 4,000 prisoners who will be in the system over the course of this year—87. That is why we have the recidivism rate that we do—the number of people reoffending—because they do not have a job to go to, they do not have anywhere to live, and they do not have their cognitive behavioural defects fixed while they are in the prison system, while they are locked up. It is the government's fault, and I urge them to rethink their policies in this area.