Bill: Appropriation Bill 2017 (Estimates Committees)


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (16:27): I thank the various ministers with whom I spent some time over the last week in estimates procedures for their courtesies. As the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, the arts and education, I had a range of interactions. I will briefly take this opportunity to reflect on what the people present and the South Australian community learnt in those portfolio areas during the estimates process.

I thank in particular the three ministers I asked questions of—the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, the Minister for The Arts and the Minister for Higher Education and Skills—because they gave time to the opposition to ask questions without having lengthy, prepared statements in response to so-called questions without notice from government members.

The time allocated in the program for multicultural affairs and the arts was fully given to the opposition. The time in education was negotiated, and the time allocated was reduced slightly through those negotiations in order to have no government questions. However, I acknowledge that the Minister for Education provided more than half the time that would have been allocated in the original program in return for having no government questions and that she did not seem to obfuscate or delay her responses.

Those thanks given, I do have some concerns about the way that the government manages the South Australian budget. The poor choices that they have made have dreadful consequences in some areas, and today's shockingly bad NAPLAN results are a prime example of that; however, I will come back to education last. It is the topic on which I talk about most often in this chamber and there was plenty of time devoted to it last Friday in the chamber.

I will start with what we learnt in some of the other areas. The multicultural affairs line is one of the shorter ones that I had the opportunity to interrogate. We learnt a couple of things. The budget for SAMEAC last year was $409,000. The estimated result is $410,000, and $409,000 is again provided for SAMEAC in the year to come. In addition to that, of course, multicultural affairs forms part of the Minister for Social Inclusion's various programs, and much of the support work done in multicultural affairs is done by the back office in that department, which has been combined with other units in recent years.

In particular, in relation to SAMEAC, various things make up that payment, but one of the jobs that SAMEAC used to have and has traditionally had was an allocation of grants that were considered by the commission. However, it was made clear in estimates last week that that process is well and truly concluded. The input that SAMEAC and the Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission members now have in the allocation of grants is reduced to two commissioners participating in the consideration of grants by a broader committee that takes place within the Department of Communities and Social Inclusion. They contribute to the consideration of grants for non-multicultural grants.

Of course, the alternative side of that is that the decisions about multicultural grants are made by a group of people, only two of whom are SAMEAC commissioners. This causes some consternation in the community, as the board traditionally had a much more significant role than this. I note that one community organisation wrote to me just two days ago, since the multicultural estimates, having had their grant application denied. It is just one example of a range of community groups that find this development somewhat troubling.

I will go to the arts portfolio. Yesterday, the Minister for The Arts in this chamber presented for an hour. In relation to multicultural affairs, I thank the member for Hartley in particular for asking many questions on those issues. In the arts portfolio, I was joined from the opposition benches by the members for Davenport and Heysen.

The member for Heysen indicated that it was her last estimates hearing yesterday and it will not be the same without her. Of course, I had to remind her that next year, had she not chosen to retire, she would have had a different role because we would have been sitting on the other side of the chamber. Nevertheless, I think that there is part of the member for Heysen that may well be missing the prospect of future estimates, but maybe not a substantial one, though.

In relation to the arts, we learnt a number of interesting things. In relation to the South Australian Museum, the former director of the South Australian Museum, Suzanne Miller, was arrested the week before last on fraud charges in Queensland for having allegedly gained $45,000 in benefits for herself using the private health insurance of the Queensland Museum. The minister, through his deputy chief executive of the Department of State Development, Ms Reid, confirmed that the department is 'undertaking some due diligence to have a look at our records and our arrangements at that time'.

As has probably been made clear from the media, when Ms Miller arrived in Australia to take up the role at the South Australian Museum following an international recruitment process, she was not a citizen of this country. She went on to say:

The strict answer to your question is, yes, we are undertaking some proper due diligence ourselves about the matter, but no questions have been raised for us at this point…

and then went on to confirm that Queensland police may not have approached them to their knowledge. This is a concerning matter, and we hope that the due diligence work that has been done in Arts SA and in the Museum has not seen any adverse outcomes for South Australia. Of course, there is also the possibility that the case may not proceed. In Queensland, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, obviously. Nevertheless, it is a troubling matter, and I note that the information provided by the Department of State Development indicates that due diligence is now being done, and consideration of what happened in South Australia is now being undertaken.

We learnt that despite the press release issued by the Minister for The Arts on 6 November 2014 in relation to Fowler's Live—which is of course an all-ages live music venue in the Lion Arts Centre—that at the time, with the State Theatre moving in to become the anchor tenant, the Minister for The Arts said:

We will work with the current tenant on how we keep live music performances continuing in the event of any changes.

However, we then learnt from Mr Louca, the head of Arts SA, that the lease for Fowler's Live will not be extended after 30 June 2018 and it is therefore unlikely that this institution will continue at that venue into the future. It is a venue that the government has previously seen fit to use for their own events, but obviously they have lost interest in that going forward.

We learnt some other things. We learnt that in the government's current review, which some members of the arts community would have noticed, some 80 groups in the arts and cultural organisations of South Australia have been approached to participate in a survey of South Australian cultural infrastructure, and that is a significant piece of work that is being undertaken by the department and by SGS Economics and Planning, which was engaged by the government to assist with the project. SGS Economics and Planning is of course a Sydney-based firm. The value of this contract, which is money going to an interstate firm, was not, however, available to the minister yesterday. He took it on notice, and we look forward to finding out that quantum of money.

Anyone who works in the building and who has been out on the balcony of the Balcony Room lately would note that despite the first of the Hajek sculptures plinths being removed just over a year ago, a year later the rest are still there. It was confirmed that a year ago the first plinths were removed so that they could be preserved for future acknowledgement of that sculpture and to be reimagined 'in the new plaza works' to quote from Mr Louca. However, the rest are of course going to be demolished when work on that car park commences on the Walker development, presumably in the months to come. No doubt, that will be a sight to see.

We also learnt that of the $300,000 that was committed towards the Riverbank Palais, currently in a denuded form showing itself as a blank concrete block on the River Torrens from the vista of Adelaide Oval right now, that Riverbank Palais was installed without any undertakings being sought from the state government in relation to how the Palais would be managed between festivals. The state government committed $300,000 towards its construction, no questions asked. Now the new director of the Adelaide Festival and the Adelaide city council find themselves in the challenging position of how to manage that process in the intervening years. A number of other things came up in both those portfolio areas, but I think those were some of the highlights and some of the things that were interesting and new.

We had some time with the Minister for Education, Skills, and training and various other things, on Friday. Of course, one of the questions on training was in regard to subsidised training places, and the support that the state government provides to the training sector is going to become contestable again. After the Skills for All debacle, the state government decided that all the money was going to go to TAFE so that it could compete in the years ahead, and our private RTOs and others were left in a more difficult situation. So 2019 is supposed to be the year in which the state government has decided that these funds will be more contestable. The minister reported, and I quote:

TAFE has undertaken an extraordinary effort in modernising its service operations. It has made significant savings in the process and is operating extremely professionally, so I have no reason not to believe that they are well on their way to the contestability anticipated by the end of 2018-19.

That is good news, I suppose. A lot of damage has been done in the meantime, but in 2019 we will be in a better situation. We also learnt that the board remuneration for TAFE in 2016-17 had grown to $518,000 and the remuneration for the chair had grown from $85,000 last year—which was $37,000 plus a retainer of $48,000—to 'just under $100,000'. The board members have a base remuneration of $24,000 and $23,000 in payment and more for participating on board committees—$5,000 a year for those board members. That was information in relation to the TAFE Board.

In relation to the education portfolio, there were a number of concerning aspects that came out and there were some interesting things that came out. The government announced in the budget that there were going to be two new superschools in the north and the south. We asked for some details on this and on some of the work that had gone into it.

In relation to the southern superschool, which is identified in the budget papers as being at Sellicks/Aldinga, I asked, 'Which is it to be?' and the minister confirmed that the location for that school is yet to be determined. She did say that they will be completed by 2022. So, presumably, at some stage before then the government anticipates choosing a location. She suggested that they were not quite sure which schools would be impacted in the surrounding area. I am sure those schools within the catchment will be interested to know some of those details and hope that the minister will engage with them in detail and the department will consult with them in detail in the years between now and then to ensure that that transition is managed properly.

Of course, the opposition will be very keen to see any new infrastructure completed in a way that works in well with the neighbouring schools, so obviously we will be committing to consult very closely with any neighbouring schools that will be impacted before the new schools come on line. I hope the government will do the same.

In relation to the proposed Magill education precinct announced about four years ago by the member for Wright when she was education minister, the current Minister for Education, the member for Port Adelaide, confirmed, 'I understand with Magill that a feasibility study is either close to completion or may, indeed, have been completed. I am yet to see it.' This, of course, comes after the scoping study that was undertaken in 2014 and a large range of works undertaken with the governing council members of the Magill Primary School, Norwood Morialta High School, Magill Kindergarten and the University of South Australia.

There has been back and forth over this and an enormous amount of work undertaken, not just by paid staff, which is what they are paid to do of course, but by volunteers and volunteer parents, parents of children, particularly at Norwood Morialta High School, who are putting in work because they care about their school community and they value the future of their school, even though by the time these works are completed they know full well that their own children may well have left the school.

This is altruistic work from volunteers that deserves more credit than to be spun a line for four years and then still have no further information in the budget process, as was the case. The minister was able to provide no information as to even when the feasibility study would be completed. She said, 'I cannot comment about the timing. We will see.' That was very disappointing and we hope that information about this project and potential future plans will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

Some questions were asked about the issues at the Errington Special Education Centre. On 11 April, the minister took questions on notice and said she would get back to the house about the findings made by Magistrate O'Connor in relation to criminal charges brought against a teacher. She was very critical of the department and some people in the department.

The minister had no answers in relation to those questions, which she again took on notice. I look forward to some responses coming in due course. I do note, however, that in the days since former members of the governing council of the Errington Special Education Centre have expressed their concerns in a public way about the way the department has handled the situation, the lack of support given to teachers, SSOs, parents and students at that school.

It was described as extremely unprofessional conduct, so we are very concerned about what has happened here and we are very eager to hear from the minister about what actions are being taken in response to the review of those matters. That review is being undertaken by not only the chief executive of the education department but also SAPOL, and that was the reason that the minister made the excuse to take questions on notice.

We asked many questions about the detail of staff in different areas and all of them were taken on notice. We learnt that there is a new building being refurbished at Hindmarsh, which will finally take the 300 staff that were promised to be moved out of the education department I think when Tony Harrison, two CEOs ago, was appointed as the head of the education department. He said that 300 staff would be moved into schools, then it became closer to schools and then we learnt it was going to be Hindmarsh.

At estimates last week, we learnt that they had not actually finished building the accommodation at Hindmarsh that all these people would move into, so they are all still in Flinders Street, which is not what was suggested by the former minister about three years ago, or certainly by the former education department CEO about two or three years ago.

We learnt a number of other things, but I will finish by touching on the state contributions as a result of the National Education Reform Agreement, where there have been promises of increased money by the state government in what was sometimes described as years 5 and 6 of Gonski, which this parliament has put in its budget papers for the last two years and which will be delivered under the current budget or, indeed, under a Liberal administration would also be delivered in full.

With that state component, we learnt that a section is going to non-government schools, but the minister said on Friday that she could not tell us where the rest was going. She could not tell us because it had not been decided yet because the government was considering how that money was going to go. We asked who it would be spent on and she said, 'We will determine within our system the best priorities for that money.'

Today, we have learnt where a little bit of it is going to be spent. Some $70 million over four years will be spent on literacy and numeracy programs. Can I say that, after 15 years of utter failure by the government through the NAPLAN tests, it is nice to see that they have noticed that literacy and numeracy are a problem, but pretending that that was new money that they announced today when it has been in the budget papers for the last two budgets is just outrageous, and it is a pathetic and cynical attempt at crisis management.