“We’re prioritising your money”: The Regional Budget Address in Naracoorte

Tim Whetstone, the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, has reassured locals that the State Budget will deliver for the region and the state.

Mr Whetstone spoke to a gathering of locals at the town hall last Friday afternoon, as the six-month milestone for the Marshall government loomed closer.

The event itself was informal, with stakeholders from local government, business, agriculture, and tourism assembled to listen to Minister Whetstone over coffee and biscuits. As the Minister relayed the hard data from the Budget, he interlaced the multitude of facts and figures with personal anecdotes from his life on the land.

The key messages that Minister Whetstone wanted the audience to take away were that unlike the ‘city-centric’ previous government, the Marshall cabinet would prioritise regional needs and use their funds accordingly. They would cut down on waste and PR puff – Whetstone only had one advisor with him – and listen to the people.

At the Q and A session afterwards Minister Whetstone was kept to his word, as he was grilled about the TAFE closure, practical skill workshops, and affordable housing. Below there is a breakdown of what funds are going where, and how Minister Whetstone handled audience enquiries.

SMALL BUSINESS, TAXES AND TRAINING

  • $157.2m over four years to abolish payroll tax for all small businesses. Small businesses in SA with a taxable payroll below $1.5m will pay no payroll tax from 1 January 2019, saving the state $44,550.
  • $95.9m over two years for land tax relief. Tax free thresholds will increase to $450,000.
  • $202.6m over four years for skilling South Australia, i.e. in partnership with the Federal Government an additional 20,800 apprenticeships and traineeships will be created.

“We’re prioritising your money,” Minister Whetstone said of these measures. Regarding apprenticeships and traineeships, Minister Whetsone explained that the government wanted young people to stay in their local communities rather than move away because of employment pressures. The government wanted small business owners to “breathe a sigh of relief”, and to strengthen the region’s timber and red meat processing industries.

“We believe that we should govern for all of South Australia, not just Adelaide,” he continued on the theme of assisting people on the land. Mr Whetstone’s tour was supported by PIRSA, and is part of the Minister’s tour of South Australia. 

Mr Whetstone’s seat (Chaffey) is in the Riverland and Mallee area, and he originally grew up in Keith, visiting relatives in Wrattonbully. He praised the Limestone Coast’s greenery, but stated that the rest of the state was “exceptionally patchy” because of drought, and to “spare a thought for those doing it tough”.

“There’s still a long way to go.”

RURAL INVESTMENT

  • $773m over five years for regional initiatives including more jobs, and improving services and infrastructure.
  • $150m over ten years for the Regional Growth Fund to unlock new economic activity. 2018 will see $5m for competitive grants and $10m for strategic regional growth projects.
  • $12m over four years for Regional Development Australia to work on cross-regional issues and economic development projects.
  • $10m over three years for repairing mobile black spots across the state.
  • $315m over four years for a regional roads and infrastructure fund. 30 per cent of mineral and petroleum royalties will be paid into the fund. 
  • $192m for country health over ten years to improve infrastructure and aged care services; $140m investment into country health facilities over 10 years; $20 million for a rural health workforce strategy; $12m over four years for expanded country cancer services; $6.8m for local health network governing boards.
  • $194m over four years to modernise educational facilities.

“Collaboration, clustering, and communities,” declared Mr Whetstone. 

“I think South Australia has a high level of confidence.”

There have been 82 applications this year for Regional Growth Fund, and Mr Whetstone believes that for too long money has been used to divide communities. With initiatives like the Regional Growth Fund and Regional Development Australia, they are going to be used to strengthen strategic projects which offer economic and social support.

As for the funding to eradicate black spots, “it’s a start”. Mr Whetstone has had to stand on a tractor to receive mobile reception, and he believes that “driving to a top of a hill to get service – those days need to be gone.”

Health was something that the Marshall government wanted to make sure that people in the country had “long-term hope” in, as previously there had been “diabolical waste” in other governments’ Budgets.

Using an example from his own electorate, Mr Whetstone spoke about the Waikerie hospital. It was deemed “non-compliant” all because of a faulty air conditioner and a door that would only swing one way.

The community banded together and had to pay for the repairs themselves, all so that they could keep their hospital. As the Marshall government has most of the regional MPs, making sure that country hospitals were at their best standard was a priority, as was upskilling staff.

TOURISM AND PRODUCTIVITY

  • $40m over four years and an additional $21.5m for the Event Bid Fund.
  • $10m in 2019-2020 for tourism marketing to key international and domestic markets.
  • $12.8m over four years for five new trade and investment offices.
  • $100m over four years for an economic and business growth fund.
  • $5.2m over four years to establish a South Australian Productivity Commission.

“We want to govern for all South Australia – previously spend was only focused on Adelaide,” Minister Whetstone said of tourism funding. Regional events and small conferences were on the agenda for tourism, and regarding productivity, Mr Whetstone encouraged rural businesses to take advantage of fair trade partnerships. 

Mr Whetstone stated that the Marshall government would prioritise trade, and that when he sold wine and citrus, he invited partners to his properties: “That’s what they want to see – where is it grown, where is it packed?”

As for the Productivity Commission, it will be keeping track of where and how the government spends taxpayers’ money, Mr Whetstone said.

REDUCING PRICES AND FEES

  • $360m over four years for emergency services levy remissions.
  • $184m over four years for an energy solution, including a home battery storage scheme, new storage technologies scheme, consumer demand response trials and early works for an additional interconnection.
  • $15.4m over four years for public transport fare reductions.
  • $4.9m over four years to abolish all fees payable for volunteer screening checks.
  • $1m in 2018-2019 for an independent inquiry into water pricing in SA.
  • Capping council rates and NRM levies.

According to Mr Whetstone, South Australia’s energy crisis has devolved into a global joke, and that we pay exceedingly high water bills. One of the “biggest bugbears” that Mr Whetstone’s constituents come to him with is that they believe water prices aren’t justified.

Regarding rate capping, Mr Whetstone stated that the Government were determined to go forward with their election promise. He apologised to the assembled stakeholders from local government present, saying that he knew many councils were “doing the right thing”, but “other councils have lost their way”.

As for NRM levies, they have “morphed into a thirsty beast”. Levies used to be for water, land and pests, but somewhere along the way they had become “bastardised” and waste needed to be cut down.

EDUCATION, HEALTH AND SOCIETY

  • $27.7m over four years to commence moving Year Sevens to secondary school.
  • $29.7m over four years to increase sports vouchers from $50 to $100.
  • $20.9m over four years to implement a comprehensive program to improve literacy and numeracy.
  • $1.2b for new health measures: $45m over four years to reduce elective surgery and colonoscopy waiting lists in public hospitals, and $30.7m over three years for a meningococcal b immunisation programme for babies, children, and adolescents.
  • $11.9m over four years for a domestic violence package to support women and children at risk. 
  • $14.5m over four years for additional resources for the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption and the Office of Public Integrity.
  • $24m over two years to upgrade sports facilities, including female facilities.
  • $19.7m for emergency services: $9.5m over four years for a national aerial firefighting strategy; $5m for CFS station upgrades over two years; and $5.2m for Alert SA over four years.
  • $17.7m for open spaces: $7.5m over four years for 20 additional park rangers; $5.2m over three years for coastal protection; and $5m over two years to open reservoirs for recreational fishing.

Domestic violence and ice were scourges that need to be dealt with in regional areas as they underpin unemployment and crime, explained Mr Whetstone. Regarding ICE, the Marshall government’s response would be modelled on the Matrix program in the US, which has worked well to rehabilitate users.

By boosting funds and resources to ICAC, it would mean that “we as a state are responsible in stamping out corruption.”

In previous eight Budgets, the regions would have been “very lucky to get a look in,” Mr Whetstone said.

“This is a starting point – we can only build from here. We have good, solid policies going forward.”

QUESTIONS

Mr Whetstone was asked about the closure of the Naracoorte TAFE, which was described as a “huge loss” for young people wanting to learn practical skills and migrants needing to learn English.

Mr Whetstone replied that SA TAFE had become “complacent” and had shown a lack of leadership under the previous government. The current government was working on creating traineeships and apprenticeships that would benefit young people.

When pressed further, Mr Whetstone replied that it was still early days in the government, and that he was not looking for time, but for consideration.

Following the theme of skilling young people, another question for Mr Whetstone was whether there would be things akin to trade schools and technical colleges. The UniSA Mount Gambier campus was also described as being “underutilised”.

Mr Whetstone replied that the government would definitely be working hard to make sure that their educational policies were in place, and that the ministers were all being tasked by the Premier to hit goals similar to “KPIs”.

After some statements about the Mount Gambier gaol skill centre, the NRM levies, and the disappointment of previous country cabinets, Mr Whetstone fielded a question from the CEO of the Naracoorte Lucindale Council, Trevor Smart.

Mr Smart asked Mr Whetstone about the lack of affordable housing in Naracoorte, and availability of housing generally.

Mr Whetstone said that he would take the question on notice, and that he would return with more information.