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ESTIMATES OF REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE
HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [3.51 pm]: I rise to respond to the tabling of the budget papers. It was only 10 days ago that the budget was introduced in the other place. It has not been all that easy to get across the detail in such a short amount of time. However, thanks to a very active media, which has had a good look at this, and sectors like the Western Australian Council of Social Service, interest groups like the RAC, and constituents who either work within organisations that have been directly affected or have lobbied for some funding in this budget, I have been able to prepare some comments in response to the budget from the Green’s perspective—the world view that I have, if you will.
Looking at the budget from my world view, we live in a society, not an economy. We need an economy that serves people—not just people, but nature and all the elements in nature. It is not the other way around. Let us not fall into this trap of fiscal management that overrides the basic human need to care for one another. This is a common theme in our Budget Statements, because now is the time, when the economy is tight, that it is important to care for people and how they are coping in this time of change. We need to plan for a secure future. We need to spend a bit of money to protect the nature around us—the natural world that sustains us. If our economic tools are not getting the outcomes we want—making us happy, safe, healthy, better educated and fulfilled—then it is time that we changed these economic tools. The budget is a statement of government priorities. It shows us what the government values.
Hon Ken Travers; Deputy President; Hon Donna Faragher; Hon Lynn MacLaren
Hon Ljiljanna Ravlich: Sorry, Madam President.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Hon Alanna Clohesy): Hon Lynn MacLaren has the call.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is a little difficult to compete with the internet, but I will do it!
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It is okay; your time on the clock has stopped—just continue.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I was just noting that the budget reflects the government’s values, but it really should be the community’s budget. These are tax moneys that we put into government. The overriding question should be how this budget affects the community, and that is the filter I have applied here.
One of my key concerns about any budget is whether it makes us a more caring, happy and prosperous community and whether it looks after the precious places, plants and animals that we all love—not only the natural world and the environment in which we grow our food and in which we live, but also the built environment. When I look at this budget I ask whether it delivers these things in a fiscally responsible way. It is clear the WA economy is in transition and we have to move away from this dig-it-up, cut-it-down and ship-it-away mentality. We can prepare for the new economy. Some of the biggest pressures we feel come from a city with inadequate infrastructure. The Greens support borrowing for infrastructure that will ensure people will not be left behind in a strong economy in which the gap is cavernous between those who are doing well and those who are doing it tough. In that regard, I welcome the government’s commitment to the big rail projects, but along with most of the opposition, the Greens question the delay in funding the promises that have been made. Certainly, when voters approached the ballot box they believed that the Metro Area Express light rail system would be delivered. They did not believe that it would be put off; they believed it was fully funded and fully costed. That was a realistic belief, because that is what the leader of the Liberal Party said when running for re-election. Now that is obviously not the case. We can invest in infrastructure and we can do it now, but unfortunately this budget does not illustrate the degree to which it was promised in the lead-up to the election.
My comments about this budget focus on priorities in my South Metropolitan Region and also my parliamentary portfolios, which, on behalf of the Greens, I take on. At some point in time, Hon Robin Chapple will address his portfolio areas, so I do not want to touch too much on them. They include items like agriculture, Aboriginal issues, the Mining and Pastoral Region and energy, which is a very, very important budget item. I will talk a little about environmental protection, transport, planning, housing and social services. I question whether the priorities in this budget are the right ones. This is not new and members have heard this before. At the end of the thirty-eighth Parliament I questioned expenditure for the development at Elizabeth Quay when so much more is needed in public housing and when, as it was reported just this week, basic services in the outer metropolitan region need more expenditure on things like GPs, public transport in the East Metropolitan Region, and more frequent and reliable public transport. That is where that investment is needed most desperately, especially for those families who are doing it tough on a low income in low socioeconomic circumstances. We should spend on public transport, because that reduces not only the cost of living, but also the impacts of congestion. The impact of poor environmental management and not investing to reduce the impacts of congestion will increase spending on health, and diminish the quality of life throughout Western Australia and, indeed, I can make the case that if we add carbon emissions, will reduce the quality of life across the planet. It risks the water that we drink and the air that we breathe; it robs from future generations and squanders the abundance of natural resources—all the flora and fauna that are unique to us, that we enjoy and that nature offers freely. We cannot afford to squander that wealth.
We cannot afford to under-invest in environmental protection. In the city, under-investment in environmental protection makes it more difficult for us to fight off the developers that it seems are intent on covering every regional open space; we have seen this a lot in the South Metropolitan Region. We are trying to save the class A reserves from housing developments because of the pressure to increase the density of our city. In my own area, the class A reserve at East Fremantle Oval is under imminent threat. Community organisations, with the support of the council—finally—have come up with a plan to better utilise that class A reserve.
That is the kind of protection that we need for our environment; it might take some expenditure on the part of the government to secure public open space for people who wish to take recreation and to keep our city green. We know that it benefits our health and wellbeing if we have a city with parks close to us. If we develop housing infrastructure on that oval and on the Ferndale Oval—another place in the South Metropolitan Region that is under threat—then we will risk forever damaging our city and making it much more difficult for future generations to enjoy the health that we have today.
If we look at this budget in that regard, the Conservation Council of Western Australia, which is the peak body for environment organisations in this state, lost heavily in 2011–12, it only had a controlled grant of $90 000 in 2010–11, and since then, in this budget’s forward estimates there is nothing—nothing for a peak environmental organisation in our state budget. That is a concern to us all. The whole sector is in trouble. The Conservation
Council was obviously making very good use of that $90 000 because it managed to deliver tremendous programs; but it does make us feel that the conservation movement has been cut adrift. I would like to see the government address this.
Further, the department of climate change—which has been subject to quite a bit of scrutiny from this chamber—has been, as far as I can tell, whittled down to two officers and I believe that they do not have any program funding. These are the things that I will be highlighting in budget estimates in order to find out if our worst fears are true. At a time when we need to put maximum resources into coping with climate change, our office for climate change has been all but destroyed. I also looked at the budget to see what the investment in adaptation strategies for the impact of climate change was. Members would be aware that I have a bill on the notice paper calling for coastal planning that would require expenditure to complete the coastal vulnerability assessments. There is nothing in this budget specifically allocated for coastal adaptation strategies like that, but I want to ask the government if there is an intention to do that—maybe it is in program funding. That is the kind of detail that I am looking for in the budget.
We also looked to see whether there was any funding directed at infrastructure programs and strategies to improve the efficiencies of water usage. We know that water charges have gone up by 21 per cent. The pressure is on to use our water efficiently, but what assistance is available from the government to ensure that we do that? There are household programs for efficiency, but how much is invested in those programs to reduce the amount of water we use? It is not just residents who need to reduce the amount of water they use, but commercial enterprises, businesses, and industry which—as far as we know—gets a nice subsidy from the government in cheap or free water.
In addition, the Conservation Council, which has been concerned about the fate of the environment and community grants program, did not have its fears allayed. In fact, it was unceremoniously axed. The grants scheme that funded hundreds of conservation projects around the state is now unfunded. We have seen that in The West Australian this week. This scheme should have been worth $5 million over the forward estimates—that is just $1.5 million a year. The council has been doing a tremendous job in mobilising thousands of volunteers in hundreds of projects around the state, assisting local governments with their parks and gardens programs and in our nature reserves. In the scale of this budget $5 million seems to be a small amount of money, but it is completely gone. The government should take a look at that, and the community outrage that has been expressed at that decision. It seems not just mean, but it affects the health and wellbeing of our cities and our environment; it is cost-effective to have all those volunteers out there planting and working on land care. There is a costing of how much additional work it would take if local government had to employ people to do what volunteers do, and we know that local government itself is struggling. I will give a couple of examples of these kinds of projects. It worked on biodiversity, conservation, sustainable catchment management, rescue of injured fauna and Bush Forever sites. It was not just for major conservation organisations; it also helped private landholders protect high value areas. The total funding in this area alone was $200 000. In 2011, the program directed $26 000 to the Bannister Creek catchment group for restoration and weed management in the Nicholson Road bushland—Bush Forever site 456.
Local government also benefited; for example, $20 000 to the City of Canning for continued restoration of Queens Park Regional Open Space. Community building exercises were also funded with that; the Montessori School at Landsdale received $1 650 for bushland weed control—that did not just have benefits for land care and community building, but it was a learning experience for children and sometimes those experiences are invaluable. It also improved the local environment, thus giving them a connection with the land that they live near.
I recently learned that there are also cuts to environmental sustainability education across the state. Apparently it was moved from the then Department of Environment and Conservation to the Department of Parks and Wildlife, but in so doing, several positions were axed. One of my constituents provided a quote, which states —
The demise of environmental education seems to be systemic and reflects the current government’s downgrading of anything to do with environment and conservation.
Seven officers who supported teachers in this state to deliver their curriculum in both state and independent schools—a requirement of the education department—were cut from the conservation community education branch of the then Department of Environment and Conservation. There are only two programs remaining—the Bush Rangers and EcoEducation. The rest, Ribbons of Blue, Airwatch, Play Space Education and the manager who looks after all those programs have been cut. The positions of the manager and full-time educator at the Perth Zoo have also been cut in this budget.
Our concern and commitment to the environment is definitely under-invested in this budget, and the Greens intend to make a loud noise about that in the years to come in the hope that it can be improved in the next budget, if not before.
The impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by people on low incomes in regional areas and in developing nations. The WA Civil Society Climate Roundtable lobbied during the state election with a simple four-page flyer. It asked for some policy directions in energy production, supply and use, transport in the built environment, climate adaptation, and food security. We will be putting this filter up against the budget to find out what it got. However, I draw members’ attention to the roundtable members’ concerns that the WA government’s response to climate change has been inadequate to date and that its current policies leave Western Australian communities vulnerable to climate impacts and fail to capitalise on significant opportunities to reduce carbon pollution and develop clean industries in WA. The significance of that is that the people who are doing it tough do it tougher because of these policies.
The Greens believe that we need to prioritise bringing down the cost of living. That is one way the state government can use its considerable funds to help Western Australians cope with these changes. It will require more investment in energy infrastructure, alongside programs for energy efficiency. A similar focus is required on programs to improve the efficiency of water use. Hon Robin Chapple will go into greater detail on those two points.
I want to talk about the Western Australian Council of Social Service’s take on the cost of living. WACOSS points out that the small increases in fees and charges add up and that once added up they are above inflation. That is likely to impact significantly on the cost of living for those on fixed and low incomes, particularly given rising public transport costs. They go up from the current 31 per cent to 40 per cent over four years. It is difficult to imagine that we could do that to people who are already struggling to make their rent.
Average families have benefited from wages increasing faster than living costs. Those on low incomes, however, who spend a much higher proportion of their income on essential goods and services, are facing increasing financial stress. The increases in costs above inflation have a disproportionate impact on people who are on welfare payments. WACOSS in its pre-budget submission and post-budget analysis has stated that nothing in the budget addresses the underlying problems of financial hardship. There is a need to reintroduce a program similar to the hardship energy efficiency program to help address energy consumption and lower utility bills. We have had this program in place before, but we need an expansion of it, and what we had was less.
There is also no mention in the budget of an increase for financial counselling services for the metropolitan region. There is a small increase of $200 000 for the Rural Financial Counselling Service WA in 2013–14—that is in spite of the considerable funds, as we heard from Hon Darren West, being spent in the regions. People are waiting longer to see a financial counsellor, which only keeps households in financial stress longer and makes it harder for a counsellor to help. At the WACOSS post-budget briefing it was mentioned that it is hard to go to a counsellor when a person has only so much money. There are only so many different things that a person can do with that money. At the end of the day, if a person does not have enough, all the counsellor can do is teach them how to maybe put a little bit aside and eat rice more times a week than they would normally, but it is not the considerable financial relief that people on low incomes need.
Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.
[Continued on page 3520.]
Sitting suspended from 4.15 to 4.30 pm