House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


State Economy

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (15:16): Business class trips, social media hits and VIP lists: that seems to be the priority of this government at the moment. I rise today to reflect on the treatment of the South Australian economy under this Labor government.

Here in South Australia we must be prepared and we have to react appropriately to the economic challenges that we are facing today such as the cost-of-living crisis that is being felt by many families right across the state. We saw in recent times that, according to our 2022-23 budget, South Australia has a net debt of around $19 billion and, according to the 2021-22 estimated result, a net operating balance that continues to be concerning.

No-one could have anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone the economic ravages it would bring, but South Australia pulled through. We pulled through thanks largely to the people of South Australia but also to the economic management of the former Liberal government. Everybody wanted to be in South Australia for many reasons but above all for our deeply enviable economic position. Those opposite have tried their absolute hardest to tear down the former Liberal government and its policies but nothing that this Labor government says or does can ever smother the achievements of the former state Liberal government, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Australia was once upon a time the fastest growing economy in the nation, not that long ago, where we saw record investment in infrastructure and strong support for hospitality and tourism and also a reversal of the brain drain. What we also saw before the state election were unfunded spending promises by the now Labor government that, quite frankly, tripled the state Liberal government's own promises—an over $3 billion spending spree with a fanciful range of promises, most notably around the concept that they would fix the ramping crisis, a vision that this government a year in has still failed to realise.

What we have seen is a state Labor government awkwardly stumbling its way through its first term of government, tripping over one coffee table after the next coffee table. What did the Labor government promise about hydrogen? They promised that it would bring jobs, clean energy and capital to South Australia. Mr Speaker, we know that the cost of living is biting hard on South Australian families; I am sure they are coming to your electorate office, they are coming to my electorate office as well.

This government's solution is a $600 million hydrogen facility, a hydrogen facility that the Premier has already admitted may not actually save South Australian families a single dollar on their electricity bills. Is that not what it is about at the end of the day? Are we not supposed to help people with their energy bills? A hydrogen facility that this government alleges will cost around $600 million—but of course that figure remains highly questionable, and we are facing labour shortages, inflation going through the roof and a skyrocketing cost of materials, yet the people of South Australia are expected to believe this static price tag of around $600 million.

If we know one thing from this government it is that price tags are pure fiction, as is evidenced with the over $5 billion blowout of the north-south corridor. This project is such a state Labor classic: overreaching, overspent, overpromised. Do not just take our word for it. We saw recently the South Australian Productivity Commission's inquiry into SA renewable energy competitiveness add some context. For example, finding 31 of the report asserts that:

South Australia's poor budgetary position… constrains the extent to which the State Government can support the development of a local green Hydrogen sector.

It goes on to call into question the very financial viability of this hydrogen plant. Finding 25 states:

An export-scale green hydrogen plant would increase GSP by $1.9 billion and create an additional 4,900 jobs, conditional on market prices for hydrogen being high enough to make its production financially viable.

Conditional—and it is a very big 'conditional.' This is a microcosm for state Labor's economic promises, a manifesto of thought bubbles, the success of which is entirely conditional upon favourable economic winds—but economic winds, as we know, are unfavourable.

We have challenges coming. We are facing post-COVID economic challenges that this government would not and did not account for—economic challenges such as rate rises. It struck me as unusual that during a period in which South Australians have been put under immense pressure, we saw the Minister for Trade and Investment, through his department, spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on an ad in Monday's AFR boasting that South Australia's wages are lower than the national average.

I seem to remember a time when the Labor Party actually stood for wage growth and they actually stood for workers, but not now. What we are seeing are business class trips to Europe with departmental CEOs, things like $900 per night. It is absolutely out of control. The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. But this government needs to get its priorities in order and break the cycle of tragically mismanaged South Australian economies under state Labor governments.