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Price of promises as Govt attacks 'reckless' Labor spending

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Labor leader Peter Malinauskas has drawn fire from the Government for a “reckless spending spree” as he insists his solution to the ramping “crisis” will bring ambulance response times back to what they were five years ago – but not eliminate the problem altogether.

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Treasurer Rob Lucas today accused Malinauskas of “promising everything to everybody” with funding pledges costing more than three billion dollars, which he said would be paid for by “struggling” South Australian families and businesses.

Lucas said Labor’s “reckless pre-election spending spree is of a scale and magnitude I’ve never seen before from an Opposition in my forty years in Parliament”.

“Labor’s unprecedented level of spending is now the single biggest risk to our state’s finances and our economic recovery as we emerge from the global pandemic,” he said.

“No opposition has ever promised so much without providing any detail in terms of how they’re going to fund it just in the first week of an election campaign.”

But Malinauskas hit back, insisting he had already committed to “no new taxes and no increases in taxes as well” and that he would release his full costings and budget implications in the “traditional” way some time before the election.

“That’s of course, very different to what’s occurred over the last four years where Steven Marshall before the election promised tax cuts and then went on to deliver massive tax hikes,” he said, pointing to “the land tax debacle”.

“We’re being very clear, we’re saying no tax increases, no tax hikes…”

Asked if he could commit to delivering balanced budgets, the Opposition Leader said “we’ve already made it really clear that we are utterly committed to being fiscally responsible”.

“What I can absolutely commit to is being far more fiscally responsible than what Steven Marshall has been,” he said.

“Of course that will be shown in detail when we release our costings.

“We are utterly committed to ensuring that South Australians get the services that they need and that’s what we’re announcing today.

“All of our costing detail will be fully released before the election in the traditional format… it will be in the traditional timeline that Rob Lucas used in the last election and probably the one before that, in fact probably going back to when he got elected when Malcolm Fraser was still the Prime Minister.”

But Lucas said because more people were voting in advance, many would not see the costing detail until after they cast their vote.

“The old tradition of oppositions being able to hide the position in relation to the cost of their promises until two days before the election might have made some sense when the vast majority of people were voting on election day,” he said.

“Now, not just because of COVID… we may well see 50 per cent of people having actually voted prior to two days before election day.

“A significant number of people will start voting from next Monday, so a focus not only making these sort of unfunded promises or uncosted promises, but a focus on how you actually are going to pay for them and what are the consequences of that has to be a focus of the campaign from now on.”

Spruiking his ambulance plan this morning, Malinauskas clarified his ramping policy and revealed a yearly breakdown of his promised new 350 paramedics and ambulance officers, after being unable to provide details during an earlier radio interview.

The leader deferred to his health spokesperson Chris Picton to outline a breakdown of when the promised extra paramedics and ambulance officers would come on board.

Picton said if elected, Labor would put an extra 99 paramedics and ambulance officers into the health system in its first year of government, growing to 176 in the second year, 268 in the third year and reaching 350 by its fourth year.

Labor has also announced 100 extra doctors and 300 additional nurses to help the struggling sector, but hasn’t been able to say how quickly it would be able to bring those health professionals into the system or where they would come from, only that it would occur over the four-year term.

Today, Picton said of the 100 promised doctors – which he clarified was actually 101 – 24 would come on board in its first year of office, growing to 52 in its second year, 79 in its third year and 101 by its fourth year.

Pressed today on his policy to “fix the ramping crisis”, Malinauskas agreed he could not promise to end ramping altogether.

Asked if there would still be ramping under a Labor Government, Malinauskas said: “It will take time for ramping to reduce.”

“It will take time to reduce the ramping crisis – no politician with an ounce of honesty could look you in the eye and say that ramping is going to be gone overnight,” he said.

“We are committed to fixing the ramping crisis and the elimination of ramping is just another hot air promise that Steven Marshall dares to make.

“What I’m committed to is ending ramping to the extent that we can get ambulances rolling up on time which of course isn’t happening at the moment.”

Malinauskas said he could not promise that there won’t be patients left on the ramp outside hospitals under his government.

“No, because it’s going to take time to end the ramping crisis and that’s what we’re going to deliver over four years,” he said.

Asked if he had set any targets for his ramping policy, Malinauskas said: “Yes, we want to see ambulance response times what they were again back in 2017-18.”

“In 2017-18, we know that ambulance response times were 85 per cent on time performance when it comes to P2 (Priority 2) callouts – lights and sirens life threatening emergencies – we want to get to that 85 per cent level,” he said.

“We’re currently the worst in the nation. In the first two weeks of this year it was 33 per cent. We’ve got to get back to that 85 per cent.”

Malinauskas said it would take four years to achieve that goal.

Opposition treasury spokesperson Stephen Mullighan said “as we’ve been releasing our election policies we have been releasing detailed specific costings for each of our initiatives”.

“That simply hasn’t been the case with the policies that Steven Marshall has been rolling out particularly over the last two weeks,” he said.

“Let’s start with the completely uncosted proposal that he floated to relocate the Glenside film studios to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in Hindmarsh. No costing attached to that whatsoever.

“Or last week he announced that he would be spending $123 million on a series of hospital bed projects which didn’t have any operating funding to actually treat patients within them.

“And then over the weekend we’ve seen his Crystal Lake proposal which is to purchase a privately-owned quarry – one which has been publicly reported in the last 12 years as being both contaminated with sulphur and also charged for illegal dumping of asbestos contaminated building products – redevelop it, remediate it and turn it into a recreational facility, again with no costing attached.”

But Lucas said the costing couldn’t yet be revealed as it was still subject to commercial negotiations.

“Trust me, it’s very modest,” he said.

Mullighan said when Labor had finished making all its election commitments, “we will summarise and totalise those commitments and we will make it clear how we will be funding those and what the impact will be on the state budget”.

“That is the thing that both major political parties have done in elections gone by and it will be no different at this election,” he said.

“This is expenditure we would argue that we have to commit to as a community.

“There is simply no choice in our minds between putting up with the current situation where ambulances are unable to respond to emergency callouts or making the investments necessary so that we can give South Australians the health care that they need.”

Malinauskas spent the weekend spruiking Labor’s plan to hire 350 additional ambulance officers and paramedics over four years to help fix ramping.

It followed similar Labor pledges to boost the number of doctors and nurses working in public hospitals.

But when pressed for details on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning, Malinauskas was unable to say how many of those extra health workers would be employed in the first year of a Labor government.

“Progressively they’ll come on,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“I can get you that specific figure… I don’t have it off the top of my head.”

Malinauskas was also unable to commit to a balanced budget under a Labor government, saying he would release his policy costings later in the election campaign.

He said Labor had “already made very clear savings” by committing to scrap the Marshall government’s plans to build a $662 million Riverbank Arena.

“You will see the entirety of all of our costings and needless to say, both (shadow treasurer) Stephen Mullighan and myself have been on the record that we are utterly determined to ensure there is a fiscal disciple applying to our policies,” he said.

“What I’m saying… and it’s not being cute – this is what happens in every single election campaign – we will fully announce all of our costings in the traditional format before the election.”

Meanwhile, Marshall was asked to respond to an email sent to the ABC from “concerned Liberals”, which reportedly outlined a plan to build a large glass-fronted dome next to the National Wine Centre.

The Premier said the government would consider the proposal, but it wasn’t “investable” before the March election.

“We’ve certainly considered different proposals to attract more tourism attractions here into the city – that’s certainly something that we would to do, but we haven’t formed an opinion with regards to that,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide .

“There’s certainly no plan to announce anything with regards to the National Wine Centre before the election.

“We’ll certainly continue to work with them and if there’s an opportunity that gives a good return to the people of South Australia then I think we’ve shown that we can actually do that.”

According to the ABC, the email from the concerned Liberal members said: “we know that health is the main issue to voters, yet our focus has been on bread and circuses, an African oasis, fishing in the Torrens, opening up a quarry, reservoirs and other crap”.

Lucas said he decided not to fund the proposal.

“It was a bit like the $1.3 billion arena that was going to have a soccer pitch on the top that was going to be lowered and raised, I mean, what was going to go wrong with that?”

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