The Marshall Government’s first budget last year saw Lucas effectively waive $800 million of savings over five years for SA Health, as well as throwing an extra $109 million at TAFE SA and $30.9 million to meet additional costs for children in state care.
However, he concedes all three have again struggled to meet savings targets, with the number of children in state care hitting a record 3909 in March this year – a 9.1 per cent increase on the previous year.
“It’s no fault of theirs, but there are more children coming into the agency requiring protection – it’s a demand-driven thing,” Lucas told InDaily.
“They’ve actually met their specific savings task, but the actual costs of the department have increased because there are more children coming in with a need for protection… they’re identifying more children who need protection as a result of everything that’s been going on in child protection, they’re identifying them earlier than they used to… so they’re staying in the system for longer.
“The bottom line is they’ve actually got more children in the system than had been projected.”
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Jayne Stinson said the annual rate of increase had “skyrocketed” under Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson, who last year told parliament she would seek to halve the current rate to 3.3 per cent within two years.
“A budget blowout has occurred because under this Government there has been a rapid acceleration of the number of children coming into state care,” Stinson said.
“In Opposition, the Liberals repeatedly attacked budget overruns in child protection caused by any additional children needing care – yet in Government, they won’t hold themselves to the same standard.”
She declared the latest blowout a “broken promise”, saying: “The Liberals promised to reduce the number of children in state care and eliminate budget blowouts in child protection – they have done neither.”
However, Lucas said “if children need protection we have to provide the protection and have to provide the funding to do so” – although he would not reveal how much money that would require ahead of his June 18 budget.
“If children are identified as needing protection, you can’t actually turn them away,” he said.
“It’s short-sighted to say you have to rein in Child Protection numbers in some way.”
While SA Health’s continued cost overruns are well known, Lucas said TAFE SA continued to suffer from “reputational” damage sustained in 2017 when the Australian Skills Quality Authority suspended enrolments in 14 courses after finding major problems with all 16 targeted by a random audit.
“We’re aware of the problems TAFE had, mainly trying to meet their revenue targets,” he said.
“Because of the reputational damage they’ve suffered, they haven’t been able to grow their client numbers as they’d have hoped.”
In last year’s budget speech, Lucas blamed the previous Labor administration for spending blowouts in health, child protection and TAFE.
“The former Labor government’s record over many years showed they either lacked the financial management competence or political will or both to deliver on the savings underpinning their budget forward estimates,” he said at the time.
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