The Hon. N.F. COOK (Hurtle Vale—Minister for Human Services) (16:48): I begin as others have done, by acknowledging that we meet in this place on stolen Kaurna land and that the sovereignty of the Kaurna people on whose lands we meet have never been ceded. I pay my respects to Kaurna elders, past, present and emerging, and I acknowledge their continuing spiritual connection to their lands and waters and the ongoing importance of that spiritual connection to the living Kaurna people today.
In doing so, I would love to give a nod to my friend in the upper house the Hon. Kyam Maher. I am so proud to be working a
longside you, Kyam. To have your cultural authority present in this parliament, in our caucus and in our cabinet, as well as in our community, as an initiated man is something that is not lost on me. The privilege is enormous.
Mr Acting Speaker, congratulations to you and to the Speaker of the house on the election. Both of you are welcome back in this place.
It is a tremendous honour to address this parliament as the Minister for Human Services. On this occasion, I will use this as an opportunity to nail my colours to the mast once again and offer a broad indication of why I am here, what I believe the Minister for Human Services has a responsibility to do and the sorts of outcomes I aim to achieve in collaboration with the Department of Human Services and the South Australian Housing Authority with agencies, service providers that deliver programs in human services, the social housing sector and with our community, especially our community with lived experience.
The election campaign that Labor ran was ambitious; however, it was straightforward. We were very clear about our values and our intentions. Our new Premier, the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, has always been very clear that we are a government about long-term vision. We are not a quick, pointscoring government. We are thinking about real investments in long-term health, education and social services. We are addressing the issues of today, but we are investing in the future of our people.
For my part, I think the numerous ways in which I believe that David Speirs' Liberal Party and its then Minister for Human Services let down the South Australian community while it was in government were quite clear. So many of our marginalised cohorts of people were really left to fend for themselves during the global pandemic. As crises worsened in homelessness, domestic violence, the cost of living, disability support and many other areas of the portfolio, these people's cries for help went begging.
We have already begun to undo some of the damage of the long four years of chaos spent under the former Liberal government, then under the member for Dunstan, Steven Marshall, but now the same party is clearly displaying the same lack of compassion, lack of direction and lack of party unity under the now leader, David Speirs.
I am working to restore care, empathy and humanity to the human services and social housing sector in South Australia and to the way that the South Australian government delivers policy, the way we deliver services and the way we work towards outcomes for our state's marginalised people—those we have an elected obligation to serve and protect.
To the countless South Australians whose experiences and circumstances in life lead you to need supports within the human services portfolio: my ambition for you is a simple thing to express. My ambition for each of you is to have a good and fair life. My intention as the minister is also to make this ambition much easier to achieve; for you to be safe in your homes, in your families and in your communities; for you to have equitable and inclusive access to life's opportunities; and for you to be respected, valued and welcomed into the world around you.
My intention is for you to have the ability and the opportunity to live in safe housing and positive family environments, to access education, to undertake meaningful work, to enjoy good health, to live independently, to connect with culture and to be supported to heal past traumas. I want you to be empowered to determine what your future looks like and in choosing which steps you take on the path along the way. These are not my personal ambitions only, and they are not only driven by my own progressive values. The fundamental responsibilities of the Minister for Human Services are to meet the obligations and to pursue the courses of action that will lead to these outcomes being achieved.
To the service providers, sector professionals, agency staff, advocates and supporters of the people I am here to ensure are best served and protected: I want you to feel listened to, to be fully supported by me to undertake the important, life-changing and life-saving work that you have dedicated yourselves to do in the careers you have chosen and the roles you have taken on. I am here to deliver meaningful policy, reform and services for people living with disability, people experiencing homelessness, young people, carers, vulnerable families, people who are diverse in gender or sexuality, people who are in financial hardship, people who are isolated, or people who are experiencing any number of other challenges at any point during their life.
It seems appropriate to give an example of an initiative I have kicked off as a new minister in the Malinauskas government to demonstrate that we, as a team, are really here for change. Nearly a year ago now, the Hutt St Centre, Catherine House and Vinnies had their funding slashed by the Marshall Liberal government. There was a resounding outcry against this baffling decision, not just in our services sector but right across the community. Mr Acting Speaker, you would be aware that I doorknocked from south to north, and these issues came up in every single electorate I was in.
You have to ask yourself: what kind of a government in the middle of a global pandemic, when we know women are trapped in their homes suffering greatly increased domestic violence, slashes funding to women's crisis accommodation beds? What kind of a government, when the cost of housing shoots up by 25 per cent in one year, responds by cutting specialist homelessness services?
Some of you may recall a public appeal by Losa, a remarkable Islander woman who has survived extreme family violence, cancer and other serious trauma, and ultimately homelessness—complete despair. Incredibly, she has now started her own business, works as a motivational speaker, manages her own household and has made huge strides forward in her physical and mental health. Losa publicly begged the Liberal Party to consider people like her and the way that a service like Catherine House can completely transform lives. Unfortunately, this appeal was not heard. I think this really says something about the values of the people making those decisions, and this was those on the other side.
As soon as we came to government, the Premier and I stood with the member for Adelaide and announced a $6 million funding boost for these highly respected organisations so they can do what they do best and help us end homelessness in the CBD, in the heart of Adelaide, in the member for Adelaide's seat. I congratulate the member for Adelaide on her election to this place. I could not be happier.
We are funding these organisations not only to help people find homes but also to provide the wraparound supports needed to improve their disability, mental health, emotional supports; educational and employment prospects; and overall life outcomes. It is an early example of one of the many promises that the South Australian community and our human services and social services social housing sector can look forward to seeing us bring to fruition.
Over recent weeks, I have heard people say, 'How good are elections?' quite a few times. I might have said it myself. Never let it be said that elections do not make a difference, because I will tell you: this election has already made a difference. I am extremely proud to live in a jurisdiction where democracy rules and where a person's vote, no matter where they live, can directly change their own life.
I want to take this opportunity to say to our human services sector and to the people in South Australia experiencing hardship that our human services sector supports: your days of being made to feel that you are the one who is wrong because you need more support, because you need better services, your days of being made to feel that you are the one who is wrong because you cannot get by on the level of funding that you are allocated—and that goes for both service providers and for individuals—I will do everything to ensure that those days are over. I know you need to be heard, you need to be understood and you have a right to be involved in the decisions we make as a community. I am not a minister who sits in or will sit in an ivory tower. I am a minister who is genuinely here to represent you and what you, as the people of South Australia, tell me you need.
Many, or indeed most of you, know this, but for anyone new to the room I began my career as a nurse. Being a nurse, a good nurse, requires certain characteristics. You have to care about people first and foremost. You have to be a problem solver. You have to be organised. You have to be prepared to do the messy jobs—although I would have often liked to pay someone else to do some of the messy jobs, let me tell you. You have to pay attention to detail. You have to be flexible where it is appropriate, but you also have to know exactly where to draw a hard line.
I wish to thank the people who taught me all those lessons early in my career and to my government colleagues who continue to demonstrate these values to me now. I also learned how to function on a pretty sketchy sleep pattern. Nightshift is not good for the health. I am ready for this role. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how dedicated and determined we are as a leadership team.
As part of our range of policies we took to the election, we made a number of meaningful, tangible commitments in the human services and social housing space, and I want you all to understand what these commitments are. I note that on the opening day of parliament the opposition opened question time by asking the Premier whether our government would keep all its election commitments. Well, of course.
An opposition that when in government broke massive election commitments such as GlobeLink, right-turn trams, a whole range of things as soon as they came into government, are going to ask that question. But we are different. It illustrates the difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party better than anything else, that they asked whether election commitments are promises to be kept. Well, we will let our actions speak for themselves.
Here are actions already underway: doubling the Cost of Living Concession for 2022-23. This commitment is so important as it goes towards supporting many South Australians on a low and fixed income, who in many cases were already struggling but whose hardship has intensified, sometimes to unbearable degrees, through the past two years. The cost of living continues to rise and no South Australian on a fixed or low income should be forced into poverty due to circumstances such as those we continue to live in today. It is a core business of government to provide adequate support to South Australians on low and fixed incomes. It is the right thing to do. This is one way that we can get it done.
We will also be reviewing the state's concession system and investigate how we can better provide help to those finding themselves in tough situations through no fault of their own. Our many concessions have been designed and deployed at different times and for good reasons, but the result is a system where support is not always offered to those in greatest need and where the historical reason for a certain concession may have changed.
Community organisations such as SACOSS have done outstanding work in analysing our concession system and I thank them for their input at times when we need good sound advice and frank and fearless advice. I look forward to working with them as we do a stocktake of what concessions we offer, why we offer them and what impact they have.
We are investing $1 million into expanding the important role of the Community Visitor Scheme to ensure people who receive disability support services in private homes or in non-government provided supportive environments can also be included in the scheme. The tragic death of Annie Smith showed South Australia, not for the first time but unequivocally, that appropriate oversight can make the difference between life and death for people receiving disability support services. The role of the Community Visitor is far more than looking into service plans and their implementation. Community Visitors look at health outcomes, housing and tenancy rights, transport issues, education, training and community participation. This results in better outcomes and better lives for people living with disability.
The independent monitoring of services that people receive in their homes will help us to ensure that people are getting the appropriate services at the appropriate value for money also, that they are enabled to exercise genuine choice and control over their lives, as intended by the NDIS written by Labor. These are crucial measures in ensuring safety, wellbeing and quality for South Australians living with disability.
We committed to developing a state autism strategy. This will work within the state disability plan, with all government agencies to sign up to an autism friendly charter. As our understanding of autism increases, as diagnostic processes become more nuanced, as the needs of autistic people become better understood and as growing numbers of South Australians are recognised as being on the autism spectrum, developing a state autism strategy is one way to make our schools, our community, our economy and our society more inclusive towards autistic people, to support them to participate in education, to access opportunities and employment and to succeed and thrive in life on the same terms as their neurotypical peers.
Our state autism strategy will relate to building inclusivity for autistic South Australians of all ages and will be developed in close consultation with autistic people, their families, their advocates, their supporters, our community. The Autism Friendly Charter is an initiative of Autism SA, which focuses on training staff in autism awareness, implementing inclusive communication and reasonable adjustments and creating a supportive working environment for autistic staff members. This initiative will make our state government workplaces better, easier and more inclusive places for autistic people to work and will help increase the South Australian Public Service's awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism.
We will be providing more than $2½ million in funding towards community centres and a grant scheme to help set up women's and men's health sheds across South Australia. South Australia provides already more than $3 million in ongoing funding every year to help community centres do excellent work, and in the 2022 election we committed additional funding to build and upgrade some critical pieces of community infrastructure.
My colleague the Minister for Education, Training and Skills has committed an extra $1 million per year to community centres to restore funding that was savagely cut by the Liberal government. Community centres play a fundamental role, providing access for all and keeping our neighbourhoods connected. These outcomes are core to communities and core to Labor.
This is my big one, the one that I am so proud of: the $180 million in new funding for housing. Labor has committed more than $180 million of new money—new money, member for Dunstan, new money—to build 400 new homes and bring 350 empty public housing homes back up to standard, some that have been empty for the entirety of the Liberal government term of four years, so that these homes can provide shelter to those in need.
We will also conduct a maintenance blitz on an additional 3,000 homes, homes that we need for decades into the future to be of good quality and a good standard for people to live in. It is not a shell game like the Liberals used to play with housing. This is not bringing forward any money that impoverishes the Housing Trust in years to come. This is new money. This additional help will create real change. We often talk about the jobs that are delivered through housing projects, but even more important are the lives that are saved and transformed from a safe and stable place to call home.
Having a safe and suitable place to live is a fundamental human right. It is unacceptable for people, particularly children, older people and people living with disability, to be in insecure or unsuitable housing, or to be in crisis. Everyone—at least, everyone who is not a state or federal Liberal member of parliament—acknowledges that Australia is in the grip of a worsening housing crisis and that it is brutally affecting far too many South Australians. Our investment in South Australia's public housing infrastructure will support those who need help most urgently, people at risk of homelessness and people in crisis.
Labor will also ensure that public housing support is better linked to other critical government services, including health, justice, child protection, early intervention and community safety programs. Some of these new homes will help to alleviate bed block in our hospitals, getting long-term patients with disability out of hospital beds and into suitable homes that can accommodate their needs through independent supported living arrangements. It is a bit of a long wrap-up, but it is indeed a wrap-up.
I am genuinely excited to be working with the Department of Human Services and the South Australian Housing Trust to deliver these important policy changes, changes that will make meaningful and enduring impacts on the lives of so many South Australians. We cannot achieve everything straightaway. It will take both time and teamwork to wind back the damage of four difficult years of state Liberal government to begin the process of healing from the harm to the dignity, the morale and the spirit of marginalised South Australians.
Make no mistake, I am ready, the Labor government is ready and we have been waiting. I want to assure the people of South Australia, particularly those people who receive support of some kind across the human services landscape, that the resounding support you gave us at the election reflects a hope and a faith in us that will prove again and again to be a wise choice. Perhaps soon, all going well, we will no longer have to fight against the tidal wave of disregard at best and deliberate cruelty at worst that has been shown towards marginalised people and has characterised nearly a decade of federal Liberal government.
Hang in there everyone. I believe a sorely needed change is coming. I have the faith. We need a society that has a greater concern for the most marginalised and the worst off. We need a government that has values rooted deeply in compassion and inclusion. We need a parliament that better reflects the community it represents.
I could not have got back into this place without the support and love of my family: my husband, Neil, and my children, Sheree, Ty—who drives us crazy but we love him dearly—Sid and of course the inspiration of Sam. I could not be here without all of those people. Thanks also to my friends who occasionally text me and say, 'Hey, don't forget us. Let's catch up.' We get together and it reminds me who I am. I have so much love for those people who still stay connected with us and support us on our journey to change the world one conversation at a time.
Thanks to my staff, Katherine, Tyler, Mikaela and Emma. At the moment, the electorate office has been chaotic in this transition period. To my staff in my office in the city, including Anna, Lorraine and Kyall and of course Hicksy: I am blessed to have such a wonderful team. Kylie has just come on board, and the departmental staff who have been supporting us to make sure we can start delivering our election commitments straightaway are second to none.
In the 2022 election, we saw this huge shift in this parliament. Let's consider this now. Our parliament first gathered here in 1856. We were the first place in the world that allowed women both to vote and to stand for parliament, and that was in 1894. Despite that amazing achievement, it was not until 1918 that a woman took the stand to sit in this place. It was not until 1959 that a woman took a seat in the chamber. It was not until 1986 that a woman was elected as the first Presiding Officer of the other place, the Hon. Anne Levy, who still supports us women at everything.
In 1989, Anne Levy was also the first woman in Australia to be appointed as a Minister for the Status of Women. This was almost a century after women were allowed to stand in this place. I have not even mentioned Molly Byrne, who is just the most amazing woman, and all the other trailblazing women. It was not until 1985, 90 years after the law was changed to allow women to run, that the seventh woman was elected to this parliament.
Mr Acting Speaker, you are a parliamentary—I will not say 'nerd'; yes, I will—nerd of some standing in our party. You would know that seven is an important number. In 2022, we saw something extraordinary happen with the number seven. We saw the class of 2022, the magnificent seven, enter this parliament, seven new women elected on just one side of the house, the Labor side of the house, seven extraordinary women.
Some might even say they were a lucky seven women—well, they were not. They were marginal seats, seats they had no right to win, but they are so wonderful, they are so connected to the community, they are brilliant. These are some of the most brilliant and dedicated women I have had the pleasure to know and now they are part of my friendship group, the sisterhood. I am so pleased. There is no fluke in this group of people being here. They earned the trust of their communities and they will be here for years to come and we will make sure of it.
In one election, we have achieved what it took 90 years to achieve. I knocked on doors, I made phone calls and I went to community meetings with these women for months. I wore out pairs of sneakers. For more than a year, I doorknocked with some of these women. I tried to do everything I could to help them get elected. In my wildest dreams, they all would have been elected—and here they are. More than half the Labor MPs in this house are women, 14 out of 27, half of whom have been elected for the first time in one fell swoop on 19 March.
I pay tribute to each of them now: the member for Adelaide, Lucy Hood; the member for King, Rhiannon Pearce; the member Davenport, Erin Thompson; the member for Waite, Catherine Hutchesson; the member for Elder, Nadia Clancy; the member for Newland, Olivia Savvas; and the member for Gibson, Sarah Andrews. Long after I leave this place, these women will carry the legacy that was born here in 1894—and may many more join them.