undingTuesday, 24 November 2020 ESTIMATES COMMITTEE A Page 143
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Minister, you indicated that the review has started, and I know we have had some discussion on this, but I need to clarify something. The original terms of reference were for a review to be done halfway through the 10-year term. You indicated that that has been going on for six years now, and your indication was that the review started this year, which is over six years in the making. You indicated you have the final report. As the local member, I have had no involvement in the draft that was sent out; I have not seen it, nor has the local mayor. Can you give an indication whether the local mayor and the local member will be involved before the final report is published?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: My response to the member for Frome is identical to the response I gave him when he asked me exactly this question in private. This is a serious issue. There is no difference in my answer to this question in private or here in estimates in front of this committee and with Hansard recording it. The report, or what of it is appropriate to be made public, will be made public soon—the sooner the better, from my perspective—but no sooner than a very appropriate government, Nyrstar and TLAP response is determined.
With regard to when the local member, who is interested in this and whom I certainly respect, and when the mayor, who is interested in this and whom I also certainly respect, would get to see it and could say they see it early, again my answer is exactly the same as I gave face to face to the member for Frome in private, and that was that I would try to make sure that he received a copy of what was going to be made public in advance of it being made public.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Minister, you indicated that parts of the report may not be made public because of confidentiality. From the terms of reference of the original TLAP, I am confused as to what could be confidential. I am led to believe that TLAP is separate to the environmental health services, which have the names of people and young children who have lead in blood issues, so can you explain to me and to this committee why any parts of the TLAP review should be kept confidential?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I can explain very clearly by giving an example. As I mentioned, this was deliberately a broadly consulted, essentially a warts and all type request from the government to Mr Lew Owens. We wanted his frank and fearless advice. In the report he, I am sure faithfully, reports some of the information that was provided to him. That information has not been censored. That information has not been distilled or cleaned up in any way, and Mr Owens has done an outstanding job of providing this information to the government the very best that he possibly could.
I am sure that the member for Frome and the member for West Torrens, both having been former ministers, would understand that there are some times when it is very appropriate not to release every detail that is in a report, hypothetically, if a person has shared a personal view in consultation, provided some statements to the independent reviewer which, if they were released publicly, might get that person into a little bit of hot water.
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That is not to say that the person’s opinion is not valid; it is what it is. We are all aware of situations where it would not be appropriate to make every detail that is in the report public because doing so might get the person who shared an opinion into some difficulty in a legal capacity, if not in a social or a community capacity. It might be for a range of other reasons that it may not be appropriate to release the report in full. But, as I have said, it is my intention that we will release as much as is appropriate as soon as is appropriate.
The CHAIR: Just for the sake of the committee, I assume, member for Frome, you were referencing the same budget line: the bottom dot point on page 116.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: On the same budget reference, without wishing to start a quarrel in the committee—
The CHAIR: Indeed. A rather obscure standing order refers to that, member for West Torrens.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: You know how averse I am to quarrels in parliament. Minister, I have to say that I am not satisfied with that last answer, and I will give you my reasons. The reason we have parliament and independent reports and the tabling of provisions of parliamentary reports in this place is to apply privilege to those documents so people can speak freely to government without fear of retribution.
The fact that a government minister would sit in this chamber and say that people who have spoken fearlessly and frankly to the government may fear that they may have some sort of legal jeopardy because they have spoken to the government betrays that we have privilege in this house for a reason. The reason the government conducts inquiries and tables them in this place is to afford those people privilege, so I dismiss that completely out of hand. It is not a criticism of you; ► am just simply stating and reasserting the privileges that we all enjoy in this place. That is point 1.
Point 2 is that Mr Lew Owens, as credentialed as he is, is not a medical expert. He is a business expert. He was an independent regulator in the past. He has run massive utilities. He is very, very skilled at business. We are talking about a health outcome that, for whatever reason, including in my time, has been assigned to the Minister for Energy. Perhaps it would have been better assigned to the Minister for Health, and there are criticisms on both sides for that. Perhaps it might have been better to have done that when we were in office as well.
My point here is that thus far you have given this committee no justifiable reason for not releasing that report in full, other than not identifying individual private medical advice of individuals. Any other advice given to that committee or that review can be published without fear of legal retribution or jeopardy because we are parliament. So I will again ask you: will you give the committee a commitment that you will table this document in the parliament, protecting everyone who has given that review their frank and fearless opinions, to protect them from any legal jeopardy? Of course, every member would support private medical information being redacted but, other than that, I can see no reason why that report should not be made public in full.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: It might be that the member for West Torrens can see no reason that it should not be provided in full because he has not seen the report. He can have his opinion. He is welcome to his opinion. His opinion, as just expressed, certainly is different from the number of reports that were not released publicly, and many of them not even partially released, when the member for West Torrens was a minister in the previous government. Many reports were treated exactly the same way. I am not suggesting that was irresponsible. I am suggesting that it is irresponsible to think that I should do things differently from the way he did things.
This information was not provided to the government. This information, by the people who were consulted with, was provided directly to Mr Owens. This is absolutely no different from parliamentary standing committees that take evidence from private people, and very often some of that evidence is not made public, not tabled in parliament and not provided under parliamentary privilege, as the member suggests should be the case. It is quite normal practice.
There is nothing about what needs to be done to try to address the lead and blood levels that will be not made public. I have given a reason why I think it would be sensible to keep some
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information, but I assure the committee that the information that is actually relevant to trying to make sure that we have less lead in the blood of young children in Port Pirie will be made public.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I refer to the same budget line again. If I could ask you respectfully, do you think you are conflicted in this because you are a candidate for the seat that encompasses Port Pirie?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am not sure what budget line that addresses but let me be really plain.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am not trying to offend you; I am just asking—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am not sure that is true. Let me be really plain: (1) technically I am not a candidate for the seat of Port Pirie, and (2) this is work that has been going on in a very sensible, very genuine way under the previous government and under the current government. I am a member of parliament who currently represents people who live extremely close to Port Pirie, who would be considered to be in the catchment area for these risks.
As you allude to, it might well be that I become a candidate for this seat, so let me just finish by saying that if you suggest for a second—for a millisecond—that the way I would deal with this issue as a minister would be affected in any way by my proximity to Port Pirie, as a person living in Wilmington or any other proximity, then you would direct exactly the same thing to the current member for Frome. I do not accept that that is true. I do not accept that that is relevant to me or to the current member for Frome, but if you want to suggest anything along those lines, that would be absolutely disgraceful.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The member for Frome does not have access to this report.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Your suggestion was that dealing with this issue might be impacted in some way. It is just not true. I do not accept that you are not trying to start a quarrel, I do not accept that you are asking that question respectfully, and I do not accept any of the premise that is to do with those most recent remarks by you.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I think that is a bigger reflection on you than me.
The CHAIR: Sorry, member for West Torrens, I missed that.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: It is a reflection on him, not me, sir.
The CHAIR: On who?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The minister. His statement is a reflection on him, not me. Are you going to ask me to withdraw it, are you?
The CHAIR: No, I am not.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Good. If we can move on, who is currently on the TLAP Committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I do not have that specific information with me but I am happy to take that question on notice.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I understand that Nyrstar makes a contribution of $3.5 million per year to that committee. Is that accurate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, I am advised that that is accurate. I am also advised that it is not anywhere in the Department for Energy and Mining’s budget papers. Understanding that you are asking about TLAP contributions, the only budget connection to Energy and Mining is Associate Professor Rob Thomas, who participates.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Excellent. An excellent individual. So the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program, administered out of your office, does not in any way oversee how any of that money is spent; is that right?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Is that a question or a statement?
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The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am asking. Again, I will take you back to page 116, which states, ‘Continued to support the implementation of the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program.’ I understand that Nyrstar makes a contribution to that program of $3.5 million per year. I understand that the council makes an allocation to that program as well, as does the state government. What I want to know is: do you have any oversight of how that money is spent or is that done by Health?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Nobody in the Department for Energy and Mining or I have any oversight of how that is spent.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Given your support of the implementation of the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program, at any stage has that $3.5 million from Nyrstar gone unspent? Do you have a line of sight to that or is that another minister?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am advised that we get to see the budget. We get to see whether it is spent or not, but we have no influence on whether it is spent or not.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Who decides how that money is spent?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The Nyrstar TLAP money?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Yes.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The TLAP Committee does.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Is there a government representative on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: He is your delegate on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Correct. You might have appointed him.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I might have. He is very, very talented. Is he your delegate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: If I am to take this correctly, you get to appoint a delegate to this committee; you see the budget every year. What happens to unspent money from Nyrstar? Is it carried over or is it returned to Nyrstar?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: As I suspect the member for West Torrens knows—and as I know that the member for Frome knows because he has asked me about this in previous situations, and my answer is the same in private as it is in estimates—yes, the unspent money is returned to the company.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Again, despite your reservations, I am not trying to make a criticism of you. Nyrstar are represented on this committee as well, aren’t they?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Your representative, a council representative, and who else?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: This is the same question that I said I would take on notice before.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Sorry, I apologise. Given the lead level results that were published yesterday by the Department for Health—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The plateauing of lead levels?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Well, no. To be fair, minister, the media reports on the ABC in Port Pirie say:
SA Health data shows lead levels in Port Pirie two-year-olds are the highest recorded since the South Australian regional city’s current testing regime began in 2011.
Is that inaccurate?
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The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Then it would be important for the Department for Health and Wellbeing and the ABC to get their heads together to determine why there is a difference in the information that has been put out by the two.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: My point, though, is that if Nyrstar is required to make this $3Y2 million payment, and if they do not make it, if they do not spend it, they get it back, how do we compel Nyrstar to spend that $3% million on lead abatement measures if the committee decides not to spend it and they simply get it back? Over a 10-year period, they are contributing $3.5 million per year. If it is not spent they get it back. I think that is probably an unfortunate situation that may be leading to some poor outcomes, and I just wonder whether or not you think it can be remedied in any way.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Well, that is the question that I suggest you would be far better positioned to answer than me because the make-up of the committee, this system of putting money in per year but not rolling it over, was actually put in place under the previous government. You may or may not have been involved in actually setting up this TLAP Committee but, either way, the way it works now was something that you and your cabinet colleagues were very involved in.
It might be that the member for Frome, as one of your cabinet colleagues over a period of time, has been involved in it or had an opportunity to look at it over time. You are in a far better place to answer the question about why it is so because you were there when it was made so. With regard to what we are doing now, we are looking very seriously at how we try to improve what we inherited from you, as a former minister, and from the member for Frome, as a former minister, in the previous government.
We are doing the very best we can with what we inherited. We are looking to make changes. I have no doubt the previous government did its very best in this work. We are doing our very best and we will improve in this work. We are dealing with the way the committee works, the way the committee is structured, including how the money is rolled over or not rolled over, which we inherited from the cabinet that you and the member for Frome were both members of.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Can I—
The CHAIR: Do you have a question, member for Frome?
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: No, I want to get a clarification here, Mr Chairman. As the local member and as a cabinet minister, whenever anything came up regarding my electorate, I have a conflict of interest, and I made that conflict interest and declaration at all discussions about anything to do with my electorate.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Can the money that Nyrstar contribute to TLAP be spent on capital within Nyrstar itself? That is, can the committee that oversees the management of this budget, including your delegate, take that money and rather than spending it on lead abatement or lead clean-up in the city or other measures, for example, use it for capital improvements on the plant itself?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Let me take that on notice, but let me say very clearly that the way they can spend the money now is identical to the way they could spend the money under the previous government.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: But it is a committee that meets and makes regular announcements, and the delegate now is under your instruction rather than mine. The reason I say that is that if your delegate on this committee—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Rob Thomas.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: —is making decisions, are they decisions that require approval from an executive director or higher, or is he completely independent on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I do not believe that is the case. I will check in just a minute. My understanding is that this committee has a life of its own and it has a responsibility of its own. I am not aware of anybody in the previous government or the current government
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interfering with those decisions, other than, as I have said, we are looking to improve the way this committee works. Let me just check.
I am advised that the TLAP Committee up until about a year and a half ago reported to an executive committee that my CE was on, but they reported that the executive committee in no way influenced the decisions of the TLAP Committee.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So the TLAP Committee reports to your CE, but the CE does not exert any influence over them?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That used to be the case, and now the reporting does not happen and the CE still does not exert any influence over them.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Since becoming minister, have you written to the commonwealth government at any stage seeking extra funds or written any memos or made any requests through a COAG process or the new intergovernment agency process to have commonwealth funds added to the TLAP process to help lead abatement and clean-up in Port Pirie?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is the type of consideration that will come out of the full and thorough assessment of the independent report we have received.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So that is, no, you have not?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Not previously.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Are there any current or previous Nyrstar employees on the TLAP Committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am advised no.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: When the financial contributions are made to the committee, is the department responsible for the contribution or does that come out of SA Health?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: SA Health.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Does SA Health have a representative on the committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, they do, the local—I might not get this term quite right—regional director or regional manager for Health.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So there are two government officials on that committee? The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, correct.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: On the same budget line, minister (and we have had this discussion before, but I need to ask the question here), and the issue with the communication of the hotspots that are happening and identified through the Environmental Health Centre—which is separate from the TLAP funding—are any funds being expended or transferred from TLAP to the Environmental Health Centre, which manages the counselling and the testing of children’s blood lead levels in Port Pirie? Are there any funds from TLAP itself, which is the Nyrstar contribution, being transferred on an annual basis to the Environmental Health Centre?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Member for Frome, I do not think so and my CE does not think so, but we will take that on notice for you just to be absolutely sure.
On the same budget line, Minister (and we have had this discussion before, but I need to ask the question here), and the issue with the communication of the hotspots that are happening and identified through the Environmental Health Centre—which is separate from the TLAP funding—are any funds being expended or transferred from TLAP to the Environmental Health Centre, which manages the counselling and the testing of children’s blood lead levels in Port Pirie? Are there any funds from TLAP itself, which is the Nyrstar contribution, being transferred on an annual basis to the Environmental Health Centre?
The Hon D van Hoist Pellekaan MP: I have been advised that:
Yes. In calendar year 2020, the Targeted Lead Abatement Program budgeted $520,000 of funding for the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre.
Of this amount, $420,000 is to employ three additional case workers to enable the centre to engage with and provide its services to more children’s families in Port Mlle. The remaining $100,000 is to enable the centre to deliver lead exposure reduction services to high risk families for children with elevated blood lead levels.
The government also contributes to TLAP through the Department for Health and Wellbeing’s annual operational funding for the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre.