The first week of SA’s election campaign has revealed very different approaches from the major parties, from Labor leader Peter Malinauskas flexing his muscles and inviting the media on his morning riverside runs, to Premier Steven Marshall earning the moniker “Mr Smiles” from the Prime Minister, in town with a space race funding boost.
The day after the writs were issued, Labor held an almost US-style rally to launch its campaign, centred around its leader, using everyone from a frustrated paramedic, his old football coach and Mr Malinauskas’s young daughter to talk up his credentials.
On the same day, Premier Steven Marshall travelled to several marginal electorates, holding smaller events and streaming them live on social media.
Labor’s launch marked the start of a healthcare onslaught, promising more beds, more healthcare workers and a fix to what it calls a “ramping crisis”.
Labor will pay for its promises by not building a new basketball stadium
But it’s not really a basketball stadium and the cash isn’t really in the budget yet.
Long before official campaigning began, Labor rejected the government’s plan to build a new multi-purpose arena on Adelaide’s Riverbank.
Despite Labor’s slogans, if built, the arena would be more than a basketball stadium, replacing the Hindmarsh Entertainment Centre as a venue for concerts and events, linked to the city’s entertainment precinct.
The government forecasts it’ll cost $662 million to build and Labor says it’ll spend every cent of that money on healthcare instead.
But most of that money isn’t in the current budget, with construction due to begin in 2025.
Instead, Labor will have to bring the funding forward, which means borrowing money and increasing debt sooner to pay for its promises.
The Liberals say they’ll spend $500 million on health, but is the funding new?
After sustained, daily health promises from Labor all week, the government finally hit back with its own promise on Thursday.
The headline number was half a billion in new spending, but the numbers don’t quite tell that story.
Of that, $123 million will be spent creating more hospital capacity, another portion will be new spending on mental health initiatives to be announced in the coming week.
The rest of the money (just shy of half of it) is actually ongoing spending on handling the Omicron outbreak.
And while Labor is saying it’ll pay for its promises by scrapping the Riverbank arena, the government has been far less specific, saying it’ll grow the economy, in turn growing the state’s budget.
‘It’s the economy, stupid’
While Labor’s been full speed ahead on health promises, the economy is where the government wanted the focus.
It spent most of the week highlighting its economic record, with the premier visiting a large construction site and a major beverage manufacturer.
But there weren’t many big-ticket new announcements.
There was some new money to extend payroll tax cuts for trainees and apprentices, $18 million for a fund to attract international flights to Adelaide and $25 million for regional tourism.
Both parties have now made pledges for a new aquatic centre in North Adelaide.
Labor got off the blocks first, unveiling its $80 million plan to fully fund a new facility a fortnight ago, although the announcement arguably hit the headlines more for Peter Malinauskas’s shirtless dip than it did for the actual policy itself.
This week, the Liberals pledged $25 million towards the new build, $55 million less than Labor with the facility to be run by the Adelaide City Council rather than by the government.
The council is on board the Liberals plan but there’s yet to be a formal commitment from the commonwealth for its share of the funds.
Labor doesn’t want to play the blame game on health
After 16 years in government and only four on the opposition benches, that’s not surprising.
As the government frequently points out, ramping started under Labor and the previous government presided over contentious reforms known as Transforming Health.
The program resulted in the loss of beds and services and the closure of the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital.
At the time, Labor argued it was needed to address major inefficiencies in the system, with health care in SA much more expensive per capita than other states.
But Labor ditched Transforming Health before the 2018 election and its major cash splash in this campaign is a complete departure from its previous push for efficiencies.
It wants attention on that future spend, not past decisions.
Is ramping going to be fixed?
Despite the Liberals’ promises to fix the system before it came into government, ramping has worsened and ambulance wait times have increased during its time in office.
And while the health system is dealing with a pandemic, the numbers have been bad even at times when borders were closed and there was no COVID in the state.
After a high in October last year, there’s been a slight decrease in ramping, but 2,111 hours were still lost to the practice in December (the most recent figure reported).
Voters won’t know if that trend has continued, with ramping times reported quarterly, the next one won’t be out until April.
The premier says he never promised to fix ramping, just to alleviate it.
Similarly, Peter Malinauskas has promised to “fix the ramping crisis” but admits eliminating the practice completely remains out of reach.
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