Wednesday 25 May 2005

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I too would like to place on record my congratulations to the new member for Murchison on her inaugural speech here today. It must have been a pleasure for you and an honour to present it in front of your friends and family, so well done. I wish you one of those long and illustrious Murchison careers.

Ms Forrest - Thank you.

Mr FINCH - It would seem that budgets are a bit like the Bible; they can be interpreted in any way that suits you.

Mr Wilkinson - You're always reading them.

Mr FINCH - I am just about to bash it.

If you listened to the Premier last week of course this was a responsible budget but the Opposition Leader saw nothing good about it at all.

Mr Aird - He said it was an election budget.

Mr FINCH - 'Just a desperate attempt to patch up seven years of neglect', that is what he said. There was a Liberal senator who termed it 'a financial recklessness'. But it is probably a little confusing for the general public who, probably like me, would find a quick definition of 'accrual accounting' a little difficult to come by. For most of us, the budget papers could have been written in a different language. But that of course makes it easier for the government spin doctors to then interpret it all for us. According to them the good news is that Tasmania's debt will be paid off two years early. That is good news and it got the headlines. Few noticed immediately that it excludes the debts of government business enterprises, like the TT-line. These amount to $1.5 billion but -

Mr Aird - No it always has.

Mr FINCH - to mention it here might be considered a nonsense.

Mr Aird - It is.

Mr FINCH - The GBE debt is substantially increased by $115 million over three years to keep the Spirit III afloat, but I will leave that subject to others. It is important to note that $115 million is not much less than half of what is allocated to improve road infrastructure over the next four years, especially the urgent work that is needed on the West Tamar roads, like the Frankford Main Road, an important but not very safe route for tourists and others. Budget allocations for the West Tamar Highway and the Supply River Bridge are of course welcome in my electorate. A little bit of confusion has arisen over just how much has been allocated for the Supply River Bridge. My reading of it, as far as I can ascertain, is about $80 000 this year, over $400 000 next year. Some think that it was $450 000 for this year. I do not read it that way. But my constituents still await a major initiative on that Frankford Main Road. In my budget response last year I placed it high on a Rosevears wish list for this year's Budget. We are still wishing. I can say that it would be an ideal pre-election announcement for May next year. The facts on the Frankford Main Road, which I spoke of last May, are convincing. It is an important interregional and cost-effective freight link between Devonport and Bell Bay. It is 60 per cent quicker and 40 per cent cheaper than the Bass Highway route to Bell Bay via Launceston. They are the facts. And it can bring tourists from the Spirit of Tasmania Devonport terminal straight into the heart of Rosevears.

Mr Hall - Who would want to go that way?

Mr FINCH - Who would want to go that way? The tourist attractions, the food, the wine, the excellent quality of the people there; that is why you would want to go there.

Mr Hall - There is nothing to see.

Mr FINCH - Let me change the subject before I get swamped. There is an aversion to debt in this society, despite the easy use of credit cards and a rising consumer debt. But I would argue that there are two kinds of debt; there is the borrowing that leads to little except decaying consumer goods and there is the debt that can be good for you. That is the debt invested in projects to increase future income, whether it is on the farm or in any other business. Good governments do this. They borrow to invest in infrastructure or services that will pay for themselves and provide your profits later on. As the member for Huon said in his two-hour speech, 'There is nothing wrong with debt'. That is why this deficit budget does not worry me at all. Perhaps there is too much stress on surpluses these days and not enough foresight on infrastructure development. But there is one investment in our future that is worth going into debt for and that is our young people because, after all, they are Tasmania's future. The key to the future of Tasmania's young people is of course education.

Improvements to schools were a feature of the Budget. But buildings are only part of education and numerous other parts of the State education system received thoughtful allocations, all well and good.

An extra allocation to reduce class sizes to 25 in prep and year 1 is a very good start. But in some areas of education it has been a case of too little, too late. An example is the provision of $175 000 a year to provide staff to coordinate and arrange school-based sporting carnivals and competitions for primary and secondary students.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - That's come off the back of your suggestion.
Mr FINCH - That is right, yes. This will raise the profile of school sport and will provide increased opportunities for students, but with participation and interest in sport continuing to decline and the increasing problem of obesity in our young people - we are dealing with heart problems, with health problems, with early onset diabetes in the near future - we need more than just a few coordinators jobs.

Mr President, Tasmania is going through a relatively good patch at the moment but the economic horizon is darkening.

Mr Aird - Why?

Mr FINCH - More on that later but whatever our short-term economic prospects, we are certainly going to face increasing competition from a number of directions. We need to be a smart island and education is the key to competing with a smart work force. The example of the Republic of Ireland's transformation over the past few decades into a computer-smart booming economy was touched on by Professor Tony McCall in his budget analysis in Saturday's Examiner. Professor McCall could have been picking up on an early draft of my speech when he wrote this.

Members laughing.

Mr Wilkinson - He will read this in Hansard tomorrow.

Mr PRESIDENT - Or vice versa.

Mr FINCH - He said this, or we said this:

'Education must be the new priority. The dissenters want to see Tasmania as Australia's Ireland, championed on the world stage by its creative, innovative heroes across all sectors rather than Australia's Taiwan, anchored to the old industrial imperatives of the 20th century.'

Mr Wilkinson - I did not know you were that eloquent.

Mr FINCH - I could not have put it better myself, Mr President. Thank you, Mr McCall. Mention of the world stage brings another problem with this Budget in mind. It is very stingy as far as the arts are concerned. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is saved, sure, but there is not a great deal for the rest of what is an important part of Tasmanian society and what I say is the image, our image, to the rest of the world.

We have potential cultural exports which struggle to leave these shores, Mr President. It is not for the want of trying but for the want, I believe, of adequate State government support. We read the news: 'Tasmanian Ensemble received rapturous reception at the World Expo in Japan.' You might remember my special interest contribution about Susie Clarke and her efforts to get that ensemble of four to the world trade expo in Aichi. That Tasmanian Ensemble was invited to perform there by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which is managing Australia's successful pavilion. On 15 May it performed before an audience of more than 1 000 people, the largest crowd that had gathered at that stage for any performance in the first six weeks of the expo. The Australian Government representative at the expo, Paul Molloy, said that the Tasmanian Ensemble's performance was a highlight of Australia's cultural program of Aichi.
In fact, from that performance the two young artists, one from my electorate, Ben Austin of Riverside, and also Tom Ward from your electorate, who we assisted to go to Sardinia -

Mr Hall - Say Rowallan.

Mr FINCH - Rowallan. What did I say?

Mr Hall - You did not say anything.

Mr FINCH - I did not say anything, I am sorry. Thank you to the member for Rowallan for reminding me that he is the member for Rowallan. Yes, it was a young artist, Tom Ward, a 22?year-old guitarist. Those two artists will in fact return from that performance. They will return to Japan twice before the end of this year, fully paid, because of the strength and the quality of their performances. It is a great boost for Tasmania's image in Japan, which is our biggest export market.

The Tasmanian Ensemble's contribution to the way Tasmania is seen in Japan is inestimable. You would think that the State Government would have recognised this with generous funding and support. I can tell you that it gave the ensemble members $250 each towards their very expensive trip. Other Tasmanian artists and performers are making similar contributions overseas and I think it is time the State Government recognised those benefits. If it can subsidise the Spirit III with $115 million over three years because it brings visitors and their money to the State, why not help those cultural exports and improve our image out in the world? Bring international visitors who are curious about our culture and indirectly help our trade relations. I can relate directly to the artists we have seen here during Ten Days on the Island, who have brought their talents to us, and just how my curiosity was heightened about whence they came, particularly artists like we had performing here - Fiddlers Bid from the New Hebrides who performed here in this House. I hope that next year's Budget will include much more spending on the arts and, in particular, those valuable cultural exports.

In my budget response last year, Mr President, I quoted some reservations by some economic analysts that growth predictions could be sustained. I had reservations about that but, thankfully, the analysts were wrong. We sustained a growth rate of 3.2 per cent and the estimate for the coming year is slightly up at 3.25 per cent. Some forecasters were also wrong about revenue for 2004-05. Treasury's estimate was boosted by a 10 per cent increase in revenue to $3.4 billion. The revenue estimate for the coming year includes an increase of almost 9 per cent in GST revenue, and a lot will hang on whether that eventuates. A lot also hangs on the prediction of a continuing migration gain. The predicted population increase for the coming year is slightly down on last year at 0.08 per cent. So the Premier and the rest of us will be holding our breath over the next 12 months. If the forecasts are not met, we could all be in a spot of bother. Let none of us ignore the possibility that the big States may be successful in their push for changes in the way the Federal Government distributes GST revenues. Tasmania is now a net beneficiary. If the big States get their way, we risk losing it and that would put a lot of predictions in jeopardy, including the early repayment of the State's net debt.