Wednesday 31 May 2006
150 Years of Responsible Government

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, let me first of all say I was pleased and honoured to be present at the opening of the Forty?sixth Parliament of Tasmania yesterday. It was interesting reflecting on the work that was carried out here by the staff, the officers of Parliament House in organising the day. On reflecting on it overnight I was really pleased that we captured that moment in history. So often we are tied up with the work that we do from day to day and we do not genuflect or acknowledge those times in history that require a fair bit of effort.

Mrs Jamieson - Genuflecting requires quite a bit of effort, I can tell you.

Mr FINCH - It was a hangover from my Catholic upbringing. I was just thrilled for the staff and us who enjoyed the hospitality that we had the opportunity to probably celebrate and think about what we had achieved here in Tasmania with responsible government over 150 years and also to share it with the community in the way that we did. I certainly too, Mr President, appreciated the effort that the staff put in a well-organised and well-controlled capturing of a moment in history.

Ms Thorp - Through you, Mr President - if I may mention the historic moment with the card with lists of members on either side from today and yesteryear, my husband's great-great-great grandfather was on that list. So there you go.

Mr FINCH - So there is something in it for everybody.

Ms Thorp - Yes. Controller of convicts, he was.

Mr FINCH - I wanted to offer my congratulations to the member for Rowallan and to perhaps concur, as I do not often do, but I wanted to concur with his reference to his election campaign and there being only one other candidate and a Green who did not have, as a former member here, Tony Fletcher referred to, a 'red-hot go' in competing for the seat. It was obvious that the rest of the electorate chose to continue having the member for Rowallan as their member because of the job that he is doing here. I think the perception of the community is that the Legislative Council is doing its job. Democracy granted, however, I feel that the half-baked effort by the Greens is in fact just cheap publicity for the Green movement but at a cost to the taxpayer when it required, because of that nomination at the last minute, $100 000, as the member mentioned, to be spent on that election campaign, not only what also had to come out of his own pocket to conduct a campaign himself because of somebody else standing.

Also congratulations to our new Leader in the upper House here and congratulations to the member for Wellington, and certainly a hard act to follow from our new Treasurer but I wish him well in conducting government business here in the House. I was also gratified to hear in the Governor's speech some of the things that I had hoped for and some of the topics that I had intended to touch on myself in this address-in-reply. This year's Federal Budget, although bountiful in some respects, has been widely criticised for not looking sufficiently to the future, particularly in spending on infrastructure.

The critics were saying that when there is a healthy surplus, that is the time to develop the infrastructure which might not be so easily affordable when economic times are a little bit harder. That is good advice; it applies equally to State governments. I note with pleasure and I quote the Governor:

'During this term of office, Tasmanians will see record levels of infrastructure development not only in health and education, but also in housing, in law and order and in road networks.'

Ms Forrest - Hear, hear.

Mr FINCH - But I might just highlight a couple of projects from my own electorate of Rosevears that the Government and the Public Works Committee approved some time ago and they were the redevelopment at the Riverside High School, which was well received by the community, and the upgrading of the Supply River bridge - the causeway on our road, the West Tamar Highway. Just looking at it now as the reconstruction takes place, just to see how dangerous it was, I really cannot believe that we put up with that causeway for so many years. When you look at it now, just seeing them standing alone, these buttresses on either side of the road, there was only just enough room for a truck and a school bus to pass.

Ms Forrest - You need to go to Sisters Hills. There the trucks cannot pass.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - And The Sideling.

Mr FINCH - Okay. But at least the Government has recognised that and allocated the $3.1 million to remedy that.

Mr Hall - Thanks to the Public Works Committee.

Mr FINCH - No, I did mention them. Would you like me to go through the members one by one? Led, of course, by the member for Rowallan, and the member for Huon had a hand in it as well. I was hoping the member for Huon would be here because he often refers to the GST that comes to us federally -

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - He's tied up.

Mr FINCH - via us sending it up and it coming back. But let us convert as much as possible of what has been described as - here he is now - our GST bonanza. Let us convert that GST bonanza into infrastructure projects - it might be noted that the member for Huon is nodding in agreement - particularly ones which will benefit tourism. I am of course not a party to the exact condition of the State's finances, Mr President, apart from yesterday's undertaking of a surplus over the next four years. It can be a mistake to liken household budgeting practices to government financial management although, by all accounts, there are not too many household surpluses at the moment in our community. But there seems to be an illogical aversion to State borrowing. If only we could look into the mind of the member for Derwent this could be a much better informed contribution, I am sure. But surpluses are not everything. Sometimes it is necessary to borrow for projects which are needed now. It is no use waiting to build a swimming pool for the kids until you have the spare cash because they would probably have left home by the time you could afford to build it.

Mr Aird - If we don't fix up the levees we'll have the biggest pool ever.

Mr FINCH - Everybody will have a swimming pool.

Mr Aird - The whole community can - we could save some money.

Mr FINCH - We will have the biggest pool in northern Tasmania. It will solve a couple of problems.

Mr Parkinson - Then all you will have to do is heat them.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - Sometimes we can put off that vital infrastructure for the sake of politically fashionable budget surpluses. But some of the best and long-lasting infrastructure projects have been accomplished by borrowing and governments are of course in a much better position than households to in fact borrow at advantageous terms. This week's Victorian Budget includes big spending on infrastructure. The New South Wales Treasurer, Michael Costa, has foreshadowed record spending on infrastructure, partly funded by borrowing, in his Budget that is going to be delivered next week. Mr Costa is looking at a deficit of close to $500 million and he says that such a debt would only concern him if it were to be sustained.

Mr President, I am not suggesting our State Government might run even a small fraction of such a deficit, merely that a deficit can often be justified if it produces infrastructure improvements which would in turn help Tasmania's economy to ride through a period which is unlikely to be as good as the past few years. So I welcome the promise of a consolidated fund and a fiscal balancing surplus but immediately question if we are doing enough for infrastructure while we can. But the member for Derwent will clear that up next Thursday.

Mr Aird - If it's next Thursday we are all in for a shock.

Mr FINCH - No, Thursday soon. There are many small and less expensive projects that would help tourism. Some of them do not involve infrastructure as such, but just a little funding and encouragement here and there. While Beaconsfield is topical, I might mention here an attraction like the Grubb Shaft Museum, which is a great success which could be further developed. I am hoping that perhaps some of those dollars, the $8 million that has come from Federal funds, can go to support the fabulous volunteers that we met during the electorate tour, who have done a great job. They have developed that Grubb Shaft Museum particularly with the help of Beaconsfield Gold in recent years. It really has developed into a terrific attraction for the West Tamar but of course -

Ms Thorp - The council are administering that $8 million, I understand.

Mr FINCH - Okay. Don't worry, I will be speaking to the mayor about support for the Grubb Shaft Museum. However you can understand that people around Australia and indeed around the world are going to put Beaconsfield on their agenda on a trip perhaps to Australia but certainly when they come to Tasmania and if they are in the north of the State they are going to say, 'Let's divert, let's head up and have a look at Beaconsfield' and of course the Grubb Shaft Museum will be there.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - You will be on the outskirts of the town waiting for them.

Mr FINCH - That is right. The Beaconsfield Gold Festival, I might mention, was cancelled last year because of the weather and that is possibly going to end after this year but certainly it is something that could be supported more to give it confidence for the future. But I will talk more about Beaconsfield in tomorrow's special interest debate.

Mr Wilkinson - Should there be an airport there, do you think?

Mr FINCH - I will carry on. Festivals of all types characterise a community's appeal to visitors. They are community driven and a little government encouragement costs a little and certainly goes a long way. I was only discussing this on Saturday night at the Northern Axemen's Association presentation in Launceston and talked about just the attraction that axemen have and I suppose axe people to be politically correct in this day and age because I was reflecting on what the Axemen's Association -

Mr Wilkinson - I only thought there was one chopper.

Mr FINCH - And he is not very accurate, he keeps missing the block.

Members laughing.

Mr Aird - Very good, you have been rehearsing that.

Mr FINCH - It is a double act.

Mr Aird - Who is the straight guy?

Mr FINCH - Neither of us are straight.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - But I was reflecting on the representation of community that the axe community really bring to the Tasmanian way of life because they were talking about encouraging more young people to get involved while they were handing out awards to veterans who were up in their 70s. One of the Rattrays - Eric Rattray -

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Uncle Eric, that is him.

Mr FINCH - How old now, nearly 80?

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - He would be in his 70s.

Mr FINCH - He is in his 70s and still chopping. So the point I am making is that here we are with young kids hanging around with their parents and with their grandparents at the chopping arena - the young ones, eight and nine years of age -

Mr Aird - You could say chips off the old block.

Mr FINCH - Chips off the old block but they start chopping and then of course you have the teenage competitors. We have from the Axemen's Association members in the under?20 Australian team, then you have the mums and dads who are competing as sawyers and also of course as choppers. Amanda Beams and Dale Beams came back - Dale was not very happy because Amanda came back with about five titles from the Sydney Show. Then of course there is the veteran class. It is a reflection of community and I was encouraging them to just step back a little and have a look at what they present to our Tasmanian way of life.

Particularly people who come from overseas who have never seen it before, look at woodchopping and axemen in action and they just cannot quite believe what they are seeing. It is just a huge spectacle and a great historical representation of where we have come from. I think back to Queenstown when there were 300 axemen at one time employed at Queenstown - no wonder they took all the trees off the hills there.

Ms Forrest - It wasn't the mine at all.

Mr FINCH - No, but they were getting the timber for the mine and also for their fires and for buildings. That is our heritage and here it is reflected in a modern-day sport.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - They are great family days too.

[3.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - Yes, great family days.

While I am talking about festivals, shows and opportunities for community to come together, I will mention the Exeter Show. The Exeter Show is another one where we have the Northern Axemen's Association, through Tony and Cath Beams, organising the woodchopping. This year it was very, very special. There was a call from the emcee - I am not sure of his name - to come over to the chopping arena to see a world champion, Matthew Gurr, go up against his mentor, Bill Youd, in the tree felling. Well, the crowds just flocked over there - 300, 400 people gathered around and it was just fantastic to see this world champion in action.

Mr Parkinson - Did the emcee put the chops on the barbie?

Mr FINCH - No, he did a lot of other things he should not have.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - You did that on Sunday, didn't you? You put the chops on the barbie at Beaconsfield on Sunday.

Mr FINCH - Absolutely, yes. And while you distract me, member for Aspley, I will say what an honour it was to be asked to host that event for the Beaconsfield community. It was a wonderful gathering. There were not any chops but there were sausages and hamburgers and all sorts of things. I might say the West Tamar Lions Club dealt with the biggest project by about five times that they have been involved in and did it very, very well indeed. The Axemen's Association is a reflection of our community, and that is what I was suggesting, Mr Treasurer, that a little bit of encouragement towards these sorts of events and to the community goes a long way.

In my electorate is the burgeoning wine industry - increasingly a tourist attraction in Tasmania. The cellar-door system of course would welcome any encouragement and in partnership with private enterprise they might start to see the benefits of these people coming to see Beaconsfield, so that they might take up the challenge themselves to match Margaret River, the Hunter Valley, and the Barossa Valley. We can match them and surpass them in presentation. The Tamar Woodworkers Guild project at Exeter will also attract many visitors in the future, but I will talk more about that project at a later time.

Members of this House will recall the electorate tour they took part in last summer and the numerous areas in Rosevears with that tourism potential that would benefit from that encouragement. I note from yesterday's speech that tourism has increased by more than 50 per cent over the past eight years and I also noted with pleasure that work is to begin soon on the redevelopment of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Ms Thorp - The National Treasures exhibition is wonderful.

Mr FINCH - Okay. I think that is an icon that I appreciate the support for. I also welcome that there will be more support for culture and the arts but, of course, there are predictions, if I could just hark back to tourism again, for harder times in that area. Perhaps we need to be doing more.

There has been very little reference so far to one of our greatest assets and that is our national parks. I listened to what the member for Nelson was saying about the Overland Track, the Tasmanian Trails policy which I would also endorse and support along with you. He mentioned the Overland Track and that of course is a Tasmanian icon that is known internationally.

Mr Wilkinson - It is classed as being in the top ten of the world's best walks.

Mr FINCH - Is that right? I did not realise that. I just wonder what effect it has when it is criticised in a leading magazine for bushwalkers called Wild magazine. I will quote from a letter in the latest issue by a Mark Tandy of Bega in New South Wales:

'The main focus by National Parks appears to be minimum-impact bushwalking, where you are asked to stay on the track (both boarded and earthen) which we all followed as best we could. There were several parts of the track around Old and New Pelion Huts that are causing major safety risks. In areas we thought there were boards in place to be able to hold our weight, only to find out they had rotted and collapsed, risking broken legs. Because of this, walkers were skirting the track, causing major damage, all preventable by minor track maintenance ...

I believe the current system of hut wardens does not require them to perform emergency repairs as it does in New Zealand. It is this oversight by the management of the Tasmanian National Parks system which is delaying the prevention of damage to the ecosystems caused by walkers.'

And to end that quote:

'Come on guys: find the money now'.

I might point out, Mr President, that New Zealand is our main competitor in attracting bushwalkers to cool climate areas. A letter like this, right or wrong, in a very influential bushwalkers magazine, undoes a lot of work by Tourism Tasmania. But in our own experience, members I am sure will recall our walk down in the electorate of the member for Huon when we took the trip from Melaleuca down to Coxs Bight, and we observed there the state of the track where in parts we were walking on boards but still with water up to our ankles and beyond.

Mrs Jamieson - If we had had a certificate of competence we could have fixed the track as we went along.

Mr FINCH - I suppose the part that concerned me most of all was that the boards that were there to repair the tracks had been airlifted in -

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Over a year they'd been there.

Mr FINCH - But I hear stories from around other parts of the State too that those packs of boards have been by the tracks a lot longer than that. We are talking about the Tasmanian Trail.

I think about my own peers, people of my age group, they are semi-retired, they are retired. What do they want to do? They are the people with a lot of expendable dollars and they like to travel comfortably, they like to eat well, and what do they like to do to recreate? None of your thrill sports; they like to walk, they like to go for walks, and where better to build trails and paths and tracks and places to walk than in Tasmania, where we have an abundance of beautiful scenery wherever you go, it does not matter where you go. That is why there is an issue that I am going to pursue with the Government, and that is something I mentioned here before. The Beaconsfield to Beauty Point trail might also come into the $8 million, it might be a good opportunity for a handball there. Certainly they have applied a couple of times to the Tasmanian Community Fund. They have just received notice that they have not been funded again. When they made inquiries they were told, 'We thought the funding was coming from somewhere else'. So that particular group who have been working on this project for quite some time rightly feel rejected and dejected and are wanting to pull the pin on that committee. I feel so strongly that it is such an important part of our tourism infrastructure and what we should be doing in our community that I am really going to pursue that and see if we can re-establish not only that walkway but walks everywhere. We just have to find that funding and provide that, because that is what people are going to want to do, particularly with our ageing population.

Mrs Smith - Do you think that we might be better to prioritise and just do some of it well rather than trying to spread our funds thinly across everything?

Mr FINCH - Certainly, but we have to bring it to the front of the decision makers' minds that this is a priority, this is what we should be doing, and then start to put it on the radar, start to allocate that funding.

Mrs Smith - But which one do you want - Cradle Mountain, Melaleuca or Beauty Point to Beaconsfield?

Mr FINCH - No, just the lot.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - What I am saying is it is the landscape of the future: good, safe, well-maintained walkways.

Mr Wilkinson - You say just the lot. People in New Zealand were saying that in the one trip they did the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track, the Kepler Track, then they went up to the north of the South Island and did the Heaphy Track and the Abel Tasman Track, all in the one journey over the South Island. So it is more than one, there are a number of them, and they all spoke glowingly of them all.

Mr FINCH - Yes, it is just something that I was hoping to highlight today, and it seems that I have.

While we are on the subject of tourism, Mr President, there was no mention of TT-Line yesterday. I know the subject of Spirit III has yet to be finalised, but I hope that, if it is to be sold, a proper and transparent process will be observed and the maximum price obtained. Members I am sure will recall my questioning of the ship-brokering system used to buy the three ferries in the first place during the scrutiny during the Government Business Enterprises. When I spoke before the Public Accounts Committee some months later I urged TT-Line to take sufficient independent advice on buying and selling, as there had been a number of reports that earlier procedures were flawed. In a speech in this House in August last year I again stressed that point and I quote - you can quote yourself, can't you?

Mrs Smith - Of course, no-one else will.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - I am going to write that one down. I like it. I am going to quote you on that. This is the start of the quote:

'I would like to be confident that future sales and purchases of TT-Line vessels are totally above any criticism by parts of the ship-broking industry, by the Attorney-General or in fact by anyone else ...

Tasmanian taxpayers want more transparency … and they want to be absolutely satisfied that when the three Spirits are sold and replaced, … that the whole process is open and the prices paid or received are the best possible.'

I am just hoping that those words do not fall on deaf ears.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - What did I say? It is only that in my reference to the Public Accounts Committee I talked about why do we go to ship-brokers when we have the expertise here in Tasmania. We have the Australian Maritime College who know a little bit about shipping. We have the Treasury, we also have the people in TT-Line. I mean put the brains together from those three organisations and there you have the skill and the expertise to make decisions, to find out what our next vessel should be or to find out what the best price will be if we have to sell one of the ships or replace the other two.

What I am saying there is that we have just got to sell on the best evidence that is available so we need proper investigation. What I am saying there does not necessarily apply to other sales of other Tasmanian taxpayers' property. The press has been full of suggestions of what the Treasurer might sell to rectify a perceived shortage of funds. And I would urge him as soon as I can draw his attention -

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, just at the break I was making a point that I was hoping the honourable Treasurer would hear. We were talking about the decision to sell Spirit of Tasmania III, provided it is taken on the best evidence, but I was saying that that does not necessarily apply to other sales of Tasmanian taxpayers' property, because the press has been full of suggestions of what the Treasurer might sell to rectify a perceived shortage of funds, but I would urge him to reject that advice from back-seat drivers from the halls of Academe. The State Government must remember that it does not have a mandate to sell off the assets of Tasmanians. Selling bits of the Hydro was not an election issue last March, nor was any other major privatisation.

Mr President, one part of the Governor's speech which galvanised me was the Premier's program for reconciliation, and now is the time for further progress. I was pleased to support the granting of Cape Barren and Clarke Island lands to the Aboriginal community last year. I have been greatly encouraged by the progress made by the Aboriginal community there since then. The hand-back of land to Aboriginal people was indeed an historic event for the Tasmanian Parliament, and a moving experience for many Tasmanian people, particularly the member for Huon, who will be listening in another area, because he received that round of applause, and I think, being an umpire for many years in the Tasmanian football community, it would certainly be music to his ears after what he must have suffered as an umpire. But in this sesquicentenary of responsible government in Tasmania I wholeheartedly support the Premier's proposed step towards further reconciliation of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The great champion of reconciliation, the former Governor-General, Sir William Deane, in an Australia Day message in 1999 summed up the basis for the Premier's plans in Tasmania:

'I conclude … with the message of reconciliation which I would inscribe if it were possible for me to send a personal message stick to every Australian on this coming Australia day. That message would be a request that we foster and give effect to the qualities which will enable us to achieve true reconciliation within our land.

Let me identify some of the most important of these qualities. There is the honesty to acknowledge both past injustices and the extent of the present disadvantage which has flowed from them. There are the vision and the determination to address that disadvantage and its associated problems of both body and spirit. There is the generosity to accept that weaknesses and problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence and the inability to cope or to communicate effectively do not constitute justification for indifference or refusal to help but are, in truth, themselves part of an overall disadvantage which is entrenched in its nature and heart-breaking in its extent. And finally, there are mutual goodwill and respect. They are of critical importance to the movement for reconciliation. Without them, we will never reach our ultimate objective of walking together as friends and true equals.'

Mr President, I wish the Government well in its moves for reconciliation during this Parliament. I also noted with delight yesterday the presence of school students in the Parliament, the 60 students from 30 schools around the State, including from my electorate, who were specially selected to attend the commemoration of 150 years of Parliament. I know we all got to meet those children from our own electorates, and just imagine the life experiences of my two from the Beaconsfield Primary School - I speak of Jacob Mountney and Ashleigh Dowling - and the experiences that they have had over the past month or so, and now this experience of being here with us. They were as excited as you can possibly imagine. Their eyes were lit up and they thoroughly enjoyed the day, having their photograph taken with the President and with His Excellency the Governor and also with the Premier, Mr Lennon, so it was a very special day indeed. They should feel honoured and we were certainly honoured to have them here.

Their presence finally brings me to what I feel was the most important part of yesterday's speech - the emphasis on children. As the Governor said:

'The early years of child development are the most important to make sure that Tasmanian children are healthy, happy, capable, confident and equipped to deal with life's challenges.'

The establishment of Tasmania's first dedicated paediatric intensive care unit in Hobart is a significant move if perhaps overdue. I know that Launceston will want one too, but in these days of sophisticated and costly health care if you want the best in a State the size of Tasmania, sometimes you can only afford one. In education I welcome a move for reduced class sizes and more teachers. One hundred and sixteen extra teachers should make a significant difference. I also note a stronger stress on addressing Tasmania's skill problem with a push for more apprentices and I wonder if the Maritime College campus at Beauty Point, if it is to be under-used, whether it could be utilised for short courses to help trainees in other fields.

As His Excellency highlighted yesterday, we have made extraordinary progress in 150 years of responsible government, especially in entrenching our system of democracy, orderly government and the rule of law. We have developed freedoms which can become vulnerable in some circumstances. So let us not let down our guard.