Hansard of the Legislative Council
Wednesday 5th March 2008
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)
If only words could instantly be translated into results we Tasmanians might be living in paradise, but I must acknowledge that the Premier's address was visionary and inclusive. In fact I might even have written some of it myself.
Mr FINCH - For the past six years I have been promoting the importance of community in my electorate in Rosevears and I could have said the following from the Premier's speech, if I might quote:
'Our community should be a place where we can all act together in a shared determination to support those less fortunate than ourselves. It should be a place in which all Tasmanians are respected and valued as having something to contribute as equal participants in society.
Social inclusion is about participation. It is about making sure that people do not feel isolated or alone in our communities. It is about making sure people can contribute to our communities no matter how young or old they are, what their culture is, where they live, or how much money they have. It is about access, equality, opportunity and a fair go for all Tasmanians.'
That is my view of community and who can argue with that, Mr President?
I believe we are facing at this time a number of turning points in politics - in the economy, in the climate and in the way Australians engage with their governments and institutions. We at this time are facing a number of momentous changes and momentous challenges. This gives us an opportunity to look differently at several aspects of our engagement with community and government. I believe, Mr President, that it is time to do away with many of the self-imposed restrictions of the past.
First, let us look at politics; how we serve our electors. Let us take a good, hard look at how this State Parliament works. Is it serving the Tasmanian people in the best possible way? Are we getting on with the job or are we wasting time with adversarial politics? A new stage has been set federally with some small degree of bipartisanship, although it does not seem to be coming very easily. Nevertheless the thought is there in the Federal sphere.
What is happening here in Tasmania? It seems to me that the House of Assembly spends most of its time in point scoring and conflict. We do the same, to a certain extent, in this House but because of our predominantly independent nature, I believe we are somewhat more constructive. I do not reject the Westminster system of government and opposition, Mr President, but I do suggest that it sometimes goes too far.
Let us look at that in the context of the great new challenges we face in the areas I mentioned at the beginning, particularly in the fields of the economy and the climate. I will discuss the State Government's response to our climate crisis later but I would like to make the point that we need a new kind of politics to face today's challenges. We need a less adversarial approach to politics, we need to recognise that Tasmanian taxpayers are paying the salaries of all members of parliament - those from the Government, the two oppositions and independent members - and therefore Tasmanian taxpayers are justified in wanting a good, progressive day's work for a fair day's pay. Let us look a little more at working together. After all, there is less that divides Tasmanians than unites us.
Mr Aird - What do you mean by adversarial?
Mr FINCH - Not you, Mr Treasurer, not you.
Mr President, governments throughout history have shown the benefits of leading by example. What we need to face the challenges that confront us in this State and the wider world is inspired leadership. The Premier detailed a number of areas where he is offering leadership. With adequate scrutiny we should acknowledge those areas and give support where it is appropriate.
The problems facing us are obvious. Many of them have been with us for decades without any effort to overcome them - housing for the less well-off; a health system with the resources to care for everyone; support for the elderly; infrastructure, including a comprehensive transport system recognising the cost and decreasing availability of fossil fuels; education and skills training. The list goes on, Mr President. We have recognised those inadequacies for many years but with these perennial problems still unsolved we now face new ones, particularly environmental problems - principally climate change - and the yet to be understood fallout from what is beginning to look like a world financial crisis.
What are our governments, Federal and State, doing about it and, more relevantly, what are we and our communities able to do? The Premier has spoken about climate change particularly and he is quite right to do so. It could be said this is an international and national issue but the solution comes right down to the individual and to us as individuals. Tasmania must have its own policy in the world mix and I do not subscribe to those who argue that the Premier is window-dressing. Near the beginning of his speech, Mr President, the Premier said, and I quote:
'We need to ensure future water supplies for our farmers and regional communities.'
I know that the honourable member for Rowallan and I heard the Premier say that at the opening of the Meander Dam.
Mr Hall - I'm not listening.
Mr FINCH - You were listening then.
May I suggest, Mr President, that if the Premier intends paying for more than 30 kilometres of a 1 metre water pipe from the Trevallyn Dam, he may consider routeing it south to the Northern Midlands rather than to a proposed $2 billion pulp mill which seems unlikely to be financed in the current world lending atmosphere.
The Premier gave us some hints about the forthcoming budget, a budget one or two away from the next State election. Tasmania has pressing infrastructure needs. Many of its population have personal health, housing and other needs which should be urgently addressed. I do not know the real budget situation but I am prepared to give credence to the respected forecaster and observer of Tasmania's financial situation, Saul Eslake. Mr Eslake said recently that revenue windfalls have transformed the State's budget position. He said better than expected figures in last month's mid-year budget review allowed the Government to launch a range of big-spending initiatives, including the fund for the new Royal Hobart Hospital. He spoke of revenue windfalls of about $750 million over the next four years and indicated that Tasmania was in a much better position to meet global economic challenges than it appeared to be as recently as eight months ago.
I am not suggesting a budget splurge, Mr President, but it is obvious that the Government is in a position to do something about some issues which seem to have been left slipping in the past few budgets, and while we are on the forthcoming budget I will just point out some of the things that have been slipping away in the Division of Rosevears. While we have improvements in the West Tamar Highway making it less dangerous and easier to use by widening the road, it still needs more work, but the important road link between the West Tamar and Devonport and the north-west, the Frankford Main Road, is still far from being a highway but it is being used as a highway.
Many residential areas on the West Tamar badly need proper sewerage systems. The concept of a Tamar trail needs a boost and like elsewhere in the State, our schools need a lot of work. On sewerage, the Premier spoke of what he called an historic agreement with local government. He said - that brought the Treasurer back.
Mr Aird - No, I was coming back anyhow but I'll stay.
Mr FINCH - Okay. Here is the quote - and you will have read this:
'It is simply not acceptable that in 2008 not all Tasmanians have access to adequate sewerage infrastructure and clean water. The Water and Sewerage Task Force, chaired by the Treasurer and in cooperation with councils, has produced a model that will deliver for the future. We will act immediately to get this model implemented. Legislation is being drafted right now and will be introduced into Parliament in April.'
That is a commitment, Mr President, which my electorate will take very, very seriously. Just recently I have inspected some sewage outfalls going directly into the Tamar River and it is not a pretty sight, and that is from septic tanks.
Government investment in infrastructure is vital for Tasmania's economic growth but we cannot do it alone. I know the Treasurer will be mindful of these issues when he allocates his windfall.
Mr Aird - What windfall?
Mr FINCH - You were not listening earlier.
Mr Aird - You know something that I don't know?
Mr FINCH - Okay.
Mr President, none of us should ignore the achievements of this State Government and the previous one under Premier Jim Bacon. They have kept Tasmania on the right economic track and have made great progress in improving our State. Its attractiveness to new residents from the mainland attest to that and despite great budget problems and the need to constantly upgrade and change our health services, they are still something to be proud of. Our roads may not be perfect but there has been steady improvement, but above all, Mr President, Tasmanians are more confident and, dare I say, happier than a decade ago. We feel relatively secure as we observe the problems outside Tasmania. That is not all due to the work of the State Government but it has worked hard and successfully to secure our future. But much more needs to be done. We are not immune from a looming world economic crisis, we are also greatly threatened by global warming and we are still creating new environmental problems for ourselves. One of these is obviously the silt problem in the upper Tamar. There has been much tinkering around the edges of this problem for well over 100 years and there have been numerous suggestions for a cure. However, it has never been in a worse condition. It is now time for effective measures based on sound science.
Mr Parkinson - Is it true that it is contributed to by sewerage?
Mr FINCH - Look, whoever you talk to, Mr Leader, has a different theory as to what is contributing, what makes it occur and what the solutions are. We have a lot of conflicting evidence but have never really scientifically nailed the cause of the problem and the condition that we have it in now. But we are seeing a different silt issue in the Tamar. The member for Windermere and you, Mr President, have inspected off Kings Wharf a situation that the people there felt has not occurred in the past with the build-up under Kings Wharf.
Mr Dean - There are differing opinions on that.
Mr FINCH - Yes, but -
Mr Dean - There are a lot of people saying that it is no worse now than it ever was.
Mr FINCH - That is exactly right. And that is where we have the confusion in our own community and amongst the experts and observers.
Mrs Smith - You have been telling us every Thursday for years about the Esk and the Tamar.
Mr FINCH - Yes, that is exactly right. When will people start listening? Were you listening?
Mrs Smith - Absolutely.
Mr FINCH - That surprises me. I thought nobody was.
Mrs Jamieson - What is more, the Dragons Abreast girls got stuck in the mud with their boat. They actually got stuck.
Mr FINCH - However, we are digressing. When I spoke of effective measures, this is going to require the close cooperation between all three tiers of government and the community. So far, I will say, the State Government has been very responsive to this need. With appropriate partnerships I am confident that this time we can succeed in fixing the problems of the upper Tamar at long last.
The Premier announced the appointment of a number of experts in fields we need to progress. We are lucky to have this expertise in Tasmania. The appointment of Monsignor David Cappo, with the new social inclusion unit is a case in point.
Mr Wilkinson - Any relation to Warwick?
Mr FINCH - I have not seen his shorts. I do not know if it runs in the family. As the Premier said, his experience in matters of social inclusion has made him a sought-after authority around Australia.
Mr Wilkinson - Warwick was sought after.
Mr FINCH - And we are fortunate to have been able to secure his input into social inclusion here in Tasmania.
Mr Wilkinson - He did well with inclusion as well.
Mr FINCH - So long as we do not have to include his suspected brother, Warwick. The Premier said that the social inclusion unit would enable us to catch people that might otherwise fall through the cracks. And who would not support that concept? Any community must place an emphasis on its children if it is to continue as a community, and the idea of the Kids Come First blueprint is to be commended. Here again Tasmania seems to have hit a jackpot of expertise in the appointment of Dr Sue Jenkins as a leader in the project. As the Premier said:
'Doctor Jenkins is a renowned Tasmanian-based expert in the field of child health and development issues. She is currently chair of the board of the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation. She has worked in this field in the United Kingdom and South Africa and has won an outstanding local reputation for her work here in Tasmania. I am confident that her experience will be invaluable in creating a Tasmanian childhood blueprint that sets a new benchmark for this country.'
Is it our climate, our clean air, our natural beauty or money that attracts this talent? I suspect that it is not the latter. We have read in the past few days that the average Australian wage earner can no longer afford to service the average Australian mortgage. I know that this statistic probably has more to do with Sydney and Melbourne would-be home owners that those in Tasmania. Nevertheless, Mr President, home affordability must be addressed by the State Government and I agree, as the Premier says:
'I have said on a number of occasions that providing affordable and public housing for those in need is a core social responsibility of government. It is something that the Tasmanian community have said matters to them.
Our community should be a place where we can all act together in a shared determination to support those less fortunate than ourselves. It should be a place in which all Tasmanians are respected and valued as having something to contribute as equal participants in society.'
Again, can anyone disagree, Mr President?
There is of course a difference between housing affordability and homelessness and this State has too many people who do not have homes either owned, rented or shared, and that is a deplorable situation. Again the State Government seems to have made an enlightened appointment in Rosanne Haggerty to advise on emergency accommodation. This is an appointment that should not have been necessary in a properly functioning community but again the Government seems to have found the right person for a problem that should have been addressed years ago.
Mr President, some have noted that the Premier's address was a little short on health issues, issues that are of great concern to Tasmanians as witnessed by the motion by the member for Windermere for an investigation by a select committee into the health issues confronting Tasmania, the public hospital system. There are of course a number of reviews and consultative processes under way and an expectation of Federal initiatives, but the fact is that an ageing population and greater expectations of a health service put us into an area which is not sustainable.
The Premier pointed out that inflation in health costs is running at 8 per cent or more. One estimate suggests that if nothing is done there will be only two ministers in Tasmania by the year 2020, the Premier and a Health minister, because health will consume almost all of the State Budget. We might squeeze in a treasurer but he would have to take a pay cut.
Mr FINCH - That is the fact of it. Those figures have been done and of course something has to be done about that situation.
Mr Dean - Mr Rudd is advocating that we all take a pay cut so the Treasurer might set the example.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and I think we might set an example too. We might join in.
Mr Harriss - We have no choice.
Ms Forrest - The better option is to fix up the health system so that it doesn't consume all the budget.
Mr FINCH - Here is another quote from the Premier in respect of this situation of health costs:
'That situation is simply not sustainable in the long term. That is why we have developed a comprehensive statewide health plan for the future.
Through consultation with the doctors and medical professionals who are at the coalface, we have built a plan to manage Tasmania's health system.'
We can only hope and trust, Mr President. I would urge all Tasmanians to participate in the process of deciding what sort of health system we want and, more importantly, can afford.
Mr President, the Premier's address was inspirational. It highlighted problems in Tasmania which are likely to continue, even with our best efforts, and I would urge all members of our community whether or not they play a role in parliament or government or the community to recognise the problems which are hampering our quest for the unattainable paradise. I believe that with communication and cooperation we can attain the unimaginable. We may even be able to help translate the Premier's words into tangible results or at least make some progress in tackling what seem to be intractable problems.
I thank the Premier for spelling out so clearly the problems we Tasmanians face. I commend his efforts to tackle them and, like all Tasmanians, I hope that by working together we can make this State a better place for our communities and particularly for our children.