Wednesday 11 March 2009
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Reply to the Premier’s State of the State Speech
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, there really is not any way to respond to the Premier's state of the State address without acknowledging the global financial crisis that dominates all our thinking and all of our decisions. However, no crisis lasts forever and we must look ahead and plan for normal times. In the meantime, if the State Government wants to invest in some shovel-ready infrastructure stimulants, I will have some suggestions.
Firstly, Madam President, I would like to express my reservations about what we know so far about the Government's planning proposals. We have not seen the details and it seems the opportunity for public consultation on the controversial projects of regional significance is diminished.
The Government's review of the planning system, according to the media reports, recommends the RPDC stop seeking public input on draft proposals. This seems to contradict the Premier's commitment, and I quote:
'I want to make sure that, whatever changes are made to planning laws in this State, members of the public are not excluded from the process. That is why public consultation will be a key part of the assessment process for projects of regional significance.'
Mr Parkinson - The public will not be excluded.
Mr FINCH - Well, we will have to wait and see.
Mr Parkinson - They won't!
Mr FINCH - Okay. Well, what about the independence of the RPDC?
Mr Parkinson - It will not be compromised.
Mr FINCH - That is music to my ears, Leader. But if I can quote the Premier again:
'The most important structural change is that the Resource Planning and Development Commission and the staff of the Land Use Planning Branch from the Department of Justice will be amalgamated to form a new Tasmanian Planning Commission.'
Probably Planning Tasmania might be a good name for the new body. Sorry, that was an insert in a quote.
I will continue quoting from the Premier:
'The current powers of the RPDC will be in no way diminished and will simply transfer across to the new body. The new Tasmanian Planning Commission will exercise the current statutory responsibilities of the RPDC with the same high degree of legislative independence that the RPDC currently enjoys.'
I have an open mind, Madam President, but I have a cynical one too. Are we to have a new Tasmanian planning commission including the bureaucrats which does not have to listen to the public very much at all? Let us wait for the Government's legislative proposals and details, which I suggest will get close scrutiny in this House.
The planning changes are intended to facilitate assessment and approval of projects of regional significance. But what about the smaller planning issues? Small business, farmers, would-be home builders in my electorate, young people who are often enmeshed in this complicated net of planning regulations and also to them this constant wait to sort out the planning situation in this State? They cannot afford the extra costs and the delays. And they have been hanging on, the lives of a lot of these young people are on hold. We need to get this system moving so that they are able to establish their homes on their blocks of land, on their enlarged blocks of land and get on with their lives with their families.
Mr Dean - I think after your comments the Government will probably review and rewrite their position.
Mr FINCH - I do not think so. Many of the initiatives announced by the Premier are to be commended. Although some lack substance, in most cases the sentiments are right. Nobody can argue against the Government's 10-year vision for education in schools to lift the educational outcomes from below the Australian average to the top of the nation within 10 years, or in the field of health to make a decision on the future of the Royal Hobart Hospital.
But let us not forget the future of the Launceston General Hospital, just to talk about my own area. The LGH is under increasing pressure as our population ages. So where is the government plan to keep older people out of hospitals? Where is the plan? Where is the plan for more home care? The LGH casualty and emergency department is handling an increasing load with a tightly stretched staff. Yes, the LGH looks good -
Ms Thorp - I can get you a copy of that plan, the Primary Health Care Plan.
Mr FINCH - Right, okay.
Ms Thorp - It is all about keeping people out of hospital.
Mr FINCH - So that I am not diverted and there is not debate across the Chamber, the LGH looks good if you compare it to the cramped and restricted Royal Hobart Hospital.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Except for the car park.
Mr FINCH - But there is an acute parking problem. Thank you, member for Apsley. And that is for the staff and patient visitors alike. So let us hear a plan to address that issue.
The establishment of a Bay of Fires national park is to be welcomed. That area is becoming a very important tourism asset. We have people who are actually seeking that out, wanting to go there and we have operators who are prepared for an influx of tourists. Our tourism industry, though, is likely to be under increasing pressure as the world recession takes hold. This is of great concern in my electorate. Tourism is a very important part of the economy and I am sure that tourism operators throughout the State and people involved in tourism are watching the situation closely. The Festival of Ideas initiative announced by the Premier is to be welcomed.
But when all is said and done we need visitors, more visitors and more visitors for the State. So what is the strategy to attract them to our State when they are afraid to spend their money? I know that we are looking good in respect of the value of the Australian dollar because it is encouraging people to look more at home but people are frightened to spend their money. How can we convince them that Tasmania is a good holiday destination at this time with the Australian dollar looking so fragile?
Investment in telecommunications infrastructure is vital and the Premier's commitment is certainly welcome but we have a long way to go. Access to broadband is poor. Mobile phone black spots are everywhere; you can drive around Launceston and you will hit black spots 2 or 3 kilometres out.
Mr Dean - Yes. It is much like the road black spots.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Three kilometres out of Launceston, on the Tasman Highway - no service.
Mr FINCH - As I say, the Premier's commitment to that telecommunications infrastructure investment is welcome.
The Premier's commitments on social inclusion are welcome. My electorate is very pleased to have the child and family centre developing at Beaconsfield with the aid of the Federal member, Dick Adams, and others who have pushed for that and put that on the agenda.
Ms Thorp - Which?
Mr FINCH - Our child and family centre at Beaconsfield. We received Federal funding.
Ms Thorp - Oh, Federal funding.
Mr FINCH - Yes, for that. In fact, we were the first in Australia to receive -
Ms Thorp - They are different to the child and parent centres?
Mr FINCH - Yes. We are a model that is the first in Australia and we will be watched very closely because I have a sense that there are 250 of these to be developed around Australia and because of the quizzical look on your face, Madam President, I think that 250 might be rubbery. However, that is the sense of what I get. I think that there is an expectation of the growth of these sorts of centres around Australia by the Federal Government. So we are very fortunate to have the development of the very first one in Beaconsfield. Plans are well under way. We were hoping for a July conclusion and building is under way but it may be something more like November. Listening to the member for Rumney it was interesting to hear about your learning and information network centre.
Ms Thorp - The LINC.
Mr FINCH - The LINC; we would love one at Exeter.
Ms Thorp - They are great.
Mr FINCH - I just wanted to sow that seed with you. Well done, Sorell - was it in Sorell you are having it?
Ms Thorp - Yes.
Mr FINCH - Exeter would be a wonderful location for another one.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Scottsdale.
Mr FINCH - And Scottsdale too.
I agree that empowering communities to meet their own transport needs is one of the keys to Tasmania becoming more socially inclusive. Community effort recently led to a much-improved bus service between Launceston and Legana and community effort will, I am sure, lead to a West Tamar trail to link the major centres with a cycling and a walking track. Wouldn't that be wonderful to have through the West Tamar; the beautiful countryside, the lovely view of the river, the lovely view of the Windermere electorate from that cycling and walking trail? And I have mentioned here quite often the community issue of trying to develop a walkway between Beauty Point and Beaconsfield, particularly for the kids of the community to get to the skate park at Beaconsfield from that growing community at Beauty Point. Also there is an aged-care facility at Beaconsfield for people to have recreationally the opportunity to walk on a fairly level sort of area.
Ms Thorp - Is it zimmer-frame friendly?
Mr FINCH - Yes. But just for the recreational needs of the future. We have talked so much about the opportunity to just get out and go for a good long walk. It is a fair-sized trail but it has not met with funding success. I notice that the West Tamar Council have just advertised. They are taking a stronger interest, not that they have not before, but it has been more a community-driven process. I think the council now realise the value of having the link between the two centres and they have now taken a hand by calling for submissions for a committee of three community representatives and three council officers to explore what might be that cycle and walk link between Beauty Point and Beaconsfield.
So that is a good development. But it seems that it will take more than community effort to have a safe West Tamar Highway. I realise that we have had a lot of money spent on the highway just recently but let me assure you that my community is not happy. They are not happy with the result that we have received. We have received improvements but they have just not gone far enough. We still have a dangerous West Tamar Highway.
Mr Wing - Would you like some Tarkine Road money?
Mr FINCH - It is the same with every electorate. I think that we could all talk about that.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - I was going to suggest that they come to Pyengana for a trip.
Mr FINCH - As I say, I think that we all share the same issue. If my memory serves me correct from previous debates in this House it goes back to a time when we could not afford to maintain the infrastructure to the level that we would all like. Now it comes to the time when we are 'paying the piper'. We just do not have roads that are of sufficient standard. I do commend and I have commended this State Government in the past for the money that they have put into road infrastructure but there is still a long, long way to go.
Roads are still dangerous and it does soak up a lot of money. I do realise that. I just feel that on the West Tamar Highway the message that we are going to get from my community is that a lot of the money that has been spent on the improvement has in fact been wasted, in their minds, because they do not feel that it went far enough. But the seal, the final seal on top, has not really given us that safe highway that some people came to expect. I do not want to carp too much.
Mr Hall - Why is that - what is wrong with the seal?
Mr FINCH - It is a seal that has covered the top of it but it still maintains the bumps and rolls of the road. They have done some widening. I had a constituent from Legana call me. I think he called it a 'flush seal' and he said this is really not just good enough.
Mr Hall - But the Public Works Committee approved that.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and I will probably be hunting out members to talk to them about it after I have a briefing from DIER. As I say, I am just waiting to talk to DIER to get their side of the story.
Mr Hall - I rode my bike down there the other day and I thought it was frightfully good.
Mr FINCH - Did you? This bike of yours is so bad you cannot tell the difference between when you are on a good road or a bad road.
Mr Wilkinson - He can tell the difference when he falls off though, which he did two weeks ago.
Mr FINCH - One of the State Government's initiatives to cope with the economic crisis, and we heard something about it in a question today I think from the member for Western Tiers, is the Tasmanian Industry Support Scheme. It has great potential benefit for my electorate where many small businesses are hamstrung by the credit squeeze. I must say that a couple of people from my electorate have submitted and they have been unsuccessful, as you have suggested.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - I suggest they resubmit from what the Treasurer said today.
Mr FINCH - I note too from the guidelines that the scheme is under revision and the new focus of the scheme extension will be on supporting businesses to maintain employment during temporary downturns in business activity, in particular businesses that are suffering immediate short‑term cash flow difficulties. As I say, this will certainly have applications on the West Tamar.
Madam President, there is no doubt that Tasmania's trust in the democratic process has taken a few knocks in recent years. The Premier has reported progress on his 10-point plan to improve accountability and trust in government. Of course, there is still a long way to go with this but it is obvious that a lack of trust in government and the democratic process reflects on those in this House as well. I think it behoves us to support the Premier in his drive to improve the democratic process.
Madam President, I opened with a reference to the global economic crisis which has now been termed - and I did not like the sound of these words - the great recession by the head of the International Monetary Fund this morning. It has been mentioned in Federal Parliament this afternoon. The crisis, however, is only just beginning to affect Tasmania. so let us hope that we can escape the worst.
My own view on economic matters is all too simplistic and you could probably say old fashioned. I believe that you cannot go far wrong if you work hard and efficiently. I believe you must save if you need something and I believe in frugality, not waste. But I know that in my electorate, Madam President, people have the same simplistic economic concepts and let us hope that they enable us all to get through these next few difficult years.
Madam President, I have quoted the Premier rather a lot. To give him credit, it was not a bad state of the State speech, so I will conclude with yet another quote from the Premier:
'We must not let temporary financial and economic conditions dissuade or deter us from finishing what we have begun.'