Thursday 10th June 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Reply to the Governor’s Speech
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - In respect to the Governor's speech and the information contained therein, the priorities are right: job creation, a quality health system and a good education system with clarity for the post-year-10 students. First of all, the job crisis of course is mainly in Tasmania's forestry industry. Although, as we have been hearing from members' contributions, there have been references to issues from the various electorates in respect to job shortages and job losses. Some hard decisions do need to be taken. Where does the future lie for the forestry industry? Is it woodchips, a pulp mill, plantations, managed native forests, high-quality sawlog production and downstream processing?
Mr Parkinson - Or all of the above.
Mr FINCH - Or all of the above. I would suggest, Madam President, that all of these could be in the mix, as the honourable Leader does suggest. I believe we do need a change of emphasis. We do need a change of labels. Managed native forests, as I have mentioned, is not old growth. It is relatively young regrowth and much of it is on private land. I know there are members here who would be aware of the property below Ben Lomond run by Ian Dickinson, Musselroe. With the right rainfall and soil conditions, managed native forests can be highly productive. It can also be ecologically sustainable. It has an important advantage over plantations. It has biodiversity. With proper management native fauna can be preserved, native forests can produce high-quality sawlogs and veneer logs. So we can have a mix. With the right management regime, Mr Deputy President, it can also look good for tourists and of course plantations will continue to have their place but again I suggest a change of emphasis. Let us manage more plantations for sawlogs, for peeler logs and other value-added products.
If we want more forestry jobs this is where many of them could be but, as the Treasurer has said, let us have the discussion, let us get to the round wooden table and let us see what the future holds for an industry that unfortunately is under a great deal of pressure at this time but I think this new emphasis and direction should be recognised.
Mr Harriss - When will the next inquiry be?
Mr FINCH - Why would you need an inquiry?
Mr Harriss - Well, this is a part of the process you are promoting.
Mr FINCH- No, it was not about an inquiry. It is about a discussion, a sensible discussion to see where the future might be and bring the ideas together. I am loath to use this phrase but where is the common ground? Where is the common ground here? That is what we need to find and we need to find a way forward for the future that promotes this viable forestry industry. Member for Apsley, what do we do in Tasmania? What do we do well?
Ms Rattray - We do forestry and we grow trees.
Mr FINCH - We do forestry and we grow trees and that can be a very important part of our future here in Tasmania.
Mr Wilkinson - Wasn't the RFA all about finding a common ground, though, and moving with that common ground?
Mr FINCH Yes, and times have changed.
Mr Wilkinson - But then tomorrow -
Mr FINCH - Tomorrow who knows?
Mr Wilkinson - Tomorrow it will all change again.
Mr FINCH- Tomorrow who knows but that is where we have to be smart. We have to be prepared to be malleable and be prepared to change, be able to look for new ways of doing things. If we do not do that where do we go? We go back to the horse-and-cart days.
Mr Wilkinson - And we get the best advice we can, which was 200-odd scientists of the RFAs and we act as a result of that. Some people will never accept it.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and where are we with that? We are in the bother that we are in now so that is why we need to discuss, we need to change, we need to look for new ways. That is pretty obvious to me.
Mr Wilkinson - But with some it is do it my way or the highway, is it not?
Mr FINCH - Okay. Let us find the common ground so what do we do? Do we retain the divide? You over there, you over there? Let us get here. Here is a table. Let us get together in here, let us bring the two sides together and let us discuss this. It has come to that point.
Mr Wilkinson - Don't we act according to the best evidence?
Mr FINCH - We can save one lot over here and one lot over there but where is it getting us? Absolutely nowhere. We have divided our community and we stay divided. Let us pull the community together. Let us have a discussion.
Mr Wilkinson - Don't we act in the best way as far as the evidence is concerned? We can only do the best we can by looking at all the evidence and coming to a conclusion on the best evidence. Not depending on what one person may say without having all that evidence before them, surely?
Mr FINCH - That is what I am saying, isn't it?
Mr Wilkinson - Not really, no. I do not think so.
Mr FINCH - I will look forward to your contribution and you can flesh out that point but I believe that is what I am saying. That is what I am saying.
Mr Wilkinson - I am just challenging you in relation to that.
Ms Rattray - We still grow trees and we are growing them well.
Mr FINCH FINCH
- Yes, that is right. Of course my electorate does not have a great forestry resource.
Mr Wilkinson - Likewise in Nelson.
Ms Rattray - But you have plenty of people in your electorate who are attached to the industry.
Mr FINCH - Who benefit, yes, absolutely. My electorate, whilst not having this great forestry resource, does have some great tourism assets, not the least the beautiful Tamar estuary which I have spoken about this morning. Tourism, of course, can be a great job producer but it does need smart promotion and smart management. I am just hoping that tourism will not be neglected in next week's Budget. I continue to enjoy the work that we are doing with our select committee on tourism chaired by the member for Launceston and I look forward to our perhaps making some good observations and drawing some good conclusions and making some strong recommendations to the Government that will be in support of that strengthening of the tourism industry.
My second point is the quality health system. We seem to be moving the right way with this, although there is early confusion as to how it will be structured. I did appreciate, along with my colleagues, the members for Launceston, Windermere, Murchison and Western Tiers - the member for Apsley being unavailable - the opportunity to express our concerns to the head of the Health Department, David Roberts. Mr Robert's positive response to our request to discuss our concerns was very helpful. This is the way it should work. If we have solid concerns, we should have people who are prepared to talk and listen to what we are saying. And, because of the expression of our concerns, the minister also wanted to be involved in those discussions.
Mr Dean - At short notice, too.
Mr FINCH - At short notice, and it was really appreciated. We heard from David Roberts, and he made one point very solidly. It was interesting, and made me sit up and take notice. He said that he has been here for three years and that he is implacably opposed to the suggestion of centralisation. I think that was a good way to open the discussion because that was probably our major concern. When I think back on the conversations that David Roberts has had with me, and with some of us, that has always been his expressed opinion.
We learned, through that discussion, that no decision on local networks needs to be made until later in December - I think it is 31 December. No decision will be made before the Federal Government has considered the ideas put forward by the State Government. Once decisions are made, hopefully we will have answers to the questions that we have.
It is obvious that we need a body to receive and distribute Commonwealth funding, and I believe that body has to be based in Hobart. The bureaucracy and the structures are in Hobart. It may not be the location of the minister's office, if the suggestion by the member for Launceston comes to fruition. However, that is the way I perceive the handling of the Commonwealth funding because the present three area health services are already in place. I strongly believe that they should stay, as a focus of local management, and that is really what this initiative by the Federal Government is about. It is about local management. But, we also need additional structure for other statewide health services like the Tasmanian ambulance service, mental health services and so on. There are other areas that need to be statewide. It does not mean they need to be centralised in Hobart - they could be based in different areas. Let us see what unfolds from this complicated mix that the health people have to deal with. They have six months to work it out. They have proper consultation and no doubt there are people that they can draw on to advise them.
Ms Rattray - Are you indicating that we need another layer of bureaucracy? Are you saying that the Department of Health couldn't handle the funds?
Mr FINCH - No, we have the bureaucracy there.
Ms Rattray - Yes, that is what I thought.
Mr FINCH - No, that is what I am saying. It is already in place. It is already there. I am sorry to quicken your heart for a moment. That is not what I am suggesting at all. I am pointing out that we will have 60 per cent of health funding coming from the Commonwealth but we will need to have local management. The Commonwealth Government has stressed that local management is to be a significant feature of the Federal/State health alliance.
Ms Rattray - I misunderstood. I thought that you were saying that we needed another level to distribute the Commonwealth funds and that is what I would expect the Department of Health already does.
Mr FINCH - Sorry to frighten you, but you will keep a watchful eye on that, I am sure.
This funding coming from the Commonwealth Government must have local management. That local management must be truly local, with local support. I think the member for Launceston was stressing that point.
Before leaving health I would like to mention, as the other members have, the Launceston General Hospital. As always, it is under great pressure. Bed occupancy is well over the recommended 85 per cent. Demand for Department of Emergency Medicine Services is up almost 20 per cent. Studies have identified the need for another 113 beds by 2016-17. But in Launceston, as elsewhere in the health system, we have dedicated staff and good management.
In Launceston they are coping at the moment, but that situation is not sustainable. But we do have light at the end of the tunnel in Launceston with the $98 million capital works program that is now under way.
One of the first results of that will be a third linear accelerator operating at the Holman Cancer Clinic by the end of January. This will enable the Holman to provide radio-oncology treatment to 123 patients a day, compared with the present 90 patients a day. Other big construction projects include a doubling of the Department of Emergency Medicine and a 28-bed acute medical unit to help cope with the increasing demand.
This combination of a Department of Emergency Medicine with an acute medical unit is an innovative concept. It is a local innovative concept, developed at the Launceston General Hospital. It will have many advantages. Some patients from the Department of Emergency Medicine can spend time in the acute medical unit while they are being assessed. They can then be admitted, or sent home with appropriate support. This frees up ward beds and improves patient flow. It will be interesting to watch the development of this innovation.
Above the extended Department of Emergency Medicine will be two new hospital floors - levels 4 and 5 - which will add capacity to present services, such as surgery. The Launceston Integrated Care Centre, funded by the Commonwealth and the University of Tasmania, will be located on Franklin Street.
This centre will provide a new model of integrated care services for the community, including health promotion and group programs, allied health services, community-based integrated specialist clinics, and teaching facilities for health-care professionals, funded and planned by the University of Tasmania. And I wish the member for Murchison was here because it will have car parking underneath.
Mr Dean - She won't be long.
Mr FINCH - She knew I was going to mention her name. It will have car parking.
Ms Forrest - Where?
Mr FINCH- Car parking at the LGH will be almost doubled. That will be one of the great innovations there.
We have talked about problems with hospital parking. We saw that is not as big an issue in the north-west hospital, even though they are increasing parking capacity there. It is interesting just how much space is taken up by parking. Even in the greenfield operation that you have in the north-west, parking still takes up a huge area.
Ms Forrest - It was poorly planned. The car park is on a hill. They could have made levels to have a multistorey car park, without a whole heap of concrete.
Mr FINCH- Doubling the car parking at the LGH will take a lot of pressure off surrounding streets that have had to cope with people parking all day while they work at the hospital.
Mr Dean - And a lot of pressure off local government, I might add.
Mr FINCH - Absolutely. We in the north have reason for some optimism in respect of our health services.
I might, now, just touch on the subject of the hospice - a service that comes into play in the twilight of our years, beyond our need for hospital services. I would like to read from a story in the Examiner which tells of a concern we have in the northern part of the State about hospice facilities:
'If you believe in reincarnation or life after death, the idea of Northern Tasmania starting again to build a dedicated hospice will not come as a shock.
Born in 1993 and died in 2007, Philip Oakden House was a six-bed public and private, community-built, state and privately funded palliative care facility.
The founding chairman of the Philip Oakden Hospice Appeal, Dr Lach Hardy-Wilson, has died, and his companions in the project - Dr John Morris and accountant Jim Anderson - are becoming frail themselves, but they still want to start again.
They blame themselves for the loss.
Northern Tasmanian took 14 years and $200,000 with some State Government funding to build the hospice on land adjacent to the Manor at Kings Meadows.'
That is an aged-care facility.
'When it was finished the Glenn Smith architect designed, purpose-built Philip Oakden House was a physical reminder of Northern Tasmania's passion for healthcare and looking after its own, especially through their last days.
When aged-care providers OneCare took over The Manor and Philip Oakden House in 2003 the Philip Oakden fathers believed they were practically and legally ensuring the future of palliative care in Northern Tasmania.
Dr Morris and Mr Anderson believed they had done everything legally possible to keep Philip Oakden House alive - after their deaths and through changes in ownership.
They were wrong …
In 2007 OneCare closed the hospice.
Today its beds are leased by the Launceston General Hospital for traditional care of aged patients who cannot get beds in nursing homes.
It was the community passion - a public meeting attended by hundreds of people to save the hospice, along with thousands of petitioners - that prompted the resurgence of a new fundraising and support organisation, the Friends of Northern Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation, dedicated to starting again.'
So there could be life after death. I will say that that dedicated band of palliative care hospice people have re-formed and, a few Friday nights ago, we had a launch of that vision for the new foundation. I will quote again from the Examiner article:
'Chairman of the Friends of Northern Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation Gus Green, identified Ockerby Gardens as the foundation's preferred location ...
Mr Green said the foundation was formed because there was still strong support for a dedicated hospice like Philip Oakden in Northern Tasmania.
The foundation aims to build a 12-bed, stand alone hospice which is integrated with the Launceston General Hospital and the hospital's catering, cleaning and medical services.
The foundation's dream is for a tranquil, ground level hospice with access to parking and close to the proposed 30-unit, Cancer Council Tasmania family support accommodation in Howick Street ...
Mr Green said the foundation wants to be in a position to bid for the public palliative contract by 2013.'
I am part of that group along with the member for Launceston. We are fully supportive of that initiative coming from the community - that desire to see that palliative care facility established at the LGH.
Mr Wing - Hopefully with a refund from OneCare of all the public money contributed to the hospice for the construction of Philip Oakden House which they now own.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and that money would be very gratefully received and very handy.
Mr Wing - Hopefully very gratefully offered.
Mr FINCH - Yes, okay.
Ms Forrest - Through you, Mr Deputy President - now, with our ageing demographic, this sort of facility is going to become much more needed and not just in the north and north-west but in the south of the State. The palliative care beds in a facility like that are not the only places that provide palliative care. You need to have other palliative care services. I am not sure what the plan is for that. Are they doing that as well, do you know? Palliative care in the home, sort of stuff.
Mr FINCH- I think that is already provided as well. I think that is already working in our community. Whether it comes through this particular service, I am unsure. The vision, the dream, is for it to be linked up with the LGH.
Ms Forrest - I was wondering whether they were looking at linking that with in-home care as well as this.
Mr FINCH - I would not imagine that this organisation would want to do that because that is already being covered in the community. Maybe there could be a combining of the services, but who knows what the future holds. That will come from that submission to perhaps take it on in 2013. As you say, that is what the future holds for quite a lot of us, some sooner rather than later, and to me it is commonsense to be heading down this path.
I have left the best bit for last or almost the last: a good education system with clarity for post-year-10 students and what a baptism of fire it is for our new Minister for Education. She certainly has my sympathy. I just hope that when things settle down and clarity is established we will not be back where we started. I want to make the point that the previous system was failing many students, particularly male students, who had lost interest in education. Their lack of interest seems to start halfway through high school, which it did for me, and for some the interest never returns, which it did not for me. We just have to rectify that or we will continue to have just far too many unskilled people in the work force, or worse, people trying to get a job and failing again and again and then lack of morale and lack of enthusiasm set in and then we have people in the community who are not faring very well at all. There is no easy solution to young male drop-outs and I am sure if the minister were here she would agree with me.
There are a number of commonsense ways to help young males to become qualified in what they are interested in, and that requires just that big technical element in the system from a relatively early stage. It also requires skilled and experienced teachers - and teachers who teenage boys particularly can respect. Might I suggest that on that technical side of education and skills training, young males do respect those who have had experience in the skilled work force. We just need to maintain and probably increase the effort to recruit those teachers and lecturers from the real world. They are the ones who are going to help but I am no education expert as I have alluded to.
I am just glad that our education system is in good hands in this House. I look forward to education becoming a more prominent issue in our debates because we have the minister with us to question and to engage with.
I have just touched on those three stated priorities for the State Government and I agree with them and I will just reiterate those: job creation, a quality health system and a good education system with clarity for post-year-10 students.
There is a fourth - and that is not just a local priority or a priority for my electorate, it is a State priority. As we have talked about with the member for Windermere and the member for Launceston - and I hope this message gets through loud and clear to the Government - it is urgent and the more the issue is ignored the bigger an embarrassment it will be when it is finally looked at. Similar to what we are coping with in Launceston and in the Tamar estuary, people will say, 'How the heck did it get in this state?' It is going to be interesting to watch that day. The member for Windermere talked about it yesterday and I have mentioned that issue in my special interest speech: the future of the Tamar River basin. We have been hearing about the silt problem in the upper Tamar River until it is almost coming out of our ears.
Ms Rattray - What about ours?
Mr FINCH - No, I wanted to be inclusive but now is the time to act.
The members for Windermere, Launceston and I comprised a committee looking into the management of the Tamar River and its catchments last year, as you have heard as recently as today. We heard from many people, we evaluated many views, we travelled to see similar situations elsewhere. We came to some solid conclusions based on overwhelming evidence. They were put to the Government with recommendations. However they seem to have fallen on deaf -
Ms Rattray - Silted ears.
Mr FINCH - Yes, silt-clogged ears. Because not much has happened.
Mr Wing - Nothing has happened.
Mr FINCH - Nothing has happened. What I would like to do now is summarise the work we did last year and the opinions and evidence that we heard and saw. It has been interesting to have our two observers who have joined me as my guests today in Parliament to observe the way the issue of the silt is treated by my colleagues here. This is what it has come to. It has turned into, I believe, some sort of farce. We keep going on like cracked records.
Mr Dean - I am beginning to wonder what your guests are going to say on their way back to Launceston.
Mr FINCH - They will go back with some really interesting observations as to where we have come with this issue. The three of us, because we see it, we deal with it, we hear from our community, we have been on the select committee that has looked into this. We know how serious it is. It is about trying to make the point here through the House to the Government how seriously our community views it. We deal with it in good humour but the time for solution is now, it is urgent and it will be a huge embarrassment for the Government. We concluded that there is a lack of adequate management structure and defined responsibilities and accountability. Funding is inadequate. As I pointed out to the member for Launceston who did know, the Launceston City Council is withdrawing its funding in July. They just cannot afford to keep throwing money at an issue that is not created by them.
Mr Wing - They realised at last that they are not responsible for it.
Mr FINCH - That is it. This fragmentation of current responsibilities is bizarre. I did point out to my friends just try getting a log out of the river and find out whose responsibility it is. Who owns the log and whose responsibility is it to take the log out of the river and onto the river bank? Aahhh, who owns the river bank and where do we get the transport and who covers the cost of carting the thing away? That is an interesting exercise.
Rapid action is essential to reform these current management structures. What we observed and put in our report, there are useful and effective models elsewhere in Australia. Any management structure must address the long-term health of the catchment. To summarise our recommendations, the State Government must establish a statutory authority, there must be community involvement and the Victorian catchment management authority is the preferred model. The State Government must provide the initial funding. Recurrent funding from the State Government and consideration of a levy on water users in the catchment is essential. An authority must provide a catchment management plan within 12 months of establishment. Existing regulatory and planning powers must be transferred to the authority.
Recreational users were particularly concerned. Several said that the silt problem was becoming worse. Some speaking for the forestry industry said silt had always been a problem and as has been enunciated by the member for Western Tiers we have heard that pre-European settlement, 30 per cent of the present-day silt that comes down the Tamar estuary was in fact coming. But now there has been an increase of two-thirds and that is what we are dealing with and seeing in the Tamar River now at Home Point, and it is not a pretty sight.
Garry Blenkhorn of Gravelly Beach said:
'Ninety per cent of your silt problem is 100 years old. You can see the silt moving out of Gravelly Beach at thousands of tonnes a year. Unless we take an approach for the whole river we are wasting our time trying to do anything'.
Rowing and yacht clubs had concerns about safety because of liquid mud and silt at low tide. Others saw a detrimental effect on tourism - it looks gross. People who have been there before to see Launceston and then come at low tide, now, are shocked at what they see.
Some saw flooding as of greater concern than silt. That included Jack Edwards, formerly of the Port of Launceston Authority. Hydro Tasmania said:
'Preparedness for flood events should be a major priority for management of the Tamar estuary and Esk rivers'.
Numerous other submissions backed that view.
Apart from silt and flood the third key issue was the lack of effective river management. No organisation had overall responsibility. Mr Jack Edwards pointed out that the catchment covered 15 per cent of Tasmania or more. I think I heard somebody quoting here this morning 18 per cent. It was me, wasn't it? I will go with 18 per cent.
Witness Mr Ed Vincent when he gave evidence said, and this is compelling for those who wonder about bureaucracy and the management and whether there is a complication in getting anything done there -
Ms Forrest - In what capacity was he speaking?
Mr Wing - A member of the Tamar Yacht Club.
Mr FINCH - To quote him:
'I am told there are 25 State Government departments or instrumentalities that have an impact on decision-making within the area that we are talking about.'
Just to sum up, there was overwhelming support for the establishment of a statutory authority to manage the Tamar estuary and its catchments.
Mr Wing - Absolutely.
Mr FINCH - I think two people might have had some -
Mr Dean - Yes, there is a couple.
Mr Wing - And one of those thought it should be statewide.
Mr FINCH - Yes. That overwhelming support came from longstanding commentators on the state of the Tamar and also from the Launceston City Council. There was very little opposition to the concept. This is not a local problem, it is an area where the State Government must take the lead. Our committee wants to hear definitive answers. We are waiting perhaps for an initiative in next week's Budget.
Mr Wing - I would not hold your breath but I hope you are right.
Mr FINCH - The point is that if there is nothing mentioned in the Budget we will just need to go to the new minister and make another concerted effort to try to save this Government from the embarrassment that will ensue.
This is a problem that will not go away. It will be built on because there is more silt coming down and we are getting closer to that flood that we have talked about and we need to have proper management in place to cover the Tamar estuary. As we heard today, it is 60:40. Sixty per cent, I think, of the river has an issue with the silt and the other 40 per cent needs to be protected. We saw evidence today of what needs to be protected in the other areas.
Mr Wing - Through you, Mr Deputy President - would you like to mention the success of the use of silt in building up the grammar school sporting areas of Invermay?
Mr FINCH - Yes. We have had a dredging program as members may well be aware. We do have a drainage system. I think Les Dick, one of the previous people, we had the pond rattle years ago which used to take the silt. I think the pond rattle used to take it up the Tamar and dump it in holes further up the Tamar and that is probably where from Gravelly Beach that silt is trying to travel back down again. In recent times the silt was drained on the side of the Tamar River and that landfill was then taken to build some new sports ground for the Launceston Church Grammar School which is on the eastern side in Windermere.
Mr Wing - And close by.
Mr FINCH - And close by. We had a representation, I am not sure if this was a committee presentation to our select committee or whether it was in a casual conversation with Errol Stewart who alluded to the fact that there is plenty of space there to do even more of that, to reclaim even more of an area where those grounds have gone in. Years and years of silt could go into reclaiming land there. Those sports grounds are just about to come into use by Launceston Church Grammar School and they will be a great addition to our sporting and recreation facilities in northern Tasmania.
Mr Wing - And there was no transport cost problem because it was adjacent to the river. But it just shows what can be done with the soil.
Mr FINCH - Yes, that is being creative. I have explored some opportunities recently, for example on our trip to Bangladesh we saw how the silt from the Himalayas - where it comes down into the Bay of Bengal - is utilised by the communities there to fire bricks.
Mr Wing - In Hanoi as well.
Mr FINCH- But they make bricks out of the silt. I have investigated that and I believe there are some issues: the other components in the brick might make it too costly. The silt might only be a small component of it, but certainly there is a resource there that could be used in various ways, such as gardening. I am sure that it can be used in people's gardens, it can be used for landfill and in all sorts of other ways. We need to be creative about it. But that is what a statutory management authority would investigate and prioritise what needs to be done. That is an urgent need. I hope that there will be some reflection towards that issue in the Budget or we will just need to -
Ms Forrest - Keep banging the drum.
Mr FINCH - keep banging the drum, and take it even further. Thank you, members.