Tuesday 22 June 2010


Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) -  The Treasurer has walked his budget tightrope without a slip yet again.

Mr Dean - I would not say without a slip.

Mr FINCH - I thought that it was a combination of financial agility and a little bit of good luck as well.

Ms Rattray - The GST.

Mr FINCH - I will get to the budget details shortly.  What interests me more, and I think it has already been covered by the member for Murchison, is the announcement of the tax review.  I think I might be right in saying that Tasmania is the first State to announce such a move after the Henry review of the Federal tax system.

We have not seen the terms of reference yet, although the Treasurer has confirmed that payroll and transaction taxes will be looked at.

Ms Rattray - And we haven't seen or heard who's going to be at the table yet either.

Mr FINCH - No, that is right, the same as the forestry industry situation.

Ms Rattray -  I hope it doesn't go that way.

Mr FINCH - There is of course a modification of land tax on properties worth more than $350 000 in this Budget, and that has been discussed and will be welcomed by many in the community.  The overall issue of land tax will be part of the review, which can only be a good thing.

Mr Dean - We'll see the end of aggregation.

Mr FINCH - There are some good things that could come out of that review.

The Treasurer has stressed the point that this tax review will be an all-party review with the aim of winning consensus for any reforms that will follow.  We do not hear much about consensus in Tasmanian politics, but I welcome that statement by the Treasurer and those thoughts.  Many people in my electorate are sick of confrontational politics and cannot understand why good ideas and policies are constantly opposed.  People in my electorate disagree with the Federal Leader of the Opposition that the job of the Opposition is always to oppose.  Scrutinise and question by all means, but why oppose something which you would do if you were in government instead of in opposition.

I welcome the concept of all-party involvement in this review.  It is an opportunity to show that all elected Tasmanian parliamentarians can work together in the community interest.  I hope there will be adequate opportunity for the views of the public to be taken into account as well.

Ms Rattray - Through you, Madam President - do you think that might be a difficult thing to achieve given that there are so many varied opinions in our community?

Mr FINCH - Absolutely, but it is good to listen to what the public have to say.

Ms Rattray - How far do you go?

Mr FINCH - Yes, but I think we need to remind ourselves do we not, that the public is involved here.  There are members of our electorate involved.  There are people who do have good suggestions to make and I think we have to constantly keep an open mind, and be talking and listening to what people have to say.  That is our job here too.  We are fortunate to have the Treasurer here in the House.  I know we have the Leader to communicate back to the Government.  We have the Minister for Education here.  We have the opportunity to bring those messages from our community and to present them to the Government.

Mr Wing - Minority government helps in that respect, too.  It makes government more accountable.

Mr FINCH - Yes, that is right, and then we bring the suggestions here and we just need to speak up so that not only the member for Western Tiers, but also, hopefully, the Government can hear the messages that we bring.

Mr Hall - You're not going to thunder from the pulpit again, are you?

Mr FINCH - No. Is this level okay for you?

Mr Hall - Just.  I've got my hearing aids in so I can hear the member further.

Mr FINCH - Madam President, one subject the tax review might look at closely is the State's reliance on gambling revenue, particularly from poker machines. Many feel that this is unhealthy.  We hear from people like Tim Costello and others, and I think it is always a good thing to keep reviewing the situation, to keep our eye on this; to make sure that it does not become such a huge part of our government revenue that it dominates us too strongly.  We always need to be mindful and watching over that situation.

Let us look at last week's Budget.  I mentioned the Treasurer's agility and good luck earlier.  The good luck is the unexpected increase in GST revenue which has helped to change an expected $117.1 million deficit into a surplus of $23.9 million and better than expected State tax receipts have also helped tremendously.  If we do not get sucked into the European financial vortex, things look pretty good for Tasmania over the next year or two.  With revenue growth of 8.2 per cent in 2010-11 and State economic growth hopefully at 2.25 per cent, that is a good 2 per cent up on this present year and a forecast surplus in 2012-13 of $31.9 million, as the member for Huon said earlier in his presentation, that is a soft landing for us in Tasmania.

Madam President, many commentators predicted conflicts over the Budget with the power-sharing arrangements and I think we are all interested to see what might occur but in respect to those conflicts, they apparently did not happen - none that we know about anyway - but it is another tightrope successfully negotiated. 

Let us look at the slicing of the pie that the member for Huon also mentioned.  Who is eating it?  In a State which relies heavily on tourism only 4 per cent of expenditure for tourism, arts, environment, parks and recreation is simply not good enough.  We are not just talking about tourism promotion but the infrastructure -

Mr Aird - Where would you take it from to make that up?

Mr FINCH - I am just going to make a suggestion here.  The infrastructure that will be needed if we are going to grow tourism in the State - I have put on record before my concern about the downgrading in the minds of people of where tourism sits in this State and I think it is not high enough.  Let us hope that 4 per cent is the bottom and we will see more recognition that tourism will be Tasmania's biggest industry in the future.

Mr Hall - But they did get some significant increases.

Mr FINCH - Absolutely, and as I am saying -

Mr Aird - By sector, it is probably the best-funded sector of the economy I would say.

Mr FINCH - Yes, but I still believe that there is huge potential yet to be tapped into and the growth of that industry needs to be considered constantly.  I would hark back to the drive down this morning that we experienced.  Other members, if they drove down this morning from Launceston, it was a brisk morning after the longest night of the year, but that drive from Launceston to Hobart today to view the countryside in the state it was in - I know it is golden at this time but you have the green trees, you have the mist in the valleys, the clear blue sky, it was just the most magnificent drive.

Ms Rattray - White frost on the ground.

Mr FINCH - Let us not talk about the negatives.

Mr Aird - She is obviously a romantic.

Ms Rattray - I am.

Mr FINCH - The entire drive was so picturesque.  I was gobsmacked on that trip down and I could not help -

Mr Aird - So it would take you four hours so you could appreciate the vista.

Mr FINCH - No, I was making quite a lot of phone calls on the way down on my hands-free mobile.

Ms Rattray - And driving?  And watching the road?

Mr FINCH - No.  My very busy secretary, my very busy PA, was in fact securing those calls for me but I commented to everybody I spoke to about just how magic this part of Tasmania was.

Mr Wing - I agree entirely.

Mr FINCH - We often overlook it because we get complacent, we get used to what we have  here in Tasmania.

Mr Dean - You get used to the silt.

Mr Gaffney - From the silt to the sand.

Mr FINCH - I hope we do not run out of energy on that because we are getting used to it, it has been going on for so long, but  no, I will not go down that track because I have warned the Government that embarrassment will come if that situation is not looked at more closely.

Mr Dean - Is that the same drive that the south will make when they go to Launceston to watch AFL football?

Mr FINCH - I am sure it would give them a much better feeling to be heading north, I am sure of it.  I am digressing but only to -

Mr Aird - It is okay going north and it is very nice coming back south.

Mr FINCH - Only to point out that in fact Tasmania here is so picturesque, such a beautiful part of the world, and when people come to Tasmania they are going to see it and they are going to go back home and they are going to rave about it.  More people will want to come.  I think we have still yet to unlock some of the real magic of Tasmania.

Mr Wing - It is still the world's best kept secret.

[5.15 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - Absolutely.  I think I have talked enough about that.  I see probably tourism as our biggest industry, potentially, of the future.  Of course, health and welfare expenditure is a massive 29 per cent of the expenditure with education not far behind at 23 per cent.  It will be interesting just to watch, and I know we will be part of this historical move by the Federal health contribution of that 60 per cent in exchange for  one-third of GST under the Rudd plan.  It will be interesting for us to watch that history unfold, and how it will balance out for Tasmania.  However, in fact the Commonwealth and State governments both acknowledge that the rate of growth in health expenditure is not sustainable.  It just gobbles up this huge amount of our Budget.  The sooner the message gets through to the public the better. 

The only way that we can prevent that health expenditure drowning out the rest of the economy is by prevention rather than cure, which I have spoken about often enough here in the House.  That is what we need to do constantly.  I will make the comment again, I am really pleased with the way the members here, my colleagues in Parliament, do in fact treat their health regimes.  We are all good walkers.  We are all good exercisers.  Most of us visit the gym.  So I think in that way we are setting a good example to the community in respect of that message that I get:  prevention rather than cure.  If our hospitals are to be saved from bursting at the seams, people must take more responsibility for their own lifestyle and their health, and that includes smoking.  I might remind the House of the motion that was the subject of a serious discussion by the member for Windermere last week.  I hope that he has suggested measures are matched or exceeded in government legislation. 

While we are on the subject of health services, Madam President, I would just like to touch on the Beaconsfield Community and Health Services Centre's lift.  I had a complaint there a couple of years ago in respect of the lift in that hospital.  It is vital because of the site's location on sloping ground.  It is in urgent need of replacement.  I hope this will come in the coming year because it was quite a strange situation where a lot of  patients in this facility are elderly people and hospital patients who need to be transported from one floor to the other, and the lift is not reliable.  It can break down for days at a time.  Then, the people have to be wheeled outside and down the laneways and down through passageways to get them down to the next level.  It is $250 000, I think, to replace the lift and it has been a longstanding issue at the Beaconsfield Community and Health Services Centre.  They have put up with it for a long time.  In fact, while the minister was there just recently, we encouraged her to take a ride in the lift and we had our fingers crossed that it would be as unreliable as it has been in the past but unfortunately it worked okay.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - But I think she did receive the message. 

Mr Aird - You are a sicko.  A very sad man.

Mr FINCH - I should have had a switch there to turn the power off or something.  But she heard from the staff, she heard from the community, she has heard from me about the fact that we need that to be looked at.  She did get the message.  But in the long term what we need is a new hospital on a better site.  That is a future possibility and it might make sense to grab this expenditure medal sooner rather than later.  The land is there.  It is the most fantastic site on the West Tamar for a relocation of that facility further down the hill.  If we could slide it down the hill to some vacant land that is already there, about 20 hectares of it -

Ms Forrest - Heavy rainfall and a good earthquake to fix it, do you think?

Mr FINCH - No.  It would be a perfect location.  I will be introducing that into the conversation.

Mr Aird - How much, do you think?  Do you have a dollar figure?

Mr FINCH - No, I will work on that, dollars and cents.  It will come.  But I am happy to get in the queue on that one as well.

There is not much in the Budget specifically for my electorate.  I did note a continuing allocation for the West Tamar Highway and that is very welcome.  I remember when Cabinet had the community forum in Beaconsfield.  We were all hopeful that all the members and the ministers and the people who came in their ministerial cars would have come up over Bradys Lookout because whilst in those very nice cars you might not bump around as much as the locals do, it is a disaster waiting to happen.  It is an accident trap and it is deteriorating.  It is in a shocking state, visually as well as physically when you feel the rocking about of the cars.  It is very dangerous.

Mr Hall - That is where everybody puts their election signs isn't it?

Mr FINCH - That is right, we slow down to read them.

Mr Aird - The cars are actually mobile, are they?

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - Also welcome is the $315 million for the railway system.  The way the world is going we can expect to rely on energy-efficient rail systems more and more in the future, and $315 million is something of a holding figure.  The network has almost declined and decayed to a point of no return.

Mr Hall - How would it be more energy efficient?

Mr FINCH - If you have two diesel engines pulling a load of cargo that it would take 20 trucks to move, do the maths.  That is energy efficient; diesel engines compared to the number of trucks that would be needed to shift the same amount of cargo.  If you work it out, that is energy efficient.

Mr Hall - I have worked it out.

Mr FINCH - It will be in your presentation?

Mr Hall - Yes.

Mr FINCH - I will listen to that with interest because you will back up my figures, surely?

Mr Hall - No.

Mr FINCH - This Budget's allocation will stave things off and hopefully as surpluses increase we can rebuild and redevelop our rail system in Tasmania. 

I mentioned jobs in my address in reply to the Governor's speech, particularly the employment crisis in the forestry sector.  A prediction of growth of 1.7 in the coming financial year is welcome but it does not compare favourably with the actual figure of 2.8, which was in the 2008-09 Budget.  The predicted jobs growth rate for 2011-12 of only 1 per cent is somewhat discouraging but I note that the predicted unemployment rate for that year is 5.25 per cent, which I suppose in the scheme of things is not bad when you consider the global financial crisis and the impact that that may have had on Tasmania.  Neither is a predicted gross State product of 2.7 per cent for the 2011-12 year bad either.

The Government says it has delivered on three-quarters of its election promises in this Budget.  I suppose that is not bad for a post-election budget.  The remaining quarter should not be a problem before the next election.

As people might realise, I am no financial analyst but this year's Budget seems to have been well received by those who are.  So may the Treasurer maintain his balance and have no need for a safety net.