Hansard of the Legislative Council

Thursday 28 March 2013


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, the Premier started her address earlier this month by referring to the bushfires that occurred early in the New Year. The fires were terrible, communities were devastated, hundreds of homes and other buildings were destroyed, livestock, fences, crops all lost. Every time we have a disaster like that, particularly the one a few years ago on the east coast, my mind goes back to the 1967 bushfires, which I was quite involved in at that time. Having witnessed then the heartbreak and loss at that time, those thoughts resonate with me when we get to a situation such as we had earlier this year. One thing I reflected on was the miracle that no Tasmanian lives were lost. We lost the Victorian fire-fighter, Peter Cramer, and that is tantamount to somebody going to work and not coming back home. It was shocking for that family that that should occur but we appreciate the contribution of those fire-fighters who came to help us in our time of need.

Mr Valentine - That was through natural causes, wasn't it?

Mr FINCH - Yes. As I say, he did not come home from work.

Some people here might have been involved in fire fighting, and it is very stressful. When that wind is up and the smoke is billowing you cannot get a full breath and you are very heavily in sweat, you run out of energy very quickly, and you dehydrate very quickly. I imagine that is when people are vulnerable in that bushfire situation. I understand that stress that fire-fighters have to deal with, particularly if you think about the heavy uniforms they need to wear for protection. They are out there in the heat and working hard in that situation.

What can we attribute this lack of loss of lives to? Of course there was a lot of luck, but I also argue that organisation and expertise were factors involved. There were our increasingly efficient emergency services with their very improved procedures, equipment and communications, as well as home and property owners who have learnt from previous disasters. I appreciate very much the lesson from the Victorian bushfires in the devastation that they had there and our fire service developing the CD that was distributed to all our homes in Tasmania. Some people would take heed of that advice and some people might not, but people are being more conscious of what they need to do to protect themselves from the bushfires and the devastation to which we are as prone as anybody in Australia.

We are getting better at dealing with these disasters, but we also seem to be getting better, too, at recovery, as the Premier said. Tasmanians rallied around those who were affected. I think that is a reflection of our spirit of community in Tasmania. It does not surprise me that per head of population Tasmanians are the great donators in respect of helping others in need and supporting those charities that need the financial support of the community. Tasmania per head of population always punches above its weight. Tasmanians this time opened their wallets, their hearts and their homes in support of those people. They provided boats to evacuate people. They lent that helping hand when it was needed.

We are told the recovery process will take at least 18 months, but there has also been some gratifying progress. If we take the example of Dunalley that would have to reflect the resilience of that community. With all the disaster that has beset them, they got on with the job of recovery very well. The honourable member for Rumney said there were gatherings there that built and reinforced the community spirit from that disaster. That is something that will stay with the community probably for as long as those people in that community live. I reflect on the 1967 bushfires, which had a dramatic effect on Tasmanians' lives. If my memory serves me correctly, we lost something like 52 lives in those bushfires - not a good circumstance to go through. Over 1 000 homes were lost as well.

In the main part of the Premier's address there was an emphasis on job creation. Job creation relies on a strong economy and frankly Tasmania's economy is in a mess. We are the most welfare-dependent state in the commonwealth and some of our old industries are failing. We have just spent many hours, days, weeks, and months on a bill to help our forestry industry to restructure. Employment in the forestry industry has halved since 2006, more job losses are predicted, our markets have all but disappeared and many harvesting operations are in fact carried out at a loss. For me, going back to the past is not an option.

Forestry, like a number of other historic Tasmanian industries, faces massive adaptive challenges. It is a case of adapting to a new world order, or a slow death. Some continue to argue that a big new industry is the key. I suspect that in a small state with a small population the solution is many small but smart and innovative industries. I see this happening in my electorate of Rosevears. The wine and tourism industries continue to grow. There are many innovative and intelligent small businesses in my electorate. I referred last week to the Exeter plant nursery -Inspirations - and its partnership to produce vegetable seedlings. I talked last year about innovative businesses in my community that are progressing and are profitable. For example, in the farmers market in Launceston the Adams family from Holwell have speciality lines in potatoes. They have cut out the middle person in their distribution. They are going along very nicely and being very much appreciated.

There are many others based on lateral thinking, hard work and determination. Some win government and other grants to get them going. It is time our government stopped subsidising uneconomic big industries, and directed the money to smaller start-ups. There should be strong consideration towards that. We will probably never know how much Tasmanian taxpayers indirectly subsidise some big industries because of that cloak of commercial-in-confidence, but I believe it is time that started to change.

The Premier mentioned a number of government-initiated job creation projects. That is to be welcomed, but some of those successes only demonstrate that we are virtually marking time. We have to embrace the future. The key to that is technical innovation, and the key to technical innovation is a well-educated workforce, but the state's education system continues to fail us in that area.

In previous replies to the Premier's Address I have detailed a wish list for my electorate most of which have been fulfilled.

Ms Rattray - Lucky you.

Mr FINCH - We talk about banging on here, but I have gone on about the West Tamar Highway often enough. In my time here we have seen the Supply River area corrected. We have seen the park down close to Riverside through to Acropolis Drive corrected at a cost of about $8 million. It is quite fantastic. We have seen some $5 million spent on road improvements and widening.

One of the big ones now is Brady’s Lookout. I remember when Christina Holmdahl from the West Tamar road safety group - she is also deputy mayor of the West Tamar Council - arranged a meeting with the Premier, Lara Giddings. We had our fingers crossed that she came to that meeting via Brady’s Lookout, because then she would know, as she had bounced around in her government car, what we were going on about. It was absolutely disgraceful. It had been repaired, but to no avail. It was still a dangerous and silly road. The government has now bitten the bullet and has really gone at it. About $13 million or $14 million was projected and it looks as though they are spending all of it there, because the work is phenomenal. We will end up with a safe road to continue our growth in people using the West Tamar for lifestyle purposes. We have a fantastic location, not far from the city of Launceston with all its facilities, but we need that safe highway to get us into town and back home again. It is developing.

The next one is another very silly stretch of road. If anybody is coming to the start of the Three Peaks Race, have a look at where you come out of Brady’s Lookout and start to come into Exeter. There is a little area there called Lanena. We have the narrowest of highways there. It is very silly. Two trucks coming either way, or a truck and a bus, have the potential to lose their side mirrors. Then on one side there is a footpath where mum might be wheeling her child a metre from the side of the fast‑moving truck. It is not a made footpath, by the way; it is gravel. On the other side there are culverts on the highway that would be at least a metre deep and a metre wide. Imagine anybody not paying attention. If you drop into one of those culverts it is very dangerous.

I know that over the years roads were put on the backburner. Roads were not looked after; our infrastructure was not maintained in respect of highways. Governments of recent years have had to play catch‑up in fixing a lot of roads around the state. They are spending big dollars but there is still a long way to go to maintain them in the safe condition they should be in. We are about to deal with our road speed limits. You cannot keep lowering the speed limit because your roads are getting more unsafe as they have not been maintained properly.

My wish list is very short and simple. Let us do everything we can to build a climate of innovation. That is what suits Tasmania. I remember going to the north‑west coast, member for Mersey, on your electorate tour, and the electorate tour for the member for Murchison, and being in awe of those industries on the north‑west coast.

Ms Forrest - 'Jealous' is the word.

Mr FINCH - I was very jealous because you can see they are doing things. They are small industries, doing things very well and looking as if they are making a profit because they have been smart about what they do. I know the word 'smart' is a bit of a cliché, but that is what we should think about. Let us make Tasmania a smart state in the way we go about things.