Hansard of the Legislative Council

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Premier’s Address: The State of the State

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, I will open with the words at the beginning of the Premier's Address:  'The eyes of the world are upon us.' 


The eyes of the world have been upon our forestry industry, they have been upon our environmental management and they are very much on our plans for wilderness areas that we share with the rest of humanity.  If we put a foot wrong, those international eyes will be watching. 


Another quote:


My Government is committed to showcasing, protecting and celebrating our unique natural and cultural heritage asset while growing our tourism industry and creating new jobs.  We also want to give more Tasmanians and visitors the opportunity to experience our unique, world-class wilderness areas.


If some of the proposals to develop our unique wilderness areas are approved, they will no longer be unique, or indeed, wilderness.  A wrong move over jet skis or helipad proposals can send a message to the rest of the world that Tasmania is not serious about preserving its world-important wilderness areas.  In a single stroke, we can negate the reasons why people from all over the world are coming to Tasmania.  Caution is needed. 


There is a development proposal in Narawntapu that has been put forward to the minister, Mr Groom, and I trust that will be the sort of proposal that will be accepted.  It will be environmentally friendly - it is for horseriding in Narawntapu - an extension of the opportunity which is already there.  It has been done there for years and someone with some get up and go wants to improve that opportunity but wants to be very sensitive to the area.  I look forward to helping that developer progress that as much as we can.  It is encouraging to hear a state government talking about tourism as a priority - wonderful. 


There is one important observation by the Premier on our tourism industry that I would like to paraphrase.  He said 'Tasmania is renowned for fresh produce, pristine surrounds and the world's friendliest people'.  Quite so.  Tasmanians are friendly, we are open, but I could suggest that our tourism industry give them a bit of help about other cultures.  We are looking to encourage people to come from other countries, from other cultures, from China.  Perhaps there might be some thought about voluntary workshops or other programs about cultural differences.  It is very good to hear from the tourism industry.  I get my correspondence from the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and also from my local Launceston Chamber of Commerce.  They are promoting very much that opportunity to businesses involved in the tourism industry and in business generally to get across those differences and opportunities, and ways of making people feel welcome without doing anything embarrassing that might set those relationships back.


Mrs Taylor - They are providing workshops as well.


Mr FINCH - Yes, I know.  It is wonderful that they are doing that but I am thinking more about taking it to the community:  to people who work in cafes, restaurants and that sort of thing, and who have contact with our international tourists.  The eyes are watching us and we have to be very careful under their scrutiny.


I quote a few lines from the Premier:  'My team is united, focused, working hard every day, to deliver our long-term plan we outlined to Tasmanians at last year's election.'  What has been achieved so far with this focused hard work?  He said, 'We have commenced the task of rebuilding essential services'.  So far, we have only seen cuts to essential services.  Teachers have gone from our schools, workers from our health services, and Education and Health are even more stretched than they were under the former government.


The Premier said recently that his biggest regret so far in his first term was that he has not managed to freeze public service salaries.  Most Tasmanians have the imagination to understand what happens to families when income is frozen or their main breadwinner loses his or her job.


We see a similar story from our State Government as we heard from its federal counterpart - we have to clean up Labor's budget mess.  The Federal Government has drawn back from that refrain.  Suddenly it is not as urgent a situation as we thought when we look towards the last Queensland election.  Similarly in Tasmania, after taking a razor to public servants' jobs, to services which Tasmanians need and want, the task seems completed.  I will reserve judgement on that.


I am not saying that this Government is not well intentioned - it is.  It can claim credit for many good intentions as the Premier points out.  He mentions the Qantas call centre operations, tick; starting to reform the planning system, tick; the focus on the TT-Line, tick.  I support the refurbishment plans for the Spirits.  That is an important operation.  Irrigation projects, tick.  Starting work on the Midland Highway - it makes us late getting from point A to point B - but the work is tremendous and there is a lot of it going on.  The Department for State Growth, tick.  Reopening our forest industry for future growth - we do not see much of that at the moment, but I will watch with bated breath.  I will watch to see what occurs there, because we get different feedback depending who we talk to.


I know some people are not positive because it is not where they thought it would be when the TFA was abandoned.  However, they are there, they are hanging in, but it is not as they thought it would be.  It all depends who you talk to.  I should talk to member for Windermere's Mr Barber, the sawmiller, because he sounds pretty positive about his involvement with the forestry industry.  I will talk about this a bit more.


Mr Hall - The dollar exchange rate has changed dramatically.  Many people said it would not.


Mr FINCH - I do not think anyone said it would not.  It is impossible to say that because it ebbs and flows.  It was just that, at the time, it was solidified and it did not look as though it would be coming down anytime soon.


Another quote from the Premier:  'While it is early days and there is a lot to be done, there are very positive signs for the future.'


The Premier refers to the labour force participation rate improvements, a stronger gross state product, a narrowing gap between the state and federal unemployment rates, and abolishing headworks charges.  He says:  'There is no doubt policy decisions we have made have an impact on this' - quite.  However, how many of these improvements were going to happen anyway?  That is a question I would ask; others might not.  I would say they would have happened.  That debate could go on ad infinitum. 


There always comes a time when a new government must stop blaming the previous ones and then start taking credit for the result of its own accomplishments, even if these are hard to prove.  Ideally they should coincide.  I look forward to this Government taking credit for some of those changes and improvements they have made.  From about now, the Liberal Government can start taking credit.  As the Premier said, 'We are more than happy to be judged on our record'.


Let us look to the future.  You cannot quibble with the Premier's plan for the next year.  Unquibbleable - a new word I just thought I would throw in to see if I have your attention.  I have already voiced support for the work on the Spirit of Tasmania ferries.  You cannot argue against the international shipping arrangements with Swire Shipping, nor against affordable housing, an energy strategy, the statewide planning scheme, or legislation on victims of crime - all good concepts and we await results.


We saw promises about the future of what remains of Tasmania's forestry industry.  So far the trend does not seem to be uphill.  A question was asked by the member for Apsley about the Triabunna woodchip mill.  One moment it is crucial to the growth of the industry, then it is of no importance.


Ms Rattray - I never said that.


Mr FINCH - I know.  I do not want to put words into your mouth, but it seemed that way.  The gist of the answer given by the Leader yesterday was that it could be solved.  There was the devious injection of $30 million of taxpayers' money into Forestry Tasmania, and then no certainty about its future.  We noted optimism about crucial forest stewardship certification, and then uncertainty, to say the least.  Like most Tasmanians, I am a bit confused about what is happening.  Before this Government destroyed the historic TFA, Tasmanians at least had some idea about the future of our forestry industry.  If you ask anyone in the street about its future now, they would be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.  That is the way I am reading it, unlike the member for Windermere -


Mr Dean - No, a lot of people support the industry.


Mr FINCH - That is my observation; that is my noting.  After listening to your response, I have made a couple of quick calls to people in the industry, and I did not get the positivity that you are suggesting.


Mr Dean - The Branxholm mill is a good one, it is positive.


Mr FINCH - Yes.


Ms Rattray - It is a good story all the way through.  Branxholm Sawmills have never relied on handouts.  They have just gone about their business and done it well.


Mr FINCH - Yes, of course there are good stories out there.  I talked to a sawmiller a moment ago.  He said that he chose to stay in the industry.  Whilst he thought that there would be some more logs available to him, they are not available.  When he was encouraged to stay in and look beyond the TFA and its destruction, he stayed in there.  He is making a go of it, but it is not as he thought it would be.  I am sure different people would have different stories.


Mr Valentine - No doubt a lot of competitors have gone out of the industry, and it must be good for some.


Mr FINCH - That is right. 


I note this Government's initiatives over trade with China, and they are to be applauded.  However, let us not neglect other trading partners, particularly in India.  In respect of the Government, I appreciated very much to be part of its effort with the Chinese delegations that came with the Chinese President and the function we were able to share in at the Grand Chancellor, and to watch the networking that took place there linking up the two governments.  The Government did this very well, to link up people in Tasmania who wanted to explore opportunities with the Chinese business people who wanted to come and see what was in it for them.  It was stupendous.  It was thoroughly enjoyable to witness that taking place, and very well done by the Government.


Speaking of trade, I would like to hear more from the Government on the secretive Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement process and how that will benefit Tasmania, if at all.  At the risk of overplaying the Premier, one more quote:


My Government will be engaged in a more outward looking approach to international engagement and an active participation in trade missions as an essential investment in our state's future prosperity.


I could not have put that better myself, and I appreciate those thoughts.


Our future depends on how we and our products are perceived by the rest of the world and the eyes of the world are indeed upon us.  They can watch us on Google Earth as we manage our environment and forest industry.  They can see the result of development in wilderness areas and they can watch this debate in parliament in real time.  Let us be conscious of that.


Survey after survey shows the concern of Tasmanians over health.  The Premier rightly points out 'we are less healthy and more exposed to chronic disease than most other Australian populations'.  He says:  'We are developing a strategic plan for preventive health in Tasmania with a bold and ambitious vision.'  I applaud that sentiment but note that Australian, federal and state governments have not even started to come to grips with preventive health.  It is a complex problem which includes everything from local government planning to recreational areas, to legislation to encourage healthy eating, to much stronger and better resourced GP and dental systems.  What we need in the preventive health area is an intensive program of public and expert consultation.  People are becoming more aware of the problem and to some extent are more aware of the need to manage their own health and wellbeing, but they need the coordinated help from government at all levels, and from health professionals.


I mention That Sugar Film - I do not know if anyone else has seen it but the producer, director and actor, Damon Gameau, came to Launceston Saturday before last to present his film to the community.  Dr Gary Fettke invited me along to host a Q&A session after the film.  He put it on Facebook and there was a full house straightaway - 260 - and not because I was conducting the Q&A session.  When Dr Gary Fettke presents to the public, people flock to hear what he has to say because of concern for their own health, for the health of their family, and for the health of their children.  I encourage you to watch That Sugar Film.  It is very humourous, but it sends some super messages about what I was talking about before.  Gary Fettke, on his No Fructose website -


Mr Valentine - That was a special interest matter you raised.


Mr FINCH - That is right.  He raises concern and our community's concern, as you have heard from the member for Launceston, about diabetes and obesity in our community.  Those issues are wrapped up in That Sugar Film.


All this needs extensive input.  I look forward to the Government's white paper and hope it deals adequately with preventive health, not just another of the seemingly continuous and sometimes circular reorganisation of our health system.  I would also be interested to hear about the concerns about diabetes.  I hope they translate very strongly over to the white paper.  I know that the minister is being apprised of this situation by that endocrinologist who was mentioned earlier, and I am sure that if anyone is going to give a due concern it will be our Minister for Health. 


Just taking issues in the Premier's order, we come next to Education.  With Health, it is undoubtedly a top concern to Tasmanians, as it should be.  We are told the vision is to be above the national average in every NAPLAN measure.  Yet we see teacher numbers being cut.  This Government's initiative to improve rates is on the right track and we now await tangible results.  Will they be forthcoming?  Let us hope so.  It is a no-brainer that a better educated population leads to better community engagement, health and family life and improved economic productivity, and Tasmania has a lot of room for improvement.  From a retention rate of only 47 per cent, are we going to do better than the national target of 90 per cent?  We have a long way to go.  You do not get closer to that aim by cutting teacher numbers and increasing class sizes. 


That is getting down to the basics of government income.  We cannot ignore possible changes to the GST.  I cannot but strongly endorse the Premier's promise not to agree with anything which would see Tasmania's share of GST reduced. 


While I agree with the Government's aims, I endorse what the Premier has been saying about the Aboriginal community.  I look forward to positive results endorsed by that community.  To sum up the Premier's Address about heading in the right direction, I can only say that I sincerely hope it is and will continue to do so.  


In my electorate of Rosevears local government issues dominate.  The West Tamar Council covers most of the territory while not ignoring the importance of the Launceston City Council area for my electorate.  I have 15 000 voters in the West Tamar area and 9 000 voters in the Launceston area.  The Auditor-General's report card on local government puts the West Tamar Council among the top three performing councils in Tasmania.  The report reflects strong management, the high standard of elected members and the responsible financial management by the General Manager, Ian Pearce, to ensure the strong ongoing improvement of services to the municipality. 


The West Tamar Council continues to improve its community facilities and in February completed the $3 million sports pavilion at the Windsor community precinct.  That pavilion, which offers modern facilities for the various sports user groups as well as a function centre, was fully funded from council reserves.  This month the 10metre space climbing net and slide was completed at Tailrace Park to add to the already comprehensive recreational facilities at the park.  This equipment is the largest of its kind in Tasmania and is designed to build confidence in children of eight years to adulthood.  There is a small climbing net alongside the large net designed for children up to three years of age.  I will not be trying it anytime soon; I will go and watch.  The equipment's $250 000 cost was again fully funded from council reserves. 


On 31 March the new extension to the Beaconsfield Museum and Heritage Centre will be formally opened.  The opening of the mine yard will add yet another attraction to the hugely popular museum.  The museum last year attracted nearly 40 000 visitors to Beaconsfield and has won both Tasmanian and national tourism awards.  A funny story:  I had some friends from Sydney visiting - Mum, Dad and four kids - and they were driving up the street heading toward the mining centre and the eldest girl said, 'Dad, I wonder if we are going to see Todd Russell and Brant Webb', and Dad said, 'Oh, that would be Todd Russell over there!'.  It was a bloke walking his dog and it was Todd Russell.  Quite a coincidence. 


The council's focus for the next 10 years will be the development of the Legana and Exeter strategic plans.  Both of those plans involved extensive community consultation and have been adopted by council.  Legana, the fastest growing region in Tasmania last year, will see the population go from the present 3 500 residents to more than 13 000 in the next 10 years.  In Exeter the council will redevelop the community facilities that will see the incorporation of most of the widely spread existing facilities into one centralised area of Exeter.  Work on the redevelopment is expected to start in the next three to five years.  In my special interest matter tomorrow I will talk about the Exeter improvement committee, which has been working for a few years now, together with other improvement committees in the municipality.  They are doing a great job.  Exeter is looking a million dollars at this stage, and there is more to do.


That is a summary of the very successful local government program in my electorate, Madam Deputy President.  It reflects the optimism that I hold about Tasmania's future, and that I share with the Premier.