Thursday 17 March 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, you have to feel sorry for the state Government. Within a few months it has been hit with these two unexpected disasters: an unpredicted fire season when as many as 300 bushfires raged across the state; and the failure of the Basslink cable and our water storages have been run down by Hydro strategy and very low rainfall. On top of that is continuing uncertainty over Tasmania's financial situation, however the Government chooses to spin it.
The Premier says the estimated cost of this year's fires is likely to exceed $25 million. He has spoken of two separate studies. The first is an independent inquiry initiated by the Tasmania Fire Service. This will be overseen by Stuart Ellis, who looked at the unpredictable Canberra bushfires and Victoria's Black Saturday. The study and management of Australian bushfires is becoming highly scientific and Stuart Ellis is the appropriate person to examine the future management of Tasmanian bushfires, especially in wilderness areas.
The second study will look specifically at the impact of climate change on Tasmania's wilderness areas and how we can prepare for the increasing risk of fires there. It is hard to evaluate the changes to CSIRO policies in this area. I understand that they are not at all helpful.
It is clear that Tasmania is facing an increasing bushfire risk and we must do everything possible to be prepared. The Tasmania Fire Service is doing a superb job in many areas. I referred to their community relations program in my special interest speech on Tuesday. It is helping the community to better understand and to assess fire risks, to prepare for them, and to make decisions whether to stay and defend properties or to evacuate safely. This work has been going on for quite some time. You may remember - it would be a year or two ago - every household in Tasmania was given a CD on how to prepare for and handle our fire situation in Tasmania. That program continues. The program also improves communications between landholders and firefighting crews, enabling better decisions to be taken to improve the safety of fire crews and residents. Our mobile phone coverage in rural areas is vital here. There really is a long way to go in eliminating some of the dangerous blackspots still occurring in Tasmania.
The second unexpected problem this Government has had to cope with, and indeed is likely to have to cope with for some months, is our energy crisis. This could be disastrous. It is now likely that the Basslink cable will not be repaired before late May, as we have heard this morning. There is also great uncertainty about the financial backing of Basslink Pty Ltd, the owner of the cable. It does not have the resources to back a possible long and costly repair operation.
Much of this will come out during the investigations by the task force that has been appointed to be led by Geoff Willis . Basslink is owned by a Singapore-listed infrastructure business which apparently, from what was reported in the Financial Review, does not necessarily have to bail it out if things go wrong. Is the Tasmanian Government in a position to pick up the pieces if it goes wrong?
The Premier gave a revealing interview with the Sunday Tasmanian newspaper's Matt Smith on 6 March. Mr Smith asked the following question: 'Is there a possibility that they' - that is, Basslink Pty Ltd - 'could say, "Look, we can't find the fault, we are sorry but we are going to have to pull it out"?' The Premier's response as reported was:
I am seriously reluctant to rule out any possible scenario because what has happened over the last few months has been entirely unexpected and unprecedented.
We are having record low rainfalls, record low dam storage levels, and outage of an asset that has not experienced such a significant disruption in its operating history.
So I think this experience has shown us that not only can the unexpected occur - often in combination - but we have got to put in place contingency plans, which we are doing.
Yes, they come at a cost. But it is integral for government to provide energy security for households and businesses.
But [it is integral] also to future-proof the state and to speak as a Government and a community about how we can future-proof across a number of areas, including energy security, fire response, and climate change, etc.
I'm not inclined to speculate about what may or what may not be possible because recent months have shown us anything is.
But the critical thing is how we respond to these things as they arise.
I am wondering if we should be afraid, very afraid. However, I do not want to use alarmist phrases or words.
I would like to finish with one more quote from the Premier's interview with Matt Smith.
Question: 'Could the issues facing Basslink sink the state?' The answer by the Premier was:
No, no way. Our state is far stronger.
We are dealing with tough circumstances, and any suggestion by our political opponents that we are not taking these really difficult, challenging circumstances with the highest level of priority is wrong.
We will get through this, but these are quite extraordinary circumstances and it is our job to manage it.
We will manage through it and people will make their call in two years' time.
My view of the Premier's interview is that it was forthright and honest, but I wish I could share his apparent confidence.
Mr President, I am not sure how we got into this mess, but let us get out of it, learn from it, and make sure it never happens again. Our island state is too vulnerable and I applaud the decision to set up a task force to carry out those investigations.
If it had not been for this Basslink situation and the bushfires, the Premier's Address would have sounded a lot more optimistic, and rightly so because tourism is looking good. I have always been a strong advocate for tourism and the presence that it has in the state and as a driver of our economy, which at times has been put down to a certain extent. Over the years I have been here I have been very frustrated by the sense that tourism was not as strong as it could be. I think now we are seeing the value.
When we went to New Zealand - and the now Leader was then on a committee with Don Wing - our observation was outstanding in the way they regard tourism. They put it on a level that I am sure permeates through the community, to everybody, not just the people involved in the tourism industry. People feel they are part of the tourism industry. You get a sense of that because the government rightly puts tourism up there, along with private industry, jockeying for position as number one, as the driver of the economy of New Zealand. Who is the minister for tourism in New Zealand? The prime minister, John Key. That is how they view tourism and that sense comes through to everybody.
I was talking about Uber and its likely introduction into Tasmania, although we still have to have that debate.
Mrs Taylor - It is effectively operating.
Mr FINCH - I have not availed myself of that service at this stage.
We were discussing why there would be an opportunity for Uber to make gains into what is an established business. People have been in it for years, so how can they be superseded or challenged or put into that top competitive environment when they have had the opportunity for so long to be in control of their situation?
I go back to New Zealand. When we were there, and the Leader might help me, I think it was in Wellington where we saw the taxi service and their vehicles were absolutely shining and spotless. Every driver was wearing a uniform. It is about the community and businesses recognising their role, particularly in tourism. How impressed was I in Wellington when I saw that occurring! Wow, it really stood out for me.
That is the tourism aspect. It is looking great. One of the big criticisms of recent years has been that the regions have not benefited from whatever tourism was coming into the state. The bigger centres of Launceston and Hobart were dominating, but what about us in the regions? We were not feeling the flow-on effects. I am not getting it now; people in those regions are quite happy with the way their situation is unfolding when everybody else is talking about Uber, saying yes, we are doing pretty well too.
A friend of mine has recently gone on to Stayz. He was curious about whether Stayz was going to be an effective method of utilising a house - he commutes between Perth and Deviot - and he was not sure whether this opportunity of Stayz was going to be of benefit to him. He took some convincing by us that he had the sort of place that people were going to want to come to. While he was in Perth we convinced him that we would help get him established and look after the place, iron the sheets, dust the place, vacuum it and get it ready for people. From going on Stayz, his first booking came within four hours; subsequently, constant bookings. It is the Tamar Valley; it is about having a river retreat. It is about having those elements, plenty of bedrooms, and opportunities to share with friends. That is what is happening. This is just one minor example. I think the regions are benefiting, tourism is looking good.
The Premier is confident that with an improving economy we can make progress in these areas - health, education, skills, employment, and protecting vulnerable people in our community. We must look to make progress as much as we can. Let us hope so.
The Premier must bless the day when he made the decision to appoint himself as the Minister for Tourism. It not a bad gig and there are many very positive things that can come with being the Minister for Tourism and rightly so. I trust that he is enjoying that opportunity to be at the helm of what I see as one of the great drivers of our economy, and it looks like being that for some time into the future. I hope so.
Tasmania's produce is in increasing demand. I will not steal any of the speech by the member for Western Tiers. I am sure he is going to talk about how good the primary industry side of things and agriculture is.
Mr Hall - No, no problem at all, you can mention it.
Mr FINCH - No. I think we are in increasing demand, we are hearing a lot of good news stories - the irrigation of course for cropping, et cetera. I have a lot of confidence in that sector of our state.
The threat to the GST revenue has been staved off, even if only for the time being. But at least that threat was not there and we have come through. I still cannot get over that attack from the Premier of Western Australia. My blood boils every time I think about that, when I reflect on the times that Western Australia was going pretty ordinary and Tassie was part of the situation that helped them through their tough times. Here he was, when Western Australia was going gangbusters, wanting to point the finger at Tasmania and South Australia and the way they were getting more than they deserved. I thought that was very rich. He has recanted to a certain extent. I think he has been bashed about a bit by the federal people, thankfully, for that. It was not right in our Federation to take that stance. We are okay with the GST at this time.
Investors are becoming increasingly interested in Tasmania's potential. Hopefully we can show that confidence as well. Confidence is not where we would like it to be. It is growing all the time. The stability of having a majority government and having the same brand federally must surely start to resonate with people before long that that is not a bad combination to have, and that now is the time to loosen the purse strings and to start to invest. I believe Tasmania's potential will have to be recognised.
We have come a long way in some areas which affect every Tasmanian. We have a long way to go in other areas, like with health, education, skills, employment, and protecting vulnerable people in our community. These are the things that we must always cast our eyes towards and make sure that we are maintaining the balance and working as hard as we can to support people in those areas.
It was interesting at our gathering last night to speak with the minister for Education. I want to publicly thank him. During the budget Estimates I invited him to visit the Beaconsfield Child and Family Centre. I think of it as an exemplar in respect of child and family care centres, but I am hoping it is not. I am hoping others have matched it and have come along on the journey of having that opportunity in their community. From what the minister said last night, that is occurring. He is thrilled with the way the Beaconsfield Child and Family Centre and child centres generally are unfolding. He came to Beaconsfield and was mightily impressed. I thought it was very good for our community and that is why I issued the invitation - our people there are working very hard but they are in a bit of a vacuum. They do not know how they sit in respect to how the minister feels or how his advisers feel about the operation. They just go about doing their business, feeling that they are doing the right thing and are getting the results. They have good KPIs there and have a sense that they are succeeding.
The minister confirmed with me yesterday that he thought they were doing a fantastic job. He was mightily impressed with the way they go about things. Having the Early Learning Centre, the library and the school there, it is all a bit of a snap. We have the Community Centre and the Neighbourhood Centre, so we have that hub around what was just the primary school at one stage. Its growth has been quite fantastic and very beneficial for our community at Beaconsfield and for the West Tamar as well.
He also visited our LINC - I have put some questions on notice about LINC and our online centre, which I have been concerned about. It was good to have some assurances from him that their fears can be allayed in respect of their immediate future. I have passed that message onto the people at the LINC and they are thrilled with that acknowledgement. Again, he was very impressed with the work they are doing.