Thursday 30 May 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 2019 (No. 21)
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 2) 2019 (No. 22)

Noting of Budget Papers

[12.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, on the subject of the bus review briefing we had yesterday, it was very good to have the access to the officers, led by Gary Swain, who were looking after this circumstance.  I came equipped with about six or seven questions to ask, but nearly every member had issues they wanted to cover or observations they wanted to make, and we had quite a lot of time - about three-quarters of an hour.  It is a hot topic as far as our community is concerned, not only passengers and consumers, but also the operators who, of course, this review will affect - in some cases, quite dramatically.

My take-out from the briefing we had was that all MLCs want to be engaged in this process and have that information come back to us as well.  We want to be across the nuances of the new contracts so we can support our private operators particularly, but also passengers and consumers so that they get the best possible service the state can provide within budgetary constraints.  This is a timely review and it needed to be forensic because after this review, the contracts will be put in place for 10 years.  The operators will need the groundwork to be done properly and the framework to be there to operate efficiently, and, more importantly for them, in a financially sound way so they have incentives, which we talked about, and so the future for them looks assured.

The history - and you would be aware of this, I am sure, member for Windermere - is that the bus routes, bus contracts and situations have always been a very controversial part of our way of life in Tasmania, and that has not changed.

Moving to the Budget, there are no surprises here.  There are the priorities one would expect from a mildly conservative government - an emphasis on infrastructure and projects intended to stimulate jobs growth but not much for services like health and education.

There is nothing wrong with an emphasis on infrastructure spending.  I am not a critic of that but as long as it is infrastructure Tasmania needs.  In a tight budgetary situation there is always a trade-off in spending on services that our community needs and I mention them:  health, aged care, education and so on.

Does this Budget get the balance right?  That is what the Treasurer and his department would be seeking to do.  I will get to that more.

The problem with infrastructure spending as a job stimulus is that it often takes a long time to follow through to the actual jobs - sometimes a year or two.  When that infrastructure money is used up, quite often, out go the jobs as well.

We have to try to get the skills of Tasmanians up to such a stage that they can progress on and people can have jobs that will be retained in the future, and we also will be able to attract those Tasmanians who have left because of the downturn in opportunities in Tasmania.  We need to be able to draw them back with some certainty for their future so that they can come back to Tasmania, re-establish themselves here with their families and look to a prosperous future.

Spending on infrastructure or services for Tasmanians depends on future revenue.  I will talk more about that later.  The member for Windermere touched on that with the GST.  It is easy to see where the Budget money is going but it takes a little research and imagination to understand where it is not going or perhaps where it should.  It is our opportunity during Estimates to flesh that out and perhaps make criticisms or suggestions about where money might be better spent, hopefully in a helpful way.  We may be able to highlight things that may have been overlooked.  There is no argument that health and education always need more, no doubt about that.

What about environmental protection, climate change planning, bushfire preparedness?  All are crucial to Tasmania's main income earner, tourism.  Critics of this Budget say these problems are practically neglected; however, we see a tourism boost of $20 million to fund new tourism attractions, which is all good.

As you know I am a great promoter and supporter of tourism so to me that is quite pleasing.  I hark back to a point made by the former lord mayor of Hobart, Ron Christie, when he commented about perhaps having too many tourists here - 1.32 million in the last 12 months is the figure.  He wanted to open a debate about the need to get the balance right.  Well, he is no longer lord mayor.  He touched, not on a sore point, but on a quite interesting point because people are benefiting so much from the boost in tourism, which is just wonderful.

I am ecstatic about the fact that we have this increase and these numbers, 1.32 million; I talked about it recently when I was overseas.  I represented Skal Launceston, which has a twinning arrangement with Skal International Osaka.  I was able to represent Skal Launceston in Osaka and take a very special letter from the Premier to read.  He is a member of Skal Hobart so he has a vested interest in the development of this link between Osaka and Launceston and, in the bigger picture, Tasmania.  I was able to boast about those figures - 1.32 million - and the people who welcomed me were quite surprised at that situation.

However, there is a need for that balance.  We are able to reflect on criticisms from places like Barcelona and Venice, where, to locals in those places, their tourist numbers are abhorrent.  Tourist numbers have ruined, spoilt, the real intrinsic nature of the way the people in those cities live their lives.  Their way of life has been changed and they leave their cities during the tourist season because they cannot stand the numbers of tourists and the impact tourism has had on their cities. 

We have to try to make sure that people come to Tasmania because they want to soak up and enjoy our Tasmanian way of life.  We know it is unique; we know it is different.  We know people come, and what do they talk about when they go back home?  They talk about how friendly we are and what a great relief it is to get away from the big smokes like Melbourne and Sydney, and come to good old Tassie and just enjoy a different attitude that we have intrinsically as part of our nature.  That is reflected from our way of life.

We have to be careful we do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg and then perhaps overcook the goose.  That is a balance that needs to be carefully monitored.  That is a bit of a signal I am putting out there.  While, yes, we have this wonderful, great boost to the economy and people benefiting greatly, we need to monitor that we have the balance right. 

A big component of any budget, state or federal, is the smoke and mirrors factor, and this Budget has its fair share of that.  There are always predictions of a surplus, somewhere in the future.  It is out there, it is coming.  This time we have a prediction of $57.4 million 'soon' and increasing surpluses down the proverbial track.

Mr Dean - It is difficult for the people when they talk about surpluses and net debt in the same breath.  People struggle with it, as I do.

Mr Willie - Yesterday, you said that there was a cash operating surplus - there is not.  They are spending more than the revenue they are receiving.

Mr FINCH - Would you like me to continue, Mr President?  Mind you, it is pretty interesting.

The smoke and mirrors includes the usual accounting tricks and the use of the Motor Accident Insurance Board and TASCORP to procure special dividends to boost the bottom line, totalling $98.7 million in that category.  Net debt will increase to $284.5 million by the end of the next fiscal year and to an alarming $1.1 billion in 2023.

Ms Rattray - If you say it quickly, it does not seem quite so much.

Mr FINCH - Did I say it quickly enough?  The Treasurer describes this as modest and manageable.  I have never shied away from suggesting that we can go into net debt, particularly at a time like now when interest rates are so low.  I am all for borrowing for building things when those interest rates are low.

[2.35 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, earlier I was talking about revenue raising by the Government, the consumption tax on gambling and the GST.  I had my rant about Colin Barnett and his treatment of Tasmania in that GST debate.  There is the problem of stamp duty when, really, no-one seems to know what is going to happen with the housing market. 

Back to spending, it seems obvious that if you continue to limit public sector wage rises to 2 per cent, government employees will continue to have less to spend.  This will obviously have an effect on the economy and many will consider it unfair.  This policy is having an increasing effect on morale so it will not be off the agenda as far as the workers are concerned. 

Like every budget, this one has only so much to spread around.  This Government has carefully considered its options in its own ideological framework - of course, there will always be those who disagree with the distribution. 

I am going to digress for a moment to ask a question of the Leader.  Leader, the Greyhound Adoption Program - GAP - has received funding in this year's Budget.  Where is it located in the budget papers?

In last year's state budget the Government allocated $30 000 to the Brightside Farm Sanctuary.  These funds were important to the work that Brightside undertakes, particularly in rehoming of greyhounds.  Has the Government continued this valuable funding, given there is still no progress on the purpose-built GAP facility required by breeders and owners to house, retrain and rehome greyhounds post their racing careers?  If some information can be provided on that situation, Leader, that will be appreciated.

As I said at the beginning of my presentation, there are no surprises in this Budget but also no nasties.  However, it is seriously deficient in a number of areas.  I referred earlier to environmental protection, climate change planning and bushfire preparedness, mostly to do with global warming.  You can add to that species extinction. 

We have seen images of environmental protesters lying on the ground at transport hubs, venues and shopping centres around the world.  Extinction Rebellion supporters have held a series of mass dieā€‘ins to highlight the risk of the human race becoming extinct as a result of climate change.  Protesters in France, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other countries lay across the ground on Saturday, 27 April to demand drastic action to avert environmental collapse.  Many held handwritten signs asking, 'Are we next?'  Children held pictures they had drawn of their favourite at-risk animals.  We need to be aware that this is occurring in our world at this time. 

This draws me to an issue I have spoken about here in a special interest speech a couple of times, and I have asked questions about it - the situation with our wombats in Tasmania.  It is sometimes on the radar, sometimes off the radar.  It all depends on the mood of the media, the mood of the agitators and the mood of what is going on in this space.  I would probably draw to the attention of the minister in charge of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment - DPIPWE - would that be Guy Barnett? -

Mrs Hiscutt - Yes, that is correct.

Mr FINCH - What I would call our tourist-ready wombats face statewide extinction.  We need to be very cautious - we have already seen what has happened with the Tasmanian devil and the progress of that across the state.  Sarcoptic mange is a shocking issue for wombats; we are losing them.  I want to bring the flawed measuring method used by DPIPWE to the minister's attention.  I wonder if the minister might be able to ask questions about the method they use for measuring it.  From the information that comes to me, the measurement is flawed. 

Also, is the minister not prepared to allocate funding to a dedicated mange unit as we called for in the upper House late last year?  The need for such a unit was confirmed in the National Report: Australia’s Response to Sarcoptic Mange in Wombats and the Senate inquiry into native animal decimation which lists over 400 species under threat.  I salute people from my electorate, particularly at Kelso, who are the Wombat Warriors.  They are doing what they can with limited support and there is a lot of negativity around what they are trying to achieve for the sake of wombats. 
 Tourists are ready - here they are - imagine our Asian friends, Japanese and Chinese who come here.  How exotic it is to come to Tasmania to see our wombats in plentiful supply.  Then, whoops, 'No, I did not spot one this trip, in Narawntapu.'  Harry Butler when he had that wildlife program stayed at Narawntapu and said it had more wildlife than he had ever seen in any location in Australia.  Go there now and try to find a wombat - that is what he was highlighting, the wombats that were there, but go there now and try to find a wombat there - you will not find one, they are gone, they are gone from Narawntapu. 

Alarm bells are ringing and very few are hearing them.  My Wombat Warriors are beavering away, but as members know, volunteers and community groups run out of energy when they bank up against negativity, when they feel they are not being supported and that people are not recognising the urgency of the issue and they are not getting the kind of support they need to continue their work with enthusiasm.  That is what they want to do and that is what they need to have, but who are the leaders here?  Who are the leaders that fire up that enthusiasm?  It has to come from the Government, it has to come from the minister, it has to come from the department. 

There is no question about firing up the community, but you cannot fire up the community when you have no budget.  When you are beavering away out there and you feel you are on a treadmill and are not being recognised, well, then the enthusiasm starts to sap.  Out the door it goes and people move away, they find other things to be interested in where there might be a bit of support and a bit of enthusiasm going on.  I will just ring that alarm bell again in respect of our wombats.  Their loss will be another sad indictment of Tasmania.  We had the trouble - look at what we have lost.  In previous iterations of civilisation in Tasmania, we had the Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine; giant wombat;  the dodo - I do not think that existed here - but we had a giant emu here.  They are all gone, all gone. 

The devil was a classic example which we nearly lost and the wombat is in the same situation.  We have to be careful - and that is not talking about painful, shocking death they to go through with the itching and scratching caused by sarcoptic mange, where they go blind and deaf and cannot find themselves around a paddock.  They are prey to predators, dogs and other animals, eagles and birds can attack them.  They have no idea where they are because they are blind and deaf and they scratch the fur off their bodies. It is a terrible circumstance and I am saying again: there are people out there who are heartbroken this situation is occurring and is not being fully recognised by DPIPWE.

It is not only our animals threatened.  Recent research shows a massive drop in insect population and that includes bees, which are vital for human survival.  Concerned experts say industrial agriculture insecticides being used on a massive scale, overfishing and deforestation have led to food shortages.  In the demonstrations on the 27 April protestors in Melbourne held placards saying, 'You are never too small to make a difference.'

I strongly suggest governments that ignore these widely held concerns do so at their peril.  I am not arguing for big Tasmanian Government spending on these issues; it is not needed at this stage.  Leadership is needed and acknowledgment of the problems could be signified by the establishment of appropriate bodies with some seed funding.  This would show that the Tasmanian Government understands there is a problem and is working on ways to solve it.  It is not without significance most protestors are younger people - obviously they are the ones facing a denuded earth and a future that will not be as bright as it should be.  Not forgetting they are the ones who will make their votes count in future elections.

On ABC radio with Leon Compton, the West Tamar mayor, Christina Holmdahl, was guest speaker and fairly positive about the budget process.  We missed out federally because we were looking for a couple of roundabouts to be installed with a federal Labor government.  A couple of roundabouts are needed for safety, to help children going to and from schools and calming traffic but that has not come about so we move on.

The state Government's infrastructure spend is going to invest considerably in the West Tamar.  This is from reports about the dangers on the Frankford main road and the West Tamar Highway for many years.  It is a disgrace that 40 000 tourists going to the mining museum in Beaconsfield, Seahorse World and Platypus House have to travel on a very dangerous road.

When next you are travelling up on the West Tamar Highway after you come over Bradys Lookout - which has been fixed to a certain extent - make note of the road into Exeter heading north.  It has a ditch on one side and if you went down there, your car would virtually land on its roof.  On the left-hand side there is no footpath and a ditch very close to the road.  On the other side where pedestrians have to walk and women wheel prams, there is about a three-foot distance between yourself, buses and trucks.  It is a very narrow road anyway.  It is called the West Tamar Highway - it is not a highway; if it did not have bitumen, you would call it a dirt track.  It has been like that since I was elected 17 years ago.  I have been calling for work there during that time and it is an absolute shocker.  Mind you, I will say that over the years some problems on the West Tamar Highway have been rectified.

I reported a terrible one in parliament, which was at Supply River where school buses and trucks would lose their rear vision mirrors because they were passing each other in what was a channel of guards on the side of the road.  Local people feared that if somebody had a heart attack, for example, and their vehicle went out of control, there was nowhere to go to avoid a collision with another vehicle because you could not drive off the road.  It was super dangerous but it was rectified and that was a good spend.  It made everybody feel safer about travelling on the roads 

Certainly that is one of the main issues for West Tamar related to the state Budget.

The members for Windermere, Launceston and McIntyre mentioned how gravely concerned we are about the work of New Horizons continuing statewide.

Ms Armitage - We are still watching.

Mr FINCH - Do not worry, we are watching you.  They have received funding from the state Government to help them through this hump, where their funding has been discombobulated because of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The ever-popular NDIS has thrown everything up in the air, and organisations that have served our community brilliantly, like StGiles, New Horizons and Eskleigh with well-placed, secure and certain facilities, no longer have those adjectives applying to their operations because of NDIS.  What can I say?

One observation was that it has been underfunded.  That was exposed during the federal election campaign.  That has to be sorted so it can be reflected back into the work of New Horizons which is outside the parameters of the NDIS due to a different structure of funding.  Those organisations have to be looked after, helped, nurtured and kept in our community because they are built on such solid foundations.  We cannot lose them.

I salute the work of New Horizons, and Belinda Kitto and her team.  They are a fantastic operation for those in our community who need help and support.

Mr Dean - Who is going to take on their role if they did not continue?

Mr FINCH - Absolutely.  New Horizons has around 500 active members in a sporting club for people with disabilities.  It is such a wonderful opportunity, not only for those members, who are able to participate with people at a high level, but also for their carers.

The parents and the carers are over the moon with New Horizons because they have a social outlet with people who are in a similar situation.  If they did not have the club to go to, how would they enrich their lives as much as they do now with New Horizons?  Socially, it provides a really good service which gives them so much confidence and connection with other people in the community.  We will keep a watching brief on New Horizons to make sure it is kept in our mixture of opportunities for disadvantaged people.

Mr Dean - It would be good to invite some of them to this place one day.

Ms Rattray - Belinda has been here.