OP-ED: New Horizons Funding Rejection Puzzling
2 April 2020, The Examiner
For anyone unfamiliar with the work of New Horizons Tasmania Inc. I would invite you to get online and have a look at the incredible opportunities they provide to Tasmanians living with a disability, their friends, family and carers.
Established in 1986, New Horizons runs a roster of sporting and social activities statewide including tennis, Aussie rules football, cricket, basketball and the lower impact activities like arts and crafts, socials and song and dance. Membership is open to people with any disability (intellectual, physical, spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders and more), from ages 5 and upwards.
The importance of an organization like New Horizons isn’t limited to just those who participate in their activities, but also their friends, families and carers whose bonds over shared joys and hobbies, extend far beyond the activities of New Horizons and into everyday life. Members and volunteers of New Horizons describe it as a beautiful community, where everyone can belong and be their best selves.
Moreover, the work being done by New Horizons, to build inclusion, social mobility and focus on health and wellbeing makes significant strides towards preventing serious health issues and isolation. New Horizons works to bring their volunteers, members and their families together, making our communities more cohesive and inclusive. The utility and need for valuable organisations like New Horizons in our community cannot be understated.
Historically, New Horizons has received funding from the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services to cover approximately one third of their funding which equates to a significant amount of their operational costs. When the National Disability Insurance Scheme was rolled out in Tasmania, this funding to New Horizons was redirected to the NDIS, leaving them to seek funds elsewhere.
Under the NDIS, there are grants available for organisations like New Horizons under the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building stream which is “about creating connections between people with a disability and the communities they live in”. During 2019, New Horizons applied three different times to the NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity grants program and three times, were unsuccessful. Needless to say, this was an extremely disappointing development.
Through their state-wide programme of activities, New Horizons supports over 400 Tasmanians with a disability – not all of whom may necessarily qualify for NDIS support. Consequently, New Horizons bridges a gap that some people may fall into by providing these quality services and activities for people who are fundamentally valued in our community and are deserving of support.
The future of New Horizons at this time, and especially with the advent of the Novel Coronavirus threat, is uncertain.
The funding New Horizons currently receives – in the order of under $120,000 per annum – has been the same as from their inception in 1986. This funding ensures a ‘doors open’ policy, covering one salary, insurances and a small amount of admin. The modest program fees from their members and revenue from fundraising initiatives which New Horizons receives covers the cost of one part-time admin employee and one part-time communications, partnerships and marketing employee. The organisation runs on the smell of an oily rag and yet provides such a vital and much-needed set of activities to people who will be significantly disadvantaged if New Horizons is forced to close its doors.
In my discussions with New Horizons, I believe they have been very proactive in seeking out funding sources and adapting their activities to meet the objectives of grants programs, and I am puzzled as to why they have thus far been unsuccessful. This isn’t to suggest that the funding programs New Horizons has applied to have unfairly assessed their applications, but it is disappointing to see that the work that New Horizons does seems to be inconsistent with the priorities of NDIS funding programs – something which I find difficult to understand.
New Horizons conducted interviews with six participants from the club and was able to summarise their activities across five key themes: sporting opportunities, health benefits, growth and development, importance of friendships and belonging and inclusion.
These are all very important themes for any organisation, but for one which works with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community, its importance becomes amplified. The benefits these themes bring to New Horizons members’ lives permeate throughout their own family and friendship networks and ultimately, is a strong preventative measure to our health and social security system. There is no downside to New Horizons’s comprehensive roster of programs and activities and supporting them is a win for everybody.
Bringing attention to the work Of New Horizons and the positivity they foster in our community is one way to do that, and I urge all others to get to know the fantastic work they do and help in any way they can. They are a truly inspirational organization working with truly inspirational people.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC
OP-ED: A Single Tamar Authority Worth Discussing
19 March 2020, The Examiner
THE Tamar River, or Kanamaluka, which runs through our wonderful city of Launceston, has experienced some extraordinary changes since Launceston developed and it changes drastically every year.
As an estuary leading out to sea, the Tamar naturally shifts from fresh to saltwater during the year with ebb and flood tides, and along with the changing weather, develops mudflats which, whilst unpleasant to look at, are a part of the natural cycle.
Dredging, a process to drag along the bottom of the waterway to artificially deepen it, has historically been used as a way to move larger vessels into, and back out of the river.
It is a practice which continues to be brought up as a possible solution to target the mudflats to "clean" the river but, as they continue forming despite this, dredging has more or less been debunked as a practical solution to restore the Tamar to optimal health. It was also found that dredging in times of high floods, while somewhat successful in removing silt, had detrimental effects further downstream.
While the mudflats are aesthetically displeasing, I believe the biggest issue by far is the amount of faecal matter in our river.
In Launceston, our combined drainage system involving over 9200 homes, was constructed in the 1860s and during periods of heavy rain, has no option but to release stormwater and raw or partly treated sewage into the waterways.
In 2018-19, there were 15 spills due to wet weather ranging from 400,000 litres to one consisting of 1.2 million litres.
A river, running through a city, containing combined stormwater and sewage is not what you would expect to see in a first-world country and is not something that we should be willing to tolerate. I note TasWater and the state government have a 10-year plan with a new secondary treatment plant to cut raw sewage emissions into the Tamar estuary at a cost of around $285 million and I believe this should happen much earlier.
In the meantime, we have the River Health Action Plan, an initiative developed under the Launceston City Deal, which details the main issues affecting river health and quality and establishes a framework to resolve the most pressing issues.
The taskforce has quite rightly decided to make its initial focus to look "at actions to improve public health measures", "eg. faecal contamination from human and other sources as measured by enterococci levels in the water". The $100 million under the Launceston City Deal has been provided to address this and much of this funding will go towards catchment works, such as fencing out livestock from the river and thus reducing contamination.
More of this funding will go towards improving combined system catchments.
It is expected that a considerable amount of the contaminants that enter the Tamar will be eliminated once the combined system catchment improvements are made and it is hoped this will occur sooner rather than later.
What enters the river upstream affects what occurs downstream and by monitoring and eliminating waste that goes in, river health as a whole will be improved. Leadership on the health and amenity of the Tamar River Estuary is required and the City Deal does present an opportunity to do this.
While my sincerest hope is that there is adequate follow-through to ensure that our river is made an asset to our region and provides amenity for the generations to come, over the preceding decades there has been report after report and incalculable dollars spent on experts and working groups that it becomes more talk and less action.
So many interests, individuals and groups have had a say in discussions on how to improve the Tamar's health from more Cataract Gorge flow to barrages or weirs but to date, we still have a river that is more of a liability than an asset to our city. We can only imagine the kind of interest and economic activity a clean, beautiful river would generate.
There are plenty of issues and possible solutions on the table, but there seems no one group able to take responsibility and leadership, and the steps needed to improve the state of the river. This has to change.
As the famous quote says "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".
It has been suggested that a single authority could be established and charged with responsibility for the Tamar River, which is certainly a discussion worth having.
Getting to the stage to task one organisation or authority with these responsibilities would likely be a challenge but the dividends would be extremely valuable and the state government should take notice of this as a possible course of action.
We can only imagine he kind of interest and economic activity a clean, beautiful river would generate.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC
OP-ED: Metro Must Take Notice of Community Angst
5 March 2020, The Examiner
THERE are situations in the community that I am aware of, particularly for people who rely on the Metro bus service who are older or have mobility or other issues, that the new service plan makes less accessible or convenient.
Many people in the community I have spoken to, especially in places that have lost or changed services are feeling disadvantaged.
I would also urge consideration for frontline workers as it is not just bus users who could be caught up in this.
Spare a thought for bus drivers who often go out of their way to assist passengers and Metro staff managing calls and emails, who all work so hard and can cop much of the flack for these decisions and changes.
The implementation of the new service plan, depending on the route, has caused concern and disappointment for many.
There is a level of discontent in the community over some of these changes and in the past few weeks, I have counted at least eight published letters to the editor in The Examiner with even more comments left on Facebook.
I have also been approached with regard to some bus stop and route changes, and in the wake of the new service plan's implementation, many people I have spoken to feel ignored and alienated from decision.
In addition, some bus routes to the Launceston General Hospital are changed and somewhat confusing and an Examiner letter to the editor on February 17 on this issue was clear - a route that had previously taken 10 minutes and went straight past the hospital now takes people from West Launceston 40 minutes and requires a changeover in the city.
The consultation campaign was from April 'to June 2019 using letterboxing, newspaper, radio, posters and social media to advise people that a review was taking place, and passively relied on the community getting in touch with the Department, rather than proactively seeking out feedback. From this feedback five major changes were proposed.
Unfortunately often it is only once change is implemented that we appreciate the difficulties and hopefully it is not too late for some tweaking to ensure the community is well catered for.
I am told the changes are for the good of the community, to make it easier to catch a bus, and to take less time to get where you are going, but some people may have a longer walk.
Many of the people I have spoken to don't agree, and it will be harder in some areas for elderly people especially who may have further to walk, as they can't all get taxis or community cars.
What was a 100 metre or less walk to the bus may now be a 400 metre walk. That is fine for someone fit and healthy, but not for the aged, infirmed or perhaps a mum with stroller, toddlers or shopping. A quicker trip may be more attractive for some, but we can't forget those who have no option but to catch a bus and find 400 metre down hill hard, but 400 metre up hill, impossible, especially in Tasmania's colder and hotter months.
Understandably, any organisation would want to review bus services that have few passengers and I am advised Metro trips are free before 7am, to encourage people to go to work earlier, thus finishing earlier meaning less cars on the road. If State Growth want to make a real impact Metro buses could be free before 9am and after 5.30pm.
This would have a positive impact on our CBD and peak hour traffic with more people catching buses and less cars on the roads.
Metro is a government business enterprise which operates the majority of the state's public metropolitan bus services. This imposes on them an obligation to service customers who rely on their services in the manner that is most efficient, reliable and safe. Metro must provide services to people who rely on them, even if it isn't always to a profit.
After all, according to Metro's website, their values are: safety, respect, resilience, unity and service-driven. Interestingly the Metro board is currently comprised of six people, not one of which is based in the state's north or north-west.
On a positive note the changes have been welcomed in some areas, and I am pleased to hear that more weekend services have been put on, as many suburbs have been disadvantaged in the past with a lack of Saturday and Sunday buses.
I would urge Metro to take notice of community concern and implement changes on the new service plan where and when it disadvantages people who need the service the most and have relied on it for so long.
There is still time to listen to the community and get their priorities right: servicing the community safely, reliably and respectfully.
Rosemary Armitage is the Independent member for Launceston.
Many people in the community I have spoken "to, especially in places that have lost or changed services, are feeling disadvantaged.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC
OP-ED: Review Needed to Improve Safety Outcomes
20 February 2020, The Examiner
FOR some time, I have been hearing of issues with the Tasmanian Building Act. Brought into force in 2016, the act enumerates four different categories of work, based on the level of risk involved.
The act also allows for so-named "competent persons" and "owner-builders" to undertake a wider range of works in the lower-risk categories. However, the act has failed to provide clear guidance on how that work should be undertaken to maximise safety, consistency and legality.
The Building Act is supplemented by directives issued by the director of building control. These directives are for the "making of determinations for miscellaneous procedural requirements" or the "issuing of guidelines to assist in complying with the act".
What has occurred in reality are rules being made up on the run, with little scrutiny or input from those working in the industry.
As a result, the operation of the act has had the perverse effect of increasing red tape by making the categories of works harder to understand.
As work becomes more difficult to undertake and riskier to complete, insurance for builders and building surveyors may fail to cover the work. Consequently, insurance becomes more expensive to obtain, especially where builders or surveyors are working to advice which is difficult to properly comply with.
This is especially relevant to professional indemnity insurance, the nature of which requires a policy-holder to mitigate all risks as much as possible. This made headlines in Launceston last year when Building Surveyor Protek closed after the company's insurance premiums rose from $25,000 to $80,000 and its excess from $5000 to $50,000.
Seven people lost their jobs.
Owing to misunderstandings of the act and difficulty in knowing when permits and reports are required, much of the defective work being carried out residentially leaves homeowners with little prospect to recover damages. Residential work is being completed by "competent persons" and not necessarily registered builders. The Building Act allows this for certain jobs that are defined by the act as being "lower risk".
However, even jobs that are "lower risk" can have a significant effect on the overall quality of a home. Consequently, the only legal option for those seeking recompense for defective work is to personally sue the person who did the work - assuming they can afford a lawyer and the person being sued could actually afford a payout. A typical family who buys a residence that has had unlawful and/or unregistered work may therefore be purchasing a liability, not an asset.
The Building Act does not seem to have delivered the benefits it promised. To be transparent, I voted to pass this bill in 2016.
I particularly believed that it was important that small building works could be undertaken by an owner-builder or a competent person, in order to make things easier for residential developments such as construction of a lean-to or a carport.
Over time the practical effects have become clearer, and not only have industry practitioners had difficulty adapting to the requirements of the act, non-professionals do not possess the expertise to understand what these rules actually mean. The number of determinations issued in the interim has also meant that the system of rules and regulations is now manifestly different to what it was when the act was initially passed.
In 2018, the Building Confidence report (the Shergold Weir report) examined the building industry nationwide, identifying a number of issues and made suggestions for remediation. One issue identified was the inconsistent requirements for registration for industry practitioners to operate between jurisdictions.
"Some states and territories have been reluctant to register practitioners in other jurisdictions on the basis that they believe the registration standards set by other jurisdictions are of a lower level," according to the report.
There is one case I am aware of where the Victorian Administrative Appeals Tribunal determined that conditions for registration under the Tasmanian act were so radically different to the conditions in the Victorian act that a Tasmanian practitioner was refused permission to work in Victoria - even though they were actually capable of doing the work in question. Reading between the lines, one could argue that the judiciary is making a statement about the quality of the Tasmanian act.
Practitioners I have spoken to are increasingly dissatisfied and, in some cases, are looking to get out of the industry entirely. They are working harder than ever before and are competing with unqualified practitioners who suffer minimal consequences if their project fails, as they work in an occupation (such as landscaping) which falls outside of the act.
What is clear is that the act needs to be reviewed to improve safety outcomes, provide certainty to those working in the industry and bring some degree of flexibility to lower risk jobs.
This will require meaningful consultation with those who work across this entire industry for the safest and most productive outcome for all Tasmanian building projects.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC
OP-ED: Problems & Pitfalls with Planning Scheme
6 February 2020, The Examiner
HAVING spent nine years on local council I am well aware of the deficiencies and intricacies of the Land Use Planning Act and more than once I have seen people deflated, angry and left scratching their heads when something that seemed so simple and a no-brainer was refused.
Refused, not because the planner didn't think it was reasonable or met many conditions of the planning scheme, but because at least one criteria were not permitted under the Act. It is not just the big developers who are affected, and who we hear about regularly, it is also the everyday person, be it, mum and dad, young couples renovating, or in some cases people making what seems a simple addition or change to their home.
We are seeing residential developments suffering in cases which can be characterised as vexatious and, at times, downright absurd. An example is a shed, which incidentally could not be seen from the road or other properties, proposed on a large rural residential block in the Rural Living Zone with many of the neighbouring blocks already having sheds much larger.
This constituent jumped through lots of hoops before being advised that under the current interim planning scheme you cannot have greater outbuildings (one or combined) of 150m2 in this zone.
However, he was advised that if he waited for the new statewide planning scheme, this would be discretionary and in all likelihood approved. Northern Tasmania, Launceston in particular, has already seen two significant developments slip through its fingers, due in part, to burdensome and confusing planning and development regulations.
Developers Errol Stewart and Josef Chromy have decided to move prospective developments to southern Tasmania. The loss of these developments from Launceston translates into the loss of tens of millions of investment dollars. All developers need certainty and confidence to go forward as well as a level of consistency across this small state.
The Examiner's editorial (January 28) rightfully pointed out that the push for a statewide planning scheme goes back years, my recollection being it was to have been in place from July 1, 2017.
The Tasmanian Planning Scheme is slated to "deliver consistency in the planning controls applying across the state, and provide the necessary flexibility to address local issues".
To this end, the scheme will consist of State Planning Provisions, which are the baseline standards to which all developments in all municipalities must comply, and the Local Provisions Schedules which are council-specific and allow them to make variations to development applications to preserve local character as councils are best placed to determine specific requirements or "unique" places in their own municipalities.
The Tasmanian Planning Scheme still seems very much unsettled and until it is, interim planning schemes are in place.
Some degree of statewide standardisation is apparent under the interim schemes, but clearly, some municipalities are more attractive to developers than others.
As I understand it, most councils submitted their draft Local Provision Schedules in the latter half of 2019 and it is expected that the entirety of the Tasmanian Planning Scheme is to be finalised and in place later this year. I believe the Tasmanian Planning Commission will publicly exhibit the draft provisions in the coming months and following this the commission will then provide final approval, with sign off by the relevant minister, allowing the statewide provisions to take effect.
We have waited long enough and the consequences are already being felt.
Launceston is a city which is aspiring to be one of the great regional cities in Australia if not the world.
However, if the Tasmanian Planning Scheme is not implemented properly and expediently, we will become further ill-prepared to meet the future needs that are quickly becoming apparent.
With hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into our region through the City Deal and the University Transformation Project (among other projects), we need to be thinking - and acting - quickly to ensure that our infrastructure is well-prepared to accommodate the associated growth in population, business and services.
The loss of these developments from Launceston translates into the loss of tens of millions of investment dollars to our region. All developers need certainty and confidence to go forward as well as a level of consistency across this small state.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC
OP-ED: Launceston Ring Road Must be Seriously Considered
28 August 2019, The Examiner
The question of an eastern bypass, ring road or link road for Launceston has been going around in circles for years.
In July 2018, then Infrastructure Minister Jeremy Rockliff responding to questions advised of the establishment of a Northern Councils Transport Working Group to identify and prioritise regional transport projects for the long term.
It is my understanding that Meander Valley, West Tamar and City of Launceston council general managers make up the steering group along with State Growth who has engaged a consultant to work with them but that the purview is broad in scope.
For example, a transport vision and how people move around. It is hoped that a bypass or road/traffic policy would be a major focus, but I don't believe that is the case.
With the hundreds of millions of dollars being placed into the UTAS Northern Transformation Project, I would urge the decision-makers to seriously consider the impacts this will have on traffic issues and the effects that traffic issues will have on the new campus in the heart of the city.
The precinct being developed at Inveresk leads directly into arterial and freight roads.
With the current state of these roads the ease, amenity and safety of those working, studying and living at the campus will be significantly affected.
It would, therefore, make sense to incorporate funds already put aside to address the existing traffic flow issues, particularly along Cimitiere and William streets, in concert with the building and maintenance of university-related infrastructure.
This then feeds into the opportunity to ameliorate the wider traffic issues which Launceston has been dealing with for decades.
If the state government truly views the University relocation as a fundamentally transformative project, then I cannot see why decision-makers won't consider or prioritise university traffic amenity as a factor informing their priorities to determine a traffic vision and, as a consequence, the much-needed bypass.
It is unquestionable that living near and experiencing the effects of heavy, high-emissions vehicles is unpleasant.
Even for residents, parts of the city are rendered virtually inaccessible at points where such vehicles pass through. This includes the walk from the CBD to the Gorge area, such as where Paterson Street intersects with Wellington and Bathurst streets.
It is intimidating, noisy and, especially for foreign visitors (including the students that will be attracted by the redeveloped University precinct) presents a hostile veneer, even in some of the most beautiful parts of the city. Consequently (and understandably) this contributes to an increase in the hiring of cars, even just to get around the inner city, feeding right back into the aggravation of the pre-existing traffic issues.
Despite all of the government's talk about traffic and transport "visions", their most recent answer to me in Parliament strongly indicates that their considerations are extremely narrow in scope.
The explicit answer to my question regarding steps towards an eastern bypass was met with the response that other projects were of greater priority, as they would "deliver the greatest travel time and economic cost benefits".
This contradicts existing sentiment relating to developing a transport vision, as it disregards the wider considerations to make Launceston a more socially-oriented, clean and accommodating city for our residents and visitors. Along with the transformative effects of the UTAS relocation to the heart of the city, we are seeing a greater focus on inner-city amenity and livability.
Private investment in inner-city living projects are accelerating, and taking a walk through the Launceston CBD reveals a great deal of construction work going on. Moreover, Launceston has seen an unprecedented level of public and private investment to make the city more attractive and amenable.
The construction of the Silo Hotel, the redevelopment of the C.H. Smith site and the Quadrant Mall, Civic Square and Brisbane Street Mall refurbishments have all contributed to a quantifiable shift in the city's disposition.
The community is raising funds for four local charities as part of The Examiner's Winter Relief Appeal. Can you help?
We cannot, however, simply construct and refresh these areas and expect them to flourish alone - work must be done to maintain, and accelerate, the move towards making Launceston a great regional city.
As Launceston moves closer to becoming the great, educational regional city we are steering it towards, we will find that, despite these opportunities arising, the work being done to make the inner-city more liveable and attractive will be for nothing.
If the traffic issues, particularly as they relate to heavy, high-emissions vehicles, remain a non-priority for the government, urban sprawl will commensurately worsen and the opportunities once present for city living and development will dissipate.
If we are to attract a younger demographic, we must leverage the world-class infrastructure that already exists here; not take it for granted and not allow it to worsen.
It makes very little sense for such significant expenditure to be channelled into Launceston's livability and amenity without also ensuring that issues like traffic flow and road maintenance detract from it.
MEDIA RELEASE from the member for Launceston ROSEMARY ARMITAGE MLC
March 31, 2017
The Independent Member for Launceston, Rosemary Armitage MLC has raised serious concerns about Northern Tasmania’s lack of representation on the state’s Government Boards.
A table documenting Board membership for six GBE’s and state owned companies as at October 2016 (supplied by the Tasmanian Government in response to a question from Mrs Armitage) shows the vast majority of Board comes from the state’s south. The next greatest representation came from interstate Board members.
A breakdown for GBEs to 14th October 2016 was South 19, North 1, North West 1 and Interstate 12.
Board membership for state owned companies showed 23 members from the South, 8 from the North, 1 from the North West and Interstate 14.
Additional government boards showed membership of 179 from the South, 42 from the North, 29 from the North West and Interstate 1.
Mrs Armitage said while the government was making positive progress into its goal of 50% women across Tasmanian Government Boards and committees by 2020, and appreciates that they are often skill based positions, a lot more work needed to be done to ensure Northern Tasmania was getting fair representation also.
Mrs Armitage called on the State Government to commit to a strategy for achieving fair representation for Northern Tasmania on all government boards.
Rosemary Armitage MLC is available for comment on 0419 341 178