Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - I am sure you will all be pleased that I certainly will not speak for very long. I think everything has been said.
Madam President, I rise to comment on the Premier's state of the State address and, as I say, I will not go over areas covered by other members in any great detail.
As the Premier states , though, Australians are worried about what the future holds for their jobs and their families. Unemployment is a major concern and, as mentioned by the honourable member for Windermere, just weeks ago BHP Temco announced, and we hope it is temporary, the suspension of three months of their smelter at Bell Bay. The future of the former Rio Tinto now Bell Bay Aluminium is certainly uncertain as well. This has major implications for the whole region and the State as a whole because the tentacles spread far and wide with many feeling the effects. I have recently heard that some stores in George Town have already seen a downturn in trade because of the uncertainty, and obviously lack of work spreads to contractors in the port and so on.
Just looking at the Examiner while sitting and listening to the honourable member for Rosevears, I see that 45 more jobs at Aurora are being cut from Rocherlea, Burnie, Devonport and Cambridge because there is simply not enough work. It says:
'The economic downturn in Tasmania has resulted in a reduction in the amount of customer-generated work that we do.
It is the third round of job cuts in the distribution business and is on top of 228 employees cut from across the company in 19 months.'
And obviously Aurora will be one that will suffer if George Town and Temco and Rio Tinto -
Mr Finch - Through you, Madam President - I remember years ago when Telecom decided to relocate out of Launceston , there were 160 jobs lost and they took so many community volunteers that went with the jobs - the mothers and the fathers who contributed -
Mrs ARMITAGE - They do. And the schools; everyone suffers.
Mr Finch - Sporting organisations, the kids who were involved in sport; sporting teams were decimated. So it has a big impact right through the community.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Absolutely. It is not simply the worker, it is the related family.
As has already been stated , Tasmania has special difficulties not faced by other States , mainly because of Bass Strait, not to mention the port licensing fee for use of port facilities at any of Victoria's main ports. As previously pointed out by David O'Byrne, the tax will add around $75 million to the cost of our exports to the mainland. As the smallest State we will bear a disproportionate share of this tax. Our shippers, as we know, have little choice but to use the Port of Melbourne and we will be hit hard.
The Premier mentioned forestry and the transition the industry is undergoing. I believe we must support all our workers both in the forests and other areas. Life is all about finding the right balance. Forestry, mining, agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, retail and the list goes on; they are all dependent upon each other. In my electorate of Launceston there are many people affected by the forestry issues and concerns at Bell Bay, be they workers or families of workers. As mentioned previously, unemployment is a major concern to everyone. It is all very well to have Big W and big-box developments but we should also be endeavouring to keep the feel of our society. To that end we need to support our mum-and-dad corner stores, our local industries and businesses. These are the cornerstones of our local economies and they make Tasmania a desirable place, not just to exist but to live.
I was reading, and I am sure you have all received this from the Tasmanian Small Business Council, their media release on Tuesday 6 March where they said:
'Figures released today by the Sensis Business Index highlight the difficulty Tasmanian small and medium businesses have with a minority government …
Despite sales and profitability improving, activity for most businesses surveyed is still below par and have a long way to go before business owners have a smile on their face.
Although the Business Index's indication of business confidence remaining steady, the decrease in employment must demonstrate that a number of businesses are not confident of maintaining their current sales and profitability level…
The report continues to highlight the ongoing dissatisfaction by business people to the Labor Green minority government. The reasons given, one of which was "government being manipulated by the Greens" suggests that the dissatisfaction currently felt will not change until there is an election. This doesn't bode well for the Tasmanian community given that one is not due until 2014.'
That was a release by Robert Mallett, the Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Small Business Council.
Just briefly touching on my own electorate of Launceston, there are many developers actually looking at working in Launceston at the moment, including the C.H. Smith building work, which is valued at an estimated $35 million. This derelict building has sat empty for so many years and is one of the gateways to Launceston. It is really refreshing to see it proceeding in the near future. There is also the redevelopment of the Roberts building, which is another estimated $2 million and the Kings Meadows Shopping Area development, which is estimated at $35 million. So in Launceston certainly things are looking a little brighter in the development stages.
One of the fastest growing residential areas in the Launceston electorate is Hadspen, a delightful township on the banks of the South Esk River. The Meander Valley Council has started designing the infrastructure needed to double the population of Hadspen over the next two decades. Of course it shares my electorate borders with -
Mr Hall - Indeed, that new subdivision will become South Hadspen.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Right. They are currently looking at around a 20-year blueprint that will guide the sustainable development of Hadspen, taking into account the full range of community, economic and environmental considerations. The design will include all the amenities to support a population of around 4 000 people and this will include health facilities, shops and a school. It is really good to see that they are thinking of a school as well.
I think that one of the things that is nice to see is the community are behind this and have been involved with consultants working closely with the Hadspen community through workshops and meetings to learn what the residents actually want. A survey is also on a dedicated project website.
Prospect in my electorate is another area seeing substantial growth with housing. So there are some real positives, which are very healthy for our community and bode well for the future. It is to be hoped that the State Government will get behind and support these forward thinking initiatives in any way possible.
I agree with the Premier as well that our State is already experiencing difficult economic times, but is it any wonder that investors shy away from Tasmania as the recent actions by a member of her own Cabinet show dysfunction within the Labor-Greens alliance. I was actually going to call it a Labor-Greens accord, but I think it is anything but. Really this is what I consider does not bode well for Tasmania. Investors want and need stable government and unity. I find it particularly galling that a member of Cabinet should make statements with regard to forestry contrary to that of the Government. I believe that when one accepts such a revered position, with that position there go certain obligations.
Mr Parkinson - It happens in minority governments.
Mrs ARMITAGE - It is very unfortunate. I think that is one of the things that does not bode well for us. It is important to see the glass is half full, certainly not half empty. We are a land of opportunity and I concur with the Premier that it is time for business to invest and create new jobs. However, as mentioned, it is incumbent upon the Government to show leadership, as continually mentioned by the Premier in her address, and present a united and stable government to encourage this investment. We do not want to lose our young and talented people to other States .
It is all very well to leave Tasmania to further one's education, but we need a State that they want to return to. On a personal note, I have three sons who have moved to Western Australia and currently work in the mining industry. One son has already stated he will never return to Tasmania as he enjoys the west, but currently the other two have every intention of returning to Tasmania eventually. I like to think that we have a State that encourages people to return. There should be no place like home, they should want to come back.
I will touch briefly on Health. The Premier says that along with the Australian Government we are investing half a billion dollars in the new Royal Hobart Hospital. I think it is all very well to create a building; capital works are one thing, but it is the recurrent funding to ensure staffing and the ability to fully utilise these buildings. The Launceston General Hospital is a prime example of this. On the one hand there are massive capital works, including a new emergency department, however with all the beds closed there is limited capacity to take inpatients from this emergency department - not to mention patients on the elective surgery list. I have been told that recently a category 1 surgery was cancelled through lack of a bed. We could get to the stage, as I have been told by some, that categories 2 and 3 could be done in preference to the more urgent category 1 simply because they do not have a bed to do the category 1s. How anyone can believe there are efficiencies in closing beds, and more to the point removing these beds from the hospital to non-sterile, off-site premises, is beyond belief.
As has been mentioned time and time again by many of our doctors, efficiencies are found in treating illness when it occurs rather than letting it deteriorate to a state of emergency that not only has a longer recovery rate and a greater inpatient stay but possibly a higher morbidity rate. We are also at risk of losing several accreditations at the Launceston General Hospital within the next few months due mainly to lack of funding for procedures. These accreditations were hard-won and it is extremely disappointing that they are likely to be lost and it will be next to impossible to get them back.
Private health insurance, or lack of it, particularly with regard to major surgery, such as hip or knee replacements, is a concern and many health insurers are worried that people will join funds for a short time to have required surgery and then leave. This is in effect a hit and run, which will deplete the funds of the health funds and eventually place a greater burden on those who have been there for a long period and remain there.
On a brighter note, tourism does not seem to have had a major downturn and references were made by the Premier to the increase in Asian visitors, and it is certainly apparent in the area where I live. There appear to be not just Asian visitors but many more overseas visitors from a number of countries than in the past and I notice that on a daily occurrence walking past that there really seem to be many overseas visitors, particularly in Launceston.
Having a hotel in the city and close to the strip of motels, we have also noticed the high number of tourists. My partner's hotel opens every day except Christmas Day and paying penalty rates, as has been mentioned by other members, is really of great concern. However, he believes it is important to offer this service even though on occasions there is really doubt whether it is financially viable to open on weekends and public holidays in view of the double and triple time.
I have no doubt that we could have a Tasmania where everyone has the opportunity to realise their full potential and can have the access to services and education they wish, however there are still too many Tasmanians doing it tough. When I was young, which was a long time ago, I have to admit, most people aspired to owning their own home, however now, with the cost of houses compared with wages and expenses it is really hard to see how our young people can own their own homes, unless of course they perhaps go off to the mines or somewhere else and then do they come back? In some areas we have come a long way but in other ways I am really not so sure.
While I respect the Premier and the difficult position she has having, I believe, been handed a somewhat poisoned chalice upon David Bartlett's resignation, there are a lot of weasel words in the 22 pages of the Premier's address such as 'culture of innovation', 'creativity of excellence', 'build on nation-leading social inclusion work'. But what I believe we need is good, solid education, permanent jobs and security. Unemployment is far too high and uncertainty is like a cancer, it spreads.
We need to focus on what we do well and not on the negatives. We have a wonderful State full of opportunities and we need to realise this. Constantly the Premier says all throughout her address, 'if we work together'. Perhaps this address should be required bedtime reading for all Cabinet members. She concludes by saying, 'My Government will continue to provide the strong leadership needed'. I ask the Government to provide that strong leadership and call all ministers to order. Squabbles should be kept in-house, behind closed doors in Cabinet and there must be a united front when they are speaking as part of the Government.
Most people really do not care who is governing provided they are governing well and I, too, like other members call on members of the Government, irrespective of colour - green, red, blue - to put all their differences aside and actually work together for the good of all Tasmanians.