CONSOLIDATED FUND APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 2012 (No. 16) CONSOLIDATED FUND APPROPRIATION BILL (No.
Mrs ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam President, I really appreciated your contribution. I hope the government was listening and might take some notice.
Tasmania is facing challenging times, as is the whole world. We are still all experiencing the aftershocks of the GFC and there appears to be no early resolution of the European debt crisis. It is noted that this has put the credit rating of major Australian banks under pressure with credit availability vulnerable.
It is good to see that Australia has had a completely unprecedented boom in mining which is pulling the economy along with Tasmanian minerals and mining-related exports experiencing major growth and China being one of the main trading partners.
It has been said that 20 per cent of Australia - that is, the resource and resource-related areas - are growing faster than the Chinese economy. However, 80 per cent of Australia, and this includes Tasmania, is seeing higher unemployment. Tasmania's population is at its lowest for a decade and is ageing faster than our mainland counterparts. We have rising unemployment, workforce participation is flat, a slow construction industry, and retail spending is at a level below 2009. We have seen a complete turnaround in consumer behaviour with people choosing to save, if they have the ability to do so, possibly because of our economic and employment uncertainty. People are not spending, hence, our state revenue is declining as linked to the GST.
Australia really has a two-speed economy which particularly affects Tasmania with us being in the slow lane. We have a drop in revenue but an increase in expenditure. This budget that has been handed down really does little in the way of driving the economy or encouraging development. I believe we have actually lost ground on the pain from last year's budget and in effect much of the suffering has been for nil. After a three-month shutdown it was good to hear that TEMCO will be restarting in July. While they will be a little bit meaner and leaner, there have been no redundancies and that is great news for Tasmania. Many of these employees who work in other areas such as George Town also live in the Launceston electorate and it affects our economy where there is employment doubt.
We must develop employment opportunities not only to keep our young people but also to provide self-esteem, pride and a feeling of achievement. It is all very well to give handouts but people need a hand up not a handout. As they say: give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day but teach a man to fish and you will feed him for lifetime. Many of our young people who, for a variety of reasons, are disengaged are third-generation unemployed. This is exactly what I am speaking about when I say they need a hand up not a handout. Give them work for the dole, provide them with the ability to get references for work, and a reason to get up in the morning. Personally, I would like to see us bring back a type of national service whereby people can learn a trade in the required period of service which does not necessarily have to be armed forces-based. Let us look outside the square and see what we can do.
It is pleasing to see that health, education and police have been quarantined from further cuts in this budget. However, they have sustained a massive blow previously and I do not believe that they could have survived further slashing of their budgets. Even now the amounts that they still need to find present enormous difficulties. With regard to health, it was interesting to note the answer to my question regarding how many patients on the Launceston General Hospital waiting list are currently residing on the north-west coast. Interestingly, as at 29 February 2012, there were 605 patients on the elective surgery waiting list who reside on the north-west coast. This is obviously an inequity for the Launceston General Hospital whereby they are treating north-west patients from within their northern health budget. It is hoped that this anomaly will be addressed when the Tasmanian health organisations come into operation whereby, I believe, the funding follows the patient.
It is also worth mentioning the dollar amount of savings required for the past financial year by the three Area Health Services and the savings achieved in dollar terms. The Southern Area Health Service required a saving of $31 million. They achieved the saving of almost $13 million or just under 42 per cent. The North West Area Health Service required a saving of $9 138 000 and achieved a saving of almost $6 million or just under 65 per cent. However, the Northern Area Health Service required a saving of $20 672 000 and they achieved a saving of $14.5 million or 70 per cent of its requirements. None of these savings could have been achieved without much pain and suffering from patient care to staff cuts even though we were told that frontline services would not be affected.
With regard to health, the northern region fact sheet appears to be deliberately misleading as it states the total funding allocations that were actually allocated in previous budgets. Under the heading 'Launceston' we see the following items:
Launceston General Hospital car park, $15 million. This total allocation was first noted in the 2009-10 budget. The actual allocation in the 2012-13 budget will be just $1.9 million. The Launceston General Hospital Acute Medical and Surgical Unit, $40 million. This total allocation was also noted in the 2009-10 budget. The actual allocation in the 2012-13 budget will be $10.6 million. The Launceston Integrated Care Centre was listed as $22.5 million. This allocation was done in the 2008-09 budget and the actual allocation in the 2012-13 budget will be $0.5 million.
Just from these three examples you can see how misleading these facts sheets are. Those who look at them in isolation without understanding the politics of the information contained in them could easily believe the amounts noted are in fact allocations for this year alone and not a statement of the total funding for a project that is just repeated again and again until finally the funding allocation is exhausted.
It is also worth noting that the government recognises that waiting lists are too long in key areas such as bowel cancer screening, as delayed investigative procedures could make the difference between recovery or not. But people are still suffering from lack of access to hospitals and it is a battle for them to have their elective surgery done. I believe the term 'elective surgery' is a complete misnomer and gives the wrong inference. It is called 'elective' because at this stage it has not become an emergency. However, all too often these people only receive their surgery when their situation becomes an emergency and, unfortunately, usually require a longer hospital stay and a much longer recovery time. Obviously, it is much more cost-effective to treat these patients before the situation becomes critical. If you had an animal that was suffering and in constant pain and you did not provide treatment in a timely manner, you would be in court on charges of cruelty. It was also interesting to read that the federal health minister, Tanya Plibersek, stated in Hobart on 18 May that she hoped the Tasmanian government would reverse last year's budget cuts. In her words, they were cuts which endangered elective surgery and emergency treatment targets.
However, she makes no move to intervene in Tasmania's health crisis which has been described as the worst in the country. Last time I looked, we were still part of Australia and I believe it is incumbent upon the federal government to step up to the mark to ensure that our community does not suffer unnecessarily. Tasmania does need a funding lifeline for health, at least in the short term, to enable health to get back on a sustainable footing in the long term. It is no secret that the cuts currently made to health will take many years to recover from, and at what cost to our community and our hospitals and their accreditation?
It is interesting to note that the effect of a policy decision for this year's budget will worsen the bottom line by $106 million this year, by $80 million in 2012-13 and by a total of $237 million over the forward estimates period which now extends to 2015-16. The government will now do what they said previously they would not do and go into net debt for the first time since 2004. It is worth noting that the budget papers predict this debt will be repaid by June 2015. Will they be in government then and, if not, and the debt is not repaid, will this be blamed on the subsequent government? It is easy to make predictions when you know it is highly unlikely you will be in charge. This removes the onus from this Labor-Greens government. It is a bit like election promises; they make them but they rarely keep them. I can never understand how a government can abandon virtually all of its big ticket election promises. No wonder politicians are not near the top in the trusting stakes.
Also the state's unfunded superannuation liability continues to grow and while I know the Premier has stated that obligations will be met as they fall due, I believe that money should have been set aside for unfunded superannuation liabilities.
I agree with the member for Elwick that we should be looking at better public transport and making it easier for people to use public transport. Sometimes we need to turn full circle and I could imagine nothing better than passenger trains between our major cities. How wonderful it would be to get on a daily train from Launceston to Hobart return. You can imagine how much more productive your time could be if you were sitting on a train rather than driving a car.
Ms Rattray - Through you, Madam President - we could read the budget papers on the way home.
Mrs ARMITAGE - We could. We could do our work on the way down and our work on the way back. It would be wonderful and also take the cars off the road.
Mr Wilkinson - Especially in one of those fast trains at 306 clicks an hour - truly - in Italy. Mr Mulder - Through the Rhyndaston tunnel that would be great.
Mrs ARMITAGE - It could save the government a lot of money. We would not need accommodation because we could go back on the one day. We could go home of a night. I am sure there are many ways we could save money.
Mr Wilkinson - Get a bloke by the name of Craig Farrell to drive it and we'll be right.
Mr Mulder - He's the Fat Controller; he doesn't drive trains.
Mrs ARMITAGE - I certainly would not have said that but I am sure he would be more than adequate to drive the train.
Mr Farrell - Thank you.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Also, I understand that often many car thefts from the city are because people are simply unable to get home. At a time when I believe public transport should be more accessible, services appear to be cut, particularly to more distant suburban areas. For several years now, the Launceston City Council, at considerable cost might I say to the council, has provided a free bus service around our city which assists people to be able to shop, work and visit many areas, including the hospital and aquatic centre without the difficulty of parking. This also provides a reasonably priced parking area for workers, enabling them to park out of the city and bus to work.
Ms Rattray - Through you, Madam President - I did hear recently that that service was under threat. Is that still the case?
Mrs ARMITAGE - No, it has not been under threat. We had applied at one stage to the state government to see if we could get funding but unfortunately it did not meet the criteria, so it is funded now solely by the council.
We must take care of the vulnerable in our society and it is pleasing to see that there is something in the budget for people in need. We all know of pensioners who live in the cold, particularly aged pensioners because they simply cannot afford heating. We should be looking after these people. As a society, we do not care for our aged particularly well. I am pleased to see that energy concessions will be provided to eligible Tasmanian pensioners and Health Care Card holders to assist them. Fortunately, Hydro Tasmania is in an improved financial position and will directly contribute almost $1 billion to government revenue over the five years to 2015-16. Let us hope the government keeps its promise and does not try to sell this one successful GBE.
Times are really tough for many businesses and we need to strive to work even harder. I agree with the Treasurer that we must not talk ourselves into a recession. On this occasion I disagree with the honourable member for Windermere. Times are tough for a great many people, but I do not believe, at this stage, that it is a recession. Opportunity is still there. It is essential, though, that we do not have a negative attitude. It is not all doom and gloom. As Launceston City Council Alderman Tony Peck often says, 'When business and trading are difficult, you paint the counter; you make it look successful'. I see the glass as half full, not half empty, which is probably just as well because obviously 'the barn is bare'.
However, there are so many areas in which we can lead. The honourable member for Huon organised briefings for us earlier in the year with regard to biomass. What other countries are doing with their waste really is incredible and it is time that we realised that we are still the lucky country and that every day there are new opportunities. It is essential that we appreciate what we have in Tasmania, not what we have not got, and that we lead by example.
We have much sustainable industry, including tourism, agriculture, aquaculture, mining, forestry and retail, but one industry does not work in isolation from the others and we need to ensure the viability of all the industries. In particular, we need to assist our small businesses in many towns right across the state. I think we all received the e-mail -
Ms Rattray - From Triabunna.
Mrs ARMITAGE - - from Triabunna with regard to small businesses closing down. As other businesses close down, trade drops off and everything drops off. We have to realise that they do not work in isolation; they do all need each other.
Ms Rattray - An interesting thing, through you Madam President, is that Triabunna is so close to the city of Hobart. It is so close that it should be almost a commuter area. It has so much going for it.
Mrs ARMITAGE - We should be taking advantage.
Ms Rattray - We should be able to do that and perhaps Dr Sirolli, if he rolls out that program to the Triabunna area, can get it going gangbusters.
Mrs ARMITAGE - He was interesting. I was going to say, as mentioned by Dr Ernesto Sirolli at a briefing this morning, that every generation has to reinvent the economy and we need to be entrepreneurial. Sometimes we do need to look outside the square. We are a state with a good education system and we can become a smart state. Necessity is the mother of invention and often we discover real innovation and become creative when we are most at need. I think that often happens. When you are at your lowest, that is when you find different ways.
Madam President, this budget is before us because we have the right to object to it, to refuse its passage if we do not believe it is in the best interests of the people of Tasmania. I do not believe this is a great budget, but it barely meets its financial obligations without a huge amount of incentive or stimulus. I am not going to say that I won't support the budget at this stage, but I do agree that what we need in Tasmania is a majority government - irrespective of political persuasion, whether it is Liberal, Labor or Green - that can actually lead in its own right and therein lies the quandary.