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Budget Reply

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I rise to speak on the Budget, a budget of some restraint, but in essence quite a soft budget. Perhaps our State Government has learnt some lessons from their federal counterparts. Being the first budget for state Liberals in 16 years, it is difficult to criticise too strongly, or make comparisons, and some commitments have been carried forward and include Federal Government funding. While I accept that the Government could have brought down a much tougher budget, I question whether the community could cope with that, given the state's current economic situation. I applaud the Government for its 'steadying the ship' approach. They should be congratulated for keeping their 200-plus election commitments in this Budget. No easy feat.

I have concerns, however, with a government dependent on yet-to-be-made decisions in the upper House for some of their revenue. The public sector wage freeze will be dealt with in this place at a later stage and it is unfortunate that the Government is implying 'pass this bill, or 500 more people lose their jobs'. It is my understanding that it is not only a pay pause, but also applies to increments and other benefits.

I have been advised, and would be very happy to be told that this is wrong, that if an intern, for example, took a pay freeze for one year, the following year they would be employed as a resident, doing a resident's work, but still on the income of an intern. I am advised this will also apply to a resident moving on to become a registrar - much more responsibility in duties, but that registrar would still be paid at the rate of a resident. If this is the case, would we keep our best and brightest young doctors or would they seek employment interstate? I will leave further discussion on this particular bill to a later time.

Mention has been made of many of our young people leaving for greener pastures interstate. The question must be asked, if our best and brightest cannot find meaningful or well-paid employment in this state, can we blame them for leaving? I think not. That is why we must continue to strive to make Tasmania once again the place to live and bring up families. If we cannot compete on a salary basis, we must substitute with an enviable lifestyle.

As usual, health and education received the bulk of funds. On a positive slant, I am pleased to see more money for elective surgery, particularly given that in my area the Launceston General Hospital now has five new theatres allowing their waiting list to be shortened. It is essential that patients on the waiting list, particularly in categories 1 and 2, are treated in a timely manner, as it is well known that morbidity is often greater and recovery time longer for patients who become emergencies while on the waiting list. They also require a longer inpatient stay.

While on health, I am very disappointed that the Government chose to reform our Tasmanian Health Organisations, particularly in view of the fact that the THOs had only been in operation for two years - hardly enough time to bed in and make inroads. I am still of the opinion that there could have been many savings with collaboration between the three THOs, particularly in the areas of IT and payroll. While I note the projected savings by the Government, it is my hope that they are not at a human cost to the community, with many services being centralised, making some treatment more difficult for many people. While I accept that the Government has attempted to appease the north by stating the new single THO will be controlled from the north, in fact Department of Health and Human Services is still the Department of Health and Human Services wherever it is sited. Department of Health of Human Services staff driving up the highway several days per week to work out of Launceston does not move a department. It could be asked how long will this last, how many days per week will staff be in the north of the state, and how many staff are involved? While I disagree with the move back to one statewide body and believe this will prove to be detrimental in the long run, I will not say 'I told you so' when it works out that way. It is sad for the community. I consider a white paper on health to be beneficial as I accept there are savings to be made across the board.

I also note what appears to be a final budget amount of $1 639 000 for the Launceston Integrated Care Centre and would appreciate, Leader, some advice on staffing and whether all the areas in that building are now filled. It is also good to see that a hospice model for Launceston is being considered with an amount of $100 000 for the development of an independent feasibility study into a purpose-built hospice for northern Tasmania and to update the palliative care strategy. The Friends of the Northern Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation - and here I mention in particular Dr John Morris, Barb Baker and Jim Anderson along with a committed group - have been meeting regularly for some time since the former hospice closed. This is pleasing as end-of-life care and providing a peaceful and pleasant environment for those requiring palliation is essential, rather than spending one's last days in a clinical hospital environment.

I am also pleased to see $3 million over four years for what is best called 'hospital in the home' in keeping people with chronic illness out of hospital. Not only is this good for the hospital, it is particularly good for the patients as often they can continue working and feel like normal members of society, which is important to their wellbeing. I know of some young people with cystic fibrosis who in the past were able to continue working as they were able to access this hospital in the home. It makes such a big difference to people and how they feel and interact with family members.

I am happy to see funding of $4.4 million over four years for the introduction of a contemporary model of child and youth health nurses across all Tasmanian government schools. I would like to see them across all schools. I note in primary schools nurses will focus on vision and hearing checks, and nutrition. It is essential that hearing and vision checks are conducted as early as possible as this can have a profound effect on a child's learning and future years of study. I am sure many members here will remember when we were at school - and I accept it was a long time ago - we had eyesight and hearing checks. That was in a private school and I can remember lining up with everyone else to have my eyes tested and my hearing checked. There are so many children you discover have problems with their schooling because they cannot see or hear properly. That is a good initiative and I am very pleased to see it.

I am also pleased to see many areas of education receiving extra funding, with encouragement to continue to year 12. There are 25 new literacy and numeracy specialists, extra work for teacher assistants, as well as assisting children with autism. Our youth are our future. I know we say that regularly but it is true, and we need to ensure they have the best educational opportunities possible.

It is also essential that the vulnerable in our society, as well as everyday struggling Tasmanians, are not overlooked. I note an additional $2 million to deliver vital support to people living with a disability, $3 million for suicide prevention strategies, and $1.8 million in support for neighbourhood and community houses. While I appreciate it equates to approximately $50 000 per community house, to those groups that is a substantial amount of money to what they are receiving now and I am sure they will put it to very good use in their particular areas.

In a state where manufacturing has dropped off and freight equalisation causes many more problems, tourism must be ramped up and this state must take advantage of the benefits it has. I look forward to an extra $16 million for tourism marketing and the predicted creation of extra jobs.

I believe we can have it all but it may take time to achieve. That is why I can see the Government needs to take its time to achieve savings but at the same time ensuring the state moves forward.

Speaking of my own region, while the north has not fared as well as some areas in this Budget, it is good to see the Silverdome still receiving $374 000 towards its upgrade, as well as $300 000 to increase pedestrian safety at Blackstone Heights, and the election promise of $100 000 for the Hadspen walkway. Blackstone Heights and Hadspen are growing areas, and it is important they have adequate, safe, paths and walkways. Historic Franklin House will also receive the promised $25 000 for structural underpinning work. While these may be small amounts in the scheme of things, they are very important to our communities. It is not possible to please everyone, but I also note the $200 000 to complete the upgrade of the Launceston United Soccer and Sports Clubs, as well as $550 000 over three years for Men's Shed support. Sport is important for our wellbeing, as are Men's Sheds for those in our community who still have much to give. Men's Sheds are a social enterprise that have been shown to improve men's health and wellbeing, as well as being sustainable. Well done to the Government in recognising that.

The $3 million over three years for Kings Meadows flood protection is also worth mentioning, as for too long homes and businesses in this area have suffered in times of heavy rain and flooding. This should make a huge difference. You can only imagine the dread, in many of those people, including businesses, following heavy rains - not knowing what they will find, or having to be out with sandbags in the middle of the night in the pouring rain.

I note the comment by the member for Windermere with regard to the proposed detention basin at the Kings Meadows High School. It is important to ensure that any work undertaken does not impact negatively on the school or its students. I have been working with the Kings Meadows High School P & F, and will continue to do so, with regard to this.

I also note that 16 boards will be merged or abolished, with 18 more to take funding cuts. While I accept that there were perhaps too many boards, and merger or abolition was called for, I question abolishing the Tasmanian Community Fund Board, and that it will no longer be an independent body. This was one of its strengths.

While I commend the Government for continuing the first home builders grant of $10 000, I am disappointed that those who cannot afford to build a home are disadvantaged by not receiving a grant. I have heard the argument by some that this inflates the prices of houses, but, having been in real estate, I dispute this. Grants assist many who would otherwise be unable to purchase a home and get off the rental roundabout - to move into home ownership, with the grant allowing them money for a deposit. I could quote many instances of young couples who desperately wanted to stop renting and wanted to buy a home, but could not raise quite enough money for their deposit. The banks allowed them to use the first home owners grant as their deposit, which enabled them to buy. Some of them might have bought a small unit - it did not matter what they purchased, they became home owners. It put them on a different path to the constant living in rental accommodation and feeling they were getting nowhere.

I am disappointed the Government has not looked beyond first home builders. They are a different category to those who cannot afford to build a new home but could afford to buy a home, and possibly move on, in future years, to building a new home.

Mrs Taylor (Elwick) - The aim is to assist the construction industry. That is why it is aimed at building.

Mrs Armitage - I appreciate that, but in the past there has been a grant to assist people to buy a home. We should be looking beyond the construction industry and perhaps assist more people to get off the rental roundabout and move forward. We need to have a viable state, with people in it, and home ownership is certainly something that assists our state.

Our state continues to hurt, and we are confronted every day by significant challenges, made harder by the lack of freight equalisation and the cost of doing business in Tasmania. I am hopeful that the new Department of State Growth will achieve its desired outcomes, as it is imperative our state's industries grow and that we appear to be open for business, particularly when marketing ourselves to the rest of Australia and the world. Having said that, I note the Government will invest up to $33 million over three years to support the reintroduction of an international shipping service from Tasmania to key Asian ports, which should help grow our economy and hopefully create more jobs.

In the Launceston CBD alone there are numerous empty shops, and I am further advised that many businesses are just keeping their heads above water. It is imperative that we stop the decline, and that business confidence grows to allow people to take opportunities, and employ more people. However, I note the growth of the economy is predicted to be only 1.5 per cent.

The establishment of the Coordinator-General based in Launceston, to act as a single point of contact for businesses wishing to invest in Tasmania, is a positive step. While Hobart has always been known as public service-centric, Launceston has always been the hub of private enterprise. It is hoped this initiative will provide a great benefit to the city and actively pursue jobs and investment. It is also pleasing that 10 full-time positions will be created and vacant office space will be occupied.

Integrating police, and fire and emergency management, is a good move and should make for savings. It is also good to see $33.5 million to restore frontline police numbers, including the new Serious and Organised Crime Unit. However, it is hoped that the $42 million in savings to be found by police over four years will not significantly impact on their performance. It is hard to see how giving police $33.5 million but then requesting a $42 million saving over four years can be achieved without pain, or loss of further police numbers. I imagine part of that is included in the pay pause. It is disappointing that those savings are included in the Budget. It is like putting the cart before the horse, providing funds that have not been gained.

All in all, the Government's first Budget has no real surprises. It endeavours to meet its election promises in a timely manner but still continues to spend more money than it has. I do not envy the Treasurer as he has a formidable task, and probably more so with next year's budget. The Treasurer predicts a six-year road to recovery of surplus. I find it interesting that outcomes are often predicted outside one's possible term. I note the Budget.

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