Reply to the Premier's Address
Mrs Armitage (Launceston ) - Mr President, one year ago the Liberal Hodgman Government was elected to power in Tasmania in a landslide. During my Address-in-Reply in May last year I congratulated the Premier and his new government on their election and wished them well for the task ahead.
In his Address, the Premier, Mr Hodgman, referred to the budget mess that his government had been elected to fix - $1.1 billion in forecast accumulated deficits and net debt approaching $400 million. The brief was to bring unemployment down, restore business confidence, and let the world know that Tasmania was open for business. One year in, the Premier is right to acknowledge that it is still early days in turning the economy around. I appreciate rebuilding an economy is not an easy task. It is complex and takes time in an extremely tough economic climate.
Unemployment in Launceston remains high and as the Government continues its efforts to turn the state's finances around, families are faced every day with the growing pressure to find enough money to keep a roof over their head, feed their children, and pay the utilities bills.
ABS statistics during the 2006-11 census period showed Launceston experienced a $100 million drop in income levels, with Launceston City Council indicators showing a further drop of $50 million since that time. The city has a number of seriously socio-economically challenged suburbs.
Occupancy at the Launceston City Mission's Crisis Accommodation Centres for men and families in Launceston is currently at 95 per cent. Those centres will support 300 people this financial year. Further, the City Mission provided assistance to 8 500 families last year. It will continue its youth and outreach program, and expects to support another 8 000 families this year. The difference this year is that City Mission will continue its incredibly important work while dealing with a significant cut to its emergency relief funding from the Government.
Waiting lists for government housing remain extensive but it is pleasing to hear from City Mission that the system for managing those lists is showing signs of improvement. One of the biggest objectives of economic reform has to be ensuring there is a bright future for our young people. We need to have jobs, study and vocational opportunities for them so they can remain and set up their lives here.
I call on the State Government to join me and other community leaders in fighting for the future of the University of Tasmania in Launceston. The relocation of the University of Tasmania's Newnham campus to an expanded Inveresk model has great promise for attracting more students to Launceston but it is imperative that courses are not downgraded in the process.
The obvious benefits of an inner city campus at Inveresk for students are the social benefits of being close to city services and facilities. There is also the economic benefit of 5 000 students using Launceston CBD as their service centre, as well as the rejuvenation and revitalisation of the CBD, driving public and private investment to provide a dynamic and vibrant area. We are told that the Newnham facilities need a substantial upgrade and are in a poor location, with university inner city campuses being an internationally proven model.
I am a great supporter of the University of Tasmania and I call on the State Government to ensure that the UTAS northern campus maintains its current university degrees, resources and staff, and not diminish the higher education opportunities in Launceston by reducing the northern campus to a secondary status through the provision of predominantly diploma courses.
I also have it on good authority that UTAS may have aspirations to move the Australian Maritime College to Beauty Point in future years as it is believed the AMC would be better served near a port. This would be very sad news for the north.
Mrs Taylor - Isn't Beauty Point in the north?
Mrs Armitage - I am talking about moving it from where it is at the moment, from the Launceston area.
Ms Rattray - It was based there at one stage.
Mrs Armitage - There are sections of the AMC based at Beauty Point but the main campus is at Newnham.
The education goals outlined by the Premier cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The trial of years 11 and 12 in some high schools to improve retention rates is to be commended. I note colleges are actively supporting schools such as Scottsdale High in relation to this trial. I applaud the participating colleges which are assisting with this important work and particularly thank the teachers involved. I look forward to seeing the results of the trial in 2016. This cooperation is inspiring and serves to remind us that our children need a range of options in the education system.
In our beautiful island state we have the University of Tasmania, our colleges, high schools and vocational training providers, as options for our young people. Some children will want to go on to university, some may want to do a trade and others may want to start their own business. I have been concerned, during the debate about post-year 10 in Tasmania, over comments made by education ambassadors. Comments by these ambassadors could make young people doing alternative year 11 and 12 feel they have made the wrong choice and that their choice is not valued. Adjunct Professor Michael Rowan said in an article in The Examiner on 6 December 2014:
I cannot find a single piece of evidence that the college system is doing anything but a very bad job.
In his Address, the Premier said only 47 per cent of Tasmanian students achieve their Tasmanian Certificate of Education. In my electorate of Launceston, the Launceston College's TCE attainment rate is 76 per cent. That is inspiring and a reminder that we need to take the best ideas from each sector to improve the system overall. A collaborative and supportive approach is what is needed.
My concern is that the structure of the system has become too much of a focus by the Government and others. If young people are making certain choices at the age of 16, then what is happening in the first three years or so of high school to explain those later choices? How are we resourcing our schools to help young people develop their strengths and passions in the early years of high school? We absolutely must boost retention rates post year 10, but if we are to lift results in the long term, we have to start to look at the big picture and start that work earlier to understand what is going on.
The Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment is a wonderful initiative aimed at finding ways to improve retention rates, teaching, and teacher training. The research centre is funded through the University of Tasmania, the Government, and philanthropic donations. We will have a full-time professor based in Hobart and it would be wonderful if we could have it extended to the university's campuses in the north and north-west.
As for regional funding, I welcome the State Government's funding measures to improve road safety in some areas of my electorate which includes $150 000 for safer pedestrian access between Hadspen and Rutherglen, with the Meander Valley Council contributing $450 000. There is $100 000 from the Government for Blackstone Heights footpaths and $50 000 for planning a roundabout on Westbury Road to help traffic flow into Prospect Vale Park.
As well as planning for the continued strong growth of Prospect Vale and Blackstone Heights, Meander Valley Council is busy preparing for rapid growth in Hadspen. This is a fast-growing region that will require much planning, as the population is tipped to double. This will also require the creation of a new Hadspen town centre for commerce and community infrastructure.
When it comes to development, it is pleasing to see the State Government initiatives that will help attract much needed investment - including the abolition of headworks charges, efforts to create a single statewide planning system, and the extension of payroll relief. Further, the local benefits test policy has seen an increase in Tasmanian companies being awarded government contracts. The construction sector would also benefit from further reforms, such as the removal of stamp duty on the construction of new spec houses undertaken by builders, with the point being that stamp duty should only be assessed on the land component.
My electorate of Launceston encompasses two local government areas and contains many regional facilities, including the wonderful Princess Theatre, a state-of-the-art swimming centre and a world-class museum and art gallery. There are also major regional events, including the Junction Arts Festival, Festivale and Symphony under the Stars, to name a few.
Launceston is considered a major regional city and is expected to provide a high standard of facilities and services. It therefore follows that the State Government should recognise these challenges and ensure that adequate funding is provided.
Festivale in Launceston has become one of Tasmania's premier events, attracting thousands of people to the city each year from intrastate and interstate, to sample the best produce, wine and entertainment. My warm congratulations to everyone working very hard behind the scenes to make it such a great success. Festivale is one example of a northern event that currently stands on its own two feet financially, with a very small contribution by the Launceston City Council. Given that over half the population is in the north of the state, it would be a very sound strategy for the State Government to investigate injecting funding into northern events such as Festivale, or perhaps a winter event, to help boost tourism's contribution to the economy.
The incredible Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart received $650 000 from the State Government through Events Tasmania. Partnership funding such as this would help grow events that are vitally important to the health of our northern economy. It has been a good summer in the north for tourism, and when you look at all the exciting developments underway across Launceston it is not hard to see why.
Recently, members of the Legislative Council visited the electorate of Launceston, and it was very exciting to see the development that has occurred, and the progress of two major projects - the redevelopment of the Penny Royal complex by the JAC Group, and Errol Stewart's old silo redevelopment. There is also the proposed future investment by Lion in a new Boag's tourist centre.
Further, in the electorate of Windermere, Josef Chromy's outstanding Relbia winery and cellar door restaurant are proving very popular with visitors, and very successful as the venue for the Tasmanian 'A Day on the Green' concerts. They are bringing many people into our city.
In order to encourage more private sector development in tourism it is critically important that the State Government ensures tourism infrastructure is up to standard. What hot wi-fi is available at airports and in public places across the north? How clean are the public toilets in our tourist destinations? We want to leave the best impression possible, and funding will be needed to ensure we have done the work in preparing for visitors. What is it like getting in and out of our airports? Is the security screening efficient and pleasant? Of late, unfortunately, we are certainly hearing our fair share of complaints at Launceston, and while I appreciate it is a federal issue, the Government needs to be lobbying its federal counterparts, as should we all, to ensure a pleasant exit from our beautiful city. Do we want a bad experience at the airport to be the last memory of a great holiday?
We need to invest money in identifying further tourism developments to stimulate private sector investment in the north. A good example of a project in this regard is the north-east mountain bike trail, which has facilitated the start-up of a number of cycling-friendly businesses along the route.
I would like to mention the V8s, and I am delighted that Launceston has seen the return of one of its favourite sons, racing star Marcos Ambrose. Marcos has returned from nine years on the US NASCAR circuit, where he enjoyed success. He has moved the family back to Launceston, and is now driving for the Penske team in Australia's V8 competition. Today it was mentioned that Marcos has found it a little more difficult than expected returning to the V8s, but he will still be there for the Tasmanian round and we are very pleased.
Ms Rattray - In the background, I believe.
Mrs Armitage - I believe he will only be in the background for a short while. We are very pleased to welcome Marcos, Sonja, Tabitha and Adelaide home. I am sure you will all join me in wishing him every success on the national circuit in the future.
To football - not only is AFL back at Aurora Stadium in Launceston, it is off to a spectacular start. The crowd at the recent NAB Challenge game between Hawthorn and Collingwood was close to 15 500 people. For a pre-season game that is an incredible crowd. The Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania's chief executive, Luke Martin, told The Examiner newspaper's Alex Fair on 5 March that it is critical that the new deal for Hawthorn to play at Aurora beyond 2016 ensures the Hawks get to play higher profile Victorian sides. Launceston has had the Western Bulldogs for three years in a row, whereas Hobart has had St Kilda and Richmond in the past year. I look forward to seeing Carlton, Essendon and Richmond play at Aurora Stadium in the future. It is imperative that this deal is extended.
I note that the Tasmanian Government is preparing to negotiate a new deal for Hawthorn to play in Launceston and it will be asking for one extra game each season, taking the total to five. It would be fantastic if we could get Hawthorn to play an extra game at Aurora Stadium each year. I wish the Government and all those involved in the negotiations the very best in this regard. Hawthorn has been truly embraced in Launceston and it would be incredible for the city to host another game each year. It is wonderful when Hawthorn comes to town. There is a real buzz about our beautiful city. The shops, the cafes and restaurants are busy and our city is awash with brown and gold - and recently the black and white of Collingwood. Visitors to the Launceston Airport were greeted with the news of a quarantine ban on magpies recently, but it was all in good fun.
Mrs Taylor - They were very rude to the magpies.
Mrs Armitage - All in good fun. As a Collingwood supporter, it was all in good fun.
Ms Rattray - Some of them didn't take it quite like that.
Mrs Taylor - They didn't, no. I thought it was very bad publicity you got out of that.
Mrs Armitage - Hawthorn has done a magnificent job in building up its Tasmanian fan base, which results in more memberships for the AFL.
Mr Valentine - Don't tell Collingwood.
Mrs Armitage - I think most people would take it in the spirit that it was meant.
Better AFL rosters for Launceston, bigger crowds at Aurora and more AFL memberships purchased seems like a win-win to me.
To my passionate subject of health. I do not believe that one Tasmanian health service will be in the best interests of the majority of Tasmanians and, interestingly, nor did members of the current Government back in 2011. One centralised system did not work well in the past and is unlikely to work in the future. With 12 out of the 14 self-appointed conveners of the clinical advisory groups being based in the south, I have real concerns for services outside of the south.
Local hospital networks should be local with administration, decision-making and accountability devolved as closely as possible to where care is delivered. This is about the health and wellbeing of our community. It is acknowledged that north and north-west Tasmania has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation.
With pending changes to the THO structure, it is important to know the trust account balances for the three THOs prior to the change to one THS. The patient trust and hospital bequest account balances as at 31 December 2014 were: THO South, $9.8 million; THO North-West, $1.1 million; and THO North, $10.9 million. The operating account balances as at 31 December 2014 were: THO South, $2.7 million; THO North-West, $0.6 million; and THO North, $21.1 million. I am interested to know whether there will be any changes to the Government's arrangements under one THS.
As I have mentioned on previous occasions, the problems experienced by THO North-West and THO South provided the perfect storm to allow the DHHS bureaucracy to once again claim control in a centralised system, albeit with some offices located in the north. However, do not be fooled: DHHS is still DHHS, wherever it is located. While I understand the Government is facing a difficult challenge and applaud them for trying to shorten waiting lists, the public needs more detail about how this will work, particularly in the case of elderly patients who will require post-operative care, and also the impact on the Launceston General Hospital and the capacity to reopen theatres. I would have liked these resources allocated to opening new theatres at the LGH when available and reopening some of the closed beds. I wonder if the Government FTE reductions mean they do not agree to the increased number of surgeons, nurses and others required to undertake this work within Tasmanian state hospitals. If, under this new arrangement, the state gets a cheaper price for, say, ophthalmology patients, would the DHHS or THS be instructed to redirect patients away from existing Tasmanian services to the cheaper service? Currently, LGH patient surgery is done under contract to the eye hospital, with public anaesthetists on public time, and the public registrar and surgeons on public visiting medical officer hours, which I believe works quite well.
Private health insurance is to rise again shortly and with more public patients being treated in private hospitals, is this likely to have an adverse effect on the rates of private insurance in our community? If people opt out, the price increases for those left. There is also the question of whether this tender will require providers to provide pre- and post-operative care and follow-up services such as rehabilitation, noting these services, like John L Grove, are under-resourced or at risk of closing and cannot deal with a big increase in workload. There is a raft of questions I could ask but I will leave those until questions on notice, Leader, for a future time.
There are a couple I will ask now. Will people be removed from the waiting list, as per time on the list, to make the waiting list numbers look better? Or will it be on clinical need? We heard from the member for Windermere of a patient, who I do not believe was on the waiting list at that stage when the member for Windermere had the call from the doctor, but he was on clinical need.
If you speak to many of the surgeons they will say that for people waiting for colonoscopies, by the time they have the colonoscopy, the treatment needed may be far greater than if they had been seen earlier. I ask the Government whether patients are on a waiting list as per how long they have been on there, and smaller issues taken off, so the waiting list looks better, or whether it is on clinical need of patients who need their surgery earlier?
I will also ask how will the clinical risk of treating a patient who may have complications from surgery undertaken elsewhere be addressed, for example, access to medical records if someone is flown to Victoria for an operation and when they come back they need treatment. There are many questions to be asked. Assuming one option will be patients travelling to the mainland, what travel costs for the patients and their families will be provided? Have these costs been factored in? We all know people, particularly the elderly, do better with support around. Will there be support provided if they are flown to Victorian private hospitals to have their surgery done?
How will patients travel and return? Will this be by commercial flights or will they take priority over existing transfers undertaken by the one aircraft contracted to Ambulance Tasmania? Admittedly Tasmania has some of the longest waiting times of any state but pushing people out to the private hospitals only solves capacity problems in the short term. Given the Launceston General Hospital is below the national efficiency price, how can what appears to be the Government's fly and drive policy possibly achieve savings over recruiting new staff at the LGH to fully utilise these theatres and the benefits that go with this employment for the whole community?
As mentioned at the beginning of my address, the Liberal Hodgman Government was elected to power in Tasmania in a landslide and I suggest they do not forget that northern Tasmania played a huge part in that victory.