Reply to the State Budget 2015-16
The centrepiece of the Hodgman Government's second budget is job creation, a pledge to create eight-thousand jobs in Tasmania.
Since March 2014, employment in Launceston and the north east has increased by 1.8 per cent and this move by the government is positive.
I note the State Government's pledge of 60 million dollars for the Northern Cities Fund announced in the State Budget which will assist the relocation of the University of Tasmania from its Newnham campus to Inveresk and I also note the University has recently signed a Memorandum with the State Government, Launceston City Council and TasTAFE to further develop this relocation project. The University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen says bringing the campuses into Inveresk will considerably boost student numbers, which is good for our local economy.
In February this year, I organised a tour of the University of Tasmania's Launceston campuses for Legislative Councillors so we could learn about all the wonderful work happening at both campuses. It is an inspiring place with potential in abundance and a highly skilled and dedicated staff. Mr President, I wish to place on the record my sincere appreciation to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen and also to the Provost, Professor Mike Calford, and all the staff who hosted us on the tour.
The university is pushing forward with their commitment to the 200 million dollar project to relocate from Newnham to Inveresk in an environment of great financial uncertainty. The Federal Member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic is on record as saying the project cannot happen unless the Federal Government's bill to deregulate university fees passes the Senate. I note that during recent public hearings in Launceston for the Legislative Council's Growing Tasmania's Economy Inquiry, the University's Chief Operating Officer, David Clerk said the university would lobby for Federal Government funding regardless of whether deregulation happens and this remains a watching brief.
As a community, we must fight to ensure courses, resources and staff at the University's northern campuses are maintained and not cut in any move. The university's Chief Financial Officer, Craig Barling told the Legislative Council's Growing Tasmania's Economy Inquiry hearing, the introduction of sub degrees at the new Inveresk campus will not see courses such as nursing taken off Launceston. The University of Tasmania is incredibly important to the Launceston and northern economies and it is imperative that Launceston retains all degrees currently available, as well as picking up sub degrees. Overseas and interstate students will not come to Launceston for sub degrees.
Staying on education, it is very pleasing to see some substantial school projects funded in my electorate of Launceston. Eight and a half million dollars to refurbish and modernise Prospect High School's teaching and hospitality areas and seven million dollars to improve teaching areas at Kings Meadows High School. There is two-point-six million dollars to amalgamate the Northern Support School's Newstead and Ravenswood campuses; the sale of surplus property will fund the remaining two-million dollars required for the project.
A further positive in this budget for education is the two-million dollars set aside to employ 25 specialist literacy and numeracy teachers. These teachers will help Year 7-9 students performing below the national average minimum standard by offering one on one and small group support.
Ten child and youth health nurses will be working in Tasmanian schools by July. In primary schools, the nurses will look at vision and hearing tests and nutrition, and in high schools, more of their focus will be taken up by mental health, risk behaviours and sexual health. This is a positive announcement and I know that the work of these nurses is highly valued across the community. I look forward to the government providing more detail on this initiative, and I would be interested to know whether nurses in the primary schools will be looking at mental health as they will be in high schools. I would have thought that mental health challenges can come into play well before adolescence, particularly for children who may have a challenging home life or additional needs.
I am pleased to see a further 100 million dollars for frontline services in Health and I would be interested to see just where it will be spent as details in the budget papers appear scant.
I believe the Minister for Health has a very difficult job to do, and I accept that there are areas relating to our health system that are better served by being statewide, however I continue to have serious reservations about the introduction of the new Tasmanian Health Service and the dismantling of the three THOs before they had actually been given sufficient time to see if they could work together in a collaborative and economic manner.
The new proposed structure looks complex and removes power and control from the regions, downgrading the positions at our three health regions to General Managers, having previously been CEOs, and I wonder whether it will actually work in practice. I am sorry that I can't provide a copy of the proposed structure to Hansard.
It has always been said that the best outcomes come from administration and decision making being as close as possible to the point of delivery, rather than devolving it to a distant bureaucracy, and I believe this still rings true.
This leads me to the governments “fly and drive Policy” of performing public surgery in private hospitals. While I have been advised by the Minister and his advisors that there is a time imperative to spend the 25.9 million dollars being provided by the Federal Government for elective surgery, I am also aware that by October the Launceston General Hospital will be primed to go with seven theatres up and running. The issue of offering short term work to medical practitioners has been given as a reason against performing this work in our public hospitals, but if we can look at tendering this work out to the private sector, both here and interstate, wouldn't it be better to look at offering contracts to local private surgeons and anaesthetists to perform this work in our public hospital system.
While I have been advised our public hospitals can tender for the work, I find it difficult to see how, when the ink isn't dry yet on their new corporate structure and I haven't heard of any appointments as regional General Managers as yet.
We all know that people have a better outcome if their surgery is performed closer to home, with support nearby, not to mention the cost of transport and accommodation for the patient and up to one carer if the surgery is away from their home base, either intrastate or interstate. I would also like to see a breakdown of the additional 14 million dollars announced for patient transport as great savings could be made if the 25.9 million dollars for elective surgery was spent in our own public hospital system.
On to education which together with Health, consumes more of the budget than any other area. While the government has kept its promise not to cut school budgets in 2015-2016, last year's teacher cuts are still being deeply felt. 266 teaching jobs will have been shed in Tasmania by June as a result of public sector job cuts. While I applaud funding in this budget to extend 21 high schools to Year 11 and 12 by 2018, previous budget cuts now mean some of those schools don't have enough specialist teachers to teach the Year 11 and 12 curriculum; for example, specialist maths teachers.
As well, Colleges which are working with these high schools on the Year 11-12 trial project are finding it tough because they're being asked to offer this support when they were hard hit with teacher cuts in the last budget. I would hope that the next State Budget handed down looks at the issue of building on the teacher recruitments so that schools have proper resources to achieve the very best learning outcomes. Our teachers do a marvellous job but we need to ensure they have sufficient resources to meet the very high expectations we have of them as a community.
Encouraging greater private level investment in Tasmania is an important feature of this budget. In Launceston, there are some incredible examples of private sector investment happening. They include the redevelopment of the Penny Royal complex by Josef Chromy's JAC Group, the redevelopment of the Old Silos by Errol Stewart, the $24m Woolworths store being built in Wellington Street and the modernisation of Woolworths' Kings Meadows and Prospect Vale supermarkets.
Then there is the incredible transformation of Launceston's historic Chalmers Church and I know members were amazed on our electorate tour, by how Walker Designs' Graeme Walker has transformed the Church into a beautiful and visually striking building, giving it a slick, funky and modern twist on the inside while maintaining and honouring its incredible history, character and charm, and status of one of Launceston's most beloved old buildings. It was pleasing to see Walker Designs win the Building Over $200,000 category at the recent Launceston Heritage Awards. An award very well deserved.
I note that the State Government has allocated 1.35 million dollars to the Northbank project in Launceston and this investment is to be commended. For too long this area has sat idle and when developed will enhance the Seaport and bring a new lease of life to underutilised area of Invermay.
The decision to locate the Coordinator-General's office in Launceston has been great for the city and John Perry and his staff have received a warm welcome to Launceston and many business leaders are taking keen interest in their work. John Perry's brief is to help attract more business investment to Tasmania and I wish him well with this task. I am pleased to see this budget allocates $3.2million for the Coordinator General, to be allocated toward international engagement, investment attraction and facilitation and to help the office assist with the 60 million dollar Northern Cities Major Development Initiative.
The Launceston Chamber of Commerce has applauded the State Government for this budget, particularly the heavy investment in infrastructure projects which will benefit northern Tasmania. The Chamber's Executive Officer, says news that the budget will return to surplus in 2016-17 provides great optimism for our state's future.
Mr President, the construction sector will be a winner from this budget with the focus on infrastructure projects.
On the decision to extend First Home Builder's Grant, while I applaud the government providing $20,000 to first home builders, I am concerned that first home buyers are let down yet again, particularly for our young. The cost of buying land and building is not cheap these days and many young people have to take out a heavy mortgage just to get a look in to the housing market. The Great Australian Dream of owning your own home isn't as accessible for our young people as we might hope and I feel that this initiative may not deliver what it promises. It would have been a good option to provide $20,000 for first home builders, and perhaps $10,000 for first home buyers to assist those who cannot afford to build. For the record I again dispute the argument that this grant inflates housing prices, as from my experience in real estate, what it does is provide a deposit for those wishing to get off the rental roundabout and into their own home.
Broadly speaking, the State Budget has delivered many wins for the electorate of Launceston, including the Silverdome, which will receive half a million dollars for maintenance and $556,000 in operational support in 2015-16 and I note the State Government will explore other ways the Silverdome can source revenue during the next financial year.
At Blackstone Heights in the Meander Valley, $300,000 will be spent installing a one and a half kilometre footpath to improve pedestrian safety, and this is important given this growing area.
It is also pleasing to see that $100,000 has been allocated for a pedestrian bridge over the South Esk River at Hadspen.
While Launceston's Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Australia's largest regional museum and gallery will receive 1.9 million dollars over the Forward Estimates, I still contend this is a world renowned museum worthy of more state funding.
However, it is excellent to see the State Government investing an additional eight million dollars on tourism, including three million dollars for Tourism Tasmania to promote Tasmania in major markets and three million dollars to help the industry create new visitor experiences, $920,000 for Regional Tourism Organisations, $610,000 for a Regional Start Up program and $400,000 to get a bigger slice of business events. Tourism Northern Tasmania's CEO, Chris Griffin says they hope to use their funding to focus winter tourism initiatives including a regional cycling strategy and a regional events strategy.
Hawthorn Football Club has been a massive success at Aurora Stadium in Launceston providing a real financial boost to the northern economy during the winter months. Chris Griffin says Tourism Northern Tasmania strongly supports Launceston City Council's bid to have higher calibre sides, particularly those from Victoria, play Hawthorn in Launceston and the bid for five games involving the Hawks during the AFL season each year.
On the topic of tourism, it is important to acknowledge success and it is well and truly everywhere in the Tasmanian tourism sector right now, particularly in my electorate of Launceston.
Launceston's Rebecca King from Kingthing Marketing won the national award for Marketing for Tourism, Education and Training at the Australian Tourism Awards in Adelaide on April the 10 th . Launceston Airport, James Boag Brewery won silver and bronze medals respectively in their category and Launceston's Junction Arts Festival and Josef Chromy Cellar Door Restaurant and Function Centre at Relbia were national finalists in their categories. In Launceston, we have the fabulous Festivale, the Harvest Farmers Market, the Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival (or BOFA), , the Junction Arts Festival, the Launceston 10 coming up on June the 14th , the Stan Sjieka Classic cycling race which last year featured Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Launceston's own Richie Porte and we have incredible regional facilities such as the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery operated by Launceston City Council.
We have much to be proud of and I congratulate all of those who contribute to the success of tourism in Tasmania, particularly in Launceston.
Mr President, perhaps one of the greatest measures of a budget is how it provides for the most vulnerable Tasmanians. I would like to speak about the Tasmanian Government's policy on family violence. The budget will provide 16 million dollars for a whole-of-government strategy to deal with family violence, a further $24 m across the departments of Health and Human Services and Education for support such as social workers in schools, sexual assault and family support services, $720,000 to support victims of family violence and to run preventative and support programs and $88,000 to fund Tasmania's membership of the Our Watch Program, which is a nationwide initiative aiming to change attitudes that contribute to violence against women and children.
I note that the State Government plans to release a comprehensive strategy for dealing with family violence in August.
The Launceston Women's Shelter, Magnolia Place, knows all too well just how big a problem domestic violence is. Magnolia Place is now entering its 40 th year of supporting women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Magnolia Place's 2014 Annual Report shows they supported 222 women and their children, with the largest age group being 26-35 years of age. 75% identified family violence as the reason they needed accommodation. During that year, the shelter had to turn away 418 people due to being at capacity, and I strongly urge people to consider further funding to the Launceston Women's Shelter, Magnolia Place.
In closing I agree with the Treasurer when he says we must live within our means and not spend money we don't have, however it is important that we don't make cuts to areas such as staff in health and education that could end up costing us far more in the long run than we save.
Mr President, I note the budget.