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© 2019 Rosemary Armitage MLC

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Reply to the Premier's Address

March 16, 2016

Mrs Armitage (Launceston)- Mr Deputy President, Mahatma Gandhi said a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats the weakest members.  I begin my reply to the Premier's Address by looking at some of the wonderful care being given to Launceston's most vulnerable.

 

City Mission in Launceston is one of a number of local organisations which is there for those in need.  There has been strong demand for City Mission's Orana House, which offers emergency housing for men aged over 18.  There has been an increasing number of cases where people had to be turned away.  Their unit for homeless fathers with children is always busy.  Missiondale, a therapeutic centre for men and women seeking to overcome alcohol and drug addiction, has been operating at 86 per cent capacity for the past year. 

 

City Mission CEO, Stephen Brown, says the increase in methamphetamine in the community, means many of the rehab clients are presenting with higher and more complex needs.  While many clients are seeking help for alcohol addiction, methamphetamine cases among clients has risen from 20 per cent two years ago to 41 per cent during the past year.  Demand for emergency relief for the current financial year is about where it was for the previous corresponding period.

 

The Hodgman Government has announced key initiatives in response to the review of the Education Act.  Notably and to be commended after heavy teacher cuts in state schools by this Government previously, they found money to employ 213 additional teachers this year.  Year 11 and 12 will be rolled out to urban high schools from 2017.  The minimum starting age for preps in 2020 will be lowered to four years and six months.  Leaving requirements for high school students will be strengthened to attainment of year 12, Certificate III, or a student turning 18, whichever comes first.  The aim is to keep students engaged in school for longer.

 

The Education minister, Jeremy Rockliff, issued a press release on 9 March, titled 'Education; structural change, targeted investments and prioritising greatest need'.  While some initiatives were mentioned, there was not any detail about how they will support students with additional needs.  I trust that the Tasmanian Government's 2016-17 Budget will provide a comprehensive plan on how they will do that and substantial funding for this.

 

While I am speaking about education for children with additional needs, I take the opportunity to thank Launceston's Kristen Desmond for her tireless work supporting Tasmanian families whose children have additional needs.  Kristen was named this year's Launceston City Council's Citizen of the Year in recognition of her incredible advocacy in that area.  Kristen founded the Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby and its submission to the review of the Education Act is insightful in the issue that it raises.  I quote from part of that document

 

For parents of students living with a disability in the Tasmanian community, the Government needs to ensure that their views are heard and valued and that students living with disability are seen as students with real potential and abilities that can add to the overall Tasmanian community. 

 

At the moment, many parents feel disengaged from the education system, as they see it is uninterested in the needs of their children and in many cases feel that the education system treats their children as a funding burden, not an integral part of the community.  When parents and children are truly engaged with the education system, this will in and of itself raise the awareness of their great experiences and thus the value of the education and training system. 

 

Tony Crehan from Independent Schools Tasmanian and Kristen Desmond said last week that our state schools are still waiting for overdue federal government funding to support children with disabilities.  I urge Mr Rockliff to meet with Tasmanian federal counterparts, and the federal Education minister, to ensure this funding is delivered urgently.

 

Of concern is the power crisis currently affecting Tasmania.  I note the Energy minister, Matthew Groom, says it is the result of three factors:  the lowest spring rainfall in a century, below-average rainfall for the first two months of 2016, and a substantive outage of the Basslink cable.  Tasmania's largest electricity user, Bell Bay Aluminium, volunteered to cut energy use by 10 per cent or between 30 and 40 megawatts for up to four or five months as of early February. 

 

James Boag's Brewery in Launceston has voluntarily halved its energy use in response.  Usually it runs a production line during the day and one at night, but now it is only doing one in the daytime.  The past few months have been difficult for Launceston.  Last month, the owner of Launceston's James Boag's Brewery, Lion, announced it will send the brewing of 20 million litres of beer interstate in response to a sharp decline in the beer market, with 39 jobs being made redundant.  However, the James Boag brand will continue to be brewed locally.

 

Steel manufacturer Bradken announced in December it would close its Youngtown factory, relocating operations to Queensland and causing almost 100 job losses.  Melting is expected to finish in August.  The origins of the Bradken steel factory at Youngtown date back to 1833 when a convict from England, John Williams, set up a small iron foundry in Wellington Street, Launceston.  In the early years it was known for its kitchen stoves which were first called the 'Peter' range and later rebranded as 'Phoenix'.  In the 1960s the business moved into manufacturing steel castings when it relocated from Wellington Street to Franklin Village at Youngtown.   In more modern times, it has become well known for its high-strength steel castings, and has made a substantial contribution to the economy and social fabric of Launceston.  The following comment about Bradken Launceston's workforce appears to have been written several years ago but it seems particularly appropriate to revisit it here today.

 

The longevity of the business can be attributed to the loyalty, skills and experience of the employees.  Almost a quarter of the workforce has over 20 years' service and there are two employees with over 40 years' service.

 

Our thoughts are with the Bradken Launceston workers and their families at this difficult time.  This is not a situation that is easy but I hope they know how grateful our community is for their dedication and commitment to their jobs in the company.

 

The Premier, Will Hodgman, said in last week's address that Tasmania's economy is growing at its fastest rate in six years and business confidence is at a national high.  I have always acknowledged the Hodgman Government's efforts in turning around a very difficult economic situation in Tasmania.  Mr Hodgman said last week that Tasmania is tracking for a budget surplus next financial year, three years ahead of schedule, and that is to be commended.  However, I feel that the current economic situation in northern Tasmania and Launceston specifically is more complex than the Premier acknowledged in his Address.  Our situation is well summed up by the introduction to The Examiner newspaper's editorial on 29 February, which reads, 'a booming economy, record employment, a significant number of civil construction projects.  Sadly, we are not talking about northern Tasmania'. 

 

Respected economist Saul Eslake released his Tasmania Report 2015 last December.  In layman's terms he said that while Tasmania's economy was tracking well across a number of areas, business confidence was strong and expected to remain so, and Hobart and the south-east were performing better than Launceston and the north-east, and also the north-west, on many indicators.  Saul Eslake says since then, employment data is still showing Launceston is not doing as well as other parts of the state in this area.  I believe the Government needs to create more jobs in Launceston and we need to start looking outside the square in how we do it.

 

One opportunity for job creation is a project to stop sewage going into our magnificent Tamar River.  The freakish floods of January were a wake-up call that we need to stop this practice.  Business owners in the Invermay area reported floodwaters contaminated with sewage entering their buildings and a public health alert was issued during this period.  TasWater has told me that the numerous projects they are working on to improve Launceston's sewage treatment systems will not stop sewage being released into the river.  That problem will persist due to the limitation of the system's old pipes.  TasWater has a draft report from the consultancy BECA which looks at a number of options to minimise the frequency, volume and impact of combined system overflows.  I am advised other engineering solutions exist that could stop sewage going into the river but those would cost many more millions of dollars than currently budgeted.  I would therefore suggest we must see this investment differently:  let us see this work as a potential generator of jobs, in the interests of both the economy and the Tamar River Estuary. 

 

The other significant area for investment by governments would be in reducing catchment runoff, which accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the Tamar Estuary's nutrient loads.  Stakeholders are doing wonderful work on this problem already but they need much greater financial backing from governments over time, so let us keep the momentum going.

 

The planned $235 million relocation of the University of Tasmania from Newnham to Inveresk is a positive project for Launceston provided the northern campus does not lose staff, courses or resources to Hobart in the process, with the idea of Launceston becoming a true university city.  I also note in The Examiner earlier this month that prominent Launceston developer Errol Stuart was urging governments to work together to get the money required locked in.  He is right when he says it would be vital to creating much needed construction work and will result in ongoing investment in Launceston's economy.  There is also much excitement in the community about Errol's multimillion dollar redevelopment of the old silos in Launceston.  I wish him all the very best with that build.  Our city is blessed to have his vision for innovation, as well as the passion he has for his community.

 

There is another businessman who deserves the same pat on the back for his equally strong commitment to Launceston and that is Josef Chromy.  I am delighted that Joe's $15 million redevelopment of the Penny Royal complex will be officially opened in the next few days.  I congratulate Joe Chromy and JAC Group managing director Dean Cocker on this achievement, with the company hoping to submit plans to Launceston City Council for a sky-lift gondola in the next few months to complement this development.  These are two significant examples of the innovation happening in our business community which will do a great deal to attract visitors to our beautiful city.  We are truly blessed to have such passionate visionaries in Launceston.

 

Another example of this is the creation of the high-tech innovation hub for start-up companies at historic Macquarie House in Civic Square.  This historic building has been empty for far too long and simply used as storage.  A stone's throw from there is LINC Launceston which has undergone a spectacular renovation and upgrade in the past year.  My congratulations to Garry Conroy-Cooper and his team on a project which has done much to bring residents back into the CBD and the library.  I am told the cafe is world class and the modern facilities have been extremely well received in the community.

 

About 15 minutes out of the city centre, Hadspen is continuing to go from strength to strength.  I was in Hadspen late last year and I was very impressed to see the growth of local housing subdivisions, with Meander Valley Council recently approving a subdivision on the last available serviced land at Glenmore Estate.  Rutherglen Village has reopened and renamed itself as Entally Lodge as part of an overall redevelopment of the heritage site and existing accommodation facilities.  Council has recently approved a local produce and craft market for Entally Lodge. 

 

Recently the Tasmanian Planning Commission approved the amendment of the Meander Valley interim planning scheme to allow for the rezoning of land for Hadspen's urban growth area.  This area is identified as a top location for accommodating residential growth in greater Launceston over the next three decades and will provide between 800 and 1 100 new residential lots, with a school site put aside for the Department of Education if they require it.  A new commercial area has been included and a new park has been planned for the hilltop with pedestrian and cycle links to the existing Hadspen settlement and Esk River.

 

An upgrade of the Carrick sewer treatment plant will be required and planning for this is underway with TasWater.  The mayor, Craig Perkins, says the population of Hadspen is expected to double in that time.  Hadspen is going along in leaps and bounds and there is a real positivity about the local community as a result. 

 

The state is proudly continuing to embrace the Hawthorn Football Club and I commend them for the wonderful way they have become such a valued part of our northern community.  I trust the AFL will reward Hawthorn and Launceston by ensuring they have the very best opposition sides when they play at Aurora Stadium.

 

Launceston is an extremely vibrant community and the passion of its people is always on show.  The Encore Theatre Company recently won seven categories at the Errols in Hobart and the company has made a major contribution to our local arts scene.  So too have Three River Theatre, Mudlark Theatre Company, Theatre North led by general manager Greg Leong, the Launceston Musical Society, the City of Launceston RSL band and many others, including Stompin, Junction Arts Festival, Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival and Tasdance.

 

Our local colleges and high schools have also produced some sensational productions in the past year and I pay tribute to them also.  Festivale, the Launceston Ten, Sally's Ride, the Stan Siejka Cycling Classic, Symphony Under the Stars, Cataract Gorge Challenge, the Launceston Tennis International and the Women's 5k run are some examples of the wonderful events captivating our city. 

 

The Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust continues to do wonderful work in supporting medical research in northern Tasmania.  Organisations such as St Giles, Self Help at Youngtown, City Mission, the Benevolent Society, Red Cross, Anglicare and many others remind us of the heart in our community with the work they do.  I thank them for their contribution.

 

Recently, thousands attended City Park for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Symphony Under the Stars which is always extremely popular.  The Junction Arts Festival, Festivale, the weekly Harvest Market and the Twilight Market have done so much to capture the imagination of an appreciative public.  They have made a significant contribution to tourism. 

 

On tourism, many Launceston and northern businesses were recognised at this year's Tasmanian and national tourism awards.  I congratulate them again on their success.  They include Josef Chromy wines, Rebecca King from Kingthing Marketing, Ride North Tas, RiverFly 1864 and Sebel Launceston. 

 

Tourism Northern Tasmania has had a busy year spreading the word far and wide about all the incredible reasons why people should have Launceston at the top of their travel destination list.  CEO Chris Griffin says there have been many highlights in the past year including, notably, the resilience and professionalism of the industry in the face of bushfires, floods and ferry breakdowns in January and February, establishing the region as Australia's hottest emerging cycling destination, the renewal of the Hawthorn deal, northern business' outstanding success at the State and national tourism awards, work commencing on the silo development and the upcoming opening of the Penny Royal redevelopment.  Chris Griffin says in the next few months they are looking at a review of investment in the statewide system for navigating visitors to points of interest across Tasmania.  The aim would be to improve road, visitor information centre, airport and other signage to make tourist experiences more enjoyable. 

 

Ultimately, the aim is to boost regional tourism.  Improving tourism infrastructure is also a big focus.  Launceston this year hosted the 2016 Ulysses Motorcycle Club national AGM.  With an estimated 2 200 members attending, Ulysses Club AGM national event coordinator Chris Glover, of Perth, Western Australia, said the club chose Launceston because of the great roads and its reputation as a great tourist destination.  We cannot underestimate the benefit to our city, not to mention TT-Line, with Mr Glover stating research found an AGM at Mildura generated $8 million for the regional Victorian city.  We were told many riders based their holidays around the event.  Many came earlier to tour the state while others stayed on after the AGM.

 

I will finish with health.  We are very fortunate in the north to have passionate people willing to fight for those more vulnerable.  I refer in particular to Longford nurse Barb Baker who has fought tirelessly and been at the forefront of trying to get a standalone palliative care unit since the closing of Philip Oakden House many years ago.  Mrs Baker said -

 

Philip Oakden was free of the pressures and routine of a hospital, meaning an 11-year-old boy could die with his dog by his side, his black furry head poking out from under the covers. 

 

An elderly man could take a spa bath at midnight or whenever he so pleased, and a young mother had a sandpit for her children to play in and a tipple to enjoy with her husband at happy hour.

 

Visitors could come at any time and stay as long as they wanted.  It was a really happy place.  You probably find it hard to believe but it was.  It was available to everyone.

 

It could be incredibly sad, too, but you didn't have the stresses of a hospital setting.  With the ageing population and chronic disease and the cancer status of Tasmanians, we think the need for a hospice will have increased.

 

The other thing is the financial factor.  It is much more financially viable to have someone in a hospice than in an acute hospital bed.

 

Currently, Grosvenor Management Consulting have been engaged by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study into the feasibility of a dedicated hospice in northern Tasmania, with the project funded by the Government as part of a pre-election commitment.  Grosvenor note on their internet page regarding the study -

 

A number of future service delivery options have been identified based on input from members of the public, community organisations and health professionals in November 2015.

 

On speaking with many medical practitioners in the north, I questioned Grosvenor's consultation process with health professionals.  A number I have spoken to in Launceston were not even aware a study was underway.  I eagerly await their report.

 

I will briefly touch on our Launceston General Hospital.  I believe it is fair to give the new Tasmanian Health Service chief executive David Alcorn time to settle in.  The Launceston General Hospital and the Royal Hobart Hospital struggled with a difficult, demanding winter last year.  It is likely these woes will continue this year, with inpatient bed occupancy rates of at least 95 per cent.  While there is no ideal number, it is widely accepted that rates in excess of around 85 per cent involve significant safety compromises and avoidable complications.  The Department of Emergency Medicine continues to have bed block and it must be a continuing nightmare for staff and patients alike to be treating emergency patients by running a pseudo-ward.

 

I have many questions for the Health minister regarding the viability of the radiology department at the LGH, and the Commonwealth's $53.9 million elective surgery reform program and how it is going with regard to waiting lists.  I will leave these for the moment and ask them through appropriate channels.  We are very fortunate in Launceston to have caring, passionate and compassionate people working in our hospitals, including medical, nursing, allied health and domestic staff and volunteers, often going above and beyond.  This is the reason the Launceston General Hospital is a place of excellence - because of its staff. 

 

I thank the Premier for his Address and note it.

 

 

 

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