Noting of Budget Papers
Ms Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, first I congratulate the Treasurer and the Government for presenting a strong Budget with focus on such important issues as health and education. There were many positive announcements in the 2017-18 Budget for the northern part of the state, specifically the electorate of Launceston.
It is pleasing to see the Government's focus on increasing health services in the north of the state, although I believe there is still a way to go before the north is fully supported.
There is $35.8 million allocated to the Launceston General Hospital Ward D to see the addition of four beds, taking the total in that ward to 19, and ensuring it is fully funded over the forward Estimates. As well as Ward D, the Children's Ward - Ward 4K - is also going to continue to be upgraded at a cost of $7.7 million. It is good to see it continuing because it is very important.
The $20 million allocated to the John L Grove Rehabilitation Centre is also wonderful news and guarantees a positive future for the facility, keeping the 20 beds open. I am sure that many members will remember the worry last year about it closing. It is an essential facility and everyone worked so hard last year to make sure it stayed open because it takes people from the hospital who need some transition before going home. It provides an essential service.
As mentioned by the member for Windermere, the news of the $9 million allocated for a second medical helicopter in Tasmania has also been warmly welcomed by Launceston. Many there are hoping the second medical helicopter could be based in northern Tasmania, perhaps either at Launceston Airport or at the Launceston General Hospital to help assist with quick responses to medical emergencies in the north and the north-west of the state.
The funding assistance to the LGH is very welcome. I still have some quite serious concerns about ambulance ramping and the congestion of the Accident and Emergency department at the LGH. With winter not yet upon us, there could be some further problems.
I have asked in this place previously, and I will mention now, the number of locums we have in the Emergency Department. The Acting Leader might be able to fill me in on how we are going with that and how are we going to employ some permanent staff.
The last time I asked the question, there were four locums in the Emergency Department, and 10 overall at the Launceston General Hospital, so I hope that number may have gone down and that we may now have employed some permanent staff. The answer I was given last week was a little concerning - but I appreciate the expense that goes with locums - because for the period 6 February 2017 to 3 April 2017, we spent $253 936.67 on locums. While I appreciate we need doctors, and it is very important that we have that cover, it is hoped we could employ some permanent staff as opposed to locums. They are there on a temporary basis; they come and go. It is much harder for them to work in the system because they are not there all the time. I am sure the Minister for Health is aware of that. I am wondering whether the Acting Leader could fill me in on how we are going with the locum situation. It is not only that hospital - I believe the North West Regional Hospital had several locums as well.
I am concerned about another health issue, which the Acting Leader may be able advise me about. That is gastroenterology and how we are going with finding a gastroenterologist. I understand a locum has been filling in to ensure there is no gap in service delivery and to keep things going. We are aware that the permanent staff member is cutting back his hours and is retiring. It is not always easy to find specialists. Have we found a gastroenterologist? In the middle of last year there was a huge waiting list for categories 1, 2 and 3. They were well over their boundaries. We are all aware, particularly with colonoscopies and gastroenterology, that it is best to have these sooner rather than later. If someone does the faecal occult blood test the federal government sends out to people over 50, and they show blood, they need to have a colonoscopy.
If they do not have private health insurance - a lot of people cannot afford it - they turn up at the hospital and are then told that they are on a long waiting list. We all appreciate that prevention is better than cure. The sooner something like that is found and treated, the better the likelihood of recovery. I ask the Acting Leader: how we are going with gastroenterology? It is a very important area that we should be dealing with.
Another area of health I would like to ask about is accreditation. We are now going to employ two diabetes doctors, which is wonderful - two endocrinologists, as opposed to one. Do we have two employed at this time, or are we still looking? I cannot quite recall.
Mrs Hiscutt - Through you, Mr President, are you talking about endocrinologists specifically at this point?
Ms Armitage - Yes, because we were looking for one. I understood we have now decided to employ two. I wondered how the recruitment was going - have we employed two, are we still looking or do we have people who are likely to be employed? That is a real issue, particularly with diabetes.
The $6.9 million state contribution for the Launceston City Deal includes funding for the City Heart Project, which is welcomed by the community and the council. We are already seeing some stunning transformations in the city, with improvements to the Quadrant Mall, including Dicky White's Lane, which is proving very popular. It is great to see the public using areas that were once underutilised. Now that these areas are starting to look so much better, people are using them. It is good to see people back in the city. It is important that cities do not die.
The health of the Tamar River is one of the most pressing issues facing Launceston. The allocation of $500 000 to establish the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce is good news for the city. I just hope that something actually happens. So often we see reports being filed away to gather dust. I hope the taskforce will bring some real changes. The health of the river is one of the things that holds us back. During the election campaign many people told me they wanted the Tamar River to look much better. That was one of the concerns many people raised.
I also take the opportunity to congratulate and thank the many stakeholders working tirelessly to improve the Tamar Estuary's health. As mentioned by the member for Windermere, we know that sewerage and water are major issues. I have been advised that the bill for the proposed takeover should be available by mid-June or early July. Our committee will not make any recommendations; it will purely be fact-finding and coming up with benefits and challenges so we can make an informed decision when the bill comes before us.
With regard to Education, $4.3 million of a previously announced capital improvement project at East Launceston Primary School is still allocated in 2017-18, which will help create modern new classrooms and facilities at the school. I think we are all quite aware of what a popular school East Launceston is. It is obviously a little overcrowded. When a school is very popular, everyone wants to go there. It is a casualty of its own success because it is such a great school. Overcrowding at the school is an issue and something needs to happen about that. It is good to see the money is still in the Budget.
Ms Armitage - Most schools in our area have great reputations and East Launceston is one of them. It might be hoped there are more young children in the area.
Mr Valentine - There is nothing wrong with public education.
Ms Armitage - Public education is very good. We appreciate that, particularly when you go to these schools, and I know we all do. I have been going to the schools for a variety of different reasons. You are invited along, and it is fantastic to see the work they are doing. We are fortunate we have great primary schools. It is one of the reasons, particularly with East Launceston, they are overcrowded.
The member for Windermere mentioned that $4.9 million is allocated to Queechy High school, which is well deserved. Queechy High School has been working under sufferance for a long time and it is well deserving of the money. I will be pleased to see the work that happens there.
Sport and recreation in the north has received some support in this Budget, with the two major sporting facilities in the state north, the Silverdome and the Elphin Sports Centre, both receiving additional funding from the Government to upgrade their facilities. The Silverdome has been allocated $1.9 million in 2017-18. The Government has tried to get rid of the Silverdome many times. It even offered it to the Launceston City Council for $1 at one stage. People realise and appreciate there is a lot more cost goes with taking these facilities.
Mr Gaffney - That is not good deal. They can get a hospital for $1.
Ms Armitage - A hospital is okay as long as you do not have patients.
It is good the Silverdome will have this money spent on it. A lot of activities and cycling races go on at the Silverdome. Targa is at the Silverdome. It is used quite regularly. Unless you are going there for a particular event, you may not appreciate how many times a year the Silverdome is used. It is good to see the money in the Budget.
The Elphin Sports Centre is the home of our basketball team, the Tornadoes, which is going well. It is good to see some money is going into the Elphin Sports Centre.
Ms Rattray - It has been looking a bit tired.
Ms Armitage - It has been looking a little tired for a while. It is a long time since it has had any money spent on it. While $230 000 might not seem a huge amount compared to the millions the others are getting, it will do some maintenance and repairs work at the centre. It will give the centre a good lift. In addition to this, $100 000 will be spent on the Northern Stadiums Strategy in 2017-18, which will identify improvements required for sporting infrastructure across the north of the state. It is important to recognise what we have and what work is required. I feel that committees and strategies are great, but it is important we do something with them once we get them and put some funding into them.
Ms Rattray - Less talk and more action.
Ms Armitage - Less talk and more action, but you have to know what you are doing and what action needs to be done first. We need a plan. I hope we can identify some good works with that strategy.
Tourism Tasmania has advised they are pleased with the budget allocation for events in the north. In Launceston, the $140 000 split over the Budget and forward Estimates will help support two of Launceston's biggest events, the Stan Siejka Cycling Classic and the Launceston Ten road race. The Stan Siejka Cycling Classic bike race is quoted as being Tasmania's best showcase cycling event and is one of the best street criterion races in Australia. The Launceston Ten is known as Australia's richest and fastest 10-kilometre road running race. Both these events regularly attract superb fields and huge crowds. When you look at the Launceston Ten, it is not that many years ago that we did not have it. All of a sudden there was only the one in Burnie and now this has become a great race and well supported. They have changed the date slightly because the first or second races were in freezing conditions with thick fog. The have changed where the race goes. It is being improved all the time. Each time you have a different work-out, with little improvements. It is a great race and I would encourage everyone - if you do not want to run it, you can walk or even just come along and be a spectator. It is a really good event.
Many of these funded initiatives are the result of collaborative planning partnerships between the state Government, regional tourism organisations, local government and representative agencies. It is this kind of inclusive partnership that generates confidence in the northern business community and the co-ownership of the resulting outcomes that are produced.
I am pleased about the revitalisation of the CH Smith building in Launceston. For about 26 years the building sat there looking derelict.
Ms Rattray - It is private enterprise, isn't it? The CH Smith building?
Ms Armitage - It is, but work was prevented from occurring for a variety of reasons. People were stopped. However, $7 million has been allocated over two years from 2017-18 to carry out the Government's plans for the government-leased accommodation in Launceston. This will help establish a modern government-leased office space at the historic CH Smith site.
Ms Rattray - So Henty House is getting the boot?
Ms Armitage - That is not my understanding, no. I do not believe so. This will establish a modern government-leased office space at the historic CH Smith in central Launceston. Henty House will still be tenanted by government employees.
My understanding is they will be going downstairs where they will be more accessible to the public. It is really important to be accessible so people can see where they are. If they have issues, they can come in and can find the government employees. Being on the fourth floor is not always the best place and it is difficult for people to find, so it will be good to be more visual.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Errol Stewart and Scott Curran for their dedication and commitment to revitalising the CH Smith. It cannot have been easy and it is a huge challenge. It certainly will be good for Launceston. When you are driving into Launceston, it will be wonderful to see something great as opposed to a decaying building that looks uncared for.
It is also good to see the Government is supporting vulnerable people in need in this Budget. I am pleased to see $1.6 million has been allocated for the expansion of Thyne House, youth supported accommodation in York Street, Launceston. Thyne House provides affordable supportive long-term housing for young people aged from 16 to 25 and an on-site support worker. It is really important they have support.
Recently the Examiner talked to some of the young people living there. They talked about how long they had been homeless, and how great they feel to have somewhere to go. The on-site support worker is also important for them.
Mission Beat, Launceston's mobile food van that supports those in need, will receive $20 000 in the 2017-18 Budget as part of the Government's additional support for food vans. Certainly, Mission Beat and their volunteers provide a wonderful service.
Occasionally I do some work with the police. I may be on the roads at 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning. You would not believe how many young people you see wandering the streets at that time.
Ms Rattray - They are only going home at that time because they do not go out until about 10 o'clock at night.
Ms Armitage- Some are going home, but there are some who do not have homes to go to. It is fairly obvious when you see them walking into the park. It is quite sad. You see the same people.
Mr Valentine - There are more than you think.
Ms Armitage - There certainly are. I might get called into the police station at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning. When I drive down to the police station, I often see the same people. They are not all going home. There are a lot more homeless people than we realise. They do not have a warm bed or somewhere to go, or food to eat.
That is why organisations like Mission Beat are really important. They actually provide these people with something to eat. It is a very sad situation.
One area the Government has oversight of - and I do bring this up from time to time - is its support of first home owners. While I accept it is really good for the building industry and it is great for people who want to buy off the plan or build a new home, it is actually discriminating against those who cannot afford that.
I have heard the argument again and again that it inflates the price, but having previously been a real estate agent, I cannot see how it distorts the market. If someone has a house for sale, they do not add an extra $10 000 or $20 000 onto its price because they know that someone who might buy that house is a first home buyer. All I saw when I was in real estate was that a first home buyer was actually able to buy that house because they could use that money as their deposit. It made a huge difference to them.
I understand where the Government is coming on. It thinks, 'Okay, this is great, it is generating work in the building industry', but what about those poor people out there who are first homebuyers? You tell me how many young couples out there can afford to build a first home or buy off the plan. If they do, they might overcommit and get themselves into difficulty. It is always much easier for many of these young couples to buy a house that needs some work from someone who perhaps is moving up to a new house.
I know they are doing this a lot around Australia. I have read what the Government has said but I still do not agree. Even the stamp duty relief - which was mentioned by the member for Western Tiers, and the fact that at one stage we did give stamp duty relief - would be of benefit to people buying their first home.
Ms Rattray - I think that would be an excellent initiative.
Ms Armitage - It would be a start. I would like to see the Government provide a grant to the first homebuyer as well as to the first home builder.
Mrs Hiscutt - Mr President, I think the honourable member has answered her own question. It is to stimulate the building industry - that is why it is there.
Ms Armitage - I understand that but in the past, when I was young, I got a first homebuyer's grant.
Mrs Hiscutt - As you know, governments move those grants from time to time in different areas.
Ms Armitage - I understand that, but I know of a lot of people who were able to go into their first home. We all realise now how difficult it is for young people to be a home owner. We hear all the time that it is getting harder and harder for people to be first home owners. How many people can be a first new home owner as opposed to a first home owner? I think this is something that the Government could look at.
I understand when it comes to budgets, but I also believe that it is discriminating against those who cannot afford it. I have had this argument many times with councils about rates and how they look at their rates, and the fact that often it is a wealth tax. In some ways, those who can afford to buy a new home will get some extra help. Yes, it helps the building industry. I appreciate that, but I would also like to see those who cannot afford to buy a new home being given some help, even if it is with stamp duty relief. It would not be nearly as expensive as this, but it would certainly give some advantage to them.
Mrs Hiscutt - I will take that as a comment.
Ms Armitage - I note the Government is giving $53.4 million to continue rebuilding Tasmania Police numbers. I have asked this question before: if we are putting $53.4 million into rebuilding Tasmania Police, do you think they might be able to take the police in Launceston out of the courts? It was going to happen two or three years ago, but our police in Launceston are still babysitting prisoners in courts rather than being on the beat. I know it does not happen in Hobart, where security officers are doing that work, but in Launceston our police officers are still performing those duties.
Ms Rattray - Free them up to get out to Lilydale.
Ms Armitage - It would free them up to do the work they want to do, rather than sitting in courts. If we have that money going in there, how about we see some of it going to take them out of the courts. It is a great idea. I am very pleased to see that they are going to have body-worn videos. That is a really good thing, particularly when they are working late at night. You hear of the situation of many of the officers - we may have heard it in some of our briefings - when sometimes one is called away and is on their own. It is certainly frightening for them in many of the situations they are faced with. I have spoken to some of the City of Launceston parking attendants who now wear the cameras. They said that it makes them feel much safer too. Anything that makes people feel much safer is well worth the effort and cost.
Mr Gaffney - I think it was the paramedic who told us his story about being hit when they didn't have enough staff in the room.
Ms Armitage - One had to go. That is right. It is certainly a difficult situation for police and all emergency workers. There is a case for them all to have cameras. I also take on comments made by the member for Windermere - how hard it must be for them to walk around with the amount of equipment they have to carry. It would not make it very easy if you have to run.
Mr Gaffney - I do not think they have to carry the camera.
Ms Armitage - I was thinking of everything we keep adding to them. There is still a weight to it. Many issues have been covered. I do not intend to go over things other members have commented on. I am very pleased to see the mental health initiatives. It will be ongoing in areas with a prevalence of ice and other drugs, and with depression and lack of employment. It is takes a toll on people. It is good to see the $16 million allocation to the mental health initiative, plus $3.8 million for the medical cannabis controlled access scheme.
Going back to Health and looking, as the member for Apsley calls them, at the glossies: it is good to see $144 million allocated for staff and hospital beds. It is important we are able to staff these beds; it is all very well to open wards and open beds, but we need to make sure we have the staff.
Mr Valentine - There is a lot more to it.
Ms Armitage - There is a lot more to it.
Ms Rattray - In the Examiner - and it may well have been the same in the other two dailies - on Saturday, there was an advertisement for nursing staff following the release of the Budget and the increase in health. I sent that straight through to my niece who is back from Western Australia and actively looking for work.
Ms Armitage - That is good, member for Apsley, because I am told they have difficulties actually finding staff.
Ms Rattray - She is willing and keen.
Ms Armitage - It is good to open the beds. We need to make sure we have the staff and recurrent funding to continue staffing those areas. That is extremely important given the ambulance ramping we have had and the fact that winter has not even hit yet. We will have many more problems once the winter comes with the flu and all the other illnesses. Health care is becoming more expensive, and I am sure we have all read and heard that it will be more expensive to go to doctors. One difficulty there will be that people will more often go to the hospitals' emergency departments for treatment. The more expensive it gets for people in the community, whether they can afford private health cover or not, to see their GPs, the busier emergency departments will become.
It is a difficulty and I am not sure we have any real answers.
Employment is an area we really need to look at - education and employment. If we can improve educational standards - and it is good to see years 11 and 12 being encouraged - employment will become a lot easier. It is wonderful that $7.1 million in payroll tax will encourage employers to expand their workforce to take on young Tasmanians. I hope they pick up the challenge, that they actually provide $4 000 grants to small businesses to support apprentices and trainees.
These are the people we need to get into work. There are a lot of young people who do not know where to go. They finish their schooling - they might have finished year 12 - but they do not know what they want to do and or where they are going to go. If they can get an apprenticeship or a traineeship, it gives them something, a reference, and it makes their future so much brighter. Any place we can get to take on new apprentices and new staff is certainly worthwhile.
Whitelion is getting a $600 000 work-ready program for high-risk young people aged between 16 and 24. A lot of those are people that feel they are not cut out for school. There are so many people you talk to. When I do my independent person at the police station with the under 18s, many of them have not attended school for a long time. They do not want to go to school or they say school was not for them - they think they were not cut out for it. They need some program to go into, and if we can divert any of these young people into something like the Whitelion work-ready program so that businesses take them on and discover that they are capable of doing the work, and they are good employees - sometimes perception becomes reality with some of these people. You see them you think, they do not want to work. But many of them do want to work. They just do not know how to get that opportunity and how to get that start. Then, when they are filling out their applications for a job, they have not had any experience, and they do not have any references. They know they are not going to get a chance, or they believe they are not going to get a chance, so they do not do it. That is one of the really sad things, that these young people think, 'Who would take me on?'
If they can get into the work-ready program with places like Whitelion and someone takes them on and says, 'That person worked hard', even if it is only for a short period of time, they have something to put on their resume. They can say, 'I did this'. The person who is overseeing them can write them a reference. It makes the world of difference if someone can have a reference, have a go and feel they have a chance of getting employment. I see the Whitelion work-ready program. Whitelion does wonderful work. I am quite sure many of us here have been out to Ashley. I have been out to Ashley with Whitelion in the past.
Ms Rattray - I have been locked up.
Ms Armitage - You may have needed to be locked up, do you think, member for Apsley?
Ms Rattray - It was a Whitelion bailout fundraising initiative. It popped up on my Facebook post.
Mr Valentine - I paid to get you out.
Ms Rattray - You did, thank you.
Ms Armitage - I think you have paid to get all of us out in the past. Whitelion does wonderful work with these young people. It is important that we continue to find funds for these high-risk young people, to try to divert the course they might be taking.
Mr Hall - Sometimes it is pretty tough going, but it is worthwhile.
Ms Armitage - Absolutely. I am sure that not everyone who has this help is going to take the right path. But if you can get even one or two to take the right path, it is worthwhile. Everyone that you can divert away from a life of crime has to be good for our community.
Mr Valentine - There could be a few others in the future being diverted away. If one person gets pointed in the right direction they take a few others with them.
Ms Armitage - That is very true. I mentioned before, when I spoke to these young people at the police station, sometimes the only friends they have are people who have been to Ashley or are in the same situation as them. People from other families do not want them associating with their children. It is a sad situation. They never get to mix and see the other side of life. Sometimes, not through any fault of their own they are in that situation. It is very sad.
I commend the people who do that work. I agree with the member for Western Tiers, it would not be easy. Quite often, they look as though they do not appreciate the help. They may appreciate it but many times they do not want to admit that they appreciate it. They have a front that they like to put up, to look tough. They do not want to show the real self. There are a lot of very sad situations out there that sometimes we do not see.
Most areas have been covered by other members. We have the opportunity next week to drill down. I take on board the comments by - it might have been the member for Apsley - that it would be good having this after Estimates. However, this is the current situation. I appreciate the Budget before us. I look forward to next week. I note the papers.