Budget 2019-20 reply speech
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, budget week is always an interesting time when we get to speak about our electorates and the state in general, what we like about the budget and what we would like to see in the future or what we feel is missing. This year is no exception.
If the Government is serious about maintaining momentum, I would strongly encourage it to focus greater attention to businesses and communities in the state's north, where business confidence is strongest and where construction and infrastructure projects are reaching unprecedented levels. To this end, I am pleased to note the continuation of the payroll tax rebate scheme to 2021 and continuing payroll tax cuts to businesses to create around 650 new jobs.
The latest CommSec State of the States report records Tasmania's population growth as leading the country in relative terms, stating that Tasmania is the strongest on relative population measure with its 1.15 per cent annual population growth rate, almost 100 per cent above the decade average rate.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates that this is supported by healthy growth in dwelling starts to 11.8 per cent on decade averages in Tasmania, in addition to Tasmania possessing the strongest annual growth in home prices, up 6.5 per cent from the previous year.
I now come to one of my pet gripes: the fact that the Government provides assistance to first home builders but not to first homebuyers. I acknowledge the reasons the Government gives for this, but do not agree with it. I believe it is discriminatory to those people who cannot afford to build a new home. Even a holiday from stamp duty for homes up to a certain amount would be a welcome relief for first homebuyers. I am sure many in this place started with an older home that they did up before taking on the financial burden of a new home.
I note in the Budget that the First Home Owner Grant of $20 000 has been extended until 30 June 2020, but I believe the title is ambiguous as it calls it the First Home Owner Grant. I commend the Government for keeping to its commitment on infrastructure projects and its associated spending. I am, however, concerned on an ongoing basis, especially given the impact that the loss of GST revenue will have on the forward Estimates. If maintaining the momentum of Tasmania's economy is the Government's mantra then there should surely be an ongoing priority for the maintenance of high-standard services.
Again, I refer to the most recent CommSec State of the States report where the figures indicate that for housing finance Tasmania is the strongest performing state in the country, up 3.9 per cent for annual growth. This suggests to me that not only does the reduction of stamp duty stimulate housing finance, but it contributes to the overall health of the state's financial sector, both in terms of personal and commercial activity.
I question how this will impact the public revenue pool in coming years, however. If this activity slows the volume from which stamp duty revenue can be collected, a significant hit to the forward Estimates could emerge. I therefore wonder if the Government has a contingency plan should this eventuate.
I commend the Government's suite of budget measures to target Tasmania's regional areas, to target existing employment opportunities and capitalise on existing ones. To this end, however, I would urge the Government to continue targeting existing networks such as the $1.4 million partnership with the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and TasCOSS to ensure that needs of the community and of the commercial sector are taken into account on an ongoing basis. To build on this, undertaking strategic and considered consultation with a wider array of community groups, I believe, would ensure that these needs are being met and avoid duplication of effort and waste.
My concern that this leads up to is whether or not this is all sustainable. Tasmania's annual growth in home prices is up by 6.5 per cent on the previous year and Hobart's CPI is the highest in relative terms for any capital city in the country. Again, referring to the latest CommSec State of the States report, Tasmania is leading the country in relative terms for annual growth in the construction sector at 25.5 per cent on the previous year.
The Affordable Housing Action Plan 2019-2023 has been allocated $125 million in the Budget and is supposed to significantly boost the statewide supply of new social and affordable homes, provide more homeless and supported accommodation, help more Tasmanians into home ownership and assist around 2000 households, according to the Government's Budget media documents.
There is every reason to be optimistic about Tasmania's future in the years ahead and so much strategic planning is needed. I would therefore urge the Government to ensure that our ongoing interests are observed in the fiscal years beyond 2019-20 through the receipt of fair GST reallocation. Tasmania may not be worse off now but the combination of current policy and forward Estimates figures indicate that the maintenance of Tasmania's essential services and employment opportunities may be made more difficult as our population grows and GST revenue contracts.
On to Education. It is always good to see money going into one of the most important areas we have, the education of our people young and old. Two new schools, four major school redevelopments and six new early learning centres is certainly welcome news, as education and access to it cannot be underestimated.
I do remain concerned though regarding the rollout of years 11 and 12 to high schools in cities such as Launceston, which already has access to two very good public colleges in Newstead and Launceston colleges. Concerns with regard to lower student numbers leads on to sufficient class numbers for teachers in these important curriculum areas. It is beneficial to have years 11 and 12 available in country and regional areas where there may not be easy access to these classes, but I am concerned for the viability of our current colleges.
I welcome the Government's commitment to $1.8 million over four years to move 100 DPIPWE staff to the north and north-west of the state. The Government is right to point out that the northern regions are key contributors to economic growth through primary industries. This measure would reflect the contribution made to Tasmania's overall economic robustness. I look forward to seeing these opportunities generated and the creation of longer term employment opportunities for those with important specialist skills for these jobs. I urge the Government to support those who have moved, to monitor and adapt the northern positions and to work with all involved in order to maximise potential and minimise resistance.
Before I get back to infrastructure, roads and the money that is being put in, particularly in the Launceston area, I want to mention the highway we drive regularly. The member for Windermere would note as much as I do the continuing road works. When you are driving of an evening the road looks as if it is finished but there is still an 80 kph sign, just past St Peters Pass for several kilometres.
Mr Gaffney - They cannot take the sign off until all the lines are done because if there is an accident a person could say that because of –
Ms ARMITAGE - It does look like all the lines are done. I cannot see where more lines could go. It has been frustrating over a period of time when it appears a road is finished.
Mr Dean - Parts of that road there, at St Peters Pass, were finished well and truly before the part of the road at the Powranna section. Now it is open to 110 kph.
Ms ARMITAGE - It is frustrating. I appreciate that the Government is investing in infrastructure. The new bridge across the Tamar - I will believe it when I see it. We continue to hear about it. If it happens it will be wonderful but I certainly would not be holding my breath.
Increasing the Charles Street Bridge capacity is essential, particularly with Bunnings and the other big box stores across the river. We do not have the traffic issues that Hobart has but it is good to see, particularly the Mowbray corridor and new connecting roundabout and connector. There have been some serious accidents in that area. We hope the roads get fixed once and for all and do not need continued repair, as has happened before.
The Government will recruit a further 125 new frontline police officers over the next four years and provide a further $240 000 to support a full-time special operations group because they understand the difficult job they do. That will ensure police officers injured in the line of duty will continue to receive 100 per cent of their pay while they are on workers compensation. That is very important. After looking at a variety of reports we know the north is the crime capital of the state, which is concerning. It is good to see that more police officers are being recruited.
The allocation of $270 million over the next 10 years towards the construction of a new prison in the north is also a welcome investment. The budget papers state that the facility will be designed to create increased opportunities for prisoners to find meaningful work on release and provide improved family connections for northern prisoners. Whilst laudable, there is a lack of detail and context. The northern prison project is in its formative stages; however, the project should not be advanced in a vacuum. Prisons are the final and most severe form of sentencing and are for the protection of society and the rehabilitation of its inmates first, and a deterrent and discipline measure second.
Regarding increased opportunities for prisoners, I urge the Government in the strongest possible terms to ensure that support for prisoners, their families and community groups is also provided on an ongoing basis. A prison is of little value if those who are released after serving a sentence have no support to reintegrate into society. Consultation and input on the context of increased opportunities for prisoners should be a focal point for the northern prison project, not just a focus on construction or location.
On to Macquarie Point. Where do I start? Correct me if I am wrong, Leader, but I believe it is seven years on from a $45 million federal grant to clean it up. It is still a long way from completion. I read recently it is said to be up to 30 years and $2 billion away. I hope that is not true. I would be interested in what has been achieved to date and what has been spent. I acknowledge our site visit last year, but my recollection is that there did not seem to be a lot happening for the money that has been spent, apart from lots of plans. I will be interested to get an approximate figure.
I also note the Greater Hobart bill. I recall from briefings that the relocation of the sewage treatment at Macquarie point was likely to form part of the discussion with the mayors. It was previously estimated at $140 million. I am unsure of its current cost. This provides a good segue into the Tamar River and Launceston's sewage issues.
In a survey run by The Examiner in the lead-up to the recent federal election, readers' top priority was cleaning up the Tamar River. I commend the Treasurer in listening to our community groups, such as the Launceston Chamber of Commerce, who have been championing opportunities to address the health of the Tamar River. In its provision of a $180 million contribution to TasWater over the next four years, the Government has shown that it too prioritises estuary wellbeing through this infrastructure program, such as sewage amelioration and the optimisation of stormwater systems. I agree with the Launceston Chamber of Commerce executive officer Neil Grose that this investment not only presents an opportunity to remediate problematic issues with the Tamar River, but also provides a chance to maximise the potential of the Tamar both in economic and environmental terms.
Entrusting TasWater with these important tasks means the Government should undertake a continuous process of consultation with key stakeholders to ensure that a strategic river response is developed and that transparency and accountability for these funds and projects is maintained. I question the agreement reached previously that the then Turnbull government would partner with a re-elected Tasmanian Liberal Government to complete a comprehensive list of actions identified by the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce in its River Health Action Plan and that the Tamar River would finally get the clean-up it needed under this new joint state and federal partnership announced on 16 February 2018. I question whether any of these actions, identified by the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce, have commenced or are soon to start and their time frames. It was stated at the time that the partnership would enable 12 projects to be undertaken along the Tamar estuary, focused on improving catchments and upgrading major infrastructure, with a total investment of $95 million split in a 50:50 funding arrangement. Work would be undertaken over a period of five years from 2019.
I am sure the Government appreciates that providing a clean waterway to a whole community is just as important if not more so than removing a well-operating sewage treatment plant because of aesthetics.
Health is difficult and not something any minister can fix immediately. I am concerned that the funding in the Budget is a reannouncement of previous years with nothing new. Political analyst, Martyn Goddard, commented in the Mercury newspaper on 21 March 2019 that in his opinion capacity at the Royal Hobart Hospital and Launceston General Hospital must double within 10 years and the state Government's hospital plans, announced on 20 March 2019, were too little and much too late. Unfortunately, this is a sentiment I am hearing all too often from both patients and staff of our hospitals. Martyn Goddard continued –
To avoid those rolling crises, our two main public hospitals in Hobart and Launceston need the capacity to do three things: to deal with rising demand, to treat people who have been waiting for far too long and to provide some surge capacity to deal with sudden problems like the annual flu season.
He continues -
Many of the plans exist within the Health Department, but it won't happen because the government won't spend the money. Even in more normal times this state needs about 50 more acute hospital beds a year just to keep up with rising demand.
It needs to be stressed this is not just a symptom of this Government, it happens whatever the colour of government, never enough money put into health. Martyn Goddard further states –
The figures on bed block, the time waited in emergency by people needing admission but for whom there are no beds, are a good guide to the trouble we are in. Of the 266 public hospitals in Australia with emergency departments, the Royal Hobart Hospital is the fifth worst at number 261. The Launceston General Hospital is at number 266. It's harder to find a bed there than at any other public hospital anywhere in Australia.
In an Auditor-General's report on the performance of Tasmania's four major hospitals in the delivery of emergency department services, we were advised demand for emergency care in Tasmanian public hospitals has steadily grown over the last nine years with a total number of presentations to emergency departments increased by 15 per cent, or by almost 21 000, from 2009-10 to 2017-18 with most of this growth occurring at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
It also found there has been a 56 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions statewide between 2009-10 and 2017-18. It further found the efficiency of hospital emergency departments statewide has declined over the last nine years with a downward trend in the proportion of patients with a length of stay less than four hours evident since 2009-10.
The Royal Hobart Hospital and the Launceston General Hospital exhibited the lowest performance against the four-hour target with the average length of stay of admitted patients across the four major emergency departments being around 9.5 hours, driven mainly by historically very lengthy stays at the Launceston General Hospital.
Concerningly, the report states that -
Although DoH signalled an intent within the 2018-19 THS Service Plan to develop a more comprehensive monitoring framework for related KPIs this had yet to occur, more than six months after the plan was approved.
The report further showed neither THS nor Department of Health effectively implemented the former performance framework and the Department of Health monitoring reports show the THS consistently failed to meet its service delivery targets relating to the emergency department access and care over the last three years.
One of the reasons the LGH has such a high admission rate is it is central to the state and many serious cases choose to come further north to the LGH rather than North West Regional Hospital and the Mersey Hospital. I am reliably advised this is particularly the case with births with many expectant mothers choosing to come to the Launceston General Hospital. Lengthy stays in the emergency department are a further concern as it is a well-known fact the longer a patient stays in the emergency department the worse their outcome.
Having said that, the staff perform their tasks admirably. Ask anyone who has been in the hospital and they will be full of praise for the treatment they have received. We must support these very staff and ensure they do not burn out as our community relies on our public hospitals.
I will not be attacking the Health minister as I believe decisions are made by the department and Cabinet. Even with a change of government the departments do not change.
Waiting lists are obviously a concern, particularly for preventable diseases - colonoscopies and endoscopies come to mind. Leader, I have asked questions previously and I would be interested in the current waiting list for these procedures at the Launceston General Hospital, as this bowel cancer is preventable if caught early, as evidenced by the federal government's faecal testing kits sent out to people in a higher risk age group.
Imagine having a positive result on one of these tests, to be sent by your GP to the public hospital for a colonoscopy, only to wait a significant period. I hope this is no longer the case. Your advice on this would be appreciated.
While the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a federal issue, I am concerned some groups such as the New Horizons Club may have difficulty in accessing payments, given the new funding landscape. There is much concern that despite the strength of the proven outcomes of New Horizons' work, there are no guarantees the organisation will be successful in its funding applications. While I am sure the bridging assistance of Mrs Petrusma's department is appreciated, the New Horizons Club is too important an organisation to be existing from grant to grant, not to mention the risk of losing valued staff who need employment security. I would hope that the state Government acknowledges the benefit of New Horizons, which now operates in both the south and the north, and ensures certainty for them and their members.
Mr Dean - I think they have because an agreement has been reached with the state Government to support New Horizons. That was in the recent letter we received from New Horizons, to thank us for our contribution, because of the state Government taking that position.
Ms ARMITAGE - It is worth putting on the record, member for Windermere, that we have an expectation that New Horizons will be supported statewide.
The suite of funding which the Government has proffered for northern arts, tourism and boutique Tasmanian experiences is a welcome investment.
In Launceston, the Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival has again proved its worth, attracting the likes of star Sam Neill and thousands of people from intrastate and interstate to film viewings. We need to pay tribute to its creators, Owen and Helen Tilbury of Launceston, who took a huge risk in 2010 to start their passion with BOFA.
I recall attending a couple of BOFA films with the late Vanessa Goodwin, and she was certainly very encouraging of BOFA. It is good to see it is now screening in the south of the state as well. We are always happy to share our successes with the south.
We should also recognise the Tasmanian Government's five-year funding commitment through Events Tasmania to the Australian Musical Theatre Festival, which was held in Launceston last weekend. This appeared to be very successful and I congratulate all involved, particularly the member for Murchison's daughter, the very talented Jane Forrest.
Ms Forrest - She had more media than me this last week. It is disgraceful.
Ms ARMITAGE - I am sure it was well deserved. She has done wonderful work.
The funding being provided to Festivale over the next two years is indeed welcome, and for the purposes of full transparency, I should disclose that I sit on the Festivale committee. This does, however, endow me with the full knowledge of Festivale's success and impact over recent years. I note that the Budget does not indicate any funding over the forward Estimates beyond the 2020-21 year.
Festivale has been making tremendous strides of late, attracting more and more interstate and overseas visitors to regional Tasmania celebrating the summer season, this year being a sold-out event on the Saturday evening.
The impact Festivale has on regional tourism, more generally with the flow-on effect of generating greater business opportunities for our tourism operators, should not be understated. I therefore urge the Government to see the value of this not-for-profit event and continue to support it accordingly. 83 28 May 2019
Moreover, the continued support of MONA FOMA outside of Hobart is a welcome development, along with the Northern Tasmania Arts Organisations Initiative, distributing $100 000 in grants a year for the next two years, to artists in northern council areas to engage and inspire audiences and the wider community.
As a longer term investment, the program is, like funding for Festivale, not built into the forward Estimates beyond 2020-21, so I encourage the Government to consider the importance of arts to northern communities, in addition to the tourism and socio-economic benefit it generates.
Looking after our communities starts with providing a safe, healthy and inclusive environment for our children and families. Seeing continued support for the Karinya Young Mums 'n' Bubs program with the provision of the funding built into the previous budget's forward Estimates is welcome, and an appropriate acknowledgement of the important work done for young women and children in crisis.
Health and wellbeing is likewise being supported through the funding provided to improve the facilities of the northern Tasmanian tennis centre, which has proactively been seeking funding to bolster Launceston's standing as a regional city to accommodate both community and world-class sporting events.
In a similar fashion, providing funding to assist with the Elphin Sports Centre roof replacement ensures community sport groups and professional sports teams alike are supported, particularly our beloved Launceston Tornadoes.
The Launceston City Deal has shown an unprecedented level of cooperation between the federal, state and local government sectors with the development and maintenance of horizontal relationships with key community groups, stakeholders, business and educational institutions. We have seen the fruits of these relationships manifest in the Brisbane Street Mall redevelopment, the Launceston Civic Square refurbishment and the Quadrant Mall update.
It is now past time for works to continue particularly between the state and local governments to ensure these amenities are used to their full potential. Typical comments from my constituents are regaining the loss of retail and shopfronts in the Launceston CBD. The jewel in the crown of the City Deal is undoubtedly the University of Tasmania transformation project, which is concentrated in the Inveresk precinct of Invermay on the cusp between the suburban and city areas of Launceston. This is an opportunity that must be fostered to ensure the educational offerings at this world-class campus will address the present and future needs of Launceston in addition to attracting interstate and overseas interest in this amazing region.
Not everyone is happy with the proposed move but we have to look beyond just moving a university and see the benefits it provides. While I accept on face value Launceston City Council is providing UTAS with land at an estimated value of $5 million, the benefits will far outweigh this investment, which is estimated to be a $250 million project. Launceston needs to be seen as a university city and the state's number of full fee-paying students must increase. We need to do all we can to encourage overseas full fee-paying students to come to Tasmania as it has been shown to be advantageous to our state for a number of reasons. It should be remembered there is an area of approximately 18 hectares at Newnham currently housing the university that could become rateable, either for business or for much-needed housing. 84 28 May 2019
I commend the state Government for its work for northern Tasmania's future and work with our community and local government. As is said, we learn from the past, look to the future but live in the present. I note the Budget.
Resumed from 23 May 2019 (page 46)
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, while I had finished my contribution, I have found more overnight. It is probably not always a good thing to allow a member to adjourn.
I mention a couple of other areas that have been referred to in today's media. First, plans for the private hospital. I see that as something that could be very beneficial to the northern area, particularly because Calvary is looking at developing a private hospital in close to Launceston General Hospital - LGH - which would help in times of peak demand. It would also cater for palliative care. That is one things that has been sadly lacking for a long time.
Friends of Northern Hospice have been hoping for quite a considerable period that the Government would support a standalone hospice. That Calvary is looking to build its private hospital close to the LGH and perhaps have a more complete palliative care unit will help satisfy people concerned about that.
The CH Smith site has sat empty for quite some time. It is worth mentioning Errol Stewart and Scott Curran and the work they have done to redevelop it. I believe that Service Tasmania and many other departments will shortly move there.
Some of Henty House will have some new tenants. It is worth putting on the record the work done on the Legislative Council offices in Henty House. People are always criticising Treasury for one reason or another but Treasury has been absolutely wonderful. In working with Jo Mercer in Treasury, I am sure the members for Windermere and Rosevears can attest to how helpful and cooperative they have been with the relocation of our offices and their fitting-out. Nothing was too much trouble. They were there whenever we needed them and their help is gratefully appreciated. We have gone from being on the fourth floor, where we were much harder for people to find, to being on the ground floor which is more accessible for many people. I really appreciate it. Jo Mercer who was in charge of our part of the refit was extremely helpful as was Treasury as a whole.
Mr Finch - Even though the member for Windermere displayed his propensity for switching all the lights off without checking who was left in the toilet in the building; they were left completely in the dark.
Ms ARMITAGE - He does it regularly, unfortunately. There is a button you can press to make sure all the lights in the office are turned off, which is worthwhile. How many times do you see lights on in offices and think, 'What a waste of money'? It is unfortunate the member for Windermere has difficulty hearing. Even though we yell out we are still there, sometimes the button gets pressed and we have to run to turn it back on. I think making that small point to ensure we are saving electricity is really important.
Finally I want to cover a letter to the editor into today's edition of The Examiner. It written by Alison Lai, CEO of the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council Tasmania, who says that the budget was sending a clear message that Tasmania's issue with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs was 'not a priority for this government. I think her comments are pertinent to read into Hansard because they are relevant to the Budget -
Another Tasmanian budget has been tabled, and millions of dollars have been committed to areas such as business, tourism, infrastructure and health.
Yet the budget sent a clear message that Tasmania's issue with alcohol and other drugs is not a priority. With waiting lists for Tasmanians attempting to access treatment services and insufficient funding being invested into preventative programs, the lack of concern to this issue is both frustrating and puzzling. In Tasmania our relationship with drugs accounts for almost -
I will have to fill that in because it is missing – emergency presentations and more than 2200 hospital admissions every year.
Drug use was involved in 52 per cent of burglaries, assault and public disorder crimes and one-third of our road traffic injuries, not including the 2000-plus Tasmanians charged with drink driving last year.
Going into the budget we sought a small investment of $75 000 towards a project that would have consolidated the collection of alcohol and other drug data to ensure we are investing in the right services to meet demand, particularly in regional areas. This is information that they do not have and decisions on where to fund services are not being made with the needs of Tasmanians front and centre.
This request was purposefully modest to be considerate of a fragile budget and designed in collaboration with key community partners, including Primary Health Tasmania who would have matched the Government's investment. The state government knew this, but still didn't see it as a suitable investment despite the $75,000 is the equivalent of 0.03 per cent of the additional $240 million being funnelled into the Tasmanian Health Service.
It makes one ponder that the lack of political interest is that the topic of drugs makes our government uncomfortable. Dare I say, not a vote-winner. I prefer to believe that our government is uncomfortable because they don't know where to start addressing an issue that is complex, overlaps with the justice system and amongst all the other competing health priorities is getting lost.
There are thousands of Tasmanians who should be accessing treatment who are not and there are thousands of young Tasmanians who are not learning about the risks of all drug types, regulated and illegal. The amount requested was negligible but the community impact would have been immense. We call on the government to start a conversation, because if they can't talk openly about drugs then how do we expect our communities to.
Leader, in your response could you comment on perhaps why the Government refused the $75 000, considering the issue of drugs and when I also read in an article in today's Examiner titled 'Criminals up and about in North, NW' - Tasmanian crime levels are increasing, especially in the North and North-West. Total offences statewide increased by nearly 5 per cent to 20,921 in the nine months to March, compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.
Tasmania Police figures showed offences in the police Western District increased from 3981 to 4383, and in the Northern District from 6185 to 7335.
The Launceston Division recorded the most serious crimes (84), followed by Hobart (59) .
The article went on to state that juvenile offenders were also active during the nine-month period. In the northern district they accounted for 17.6 per cent of home burglaries, 47.8 per cent of car burglaries, 12.2 per cent of business burglaries and 15.5 per cent of serious crimes.
I mention this because it is a well-known fact many crimes are committed by people using drugs or alcohol or both. I see the $75 000 request from the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council as negligible when you look at the figures in regard to crime in this state and people being able to access help for their drug or alcohol conditions.
I note the Budget.