Address in Reply: Her Excellency's Opening Speech to the Fiftieth Parliament
Wednesday 23 June 2021, Address in Reply
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, the last time I spoke in this place I was noting the Premier's Address and commenting on the progress being made after the significant events the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Tasmania. Since that time, we have had a closely contested state election, a change in the leadership of the Opposition and the appointment of a new Governor of Tasmania.
At this opportunity I will take a moment to reflect on the death of Her Majesty's husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness' life was a long one of support to Her Majesty and in his own right, a life of service to our Commonwealth. No matter one's opinion on our constitutional monarchy, it is undeniable Prince Philip's mark on our country and our state, his character and his service, has left a mark that is irreplaceable. Her Majesty has been in my thoughts since Prince Philip's death and I am pleased to see as always, she continues on with her duties as ever with commitment and grace.
In a similar fashion, I also extend my sincerest thanks to Professor, the Honourable Kate Warner AC for her tenure as Tasmania's governor. The past seven or so years have had their ups and down for Professor Warner. However, she has served Tasmania with a great deal of dedication supported by her husband Dick. I believe we can look back at the past seven years with significant pride.
So, too, I wish Her Excellency the Honourable Barbara Baker AC who I believe, given her background and priorities, will likewise perform magnificently in this important role, and her husband, Professor Don Chalmers, whose own distinguished career in academia and the law will place him well at Government House.
I extend my congratulations to the Premier, Mr Gutwein, on his return to government; David O'Byrne on his ascension to Leader of the Opposition; and my warmest wishes to Rebecca White for the impending birth of her second child. My best wishes also to the new Speaker, Mark Shelton. I am sure he will perform the task admirably, as I have already noticed by watching some vision of the House of Assembly this morning. Congratulations also to new and re-elected members of the lower House.
I offer my congratulations to our President, the member for Derwent, on his re-election, and the member for Mersey on his deserved re-election unopposed, with his contributions obviously well recognised by the people of Mersey. I also welcome the member for Windermere, Nick Duigan, to this place, and look forward to his inaugural speech this week.
Given the speed with which the Chamber finished in March there was no opportunity to recognise our previous member for Windermere, Ivan Dean, and his enormous contribution to his electorate and our state over the previous 18 years. Ivan and I often clashed, both on local council and in this place, but we were also good friends. I will miss our banter and often heated discussions. I do not think anyone can deny, whether you agreed with Ivan on certain stances or not, that he was a passionate advocate for the community.
In my observations of the Premier's Address back in March, I spoke about the findings and recommendations of the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council and the Government's planned response to them in the months and years ahead. During the election, a recovery-focused approach was taken to the policy promises of both the Labor and Liberal parties. At this point I want to look at how they have translated to tangible outcomes for my
constituents in the electorate of Launceston.
Having developed a strong relationship with Playgroup Tasmania, I was most pleased to see the Government commit $350 000 towards the playgroup site at Holbrook Street, to improve disability access, upgrade its kitchen and training areas, and add a better heating system. I work with Playgroup Tasmania and their volunteer coordinators across my electorate and assist in any way I can to improve the delivery of these services. The positive multiplier effect that good preschool care has for children and their carers and families is significant. Ensuring that it is a priority will pay off in the long run.
I also work closely with the playgroup at Hadspen, which I have seen turn around in the last 12 months. This playgroup went from struggling, with almost no participants, to having dozens of mothers, carers and children come along for their weekly sessions. They are coming not just from Hadspen, but also other areas, Carrick, Legana and Kings Meadows. This emphasises the demand for access to quality preschool care and socialisation. Anything the Government does to promote this over the next four years will earn a big tick from me.
It is clear that what will make our state recover and grow is a focus on what goes on at the local level, what makes an actual difference in the day-to-day lives of the people who live in our communities. Nothing reinforces this more than when I get out and about in my electorate and see the fantastic work that is being done by some of our local organisations.
The Independent Living Centre is one such example, which is an organisation that provides advice and information about assisted technology and has a showroom in Launceston. On site are health professionals, including occupational therapists and a speech pathologist, who provide consultations over telephone and email, and provide education and mobile outreach visits to all parts of Tasmania.
On a recent visit to the showroom I was surprised when advised that with all the equipment, it is not actually available to purchase from them. It is by referral, which I think is a great shame for many of the people who actually attend. I am quite sure that, when they go in, to be able to purchase the equipment, or actually at least order it from the Independent Living Centre would be a great bonus for people, rather than having to go away and try to take a little barcode and do it themselves. I plan to keep working with them to see how we can provide assistive technologies to people in the simplest, most streamlined way possible.
The Kings Meadows Men's Shed is another organisation that I like to look after in my electorate. It is always a hive of activity whenever I visit. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to head out there and give the men a good morning tea of cakes, slices and treats before their AGM. I had some furniture made at the Men's Shed, including some that sits in my office here in Hobart. The craftsmanship that has gone into its construction is second to none. I must admit it is a beautiful piece of Huon pine. They certainly have some great timbers out there, and are always ready and willing to make furniture for anyone who happens to call by. It is certainly worth a visit. For men of all ages, the Kings Meadows Men's Shed offers a great deal of fellowship and friendship for those who attend. I am so pleased to be able to get involved from time to time. I really enjoy heading out there to see what they are making.
Another cause which is quite close to my heart is raising funds and awareness for Fragile X. For any here who are unaware the Fragile X group of disorders is the family of inherited conditions caused by the alterations in a gene located in the x chromosome, hence the name Fragile X.
These disorders include a wide range of physical, intellectual and behavioural symptoms and some 90 000 people are impacted by Fragile X in some way. Some are carriers and some have the condition itself. I am sure many from northern Tasmanian would have come across Ben Gower who works at Coles in the northern suburbs. It is fabulous he has a full-time position. If you go into Coles, I am quite sure you will come across Ben. Ben Gower, who I have spoken about in this place before, shaved his head to raise $5500 for the Fragile X Association of Australia to continue with their awareness raising and advocacy activities. With the help of the talented people at Mr Clyde's Barber Shop and Ben's mum, Jo, I was so proud to cheer Ben on and contribute to this fantastic cause. He was so delighted to have his head shaven he could not quite stop looking in the mirror.
Ms Rattray - The Facebook post was just delightful.
Ms ARMITAGE - He is the most delightful person and he must be in his 20s now and so proud to have his job at Coles and they are so proud to have him.
I was also extremely pleased to note the Royal Flying Doctor Service, now based in my electorate since the redistribution of boundaries, was announced as Australia's most trusted charity based on the Australian Reader's Digest Trusted Brands survey of 2021. The Tasmanian RFDS officers are doing incredible work in Tasmania worthy of noting. Building on the telehealth services that were so integral during the pandemic, RFDS Tasmania recently entered into a statewide agreement with Cardihab and the Tasmanian Department of Health to provide digital cardiac rehabilitation services that connect to public hospitals around the state.
This is a part of the Prime Mover Program, an exercise and education-based therapy program developed by the RFDS, Tasmania's primary healthcare team designed for people living in rural and remote areas with stable heart and lung conditions. The aim of the program is for participants to return to an active and satisfying life and to help prevent the recurrence of cardiac and pulmonary events. This is world-class service delivery and it is happening right here in my electorate. John Kirwan who, I am sure, most of us know from his previous life with the Launceston General Hospital and his incredible team at the RFDS do a wonderful job and I like to see them acknowledged for their hard work and the innovative approach to service delivery.
With the election came a decent spend on roadworks and upgrades and Launceston was certainly not neglected on this front. Road infrastructure is a favourite vote winner that seems to be consistently short-sighted. A nice shiny new or upgraded road or highway is not unwelcome, but it makes me question what the longer term road and freight plans for Tasmania actually are. It seems to get worse and worse for Launceston's arterial roads. I also noted the President did have some pictures up on Facebook of some of the traffic problems in the south of the state. It does seem to be worsening.
The volume of traffic consistently seen on Wellington Street, Bathurst Street and the Southern Outlet takes a punishing toll on the existing infrastructure. The heaviness of the traffic is unpredictable, so scheduling becomes a nightmare. You could be stuck for half an hour or more or you could get a clear run, the unpredictability is a significant issue. In the future, we will need to have a better understanding of personal travel patterns, where, why, when and how people travel and better match that demand. Services will need to be more integrated and continuous. More people will be using public transport and active transport such as walking and cycling.
Through improved land use planning and the provision of services we can better meet these needs. The construction of high frequency public transport corridors and more integrated services will improve public service levels to the areas that need them most. It is getting rather tiresome that options are being investigated and not being acted upon. For decades now, ringroad and bypass options have been explored to no end. Meanwhile congestion, pollution and hazards worsen.
The longer we put off implementing a solution, the harder and more expensive it will be. Of course, I do understand that reaching a consensus on an issue like this is very difficult, but the sooner leadership is shown in this area and a solution is enacted, the better off we will all be. I do recall from my many years on Launceston City Council - and I believe it went back to the 1960s - when they started putting reports together on a bypass. We have many, many reports but, unfortunately, we have very little action and I believe it is time the reports stopped and the action started.
Ms Forrest - Yes. Hear, hear on so many points.
Ms ARMITAGE - While I am on roads, I almost missed my latest little foray into roads. On a recent visit to Hadspen in my electorate the road patching was brought to my attention. The concern, I can assure you, is not understated - the road looked like a patchwork quilt. I went out there and a long section of road had many, many new patches on it. I am told by the people who live there they are very dangerous, particularly in the wet weather and early in the morning when it is frosty. Hadspen is really up and growing area with many new houses being built.
However, I must say I am very pleased that the minister for Infrastructure, Michael Ferguson, has agreed to come out to Hadspen with me in the next week or so and meet with a couple of residents to look at the road, so I certainly cannot complain. I have been very proactive and was very pleased he just said, 'Yes, I will come and I will look' and that is all you can ask. I am hoping I will get some action when he comes and looks, but at least he is prepared to come and speak to the constituents and have a look at the issue. I certainly could not complain about that and thought it was excellent.
I am pleased to see the Government's commitment to an $80 million contribution towards the construction of a second Tamar bridge and it will put a case to the Australian government for a co-investment of $320 million in line with the agreed funding model for National Highway projects to make the second Tamar River crossing a reality.
A $400 million project is significant and will go a long way to easing traffic and producing a safer travel route in and out of Launceston and hoping very much we will see that before the next election. A further wicked problem is that of the kanamaluka/Tamar River and I would be doing my electorate a disservice if I neglected to mention it. I know members might be tired of hearing about it.
Ms Forrest - The silt in the Tamar? Surely not.
Ms ARMITAGE - It is not just silt, unfortunately.
Mr Willie - Is it still a river?
Ms ARMITAGE - At times you probably could walk across it but I think you would sink. I could say, Josh, if we were in Hobart I am sure it would be fixed. We do know Hobart is the centre of the universe, but apart from that -
Mr Valentine - I thought it was the other way around.
Ms Rattray- I think there's a standing order around promoting of quarrels.
Ms ARMITAGE - Someone should speak to the other members who are baiting me.
Mr PRESIDENT - It is good that the former member for Windermere is not here because he was very good at backing you up with that.
Ms ARMITAGE -The former member for Windermere would have agreed with me on this occasion - probably one of the few occasions he would have agreed with me.
Mr Valentine - I have no doubt he would have.
Ms ARMITAGE - Yes. I know members might be tired of hearing about it but I become very disappointed when I hear people talk about how in their lifetime the river has gone from having sandy banks and healthy water to the mire we have today. Like traffic issues, approaches to improving the health of the river have been discussed for years with very little follow-through.
Many people have ideas about how water quality can be improved but the costs and lack of consensus are prohibitive. There have been a multitude of committees and organisations who have investigated the issues and developed possible solutions, but there has also been a lack of follow-through with these. Few are willing to take responsibility for the task and as a result, no one wants to take it on. Someone needs to take leadership on this issue because we should not be having to live in conditions where our estuary has raw human sewage in our river during severe stormwater events.
I am quite aware that TasWater has said they will improve it at some stage. It was $80 million or $90 million, but only recently - it might have been last year - that was put out again because of the lack of funding. The former member for Windermere was very concerned that Macquarie Point did not get funding to move their tanks before our Tamar River is cleaned up. A clean river would make the world of difference to our city. We would possibly be the capital if we had a clean river.
I cannot really talk about Launceston without speaking about the Launceston General Hospital. In the previous months we have seen staggering accusations of abuse and neglect, with personal horror stories coming from a number of my constituents. I welcome Jeremy Rockliff to this portfolio.
I acknowledge he will have a significant job ahead of him as a minister, but I am sure he will perform admirably. Ambulance ramping, lack of beds, difficulty accessing GPs, long waiting lists - the problems go on. It is well known the longer a patient spends in the ED, the worst their outcome. I am always concerned about delays in procedures such as scopes, endoscopies and colonoscopies, as early detection is desirable. It is a waste of time for the federal government to send out kits for people to have tests, to have occult blood tests which lead onto further testing, if someone does not have private health insurance and that testing is not available in a timely manner.
I will continue, Leader, to seek answers to many questions on health, our hospital system and our waiting lists. I also note that the Government has promised increased bed availability. I hope this is matched with the necessary nursing and ancillary staff, to enable the beds to be opened. My understanding is that beds and wards are often closed because of lack of staff.
Finally, I turn to education. I watched with keen interest the transition of the high schools in my electorate to extension of years 11 and 12. The previous Education minister knew well my feeling on that, as I am sure will the new Education minister. I have no problem with outlying areas and many of these places having year 11 and 12 at their high schools. However, I see little reason for every school in an area such as Launceston to have years 11 and 12.
It becomes very difficult for our current colleges to attract students and become viable. I have previously spoken about some of the issues that our existing colleges, Newstead and Launceston, experience in terms of matching numbers of teachers with students. Ensuring that students have access to quality learning, and teachers are adequately resourced to deliver quality learning, has been a challenge. I am hopeful this will be eased with the high school extension policies. I know our teachers and schools do everything humanly possible to help our young people learn.
I acknowledge the member for Elwick's contribution on the important matters of education in our state. I still have concerns about years 11 and 12 and our colleges, and how trained teachers will be found to be able to cover some of the very important subjects in years 11 and 12 in our high schools. Improving educational outcomes from pre-school to year 12 should obviously be the new Education minister's primary goal. I again acknowledge the member for Elwick's contribution on this matter. You spoke quite a bit on it in your contribution and I listened to every word.
It is important to take a holistic approach to education policy - an approach that addresses the health and wellbeing of learners, their engagement with their school and wider communities, and ensures they receive adequate familial support. Providing access to services that assist with these matters all feed into education outcomes.
I know the Government is looking to address these matters through a number of policies they announced during the election, including providing free access to speech pathologists, psychologists and social workers. Investing in additional school support staff and extending existing mental health programs will go a long way to addressing shortfalls where they currently exist. For the term of the new Government I will be keeping in close contact with the schools in my electorate to ensure their needs are being met, and that tangible, positive outcomes for our students, teachers, schools and families are being reached.
I am buoyed by the great work that is done by constituents, to make the Launceston electorate a great place to live and work. After many years as a local councillor, and now as a member of the Legislative Council, perhaps I could be forgiven if I had become cynical, but I am truly compelled by the fantastic people I represent in this place. There is so much going on in Launceston that it would take me a lifetime to mention it all here. But suffice to say that the spirit, hard work and innovation that is going on in our state's northern capital is inspiring. This is not to whitewash over the issues that are taking a toll on people.
Housing, health and transport are serious issues in need of serious responses. However, I am optimistic that the next four years will yield positive results for the people in my electorate of Launceston. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the Government makes good on its election promises and to make positive change for the people who need it.