Op-ed: Budget targets some key northern interests
Thursday 2 September 2021, The Examiner
2021 appears to have been a lucrative year for Tasmania, with a State Election in May eliciting many financially-backed promises to many in our communities, a Federal Election on the horizon and, crucially, the 2021-22 State Budget handed down by the Premier last week.
What does this budget mean for Launceston? There is much to look at, so I want to look at some of the finer points from the budget that will keep our region sustained for the next twelve months and, beyond that, to the next four years in the forward estimates.
According to the most recent Commsec State of the States report, Tasmania has the strongest job market, with unemployment at a twelve-year low at 4.5 per cent. Whilst I will leave the substantive commentary on the numbers to the economists, it certainly seems undeniable that Tasmania has fared far better than many other states in terms of its handling of the Coronavirus, avoiding lockdowns and suppressing outbreaks.
But are all Tasmanians feeling the benefits of this prosperous time? Can we sustain this strong position in the medium and longer terms? How exactly did we fare out of the budget in the state’s north?
The budget contained a sizeable $66.4 million for the Launceston and Tamar Valley Traffic Vision over the next four years, with $27.4 million also provided for State Road upgrades in the northern region - also over the next four years. There are few people I speak to who do not have an opinion on the state of our northern roads and the significant usage they endure from year to year. While this is a welcome budget commitment, there doesn’t appear to be much of a focus on public transport options focused on our area of the state.
As urban sprawl in Launceston grows, we will find that congestion will only become worse unless better, and more options are provided to people who need to get around Launceston and its outer suburbs.
Sport, recreation and wellbeing likewise received a boost in this budget through a number of announcements, including: $1.5 million to upgrade and reopen the Glen Dhu swimming pool, $1 million to redevelop the Launceston City Football Club, $1 million towards the Karinya Young Mums Project, $750,000 for the redevelopment of the St Leonards Hockey Centre, the confirmation of $350,000 to refurbish Playgroup Tasmania’s Holbrook Street Centre and $350,000 to establish a new multicultural hub.
Many of the announcements in the budget are funding arrangements for the promises that were made by the Liberal Party during the election and having this follow through has provided surety for many of the organisations and people who have relied on them.
The importance of looking after our children and families, their ongoing extra-curricular wellbeing and ensuring that our new migrants have access to the support they need to meaningfully participate in Tasmanian life cannot be understated. We all welcome these funding arrangements and securing and ensuring ongoing Government support of these services, beyond the next four years, will be a priority for me.
Health is a favourite subject of mine, as good healthcare is something we cannot do without. I am pleased to see more money for elective surgeries and endoscopies, as one of the issues raised frequently with me is people on the waiting list, whether it be for a long awaited hip or knee, or on the more simpler scale of procedure, a colonoscopy for bleeding. Procedures for preventative illnesses such as bowel cancer, should be a priority and should never run overdue. We all know the old adage that prevention is better than cure, and certainly true in this case.
I am pleased to see money for 180 additional health staff – over four years - and it is hoped that we can recruit these people as I am concerned with the workload particularly for our nurses and other ancillary staff who go over and above every single day, and I wonder how long they can sustain this.
All too often I am told we have advertised, but unfortunately have not received applicants. While we know that Tasmania, and in particular Launceston is a fantastic place to live, a great lifestyle may not be enough to entice a much needed health professional and his or her family to our hospitals, and we need to make sure the packages offered are commensurate with that in other hospitals. In many cases the partner also needs to find employment and few would want to take pay cuts, despite the lifestyle. Our community is deserving of the best health care possible.
There is so much more I could say about the budget, and in particular health, but given my 800 word limitation, you can find more in my budget reply speech, which will be uploaded to my website this week.