You are here

Budget Reply Speech

30 May 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

 

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I am proud to speak to the Tasmanian Greens fully costed long-term vision for Tasmania, our alternative budget for 2019-20. Yesterday, the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Cassy O'Connor, presented our budget in full and I will spend my contribution time today providing details on the portfolio areas that I am responsible for. Madam Speaker, the vision of the Greens is for a future that is healthy, resilient and prosperous for all Tasmanians, where the natural environment is protected and each person feels included, recognised and respected in the society that they live in.

We know that Tasmania can be a beacon to the world for sustainability, creativity and fairness. This means that we need to show both heart and courage as leaders. We need to be prepared to see past the short term and also to recognise that investment in the wellbeing of individual people is an investment in the future wellbeing for all Tasmanians. This is a time of a global climate emergency which has been recognised by numbers of national parliaments around the world and an increasing number of hundreds of local councils.

As a community we have to prioritise strong climate action. We can bring down emissions. We can adapt to a rapidly changing climate. We can create new career pathways that Tasmanians can look forward to working in. On this critical measure, in particular, we pay a special focus in our budget. I will describe how we can act to reduce the soaring unemployment rates in Tasmania where we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In the south-east the unemployment rate amongst young people is 17 per cent. There are a growing number of young people, families and older single people who are finding it harder and harder to rent, let alone to buy a home. This is having a knock-on effect in regional communities where young people are not able to leave home and cannot find a house in urban centres like Launceston or Hobart in order to take up employment there. Essentially, they are stuck in regional towns when they would otherwise want to move into Hobart or Launceston to take up jobs.

At the same time, we know that both patients and staff in all the state's four major public hospitals are under intense and intensifying pressure. We have had this confirmed by the AuditorGeneral in his scathing report into the management and the funding of the Tasmanian Health Service Emergency Department just this week.

The under-investment in public health comes at a significant disadvantage to people and it contributes to disadvantage occurring in other areas than their own individual health, their families for example who have to take time off work to look after them.

The Greens alternative budget prioritises high quality health, housing for all, and education services. We make a clear choice to deliver better social infrastructure over road and bridges. We know how it is possible to tackle the housing crisis, to increase the supply of secure affordable and energy efficient housing.

The Greens have always recognised that strengthening our democratic institutions and the human rights of every citizen in an equal society will make for stronger and for more diverse and resilient communities. This alternative budget is a statement of our values and our values are clearly reflected in the detail I will speak to now.

This was the hottest summer we have experienced in Tasmania's history and the fires threatened communities for weeks on end and ultimately burned 6 per cent of the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area. We are still feeling the escalating and volatile climate. People want reassurance that our government recognises the climate emergency and is prepared to act and protect them. They do not want excuses or prevarication any longer. As the Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama said only this month, 'Cowards don't make history. It is up to governments to muster the will, the creativity and the sheer courage to do it'.

When Liberal came to government five years ago, they immediately axed the climate change ministry and the climate action council. Following that, they have delivered six budgets, year on year and state of the state addresses each year with no meaningful action to curb carbon emissions or to prepare our community for the increasingly volatile climate conditions. Last week in parliament, this Liberal government voted down a statement to recognise the reality of the climate emergency, which was one directly based on a motion recently passed by the United Kingdom and Irish parliaments.

We have had more than five years of climate denial from this Government and the effect is showing. It is through the leadership only of young people who have come together through the 'school strikes for climate' movement and more broadly the persistence of the Greens that we now have the urgency of the climate emergency building pressure on governments, on members of government, and on politicians to take the action we need.

I am speaking to the Greens' alternative budget 2019-20 but it has a companion document which was released only a few weeks ago. That is 'A Future for all of us - how we can make Tasmania a global climate leader by 2030'. This was released by the Tasmanian Greens, by Senator Nick McKim, and work done by Dr Ben Parr in May this year. It is a blueprint for how we can achieve the aim of being a global climate leader by 2030.

Tasmania has had the benefit of having a strong thinker in the previous leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Christine Milne, and later the Leader of the Australian Greens. It was she who first did the intellectual thinking and came up with the brand which has ultimately become part of Brand Tasmania which we hear from members' lips in the House on a regular basis. That is Clean Green Tasmania. It was her thinking and the thinking of the Greens Party that came up with the idea of a clean and green state.

We have gone one step further. Tasmania can be a clean, green global climate leader. We have an amazing opportunity to do this by virtue of our history and our particular geographic position. We are an island and we can take initiatives toward self-sufficiency that are much more difficult to do on the mainland of Australia and in other continents. We have a temperate climate and we have an amazing wilderness world heritage area that is of universal value for all humans.

We are a small, very connected and flexible community, which means that we have the capability of responding rapidly to great changes. We are also intrinsically interconnected, we are part of our families and communities and whether we like it, one of the beauties of Tasmanians is that we understand that when the next extreme event comes, whatever our political voting persuasions, we will all be there together. We will all be there together when the next bushfire comes or the next great flood or storm because we care about the people around us in our communities. Our job is to show leadership and take the forward action to give people the resources to prepare them mentally and emotionally for the coming future.

We have an amazingly diverse and rich topography with rainfall patterns and microclimates that give us an opportunity to provide for diverse, adaptive responses and to trial different approaches in farming and in other land-based industries. It also gives some opportunity for plants and animals to be able to adapt to different microenvironments; if we give them the ability to do that by providing connectivity in the landscape and corridors for animals to move and birds to move between different microclimates.

We are also the birthplace of the global Greens movement and that is something that, as a member of the Greens, I am very proud of because it gives us a unique opportunity to listen to the science, to act now and to act early in responding to climate change. The Greens recognise that we need to radically reduce our carbon emissions and our alternative budget reinstates a minister for climate change and the climate action council that was defunded in 2014.

We would also establish a joint standing committee of both Houses of parliament so that climate change will continue to be a focus that is taken very seriously and reviewed on a regular basis by both Houses of parliament. We would spend an extra $2 million a year on the Tasmanian Climate Change Office and put $1.5 million a year into a climate adaptation fund, which would be grants for all local councils and to research institutions to undertake work on how we can adapt across the state. We would establish a climate resilience audit to undertake an audit of all state-owned infrastructure. Our budget also appoints a chief scientist to oversee government policy with a view to ensuring that the government's response to the climate emergency is grounded in the latest evidence including evidence from the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global work that is being done as well as the best examples of responses around the world and the exciting research that has been conducted in Tasmania by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, the University of Tasmania and IMAS.

Our budget ends all native forest logging, which is essential to preserve the state's very necessary carbon sinks as well as to protect the wondrous biodiversity of our forests. We do support plantation forestry. We would also fund multiple methods of carbon sequestration across farming and land management including supporting on-farm emissions reduction funds of $8 million and a carbon farming fund of $8 million, providing renewable support for farmers to be able to increase energy efficiency on their farms, also $8 million.

With the dry El Niño that is forecast for the coming summer and with extreme weather events that can no longer be described as exceptional, this budget recognises the costs of responding to these extreme events are expected to soar year on year into the future. With that in mind, we have listened to the firefighters in Tasmania and the national fire chiefs who made such an impassioned statement a couple of months before the federal election for action from all governments and political leaders. We have listened to them and we would invest in an extra 20 remote area firefighters. We would also fund the trial of two very large air tankers to fight bushfires that threaten homes and the wilderness.

We have been deeply concerned to make sure that regional communities across Tasmania have the resources they need to plan for better bushfire protection and fuel reduction. That is a concern about the ability of people at the individual household level as well as the community level. We cannot only rely on written information or web-based information as the mechanism for people to understand how to protect themselves, protect their properties or when to leave during bushfires. This is an essential tool but it cannot be the only one, especially given the very high levels of illiteracy in Tasmania generally and in regional communities. The Greens put extra resources into the Tasmania Fire Service and make them available to local councils so that people are able to know the risks and to understand how best to respond. We support people on the front line, those people who toil in the harshest of conditions, protect us from fires and clean after the storms and floods when they happen. Our budget tops up funding to State Emergency Services each year by $2 million.

Our budget also supports the necessary and inevitable transition from fossil to renewable fuels. We prioritise an extra $130 million in funding public and electric transport options. We will invest $13.4 million into a public transport authority. That will be tasked with ensuring that Tasmania has a statewide, coordinated, simple ticketing system and to make sure there is the continuity of planning between the regional and urban bus systems that bus users so desperately want. We will make sure that Hobart has a light rail and we have invested $36 million into kick-starting the construction of the northern corridor. We will also put an extra $4 million investment into the Derwent ferry system to take cars off Hobart's congested roads and to really bring down carbon emissions in Tasmania. We need an electric car disruption. We have committed $21 million toward the roll out of electric buses and we would lead by example and electrify the ministerial and Government fleets.

We will support local councils with $8 million in matched funding to help them build more pedestrian infrastructure and cycleways that will also reduce emissions, contribute to improving people's health and create more liveable cities and regional communities. As well as matched funding with councils, we will direct an extra $30 million across the forward Estimates into cycleways and pedestrian walkways and that will also include our commitment to the Battery Point walkway.

The Greens would invest $3 million a year in energy efficiency upgrades to low income households. These are the people who are hit hardest by climbing power bills. Instead of taking the money from schools that they raise through their renewable energy solar panel systems and the other forms of renewable generation that some savvy schools have invested in, we would return those savings directly to individual school budgets each year and provide $6 million in a commitment to improving energy efficiency in schools and also into other government buildings. Responsible governments prepare for the future and the Greens recognise there are massive transitions occurring in the employment, communication and energy sectors worldwide, as well as in the global climate system. Our budget prioritises planning to position Tasmania for tomorrow's opportunities as well as to be ready for the challenges ahead of us. We want to protect our island's many values that are the source of our clean, green and global leader brand. That is what the Greens are aiming for, anyway.

We have a growing population in Tasmania and our settlement and land use patterns need to accurately reflect the demands of the climate emergency. The Tasmanian Planning Scheme has to prioritise environmental protection, public participation in the processes of development, and it has to value our shared public places and reserves. The Greens alternative budget establishes to support a good planning support system, the office of the chief engineer, the state demographer, and it reinstates the state's architect, which was cut by the Liberals five years ago. These offices will make sure that Tasmania is equipped with the expertise we need for future planning and to provide us with quality and independent advice. We would also institute real statewide policies that would sit across the Tasmanian planning scheme and we would undertake the work of comprehensive biodiversity mapping recommended by the Tasmanian Planning Commission three years ago but was not taken up by Mr Gutwein.

We would ensure that Tasmania has an integrated framework for future developments that works for the people, where they live and protects our environment, especially by considering the connectivity of landscapes and of the necessary restriction of settlements within them. We provide additional funding to those bodies that undertake independent assessment that are essential for bulwarks to some of the limitations of the Tasmanian Planning Scheme, being the Tasmanian Planning Commission, and we provide an extra $3 million across the forward Estimates to support the work of the delegates in the Planning Commission. We also fund additional money to the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal and to the Environmental Defender's Office which essentially runs on public and philanthropic donations for the essential work it does in proving independent advice for people in the community about development and their impact on the environment and on individual communities.

The Greens understand that individual health and wellness is the basis of a healthy community, which our investment priorities reflect. The Auditor-General's report into the state's emergency departments' services confirms that Tasmanian hospitals are so full that patients cannot get in the front door. As the Auditor-General so poignantly detailed, when acutely sick people arrive at emergency departments they wait many hours for acute care, and the risk of harm to them because of the excessive waits has increased substantially over the last five years. In order to tackle the rising demand for emergency services it is critical to properly fund the preventative health services that can, in the first place, help keep people well for longer and avoid them having to visit emergency departments or go to hospitals at all.

The Government dropped the ball on reducing very high rates of smoking, alcohol and drug use and poor nutrition, which afflicts Tasmania at rates far higher than the rest of the country by almost all measures. Their promise in 2014 during the election campaign that Tasmanians would have the best health by 2025 has evaporated and I have not heard that phrase being used in this place for a number of years. We have had no meaningful change in the funding outside of the acute health sector since 2014 on any significant measure in preventative health, and we have not seen any of the systemic reforms that we need to smoking legislation, to put downward pressure on junk food advertising or to increase alcohol and drug education, for example. We invest $23 million into community preventative health services and these include an extra $2 million a year to the Population Health Unit for the very important work they do and $1 million a year into our Community Preventative Health Fund for grants for particular purpose projects.

We continue the funding to Epilepsy Tasmania, which only continues to be funded by the Government this year, and to the Stroke Foundation. We also provide money for a drug rehabilitation facility and to staff that facility, $9 million over the forward Estimates, because we understand that it is essential to provide people with proper treatment when they need it so that they can reduce the dangerous use of drugs or alcohol. That is clearly, according the evidence of the increasing impact of both alcohol and drug misuse in Tasmania, a major area of funding that needs more money directed toward it.

We also recognise that when people need an emergency service they need to have help immediately. We have listened to the doctors, nurses and registrars who wrote to the Tasmanian Health Service executive a month ago in their Access Solutions Paper. We have funded the extra clinical specialist they recommended; $6.6 million over the forward Estimates for registrars, general medicine, emergency specialists, paediatricians, obstetricians and gynaecologists. We have also prioritised funding for 10 psychiatric and 10 emergency department nurses and would give them the self-defence training funding and the protective equipment the emergency staff have said is so important to keep them safe in the workplace.

The levels of mental ill-health in Tasmania, including rising depression and anxiety, amongst young people is deeply concerning. One of the findings from Coroner Olivia McTaggart's inquest into the tragic suicides of six teenagers in 2015 was that there must be a dedicated inpatient unit for adolescents or young persons between the ages of 12 and 25, and that it needed to be designed around the needs of that age group, including the treatment of those young people who are suffering from acute states of mental illness or suicidality. She also recommended the centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services be staffed to the equivalent of best practice so that they can provide adequate services for children and adolescents and to make sure that there was no longer the practice of freezing the acceptance of referrals or eliminating wait lists when they became too long.

We have listened to the people who have been in touch with us on a regular basis over the last couple of years and the Greens Budget commits $12 million for 30 child and adolescent mental health staff, 30 extra staff, to be funded. We have listened to young people and their parents talking about high rates of anxiety and depression in the community among young people. We would provide $2 million for extra staff across the forward Estimates for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, with specific focus on anxiety and depression in young people. We would put another $4 million into providing clinical support and direction for the development of youth anxiety, depression protective services.

These issues can be prioritised. The minister has given an assurance that there will be a dedicated acute child and youth mental health unit in the hospital, however, we have not seen any evidence in writing. We have funded that in our budget so we would put the money into the child and youth acute unit staffing that is required. We have dedicated $3.3 million towards that particular work.

The extra $26 million that we have directed into mental health services will mean that young people do no longer fall through service cracks. They can have age-appropriate care with multi-disciplinary wrap-around services that focus on protection as well as risk identification.

Improving mental health for children also means investing in mental health in schools. We funded 50 extra full-time speech pathologists in schools, which doubles the current number in the public health system. This means pathologists will have adequate time to work with the students who need personal support. Our budget invests $8.6 million extra in school psychologists and $6.6 million in extra school social workers.

We understand the anxiety about climate and the distress that young people experience at the massive changes that are occurring in the global climate and among human societies. We would fund the establishment of a climate resilience program in the public education system. This budget acknowledges things that Tasmanians care about the most. We are very proud to have it fully costed and available for the community to take advantage of.