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Consolidated Fund Appropriation (Supplementary Appropriation For 2018-19) Bill 2019 - Second Reading

11 April 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam speaker, here we are 
again as we are every year at around about this time dealing with 
supplementary appropriation. This is a substantial supplementary 
appropriation in the order of $218 million, a very large proportion of 
which, again, is going into the Health budget, because every single year 
the Health budget is underfunded in order to make that year's budget look 
better than it is. Of course we want public servants to keep being paid 
and make sure quality public services continue to be delivered so we will 
support the Consolidated Fund Appropriation (Supplementary Appropriation) 
Bill for 2018-19. 

But it has been interesting to see the change in the Treasurer's attitude 
in this parliament in recent weeks. We had to put up, in this place, with 
nearly five years of intolerable hubris from this Treasurer who talked 
about things like the 'golden age' which turned out to be a 'golden 
minute'. He talks about his sound financial management and yet here we 
are dealing with a shortfall in recurrent funding across a number of 
agencies and looking forward, there will be a projected $560 million less 
to allocate towards public services in Tasmania.

What we know - and it has been pointed out by commentators such as Saul 
Eslake, John Lawrence and Greg Barns - is that there has been no 
structural reform by this Treasurer and this Government. In fact what 
happened is that the Liberals came into government and got lucky. Part of 
the reason for that was the global financial crisis, the recession, had 
come to an end. In the previous term of the parliament between 2010 and 
2014, we had a Labor-Greens government that had to make some really hard 
decisions, and we pulled the budget back into line and cut our cloth to 
fit our sail. For that, every day in this place during that period of 
time we got beaten up, but it was certainly laying the groundwork for Mr 
Gutwein's first four years in which he made no significant structural 
reform. 

The projected shortfall in stamp duty sits on Mr Gutwein's head. He was 
prepared to ride that wave of surging stamp duty revenue without thinking 
about the future or considering, for example, increasing the level of 
stamp duty so we can put some of that revenue back into increasing the 
supply of social and affordable housing. We have now a lazy approach to 
budget management which is much more about spin than it is about the 
substance of the state's finances, and it is really easy to be Treasurer 
in the good times, but not so easy - as Mr Gutwein is discovering now - to 
be Treasurer when revenues are shrinking nationally and when the forecast 
revenue coming in from stamp duty turns out not to be so terrific after 
all.

I have a couple of questions for the Treasurer. I see here that there is $
20 million in additional funding to support out-of-home care services and 
acknowledge the answer made by the minister responsible for children this 
morning in relation to new appointments to child safety. Is that an extra $
20 million recurrent, so $5 million a year recurrent extra into Child 
Safety Service? Is that what we are looking at here, or given that it is 
a supplementary appropriation, is it backfilling funds? In this portfolio 
I would like to understand that better.

In the context of additional funds into Risdon Prison, $5.5 million extra 
is going into the Tasmania Prison Service and the Treasurer's second 
reading speech talks about current prisoner numbers. We know that Risdon 
Prison is bursting at the seams and part of the reason, in fact nearly all 
of the reason, I am certain, is because of this Government's approach to 
law and order. On the previous government's watch, we had recidivism 
rates going down and the number of people incarcerated at RPC going down 
as well. Something has happened in the past five years and it sure looks 
like a reflection of government policy that seeks to lock more people up 
and is not dealing effectively with recidivism rates in Tasmania. Could 
the Treasurer please detail to the House what is the current population of 
prisoners at Risdon Prison and at Launceston Remand? Perhaps he could 
tell us, for example, what the numbers were in 2014 when this Government 
came into office. 

In the supplementary appropriation bill there is also an initial 
allocation of $35 million to meet the costs of the major bushfires. That 
money is of course welcome but there is an element of fiddling while Rome 
burns, quite literally, about the way fire management and managing the 
accelerated impacts of climate change is dealt with not only by this 
Government but by their federal colleagues. There is this persistent 
denial about the accelerating impacts of climate change and the increase 
in frequency and intensity of bushfires. We have now seen on the east 
coast, at a time of year which normally falls well outside the fire season, 
a planned burnoff escaping, getting into a tinder-dry landscape and 
threatening homes and lives. 

As the former fire chiefs told the country yesterday, what we used to 
understand as the fire season no longer exists. We need a whole new 
approach to landscape protection and making sure we are properly 
resourcing our firefighters with well-resourced remote firefighting 
capacity. We must consider the possibility of doing things a different 
way. 

Mr Shelton - More fuel reduction.

Ms O'CONNOR - If Mr Shelton thinks he is being smart and provocative by 
interjecting on the question of fuel reduction burns, I do not know how 
many times I have stand up in this place and make it clear that Greens 
policy, as evidenced by our position when we were in Cabinet, is to 
support strategic fuel reduction burns. What you people consistently do 
is conflate strategic fuel reduction burns with forestry regeneration 
burns and they are two different things. Even when you are doing 
strategic fuel reduction burning in the landscape you have to be careful, 
Mr Shelton, as your community in Lyons at Dolphin Sands found out the 
night before last. 

I understand from an answer that was given this morning that it was a 
private landowner who was undertaking a burn, as was the beginning of the 
Dunalley fires, who was a private landowner at Forcett, but as a 
government you can't say that was a private land owner so it has nothing 
to do with us. It does, because there is a set of policies and 
regulations in place around permits for burnoffs and clearly they need to 
be relooked at, because why is a private landowner burning on the east 
coast when we know that the soil moisture has almost completely 
disappeared? It has not rained on the east coast in any meaningful way 
for months and months. We can tinker around in supplementary 
appropriation bills and toss money here and there at bushfire management 
and fire recovery, but unless you step back and have a look at the science 
and take it seriously and commit to properly resourcing fire management, 
we are going to be back here each year having to make extra top-up 
allocations to the TFS, or Parks and Wildlife, or Forestry Tasmania 
because we have had another horrific fire season. 

We still have not had any comfort from the Premier about this coming fire 
season because the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this year we 
will enter an El Nino weather phase and that means hot, dry conditions. 
If we thought last summer was bad, if El Nino comes to bear, this summer 
is going to put last summer's fires in the shade, so we really need to see 
in this year's state Budget a proper allocation towards bushfire 
prevention, management and recovery and it must be through the lens of 
accelerating climate change.

If the Treasurer could address what the thinking is in terms of not having 
to go back through supplementary appropriations to deal with bushfires as 
they happen in each year and have a more systemic approach to protecting 
our people, communities, wilderness and our towns he should reveal that to 
the Parliament.

This is business as usual in the Treasury portfolio. If the Treasurer 
could answer some of those questions, that would be helpful. We do not 
need to go into committee. We will support the bill.