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Estimates Reply - Premier

11 June 2019

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, I rise to make a 10-minute contribution on the Premier's Estimates. Again, the Estimates' experience this year, as it has been ever since the Liberals took office in 2014, was frustrating, limiting and, by design, not intended to provide information to opposition members who are asking the questions.

For each minister that Dr Woodruff and I sat down in front of those frustrations were still there, and it made the process less of a benefit to the people of Tasmania and the taxpayers who pay our wages, than they would otherwise have been.

We asked the Premier about a range of issues. We asked him about the Tasmanian Council of Social Services' report card which makes it very clear that on numerous, critical, social metrics, Tasmania has gone backwards since the Liberals came into Government and declared Tasmania open for business. They have let short-stay accommodation listings expand unchecked, underinvested in the increase in the supply of social and affordable housing, and underinvested in the health system. You can see through the metrics that we detailed in Estimates that, socially, Tasmania is in a much more difficult place than it was when the Liberals took office.

We also asked a question that was central to the concern of both Dr Woodruff and me, on behalf of those tens of thousands of Tasmanians and young people who are concerned to ensure that this Government takes climate change seriously. On the issue of global heating, the Premier seems to think that we have everything under control here as a state when, what we know from the budget papers, is that there has been an underinvestment in bushfire management in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and an underinvestment in Tasmania Fire Service, the State Emergency Service, the Climate Change Office.

The underinvestment points to a wilful denial of the reality of the climate emergency that is hurtling towards us at an alarming rate. For anyone who has not seen most recent images of the jet stream in the northern hemisphere, if you want to frighten yourself terribly, have a look at what is happening to the jet stream. It is no longer on a predictable, looping path; the jet stream is waving like a manic. We are in a time of utter climate emergency and we need to be sure, as a state, that we have every single good policy in place that not only keeps all the carbon in the ground that is in the ground, but is taking our communities with them on an adaptation journey.

When I asked the Premier, and then his secretary and the Climate Change Office what kind of comprehensive strategic adaptation plan was in place to deal with climate, what we got from him - and the Hansard tells the story - was an extended period of silence, the sound of crickets, and then my heart sinking. I realised that we do not have good adaptation planning in place in Tasmania. That is no reflection on the Climate Change Office; it is about leadership and the lack of it and the fact that the Climate Change Office does not have its own dedicated minister to drive forward the necessary action.

Ms Archer - Why did you ask questions of me then?

Ms O'CONNOR - We had no other option, Ms Archer, but to ask questions of you in the Environment portfolio, but you are not the minister for climate change. You administer a weak piece of legislation; you administer the failure of your Government to take climate seriously; and you have to deal with the legacy of your predecessor who abolished the Tasmanian Climate Action Council.

I want to raise a question with the Premier today that we asked the Treasurer and other ministers, and we did not get an answer. We have just had back some answers in writing.

The question was, who was on the expenditure review committee in Cabinet? Who is that select group of people who are making decisions about what services to underfund and what roads to build. When I asked the Treasurer this question what we got was what we usually get from the Treasurer - an attempt to conceal and not to tell the truth. Why should the membership of a subcommittee of Cabinet be secret? We understand Cabinet confidentiality, but what we do not accept is that you will not be honest enough to name who is on your expenditure review committee.

We have an answer back from the Treasurer. The question was, which ministers are represented on the strategic growth subcommittee of Cabinet? That committee consists of the Premier, the Treasurer, the Deputy Premier and Minister for Human Services, all blokes for starters. We have one subcommittee of Cabinet. I do not know if this is the expenditure review committee of Cabinet. Does the Premier truly believe that the women in his Cabinet do not have something to contribute to the strategic future of Tasmania? Is this the reason the Treasurer would not tell us who is on the razor gang? Is this the expenditure review committee, Premier? That is the question. If this is not the expenditure review committee, made up as it is of four blokes, then who is on the expenditure review committee?

Mr Bacon - That is the State Growth answers, I think.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is the Treasurer and State Growth's answers, that is right. We are trying to thread it together, Mr Bacon, and thank you for your timely intervention as always.

We also have a question that was asked of the Premier in the Parks output. The question was, what is the total cost of the 2014 election pledge to reopen the Arthur-Pieman tracks, including legal costs, consultancies and all other associated costs? What we now know from the response that came back to us a very short time ago by email is that DPIPWE advised that it spent $97 104 in relation to the 2014 election commitments to reopen the tracks, with consultancy costs of $15 620 included in that. Federal Court costs incurred were $440 200, primarily funded through the Tasmanian Risk Management Fund with DPIPWE paying an excess amount of $20 000. I tell you what, that could have gone to good use in our parks. 'The excess costs are included in the total costs provided above'. We have $440 000 that went to the Federal Court to reopen the Arthur-Pieman tracks and we have confirmed through the Premier that it cost the state $355 000 in the High Court to try to salvage something out of the workplace protection from democracy bill.

Since the Liberals have been in Government they have spent at least three-quarters of a billion dollars on legal costs and stupid election promises like the Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Bill, which is rearing its ugly head again after the questions we asked in Estimates last week. What a disgrace. Nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars. In fact, more than three-quarters of a million dollars, pardon my maths, almost $800 000 this Government has spent defending its own lousy policies, like reopening the Arthur-Pieman tracks. It should be ashamed, because as we know in question time this morning the Premier and the Housing Minister would not rule out using more public funds to appeal against the full bench of the Supreme Court's decision in relation to Mr Gregory Parsons, a Housing Tasmania tenant. That is the most disgraceful waste of money. Nearly $1 million on legal fees, consultancies, for two deeply, deeply flawed pieces of public policy: the Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Bill and the bid to reopen the Arthur-Pieman tracks.

It would be funny if it was not public money. Can you imagine what nearly $800 million could deliver? It is true I have added it up wrong. It is the most disgraceful waste of public money that we have seen.

The other question we asked the Premier that he said he would get back to us on is whether there are Aboriginal relics in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery? The Premier said he would come back to us. We need to hear whether the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery holds Aboriginal relics. Premier, I hope you take the opportunity to answer that question, because you did say that you would come back.

My question to the Premier, when he does respond, is, who is on the razor gang of Cabinet? Are there any Aboriginal relics still being held in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery against the wishes of the Aboriginal community of Tasmania? How does he justify such a massive waste of money, nearly a million dollars of public money, defending lousy policies?