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House of Assembly Restoration Bill 2018 - Second Reading

21 November 2018
Rosalie Woodruff MP


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise with great delight to speak to this bill which is about restoring the democracy and the good functioning of this House.  It is a long time coming.  The experience that we have had in Tasmania since the parliament was shrunk, particularly, in the last term of parliament, gives us ample evidence why it is past time to restore the numbers in this House.  It is fundamentally a matter of shoring up our democracy and making sure that we have the best ability to confront the serious and difficult issues that ministers are required to make decisions on. 

Think of the debates that we have had in this place in recent times - the issues confronting the health system, the work of the emergency services in preparing for ever-increasing climate threats, the extreme pressures in so many parts of society from housing to the need for so much better support for teachers in education.  All of these issues are huge and pressing.  I have not even started on dealing with climate change.  Of all the issues sitting there for ministers to attend to, that crosses every portfolio.  What is abundantly clear from all the debates we have had in this place is that minister after minister in portfolio after portfolio does not prioritise, for whatever reason, planning for climate change in Tasmania.  That is critical work.  It is clear that when a minister is responsible for three, four or five weighty portfolios, those sort of heavy, future-thinking, propositional and complicated cross-department issues are never going to rise above the day-to-day work that needs to be done.  For a minister to have space in their mind and to demand the time of the people who they are responsible for leading and directing, to demand that they prioritise these huge issues, there needs to be space in a person's day to do that work.  There are physical limitations to what a single person can do.

This is a question of being past time to shore up this part of the functioning of government.  Anyone who has been waiting in an emergency department, or trying to get their child access to specialised education or trying to understand the best way to protect their small community in an extreme bushfire situation in the coming summer would appreciate a minister who is fully able to attend to the issues in his or her portfolio. 

On a very simple level this is about creating some space for ministers to have time to do their jobs properly.  We also have an issue of quality and that is not to be in any way belittling of any members in the House at the moment.  But the facts are it takes time to acquire the life experience to be able to be a good minister.  Not everybody comes into this place and is elected to the role to be a minister.  Either it is not in their functional skill set, or it is not their life experience to take on that role, or they simply have not been in parliament for long enough to understand how to do that work effectively.

Since 2014 when the Liberals took government, we have seen a dilution of experience amongst elected members who are capable of taking on ministerial roles.  Let us not forget that Paul Harriss was a member in the House.  Paul Harriss was the member who had been in government - I do not know how long - but many, many years in different roles.  He had much experience at different levels.  Like his approach or not - not in the case of the Greens - you would have to say he had expertise, therefore some native ability to be able to take on aspects of that role.  We are not particularly sorry to see that particular person not here in government. 

We also had Matthew Groom resign from parliament in the last term, also a person who I am not particularly sorry to see gone from the place.  The way he mismanaged the environment was difficult to watch but he definitely had credibility as a person with experience and ability to be able to take on the role as a minister.  We have had two people gone from the Liberals in the last term of government.  We have had a minister who may have had the skills to be a minister, but was required to stand down, Mr Adam Brooks.  We have also had a minister who was dismissed temporarily, Ms Courtney, and moved to another ministerial portfolio.

What we are seeing is that there are precious few resources on the Liberal side of House to be able to do the work of being effective ministers.  I do not need to say any more.  The evidence stands for itself.  We need more people in this place.  Given the distances in Tasmania and the responsibilities to attend to the needs of constituents, it would be a great benefit to people in Tasmania, whether they are personally aware of that or not.  It would certainly provide them with more skills and expertise and more access to members to present their case and fundamentally to get a better outcome for Tasmania.

I was a little surprised by the brevity of the speeches from the Premier and from the Leader of the Opposition.  I was expecting something a little bit more substantial.  It is clear that we still have some reluctance to jump into this space.  I expect the process of the committee will give both the Liberal and the Labor parties the opportunity to understand the evidence for the value of restoring the numbers in Tasmania in the lower House to 35.  I look forward to the work of that committee and expect the findings of that committee will come in with the accumulation of knowledge and evidence that we have, which is it will be a huge benefit to the governance in Tasmania to restore the numbers in the House.