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Matter of Public Importance - Sale of Public Assets

22 November 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: sale of public assets.

In April 2014, the Premier, newly elected, said to the people of Tasmania -

Let me be clear: we will not be selling any government or public owned assets.

We won't be selling any government or public owned assets, other than the Aurora retail book which the former government put up for sale, and which we've supported.

The Premier said, 'Other than that we will not be selling anything, and that is part of the commitment we took to the last election'. Five years later, it has been confirmed that this was a lie to the Tasmanian people. Pure and simple. The premier of the day says we will not be selling anything and, five years later, the for-sale list is long and it is growing. In the last term of parliament, we witnessed the then resources minister oversee the sale of 29 000 hectares of public plantation forest for substantially less than it cost taxpayers to establish them. Of course, given this Government's absolute commitment to secrecy and lack of transparency, the details of that sale, the rationale for the 99-year lease, which is as good as a sale, was not made to the people of Tasmania. The sale of this asset for substantially less than it cost taxpayers to establish them was not justified by the minister of the day.

We also had in the last term of parliament special enabling legislation come through this House that would privatise the pinnacle of kunanyi/Mt Wellington should the planning authority approve the construction of a cable car up the mountain which, as we know, would break people's hearts and desecrate the mountain. Again, it is government using its levers, its agencies, to introduce legislation that favours a single private operator at the expense of the public good. There was no justification - again - for handing over the pinnacle of kunanyi/Mt Wellington, the people's mountain, to the Mount Wellington Cableway Company, but the resources of the Government and the time of the parliament was put into doing just that.

We also had just after the state election an announcement by the Treasurer that the Treasury building would be put on the market, again with no mandate or conversation with the people of Tasmania. It was interesting that at the open day a couple of weekends ago on Remembrance Day people were streaming into the Treasury building to have a look at their property that this Government has announced, without a mandate, that it wants to sell.

The letters page of the Mercury in the days afterwards confirms that this Government has no mandate to sell the Treasury building and the owners of the Treasury building have not given permission to the Government of the day to sell it. Even the Mercury editorial condemned the decision to put the Treasury building on the market. Who would buy the Treasury building? What is the justification for selling the Treasury building when the Treasurer of the day tells us we are in a golden age? There is no shortage of funds, apparently. There is no justification for selling a symbol of our history, of governance and democracy in Tasmania, to the private sector.

We know where that began. That began in the last term of parliament when some private individual, company, or foreign government came forward with an unsolicited bid to buy the Treasury building. That is where the idea came from - the private sector approaching a government, the Premier of which had said he would not be selling public assets. At the time it was not convenient, but straight after the state election it was announced the Treasury building would go on the market. No mandate, no justification, no social licence from the people who own the Treasury building, the people of Tasmania.

Just recently it has been revealed that the Liberal Government and, indeed, the Premier and Parks minister, Mr Hodgman, had entered into a secret, long-term lease to privatise Halls Island at Lake Malbena in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park in the World Heritage Area. It was not revealed at the time by the Government that not only was there going to be a lease extended on Reg Hall's hut, but a second lease would be entered into with a private operator over the whole island. This is unprecedented in Tasmania's history, where part of a public protected area is being given over to a private operator for exclusive use.

No wonder fly fishermen and walkers are ropeable and threatening a blockade. There will be a blockade at Halls Island in Lake Malbena, I have no doubt about that whatsoever, and the people who participate in that blockade will come from all walks of life and all parts of the political spectrum in Tasmania. You do not have to be a 'greenie' to love the wilderness, you do not have to be a 'greenie' to recognise that this Government is stealing from the people of Tasmania for private developers and commercial interests.

Handing over Hall's Island is an act of theft. Again, it was a secret process, behind closed doors, a corrupted process where the people of Tasmania were not given a say, where a World Heritage Area management plan was changed after public consultation to excise Lake Malbena from the wilderness zone and put it into the self-reliant recreation zone. No consultation: it just appeared in the final World Heritage Area management plan, and the stitch-up went on from there. For three years that private developer was negotiating through the Office of the Coordinator-General to get their hands on a public island inside the World Heritage Area that is a wilderness place, whatever dodgy zoning this Government puts on it in order to facilitate a private development.

Here is our prediction. That development will not go ahead. The reason it will not go ahead is because there are hundreds of Tasmanians right now who are gearing up for a blockade. They are gearing up to stand by the wilderness, Hall's Island and Lake Malbena, a place that is beloved by anglers and bushwalkers alike and owned by and on behalf of the people of Tasmania, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Tasmanians. It is a privatisation of a public island wilderness inside the World Heritage Area. No punter under the Liberal's plan will be allowed onto Hall's Island.

There has also been the plan to privatise public waterways for fish farm expansion and the Elizabeth Street Pier, with no mandate, no justification and no social licence.