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Public Works Committee Amendment Bill 2019 - Second Reading

12 September 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Thank you, Madam Speaker. If there ever was an argument for restoring the numbers in the House of Assembly it is this legislation which has clearly come about for two reasons - one, because this Government has an allergy to transparent processes, and two, because it does not have the backbench to staff its committees including the Public Works Committee. We have not been members on that committee since 2014 but I take on board what the Leader of the Opposition has said about the failure of Government members to stock that committee so it can undertake its work. It is so transparent and obvious that this bill has been brought about because of a shortage of numbers and skills, I would argue, in the House to enable it to be properly staffed so it can undertake its important work examining projects that come before it.

Without reflecting on the proceedings of the parliamentary inquiry into the House of Assembly Restoration Bill 2018, overwhelmingly the theme of the evidence that has come before us makes a compelling argument to restore the numbers in the House. For any member who was not watching the other day when Michael Bailey, the chair of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave evidence on behalf of the entire business community, as he stated it, the TCCI and business in Tasmania want to see this parliament restored to ensure better governance, to ensure better representation of communities, a viable backbench that can staff committees and keep ministers of the day on their toes by feeding back what comes out of their constituencies, but also being ambitious to the extent that you let ministers of the day know that should they fail or fall, you as a talented backbencher will be there to fill that spot.

Unfortunately, my sense of what is happening on that committee is that we are dealing with a depressing lack of courage and conviction and a manifest unwillingness from both major parties to put good governance, stronger democracy and representation of communities first in Tasmania. The TCCI made a statement to the committee and answered questions in the strongest possible terms. Regarding the evidence that has come before the inquiry, the only argument made against restoration was by Labor's colleagues in the union movement, regrettably only last week. It was exactly the argument that the TCCI had flagged would be made by people, a lazy argument that the state of Tasmania cannot afford to restore the numbers while we have people waiting for days in the emergency department, not enough beds in our hospital, not enough homes for Tasmanians, and schools in a state of disrepair.

The investment, as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated, of somewhere between $6 million and $7 million a year to restore the numbers, will actually strengthen the functioning of the parliament, improve governance in Tasmania, lead to better outcomes for our constituents and ensure that we have the people in this place to sit on committees like the Public Works Committee.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as I said earlier, we are not currently on the Public Works Committee of the parliament but we recognise it undertakes significant and important work examining government projects that are expending public funds. As Ms White has made clear, this is an extraordinary extension of the threshold for the committee to examine works, particularly as they relate to roads and bridges. I do not know if this Treasurer is not interested in jurisdictional comparisons, has not done the work, or is still staggering drunk on power, but to have a threshold that is even higher than the Commonwealth threshold for an island that is the smallest of all states is arrogant and lazy.

We do not support a $20 million threshold for roads and bridges. I am interested to hear that Labor will be tabling an amendment and I gather we will deal with this in the Committee of the House. I will have a chat to Dr Woodruff about it and we will make our position clear in the Committee stage of the bill.

I also noticed the difference between the two versions of the second reading speech that came out and place on the record that in my 11 years in parliament, it is only under this Government that we have second reading speeches provided that are drafts every time. I am not sure if I have forgotten the way it was before the dark ages descended on this place but draft second reading speeches are standard now. So we have a minister who apparently reads a draft second reading speech into the Hansard to lead on a bill. In the first draft - just another sign of the arrogance of this Government - the third-last paragraph read:

During the development of this bill the Government consulted with the committee, and whilst the committee noted it was appropriate for the parliament to express its view -

Well no, that is not what parliament does, we do not just express our view, we vote, we make decisions on legislation and, if necessary, we amend. We debate the content of the legislation and we, the parliament, do not just express our view, Mr Deputy Speaker, we cast our votes.

To me, this is indicative of the contempt or disregard for Westminster principles shown by this Government. It is not appropriate for the parliament to express its view on the increased thresholds. It is parliament's role to vote if those thresholds are going to be changed, and that is what we are going to do today.

As Ms White pointed out, there is dishonesty in this statement in the original draft second reading speech because clearly not every member of the Public Works Committee was satisfied, so why a minister of the day or whoever wrote this speech for him would think it was appropriate to make that assumption is mystifying. It is patently untrue, clearly.

We still do not have an answer to a question we put on notice some two months ago now about who was on the expenditure review committee of the Cabinet. Again, that demonstrates a lack of concern for public accountability and transparency of government. I have worked in the federal parliament in the Keating government, I have worked as an activist in the community with a lot of contact with state and federal parliaments, I have been a journalist and a member of parliament. Never in that time, 25 to 30 years, have I head a government try to keep secret the membership of a Cabinet committee that makes decisions about where savings will be made on public funds in areas of public policy that affect the lives of Tasmanians.

It will be interesting to see if that question that we have put on notice following budget Estimates where we asked numerous ministers numerous times is, in fact, answered. There is no excuse for not being open with the parliament, a member of parliament, at the Estimates table or in this place. We have asked questions in Estimates and of the Premier and there is no excuse for being sneaky and secretive about which ministers are on the expenditure review committee of Cabinet unless you have something to hide, or unless just by default your position is to be sneaky and secretive. This Treasurer, in my experience, is the sneakiest and most dishonest Treasurer that Tasmania has seen in a very long time.

Mr Jaensch - Rubbish, complete rubbish.

Ms O'CONNOR - That cut me right down.

Mr Ferguson - The truth.

Ms O'CONNOR - The truth hurts. Remember Mr Ferguson, he is a results-based politician.

Mr Ferguson - You are dealing in exaggeration and falsehood.

Ms O'CONNOR - I really do not care what you think of me.

Mr Ferguson - I can tell.

Ms O'CONNOR - I do not care what you think of me. I could not care less what you think of me.

Mr Ferguson - I can see you are having a tough day.

Mr Gutwein - It sounds like you do.

Ms O'CONNOR - I went back, Mr Gutwein, and had a look at your contribution on the Matter of Public Importance debate today on the questions that we asked about pokies policy in Tasmania. You misrepresented the data.

Mr Gutwein - You walked out of your own debate. That is right I had forgotten.

Ms O'CONNOR - What?

Mr Gutwein - You walked out of your own debate, did you not. It was so important.

Ms O'CONNOR - I walked out of the debate because Mrs Rylah stood up and re-read the false statements that you had made and actually I wanted a cup of tea and I could listen to it somewhere else. I was at risk of being thrown out of this place if I did not leave, so it was a sensible move on my part.

Mr Gutwein - If you do not like what you hear you simply leave.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, what we do not like in this place is contempt for parliament, disregard for the wellbeing of people such as gambling addicts, and the tedious repetition that we have to tolerate in this place every day. We do not like the complete contempt for Question Time, Dorothy Dix answers that run for seven and half minutes, and inconsistent rulings in relation to the conduct of members in this place. They are the things that we do not like, Mr Gutwein.

There is a range of other actions that you have taken that we do not like and will never support and we believe we have strong public support for our concerns, including the exploitation of public protected areas and the privatisation and degradation of Tasmania's wilderness, the unbelievable number of game control permits that are issued in this place, the hundreds of thousands of native animals that are killed each year. They are the things that we do not like about this Government. I mean, the list is long. I do not have enough speaking rights to -

Mr Gutwein - Anything you give us a tick on? Just one.

Ms O'CONNOR - I believe the work the Premier has done and continues to do on the prevention of family violence is very positive. I also think that the appointment of Her Excellency the Honourable Kate Warner as the Governor of Tasmania, the first female Governor of Tasmania, was an outstanding appointment, but I have run out of thoughts on anything else you are doing that is particularly positive.

I think Mr Jaensch genuinely wants to be a good Housing minister and deliver social and affordable housing but he is hamstrung by the fact that you as Treasurer for three years did not give any, and did not provide any, new funding for housing. For the state budgets of 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 there was no new money that went into increasing the supply of social and affordable housing. I am also disappointed in Mr Jaensch's lack of courage and inability to recognise what a significant problem soaring shortstay listings are having on access to affordable housing for Tasmanians and his unwillingness to take on short stay accommodation providers, like many jurisdictions around the world, and regulate Airbnb. I am disappointed in that.

I am extremely disappointed in this Government's apparent lack of commitment to, and regard for, Aboriginal people. It is all lip service. There was a promise to reset the relationship and then nothing: no return of lands, dividing a community, spending public funds wanting to re-open tracks through some of the most priceless archaeological, cultural sites in the world. Gosh, I could go on forever but I am even boring myself.

We look forward to the debate in the Committee. I made note of the amendment that the Leader of the Opposition proposes to move. At face value it is something that the Greens would support. I am assuming that the Government will not because they are arrogant and they make no apologies for anything ever. I hope when this legislation makes its way into the other place that it is corrected and dealt with accordingly so we do not have such a bill, which is transparently overreach, not unlike the minister for Primary Industries' place names bill of 2019, which as we know, is as little bit on the North Korean side.

This bill is overreach. It was unnecessary to go so far and should this place not be able to improve it I do hope that members in the other place, on review of the legislation when it goes upstairs, are able to bring it back into line at least with other Australian states and to make sure that our threshold is not even higher than the Commonwealth for a state of a little over half a million people.