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Reply to Premier's Address - Government Declares War on the Environment

10 March 2017
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Ms WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise to give my response to the 
Premier's Address. I am going to focus my address on the state of the 
environment, this Government's declared war on the environment, and talk 
about the impacts that is having on the marine and the land environment 
that we need to sustain us and will sustain any hope of long-term jobs in 
this state.

This Government has also shown over the last year a complete disregard for 
people on low incomes. They have used every opportunity to claw money out 
of essential services. In particular, money is rapidly being removed from 
the Health public service and that is having a devastating effect.

First, I speak to the state of the salmon industry in this great island of 
ours. I want to lay out the disastrous mismanagement by this minister and 
by this Government of the salmon industry. They have been putting the 
interests of particular parts of the salmon industry first and the long-
term jobs of other industries, the jobs they provide and support, the 
environment and local communities, way down at the end. The Labor Party, 
before this Government, has a long history of putting the environment last 
when it comes to salmon industry regulation. This Liberal Government has 
taken it to another level, if that is to be believed. I want to lay out 
the tale of this corrupted process and how it has taken us to a situation 
where we see industry favouritism. This state Government and the federal 
Government are in court about the lack of fair play, lack of transparency 
and lack of accountability for the industry.

The Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Mr Jeremy Rockliff, has 
repeatedly called the regulations and monitoring of the salmon industry, 
'comprehensive and robust', and, 'comparable to world's best practice'[TBC
]. This adaptive management as practised by this Government has failed 
the environment. Now we are seeing how it threatens the security of the 
whole industry as well as failing regional communities and the jobs that 
flow from these.

We now know parts of Macquarie Harbour are in a state of freefall 
environmental collapse. It is documented through reports, leaked emails, 
scientific reviews, Four Corners exposes, national media, state media, 
many different forums, to show that we have catastrophically low dissolved 
oxygen levels throughout the lower parts of the harbour, zero levels 
recorded in some areas for more than a year. We know that life for at 
least half a kilometre from the pens in Tassal's Franklin lease bordering 
the World Heritage area is virtually non-existent. 

We know that this has inevitably caused damage to World Heritage values 
and the CEO of Tassal, Mark Ryan, said as much before the company 
retracted that statement and decided to do a 180-degree turn on his 
comment. We also know from the evidence of people living in Strahan that 
the rocks, boats and jetties along the edge of the Strahan harbour are now 
covered in a green slime which has never before been seen.

There are serious questions being asked about whether the Maugean skate [
OK], which is unique to this part of the planet, will be able to live and 
reproduce. How could this happen? In 2012, a 360 per cent increase in 
salmon farm production was proposed for Macquarie Harbour. It was 
vehemently opposed by conservationists and others, including a former 
salmon farmer from Macquarie Harbour, because there was already evidence 
of reduced oxygen levels caused by the volume of fish being farmed in the 
harbour. There were no signs to show that the waters could stand any more
. The Marine Farming Planning Review Panel ignored those warnings and 
waved through an increase in the allowable farmed salmon from 8000 tonnes 
to 29 500 tonnes. The panel that approved that in 2012 had the same 
members it has today, including the so-called independent scientist, 
Adjunct Professor, Colin Buxton. They were the panel that recently gave 
the thumbs-up to Tassal's expansion into Oakhampton Bay.

I want to read some of the information that has been collected by 
Environment Tasmania thanks to [Bookmark: OLE_LINK17] Laura Kelly who 
principally did that work. We have to rely on non-government 
organisations to do the work of government in tracking the impact that 
this Government's mismanagement is having on the marine environment. We 
know that in 2013, following that decision, industry data showed a 
significant increase in salmon production in the harbour was accompanied 
by plummeting dissolved oxygen levels, dropping from what had been 20 per 
cent to 40 per cent, to five per cent in 2013-14. The Tasmanian Salmonid 
Growers Association established an industry-led inquiry into these 
disastrously low oxygen levels, called the [Bookmark: OLE_LINK18] 
Macquarie Harbour Dissolved Oxygen Working Group.

In September 2014, the Premier and the minister, Mr Rockliff, received an 
email from the managing director of Huon Aquaculture and the CEO of [
Bookmark: OLE_LINK19] Petuna. This detailed their very serious concerns 
about the deteriorating water quality in Macquarie Harbour, about fish 
disease outbreaks that they were seeing, and the failure of Mr Rockliff's 
agencies to act to prevent further pollution. They alleged favouritism by 
government departments towards Tassal over their own companies, and a 
reckless disregard for the consequences to the environment and to the 
salmon industry as a whole. They warned, 'The advice you are receiving 
beggars belief,' and, 'We believe any decision to lift the cap, even 
temporarily, is reckless and can seemingly only be based on short-term 
objectives.' The companies appealed for the minister who was the 
regulator 'To make decisions that will preserve the health of Macquarie 
Harbour and our industry's reputation. The Government needs to act to 
protect these key drivers for the Tasmanian economy and reputation.' They 
urged the Premier not to approve Tassal's request for an increase in 
production.

Did the minister act? No, because this is a Government of inaction. This 
is a Government that does the least possible action to protect the long-
term security of jobs in regional communities. Instead, in March 2015, an 
industry insider leaked part of the dissolved oxygen group's report to the 
media. It showed that the licence conditions had been breached across all 
the fish farms in Macquarie Harbour, that feed waste and faecal matter had 
built up and was clearly visible at sites, and that indicated species, so-
called [Bookmark: OLE_LINK20] dorvilleidae worms, had identified that 
there was serious pollution occurring and a degraded environment had 
increased the incidences of fish disease.

In April 2015 the Government commissioned the [Bookmark: OLE_LINK21] 
Cawthron Institute [OK] in New Zealand to review the data on Macquarie 
Harbour and assess whether water quality and [Bookmark: OLE_LINK22] 
benthic monitoring would be effective in detecting harbour-wide effects of 
salmon farming. In May 2015 85 000 fish suffocated in the harbour. The 
Petuna Company blamed a one-off storm event pushing up water with low-
dissolved oxygen, but the company failed to acknowledge the impact of the 
fish farms in creating the low-dissolved oxygen water in the first place. 
In August 2015 the Cawthron Institute submitted its report and documented 
'a biological system under stress with serious impacts up to 7.5 
kilometres from fish farm sites'. It said there was a strong relationship 
between the increase in fish farming and the damage, and that the current 
government regulations 'is not likely to be effective in detecting harbour-
wide effects'. The Government was clearly failing according to the report 
it commissioned.

The same month that report came out a rare chronic disease that kills fish 
was found in Macquarie Harbour. In September 2015 the Government 
responded to the report and decided that the most appropriate response was 
to provide no penalties to the fish farm companies that were responsible 
for killing the fish and damaging the harbour. None of the improvements 
to monitoring that were recommended by the institute were adopted, and the 
Government responded to the report by commissioning further research. 
This is what the Government does, it gets further research when it does 
not like the information it gets.

In April 2016 the Government responded to more evidence of pollution by 
not issuing fines and by removing regulations on pollution indicator 
species, depending on the outcome of yet further research. The response 
of the Premier and his Minister for Primary Industries and Water, was to 
act, in April last year, in the short-term interests of Tassal. Despite 
this mountain of evidence and international reports, their response was to 
lift the biomass cap in Macquarie Harbour from 20 000 tonnes to 21 500 
tonnes.

This is to read to the record exactly what this minister's idea of 
adaptive management and world's best practice is. It is a shame. It is 
code for inaction, it is code for industry favouritism and it is code for 
boom and bust cycles in companies that are clearly not planning to stick 
around in Tasmania in the long term. At least if they do, not for the 
workers they are employing in places like Strahan.

New research conducted by the [Bookmark: OLE_LINK23] Institute for Marine 
and Antarctic Studies - a damning report prepared for the EPA and the 
Department of Primary Industry on environmental research in Macquarie 
Harbour that was released in February - laid out the Government's 
environmental negligence and their contempt for making fair dealings 
between Tassal and the other companies. It includes research back to the 
1980s and 1990s that showed that Macquarie Harbour, even then, was one of 
the worst places you could conceive of for farming salmon. They have 
further given strength to the argument that damage to World Heritage is 
highly likely and in particular damage to Tasmania's clean and green brand 
for an industry that employs thousands of people in regional Tasmania 
today.

The director of the EPA responded by reducing the biomass cap at this 
point to 14 000 tonnes. This regulatory chaos that is in place has been 
the result of Mr Rockliff attempting to distance himself and his 
government from the responsibility for the regulation of the salmon 
industry. They have dumped it onto the EPA, which is now responsible for 
continuing what have become entirely corrupted processes around the 
approval of expansion of existing leases and brandnew leases. We are 
seeing a 20-year-old lease being used as a wedge to expand fish farming 
onto the east coast, to bail out a company that has killed the life under 
its Franklin lease in Macquarie Harbour and which has devastated a place 
of unique significance and increased the threat to already endangered 
species.

The government review by the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel about 
the expansion onto the east coast to the Okehampton Bay lease explicitly 
excluded the right of communities to talk about the impact of fish farming 
on their families, businesses and lives. It was a decision that took 
place behind closed doors, with local residents, recreational and 
commercial fishers and tourism operators given no chance to put forward 
their views. Despite that, more than 250 people packed the Triabunna 
community hall on Sunday to express their anger at the Liberals' decision 
to approve the Tassal fish farm in Okehampton Bay and to their great shame, 
no Liberal or Labor Party state or federal members showed their faces. 

I have it from the organisers of that event that they were all sent 
personal invitations but they chose not to attend, they chose not to 
listen to the community on what is clearly a controversial issue. They 
are happy to hop it to every tiny little event they possibly can to get 
their face in the newspaper, but the last place they would want to be seen 
is amongst people who would hold them to account and ask them to come up 
with one shred of evidence that it is going to provide real long-term jobs 
for people on the east coast. Nothing has been provided by the company or 
the Government other than hyperbole and numbers out of thin air. What 
that community wants is real, long-term jobs. They want pathways from 
early school through to end-of-age careers, and that is something this 
Government has failed to do in the time it has been in office.

Tasmania's economic prospects are so clearly tied to our natural 
endowments, yet this Government is very clear on destroying them and the 
very things that make us special and unique on this planet. The top 
reason tourists come to the east coast and to the rest of Tasmania is 
because of our environment. The Greens will be here to continue to speak 
for the communities that want them protected for the future. 

Community campaigns are growing on many areas around the state, not just 
on fish farms. The other area I want to mention is planning and the 
Tasmanian Planning Scheme, which has unfolded exactly as many in the 
community have predicted over the last year. The process of establishing 
and approving the state planning provisions did not give the community a 
voice or give the councils time to consult with their communities. It was 
a sham. There was never an opportunity for people to have a real say 
about how these changes are going to affect their ability to control 
developments in their community, so they can put environmental and 
community interests at the top and then look at the development after it 
has met the benchmarks of both of those two incredibly important criteria.

The Tasmanian Planning Scheme is a red carpet for developers. It was 
written fundamentally with development interests first and has been 
approved so that developers will get a clean run at things. It has never 
been about being simpler, cheaper or faster. I have yet to talk to a 
person who has put in a building application in the last year who thinks 
it has got better. In fact, what I am hearing around the state is more 
little people having more paperwork and the big companies getting straight 
through the door. If you want to have your house extended or do some work 
on it, in any council in Tasmania at the moment you will find it is worse 
than it was two years ago.

The Greens stand up for a community that want planning controls that will 
benefit community interests and sustain environmental values. We think 
ministerial powers should not get in the way of planning decisions that 
need to be made by the independent Tasmanian Planning Commission. We want 
to restore the powers and independence of the planning commission, which 
have been gutted essentially, and the commission reduced to a shadow of 
its former self under this Government.

We believe that the current planning scheme and the statewide planning 
provisions as they have been approved will usher in an era of monotonous 
uniformity. As to the concerns of groups around the state, the Kangaroo 
Bay development, for example, is already hearing of things after they have 
happened, things that were advertised over Christmas. The 42-day rule is 
being used as a straw horse, as though it is a good enough reason that you 
could push through a sort of development that would be worth millions of 
dollars and people get no time over Christmas to have their say. It is 
not good enough, but the good news is that there is strong resistance on 
this issue, as there is on the east coast. 

This Government actually thinks people are stupid. This Liberal 
Government thinks people do not get it and do not know what is really 
going on. Well, people do know exactly what is going on and they are 
getting together as large alliances. A total of 35 groups met in Ross a 
couple of weeks ago and have formed into the Planning Matters alliance. 
They will be resisting the noxious planning scheme approvals that have 
just gone through and it will be an election issue.

No-one will forget last year's energy crisis that rocked everyone, with a 
part-time Energy minister who was missing on holidays for more than two 
weeks after the Basslink cable went down. Tasmania's energy crisis gave 
the minister, Mr Groom, the chance to show leadership and guide Tasmania 
through a very difficult time, but instead Hydro Tasmania's annual records 
show that it was a $64 million wasted opportunity. Overall the energy 
crisis cost Tasmanians an estimated $126 million. The Government's 
narrative was 'at least we kept the lights on.' Actually, the cost blew 
out because the minister refused to direct government departments, 
government businesses and councils even to find energy-efficiency savings. 
We are not talking, 'Turn the lights off', we are talking, 'Use less 
electricity'. 

Mrs Rylah - Rubbish! 

Ms WOODRUFF - It is not rubbish, Mrs Rylah. There was no serious 
practical assistance to help small businesses and households use energy-
efficiency measures. There were a few advertisements in the newspaper 
that I saw but no serious assistance to help people save money in the 
process of doing that. 

The energy crisis has also shown us how insecure our state's energy supply 
is, which is an absolute travesty, given that it is yet another reason 
Tasmania is special in the world in that we are best placed of many 
regions on the planet to become self-sufficient in our own electricity 
generation. 

Tasmania's renewable energy generation deficit continues to cost us a 
fortune. We spent an extra $15 million in January importing power over 
Basslink or generating it through the Tamar Valley Gas Power Station. 
This Government needs to look at targets and it needs to look at them 
urgently.

I will conclude talking about the state health system. The Liberals came 
to government with the promise of making Tasmania the healthiest state by 
2025. It could not be further from the truth because that objective, 
although it is a laudable one, means nothing. The evidence is there have 
been steps away from that, not toward it, sadly.

They have failed to implement and fund their own promised preventative 
health strategies to keep Tasmanians out of hospital. They have also 
failed to look after people when they came to the hospital system at a 
time they are most vulnerable. They have successfully taken money out of 
the public health sector and put it - we do not know where it has gone but 
it is not in the hospital budget, as it was last year. The current under-
funding of the state's public hospitals has had a huge negative impact on 
the quality and safety of care, on elective surgery waiting times and on 
the wellbeing of hospital staff. 

Emergency departments are continuously subjected to overcrowding with bed 
block and ambulance ramping because there are not enough inpatient beds 
available to move those people into. Tasmanians who are admitted through 
an overcrowded emergency department into an overcrowded hospital have an 
estimated 30 per cent increase likelihood of dying. We have some of the 
worst bed block in the country. Overcrowding in hospitals in Tasmania, 
according to the national estimates, accounts for more deaths than our 
road toll. Despite this, the minister cut the emergency department budget 
by 5.7 per cent, equating to $7 million in this financial year's budget. 
It is far more in real terms given the increasing cost of equipment and 
supplies.

The 2017 Report on Government Services paints a damning picture of the 
minister, Mr Ferguson's legacy so far. It records our hospitals as having
: the lowest rates of cardiac arrest survival in the country; the lowest 
percentage of hospitals accredited under the safety and quality health 
service standards in the country; the highest rate of patients who have an 
extra bad episode during their hospital stay, 8 per cent extra; the 
highest rate of health care associated infections in the country; the 
highest rate of falls resulting in patient harm occurring in our public 
hospitals while people are in our care; and the second highest rate of 
unplanned readmissions following surgery in the country. Elective surgery 
median waiting times skyrocketed. These figures rose from 55 days in 2014-
15 to 72 days last year, which makes us the worst in the country for 
elective surgery waiting times; the worst in the country.

Even the top pick of this Government, even the Premier's top pick to say 
about the health department is a lie. It is not true to say the median 
elective surgery waiting times have improved. He is talking about a 
cherrypicked, very small section of elective surgery. It is talking 
tricky figures but Tasmanians will not be fooled. Unfortunately, they 
know the reality of what is happening in our hospital system. 

Under this Government, the Emergency Care Review report[TBC] - which was 
conducted and released only after a right to information request from the 
Greens last week. It has shown that the physicians in our hospitals, the 
staff, and experts from interstate agree that this Government's 
mismanagement of the health system is causing terrible affects on quality 
of care and terrible affects on the staff working in our hospitals. The 
report describes a sick cultural issue in the hospital, along with a fear 
of public scrutiny that pervades the staff and pervades the hospital 
system.

'The culture of secrecy', one clinician noted, 'of data hoarding and the 
fear of going to the Mercury needs to stop. Let everyone see the pressure 
we are under'. The root causes, according to the report sources, are the 
major problems with the hospital governance and structure and a culture 
that has left clinicians unable to do their job.

That report was gathering dust on the minister's desk for six months. 
While it was doing so, the situation at both of our major hospitals was 
getting worse. He ignored the pleas of senior clinicians - as evidenced 
by emails, as evidenced in the newspaper reports over the last six months. 
The minister's response to the release of that report has been a number of 
dishonest announcements about additional beds. The more important 
underlying issue is the failure on preventative health, which is the 
driver of the acute hospital crisis. It is the driver. It is the 
Government's centrepiece in health. It was what the Government was going 
to do. We have been three years and we have not had any action on that 
either.

Time expired.