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Section 19 of the Public Account Act 1986 - June Quarter 2018

16 October 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, we note that 
in a relatively short period of time since the election, there have been 
very significant shifts of public fundings across and between agencies, 
out to private enterprises.

There is a significant budget impact here. On page 3 of the section 19 
return in column 3, subsection 11(22), we have a total sum of a bit over $
21 million. It says on the explanatory notes the budget impact of these 
additional costs has been offset on a whole-of-government level by 
increased Australian Government revenue or by asset sales. I understand 
that this is an explanatory note but given the substantial quantity of 
public funding we are talking about here, I think the Treasurer - 

Mr Gutwein - Whereabouts are you?

Ms O'CONNOR - We are on page 3, the columns, and it is column 3, which is 
the second footnote that talks about offset by increased Australian 
Government revenue. Could you please detail if that is simply the GST 
distribution funds or by asset sales? It would be appropriate for you to 
detail to the House what those asset sales are because, as we know, even 
though the Premier came to government saying that his would not be a 
government that privatised assets, it has gone about doing just that at a 
pace. 

It is about to flog the Treasury building, it has given away title to at 
least 500 Housing Tasmania properties, it has flogged about 29 000 
hectares of public plantations. There is a big question mark hanging over 
the privatisation of public lands. We know that there is privatisation of 
public marine waterways, shared waterways, through the rapid expansion of 
fish farms. There is privatisation of public protected areas through 
exclusive use arrangements with private developers. 

I would put it to you and the House, Madam Speaker, that this is the most 
privatising, corporatist government in Tasmania's history, so could the 
Treasurer please tell the House what asset sales have contributed towards 
that bottom line and whether any of it involved public Crown land through 
a process which is, as we know, opaque?

Moving on to table 2 and some of the funding transfers that have been 
detailed here, I see that the rubber continues to meet the road in having 
to provide extra resourcing to prison services in Tasmania because the 
Liberals' tough-on-crime policies are filling our prisons with people. 
You can harrumph away there, Minister for Corrections, but it says here in 
the table:

Savings of $500 000 resulting from salary and other administrative savings 
generated during 2017-18 have been transferred from WorkSafe Tasmania to 
meet the cost of sustained increase in prisoner numbers during 2017-18.

Ms Archer - All across the nation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ms Archer says this is happening all across the nation. She 
needs to table the evidence of that. We know from Tasmania Police's 
annual report of last year that under Liberal policy, crime rates in 
Tasmania went up by 10 per cent in the space of a single year, so there is 
obviously something wrong with the policy framework here if we are 
creating an environment where more and more people are going to prison.

Ms Archer - It'd be so good under the Greens.

Ms O'CONNOR - Would you like to say that out aloud, Ms Archer?

Madam SPEAKER - Yes, Ms Archer, could I ask you -

Ms Archer - I said it would be so good under the Greens - we'd have people 
let out of prison.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms Archer, could I ask you to abide by the same rules we 
apply to every other member of the parliament? Thank you. 

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Madam Speaker. In fact a Greens minister for 
corrections took up the 'breaking the cycle' work that had begun by former 
Labor minister, Lisa Singh, who is now a senator. He introduced a change 
management process at the prison, brought in Brian Edwards, who made a 
huge difference to the culture and the operations of the prison. In fact, 
not only were the numbers of prisoners within the system going down but 
recidivism rates were improving, so the evidence speaks for itself in 
terms of management of the correctional system in Tasmania.

I note here also that there has been savings of $340 000 resulting from 
salary and other administrative savings transferred from Victim Support 
Services and the Safe at Home program to meet increases in demand 
experienced by the Guardianship and Administration Board, the Mental 
Health Tribunal and the Office of the Public Guardian. Invariably when 
there are section 19 returns brought into this House, one of the integrity 
or probity bodies will have had to come to government with a request for 
additional operational funding. This is a very good example of systemic 
and sustained underfunding of these important bodies so that each year 
they have to come back to government just so they can continue to operate 
effectively in the interests of the people of Tasmania. 

It has happened to the Office of the Ombudsman and to the Integrity 
Commission. They have been to the office of the Equal Opportunities 
Commissioner, as I recall - and I am happy for the Attorney-General to 
correct me on that - but our integrity bodies should be properly funded. 
We should not have an Ombudsman's office where you can send off a right to 
information review in 2014, as now Senator Nick McKim did in relation to 
the expressions of interest process for development in protected areas, 
and there is still not an answer because there is a huge backlog in the 
Ombudsman's office for examining agency and ministerial decisions on RTI 
applications. As we know, ministers understand that obtaining a review of 
a right to information decision is going to take years and in all 
likelihood they will not be the minister when the decision comes down, so 
we are dealing with a system that has been undermined by a government that 
has no commitment to its transparency and accountability unless it suits 
them. They are underfunding the integrity body, the Office of the 
Ombudsman, and delegating decisions so that they cannot be internally 
reviewed. I can hear you sighing heavily, Ms Archer, but these are the 
facts.

I note that the Tasmanian Planning Commission has a cumulative cut to it 
of $210 000 and that is salary savings in the first instance in table 2, 
and that money has gone into the Planning Policy Unit. Let us be really 
clear about what has happened here: the independent statutory planning 
body, the Tasmanian Planning Commission, has had money taken away from it 
and that money has been put into the department and the advisory capacity 
for the Minister for Planning. This is undermining and eroding 
independent planning system in Tasmania. It is diminishing the capacity 
of the Tasmanian Planning Commission to do its work effectively and it is 
a continuation of the erosion of independence in our planning system that 
has been happening over the past five years, where we have gone from 
having one of the most robust, fair and independent planning systems in 
the country to having a planning framework that is being written by and 
for developers with explicit intent to shut out public appeal rights and 
concerned constituencies in relation to planning decisions.

We also see here a savings from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to 
again go back in to a political and government agenda. It says here $40 
000 is saved from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner transferred to 
assist with meeting the costs of increased resources required to implement 
the Government's legislative reforms. Why should the Anti-Discrimination 
Commissioner pay for that? That is a very reasonable question, so perhaps 
the Treasurer could address his mind to that. What are these legislative 
reforms that require taking money away from the Equal Opportunities 
Commissioner? Why is an independent statutory office having its funding 
cut to support the Liberals' legislative agenda, flawed as it is?

Also, could the Treasurer please explain why $100 000 has been taken out 
of the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service to assist with meeting the 
cost of increased use of priority postage due to changes in Australia Post 
delivery time frames following the same-sex marriage reforms? Why is the 
state paying for that? Why is the state compensating Births, Deaths and 
Marriages for a federal policy that was too gutless to just let the 
federal parliament do its work and institute marriage equality? A 
political decision at the federal level was made to send it out to a 
plebiscite, which caused division and psychological damage in our 
community and now the state is being made to pay Births, Deaths and 
Marriage $100 000 for a federal plebiscite. It is very hard to understand 
and perhaps the Treasurer could explain that. 

We see here in a continuation of column 2, after $110 000 had been taken 
out of the Planning Commission and put into the Planning Policy Unit, 
there is also $100 000 taken out of the taken out of the Tasmanian 
Planning Commission to put into the Magistrates Court. Why is the 
Magistrates Court not being given sufficient, ongoing, recurrent base 
funding so money is not having to be taken from the Planning Commission 
and put into the Magistrates Court? This section 19 return has a whole 
lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul imbedded in it. 

In the Health and Human Services output, Housing Tasmania has requested $
1.7 million as reimbursement for the payment of stamp duty relief to a 
community housing provider for properties transferred under the community 
housing stock leverage program? The notes here say there is a zero dollar 
impact on the budget. Was that for the transfer of title? Can the 
Treasurer please give the House more detail on whether that relates to 
title transfer or management transfer? If it is stamp duty relief, logic 
would tell us it is related to title transfer. Can the Treasurer give us 
some details on what community housing provider and how many properties 
were subject to this stamp duty relief, which means it is in your 
portfolio and do not fob it off to your colleague?

Mr Gutwein - If we have the information I will provide it.

Ms O'CONNOR - I also have questions about the $30 000 assistance to remove 
damaged trees at the Tasmania Golf Club. Who owns the Tasmania Golf Club?

Mr Gutwein - It is a community organisation that made a request after a 
bad storm, as I understand it.

Mr Hidding - All the trees had died through lack of water and they were 
about to start falling on people's heads. It was very dangerous; a 
massive stand of dead trees.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. In table 4, Parks and Wildlife Management, there is 
the sum of just under $2 million allocated to the Parks and Wildlife 
Service for fire suppression activities. This is déjà vu. Why are we 
dealing with another request from Parks and Wildlife simply to be able to 
perform its basic statutory land management duties in the lands it manages
? We are in a period in which the intergovernmental panel on climate 
change dropped the most bombshell-depressing report last week, which tells 
the people of the world they have 12 years to save the planet, yet the 
Parks and Wildlife Service is still having to come, cap in hand to 
government for fire management resourcing. I hope the Treasurer agrees we 
can do better than that and there should be substantially increased 
resourcing to the Parks and Wildlife Service, to Forestry Tasmania for its 
fire fighting capacity, and to the State Emergency Service. We need 
resources put into fire prevention, community protection and landscape and 
natural resource protection as a priority. 

As to energy policy and advice, I note in the paperwork it says, 'This 
request for additional funds of $885 000 reflects consulting expenses to 
provide independent legal advice to the Energy Security Cabinet Committee 
relating to BassLink'.[TBC] In the old days, we used to have that sort of 
expertise in-house. In the old days, in the former department of 
infrastructure, energy and resources, in saying the old days it is only 
five years ago, there was policy advice capacity of a highest standard. 
Many of the good policy people went out of what was then known as DIER, 
now it is State Growth, so we lost a breadth and depth of advice and 
experience. It is hard to escape the conclusion that spending nearly $1 
million on consultants in seeking advice on energy issues points back to 
the 400 people who lost their jobs in the Department of State Growth and 
the economic development, infrastructure, energy and resources restructure
. State Growth lost a huge number of quality staff and policy expertise 
and the taxpayers of Tasmania are paying for that through increased 
consultancy fees. 

Could the Treasurer please tell the parliament why Government went out for 
independent legal advice, purchased advice, presumably legal advice, when 
we have here the office of the Crown Solicitor, the Solicitor-General? We 
have in-house counsel in a number of government agencies. Why are we 
paying for legal advice when we have impartial advice of the highest 
quality available to government? Why is the Government outsourcing legal 
advice and policy advice?

Finally, the House should know details of the compensation payment to a 
landowner under section 41 of the Nature Conservation Act 2002 due to the 
presence of threatened species or threatened native vegetation on their 
property. It raises a whole lot of questions. First, while I recognise 
there are provisions within the Nature Conservation Act for compensating 
landowners for decisions that are made by government that might impact on 
their capacity to profit from their land or manage their land, if a 
landowner is informed there are threatened species on their property, 
whether it be threatened flora or fauna, why should the taxpayers pay $
2.5 million or really, any amount of compensation to a private landowner 
for that? If a private landowner did not already know they had threatened 
or vulnerable species on their property, they were operating in ignorance 
or had chosen not to understand the nature of their property. To then 
come to government and demand or request an extra $2.5 million, it is a 
huge sum of money. Maximum transparency on that compensation payment is 
in the best interests of transparency, accountability and the taxpayers of 
Tasmania.