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2018-19 Budget Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Tags: Alternative Budget, State Budget, Climate Change, Electric Vehicles, Hobart Light Rail

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to present the Tasmanian Greens' fully costed alternative budget on behalf of Dr Woodruff, our team and the Tasmanian Greens. I am happy to table this document at the end of my contribution.

A state budget is about so much more than the bottom line. It is a statement of values that shapes the direction of a place and its people over the term of a government and beyond. The Greens unashamedly place a higher value on this island and its people than we do on roads, bridges and corporate welfare.

In a twenty-first century budget, we must place the highest possible value on delivering a safe climate for our children and grandchildren. Action on climate is at the heart of the Greens' 201819 alternative budget. The future health and prosperity of our island and its people requires a sustained, evidence-based investment in doing all we can to reduce our carbon emissions and adapt to the changing climate. On this critical measure, we deliver. A Greens' budget prioritises investment in community and conservation. It recognises the jobs of the future are dependent on a healthy environment and protecting Tasmania's clean, green, wilderness brand.

Our alternative budget is serious about land use planning. For the good of us all today and in future, planning must prioritise environmental protection, public participation and it must value our shared public assets. It is past time to reset the balance, away from taxpayer-enabled generosity to corporations, private developers and foreign interests and toward the public good of Tasmanians.

The Greens recognise having a place to call home is a fundamental human right currently denied to a growing number of people. Rather than splash tens of millions of dollars into public funding for a cable car at Cradle Mountain and commercial developments in the wilderness, the Greens would invest in community and preventative health, quality public education and child safety. We would increase the supply of secure, affordable energy-efficient housing.

The booming visitor economy is not trickling down to benefit everyone. It is having a heavy impact on our parks and regional areas. We need to reframe the equation and require international travellers to chip in for the privilege of spending time on our beautiful island. This would mean having more money to put into quality health and community services that Tasmanians rely on.

We place the highest value on protecting democratic institutions and the human rights of all citizens in a free and equal society. We believe these are values all  fair-minded Tasmanians share. We are proud to present this fully costed alternative budget and, although we only have a small team, I am proud of its contents and the vision it sets out for Tasmania well into the twenty-first century.

We will re-establish the climate change ministry with extra staffing. We will fund a climate-ready Tasmania plan for the planning and implementation of a wide range of climate measures, including actions to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. We will ensure the Department of State Growth undertakes a comprehensive audit of the state's transport and infrastructure assets to ensure they are climate-ready and resilient for the future. We will support our primary producers and farmers to develop a statewide carbon farming plan with key sectors and this would be delivered through the climate office. We will invest $10 million into restoring landscapes degraded by the resource extracted industries of the past. We know this will create green jobs. To fund our climate initiatives we will wind up Forestry Tasmania, end government native forest logging programs and reduce funding to the forest policy and reform output, saving $105 million over the forward Estimates.

To ensure our cities, towns and our economy are ready for the future - a clean energy, zero-carbon future - we will prioritise investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure allocating $30 million over the forward Estimates. We will bring forward work on the Hobart light rail. We will ensure tertiary students are given free travel to and from their learning. We will invest $1 million into a grant program for commercial installation of electric vehicle charging stations and $500 000 a year towards home changing stations. We will ensure Metro Tasmania modernises by funding an electric bus fleet pathway. We will restart the hugely successful cost of living and climate measure undertaken by the Labor-Greens government to deliver free energy efficiency upgrades to low income households, community groups and small businesses, investing $12 million over the forward Estimates. This critical program brings down household energy costs over a sustained period of time. It is not a one-off. It makes for healthier households and it delivers on our obligation under the Paris Agreement to reduce our carbon emissions.

We believe people who buy Hummers and V8s should pay for the high emissions their vehicles generate. In a staged manner, we would adjust vehicle registration fees and levies to take into account vehicle emissions and savings from not funding the V8 Supercars. We believe government must show leadership and purchase electric vehicles through its procurement programs in order to reseed the transport fleet.

There is no question this state Budget delivered by the Liberals prioritises roads and building bridges over people. It fails to invest what is desperately needed in increasing the supply of secure, affordable and energy efficient housing. We will invest an extra $100 million over the forward Estimates to increase the supply of affordable housing, so Tasmanians are not sleeping at the Domain, at the Showgrounds or in cars because they cannot find or afford a home. We will, because it is necessary, proceed to regulate short stay accommodation to ensure houses that would make homes for people are not going onto the short stay market.

It is essential we protect the rights of tenants. There are people living in rental properties right now who live in fear of losing their house because of the move to short-stay accommodation. Their rents are increasing and they are under significant housing stress. The Residential Tenancy Act as it currently stands provides inadequate protections for the rights of tenants and prioritises the rights of landlords over people in rental properties. The balance must be reset. In order to fund some of these initiatives, we will institute a vacant residence tax so that investors who leave their properties vacant, properties that would otherwise make rental homes, have to pay a premium for doing that.

The future of our children and young people is the future of this island. They are our future. We recognise that the child safety system has been chronically underfunded and under-resourced for far too long. As a result of that failure of priorities and government policy, there are children at risk who are placed further at risk because of the failure to prioritise their wellbeing and invest in child safety officers. We will invest $

16.28 million over the forward Estimates to recruit 500 new child safety officers and $2.72 million over the four years to recruit 10 administrative officers in Child Safety Services. We do not believe the budget allocation made to increase of the out-of-home care age limit to 21 is adequate, therefore we will properly fund an increase in the age limit from 18 to 21 years to ensure those young people who are the responsibility of the state have their support and resource needs met to ensure they have the best possible chance of a successful life.

We also recognise there are parents who lose their children for a range of reasons who have no support within the system in Tasmania. There are parents who are highly distressed and confused because they appear to have no rights and they have no support. If we are serious about reuniting families, because we know that children placed in out-of-home care very often want to be with their families, we need to provide support to parents who find themselves in the child safety system because of their own failings as a parent or the neglect of their children. We will fund advice and advocacy services to support parents in the child safety system over the forward Estimates, investing nearly $1 million.

With an increasing number of government services outsourced to the community sector, it is critical we can be sure there is quality in the community sector, and if people are accessing government-funded services through the community sector they need to be able to have answers provided about the quality of that service. There must be a community services commissioner in Tasmania in order to improve the system and make sure it is the best it can be in delivering services to people who need it. We will fund a community services commission with $4.2 million over the forward Estimates.

Tasmania's national parks and our Wilderness World Heritage Area are precious beyond measure. They are integral to our sense of identity as Tasmanians. Yet under the Liberals in government they are seen merely as a cash cow. It is Liberal policy to unleash commercial development in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and other national parks, which runs an enormous risk of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. We believe our parks need significantly more investment and therefore we will fund an additional 15 Parks rangers and 15 additional field officers as well as an additional recurrent funding into Parks. We will make sure any commercial activities within our Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and our protected areas come under a proper, statutory planning process which puts public participation and the protection of natural cultural values front and centre. We will fund a new legislative and public planning assessment process for all commercial activities in parks and it will make sure that the people of Tasmania are given a voice which right now they are denied.

We will also establish a stand-alone department of the environment and an independent environment protection authority that Tasmanians can trust to be making good decisions that places the protection of Tasmania's marine and terrestrial environments as an absolute priority. At the moment, for better or worse there is a view developing in the community that the state's EPA has been politicised and is prioritising the needs of industry over the environment. We need to reset the balance.

We also need to better understand the state of our environment here in Tasmania. The State of the Environment Report was a very significant and important piece of work that used to be undertaken by the Tasmanian government and it has not been in recent years. We will reinstitute the State of the Environment Report. We will also make sure that the Threatened Species Unit in the Department of Environment is adequately funded so it can protect our unique, iconic - found nowhere else in the world - threatened, endangered and critically endangered species such as the giant wedge-tailed eagle, the freshwater crayfish, the spotted pardalote and all those extraordinary Tasmanian animals we should be so proud to share this island with but which have been neglected and under-prioritised.

Tasmania's clean, green brand is the foundation of all future prosperity. It drives growth in the agricultural sector and in the tourism sector. It is where the jobs of the future are wholly dependent. There has been a substantial underinvestment in protecting Tasmania's biosecurity over the term of the past government and as a result of that we have seen a blueberry rust outbreak which was not adequately dealt with, a fruit fly outbreak which is still persisting, and only this week we have seen that as a result of the flooding the first-ever specimens of the invasive soft-shell clam were found in the Prosser River. We are told in a statement by the minister responsible for biosecurity, Ms Courtney, that a specimen was apparently found in the same area in 2013. It begs the question, what happened in the five years between when the first specimen of this invasive species was found and now? It seems on the evidence that in that period of time that invasive species was able to gain a foothold in the Prosser River at least which for our aquaculture industry will undoubtedly set off alarm bells.

Our marine environment is near pristine, but our waters are warming and we do not understand fully the health of our marine environment. We have failed to adequately protect the marine environment. The Liberals in government have done no work on bioregional science. They have not progressed the marine protected areas strategy and this is essential. If we are to have healthy marine environments in the future that are resilient to a changing climate, warming waters and acidification and if we are to have the best chance of providing fish for the future, we need to better protect Tasmania's marine environment. It was not that long ago that government in Tasmania recognised the need for marine protected areas and a number of those would be no-take marine protected areas.

In places like New Zealand where they have been on this journey, politics initially created a divisive debate. Fishermen in New Zealand saw the establishment of no take marine protected areas as a threat to them. The Government established no-take marine protected areas and the greatest advocate of MPAs in New Zealand today are recreational and commercial fishermen. They recognise that if you protect significant parts of the marine environment, you are protecting fish nurseries. You are ensuring to the greatest extent possible, healthy marine ecosystems. For anyone who doubts the value of establishing no-take boundaries around significant marine protected areas, and if they feel like scuba diving, go down to Crayfish Point. You will see there is almost a demarcation under the water between the no-take area and where recreational fishing is allowed. In the notake area at Crayfish Point there is a robust and quite healthy marine ecology.

We must be aiming as a state to protect our marine environment; not exploit it for private profit, not unleash a rapacious industrial fish farming industry on Storm Bay, but listen to the science and do this cautiously and prioritise the health of the marine environment over the profits of private companies.

Our planning system does not work for this place or its people. It has been written by and for developers. We see that now with the application that is before the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council on the propose Cambria Green development on the east coast of Tasmania. We need a comprehensive suite of state policies to guide all future land use planning in Tasmania. We need to make sure that our independent planning bodies are appropriately funded. If the Tasmanian people have an issue with a decision made by a planning authority, if they are concerned that proposed development where they live will affect their way of life, we need to ensure that they can receive legal advice and support. Under the Liberals in government, the Environmental Defenders Office has lost its funding. The likes of Dr Woodruff and I, and other donors, are what keeps the Environmental Defenders Office going by making regular donations. It is not good enough.

They do outstanding work. I was only reminded again of how critical the work of the Environmental Defenders Office is at the statewide meetings we had in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie on the proposals to develop inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and other national parks. These were information sessions to which recreational enjoyers of the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage Area and other protected areas came to better understand the threats to places that they love and the wilderness values of places that they love. The Environmental Defenders Office is a critical part of a fair and just planning system.

If Mr Gutwein thought about this rationally he would understand that funding the Environmental Defenders Office is a saving because there will be times when communities or individuals will go to the EDO with a concern and because they have been provided with good advice, it may prevent a matter from going further in the planning system. The Environmental Defenders Office ensures to the best capacity possible, in an environment where they have been defunded and the planning system works against people, that the Tasmanian people can have a measure of representation in land use planning decisions.

Under this Government, we have seen the unprecedented corporatisation of public assets: commercial exploitation; exclusive access to the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage Area; the flogging of the Treasury building; and the long-term leasing and sale of Crown land. The Crown Lands Act of Tasmania does not work to protect the public interest. It gives the minister of the day far too much power to hand over, with no public process, public assets. We will fund a review and reform of the Crown Lands Act to ensure that the public good is prioritised over private profiteering and secret deals being done through the Office of the Coordinator-General. Of course, we will discontinue funding for the Office of the Coordinator-General, because as we have long said, it is a recipe for corruption. Private developers are given the red carpet treatment. There is no public scrutiny, no transparency and no opportunity for the people of Tasmania to find out what of their assets are being traded in this secretive process where the Greens are denied information on behalf of people who are concerned under commercial-in-confidence.

It is no longer acceptable - not that it ever was - for an arm of government, paid for by the taxpayers, to be hawking public treasures and cosying along developers, like Cambria Green Tourism and Agricultural Proprietary Limited, as they trade in public assets.

Planning for the future must be at the heart of good government decision-making. One of the criticisms of this Liberal budget is that it is all short term-ism. There is no long term vision for Tasmania. There is no apparent commitment to protecting the clean green wilderness brand. We need to plan better for a growing population, increase in visitor numbers, and increased pressure on our land and our water. We need to establish a department of state planning which includes an office of the chief engineer, state architect and state demographer.

Our children are entitled to the best quality public education. While we recognise that there is a significant extra allocation in this year's Budget towards public education, it under-invests in support staff we know schools and children need - social workers, speech therapists, psychologists and extra administrative support.

We prioritise the quality public education of Tasmania's children and young people, investing $27.8 million over the forward Estimates into more support staff, teachers' assistants, social workers, speech pathologists, school psychologists and lab technicians. We will fund staff to ensure that the education system recognises that children can come to school and be victims of trauma. That trauma in their lives will affect their learning, their training, their skills development, their mental health and wellbeing and all their future life prospects. We must have a school system that applies trauma-informed teaching. We prioritise that in our alternative budget.

We also recognise that critical social infrastructure can turn around socio-economic disadvantage within a generation. I have to say, one of the best initiatives of the previous Labor government were the Child and Family Centres across Tasmania. We do not have anywhere near enough Child and Family Centres in our community. They are catalytically positive. For anyone who has been to a Child and Family Centre - I am sure everyone here has - they are profoundly important spaces for children and their parents to be together, to read books, to learn about healthy eating and healthy recreation. We will fund critical social infrastructure: 11 new Child and Family Centres at a cost of $45 million over the next four years.

The rights of Tasmanians are inadequately protected under the law as it is. There is no fundamental protection for the human rights of Tasmanians from the excesses of government and corporations. We heed the calls for a human rights act for Tasmania. It is a longstanding Greens policy and a critical part of ensuring we have a. just society. We have allocated $3.9 million over four years to establish a human rights commission and a human rights unit in the Department of Justice and roll out an education program that coincides with the implementation of the Human Rights Act. We will make sure that there is an investment in our integrity bodies, in the Office of the Ombudsman, the Health Complaints Commission and the Integrity Commission. We will make sure that the cuts to Legal Aid that are embedded in this Budget are reversed.

We recognise that public sector workers in Tasmania are every day delivering quality public services to the people of Tasmania in health, education, family support and community services, but this Government has locked them in to a 2 per cent wage cup, which is not only unjustified but unfair and poor economics. We have made a provisional allocation in our alternative budget based on the need for good-faith negotiations with public sector unions, which this Government and this Treasurer are refusing to undertake. That sends a very strong message to public sector workers in Tasmania that the Liberals in government do not value their work and are not prepared to enter into good-faith negotiations. It is simply unjustifiable when times are good not to make sure that our public servants are well paid. Madam Speaker, I seek leave of the House to table our alternative budget.