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Appropriation (Further Supplementary Appropriation for 2022-23) Bill 2023

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 23 March 2023

Tags: State Budget, Treasury, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Thank you, Dr Broad, for providing no solutions whatsoever but some interesting observations of this supplementary appropriation bill.

Mr Speaker, the first thing I will say is I certainly hope for young people and people who are struggling to get into the housing market, that the housing boom is over because house prices are berserk. It has shut everyday Tasmanians out of the house market and certainly absolutely snuffed the dreams of young people owning their home. I think seeing house prices fall would be a very positive thing for most Tasmanians because, at the moment, the housing market is unfair. It favours people who have three, four, five or 10 properties over those who have not even been able to buy their first home. So, hear, hear, let us hope the housing boom is over.

As the shadow treasurer, it is on you, Dr Broad, to put forward some potential solutions. Like, clearly there is a spending problem in government. There is a big debt issue and we knew at the beginning of COVID-19 when government was borrowing, when it was basically free to borrow money, that the state was taking on very significant debt and it still clearly is. No one could have foreseen the actions of the Reserve Bank Governor. I think we have just had our tenth interest rate rise. The promises that Phillip Lowe made not more than a couple of years ago certainly encouraged people who could not really afford to get into the housing market to borrow. Now there is a lot of suffering out there but there is also a massive revenue issue. The Government is now in a situation where we are halfway through a term, there is this ballooning debt and a deteriorating Budget situation. Politically, it is going to be very hard for this Government to cut spending.

What do you do? The obvious thing is you might cut some of your corporate welfare spend which we are seeing in the supplementary appropriation bill such as the handouts to the tourism sector, which is actually going very well, or you cut public sector jobs. There is not a lot of space there when you have a budget situation like we do right now.

At the time we were briefed by Treasury about the borrowings that the state was going to undertake in order to provide some support for programs and some emergency assistance for everyday Tasmanians and businesses during COVID 19, we supported those borrowings. We recognised it was important that some money was pumped into the local economy to help get us through the worst of it, but we are actually not through the worst of the pandemic. The elephant in the room here is that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is making our economy sicker and our society sicker.

We are seeing very significant impacts on essential services. The health system is under extraordinary pressure as a result of the failure of government policy to rein in a biosafety hazard level 3 pathogen. When you look at some of the data about the impact on hospitals, there have been thousands of people hospitalised, from newborns to people who have clocked nearly a century, as a result of this Government's failure to manage COVID-19. When you have that sort of pressure on the hospital system because of COVID-19, people who are waiting for elective surgery and other essential surgeries are actually being pushed to the back of the queue because you have people in acute SARS-CoV-2 distress putting extra pressure on the hospital system.

You also have teachers leaving the profession in droves. Teachers who feel under-supported, under enormous pressure, unheard by government, unsafe in classrooms where COVID 19 is rife, who are now deciding to leave the profession. It is a profession that is less attractive now to bright young Tasmanians to go into because of all the things I just listed.

You have the impact, for example, on Metro, which is also haemorrhaging its workforce for a range of reasons. We have had a briefing from Metro about this. It is losing skilled bus drivers who came here on visas. It has an ageing workforce and there is undoubtably a health impact on drivers as a result of unchecked COVID-19.

It is delusional for any government or opposition to think that letting this virus rip is sustainable economically or socially. It is utterly delusional not to have a coherent health response. You cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy population. We certainly have a sicker and weaker population as a result of this Government's failure to look after the health of the Tasmanian people. This Government has let this virus rip. There are now 280 000 reported cases of COVID-19, and those are just the reported ones. We now have about 33 per cent of infections that are reinfections. Every time someone is reinfected with COVID 19, their immune system is made weaker. This is a virus that persists in the human body. This is affecting our entire public sector, our entire society, and of course, inevitably, our economy.

It is all very well for us to be debating a supplementary appropriation bill which has made some provisions for COVID-19 recovery, for extra money into the health system to deal with the policy failure, but on an ongoing basis the budget situation will only continue to deteriorate unless this Government gets serious about getting on top of COVID-19. It is a madness for government to think that this is sustainable in any way, shape or form. It is also absolutely reckless on a human level. We have children who have had three or four COVID-19 infections. It is estimated that every infection, because of the impact on the immune system, takes seven to 10 years off our lives. Is that really what we want for our children? I do not think so - well, I did not think so.

We have esteemed academics like Professor Brendan Crabb who is sounding the alarm and saying that the life expectancy of Australians is falling rapidly. The life expectancy of the American people has fallen by three years since the start of the pandemic. For the first time in a century, human life expectancy is falling because of the greed and the political stupidity of western governments and governments like ours. Just as simple things like hygiene and pasteurisation a century ago doubled the human lifespan, in 2003 when governments globally made a decision to quarantine international travellers and require masks, it stopped the first SARS pandemic.

We have, as a society, absolutely failed on COVID-19 and our people will, regrettably, pay in the long run until government understands that you cannot have a healthy economy until you have healthy people. We have let a rapidly mutating virus get out of control. As I sit here in the House I observe a lot of coughing. I still hear it all the time and it breaks my bloody heart because while we may have our differences in here, I actually care about the people I work with. When I hear that coughing it makes me really sad. I suspect I am one of the only people - touch wood - in this place who has not been infected with COVID-19.

We have a supplementary appropriation bill here and I have never seen anything quite like it. This is a $340 million supplementary appropriation bill, which is a third of a billion dollars, about two months out from the state Budget. Dr Broad was correct in his closing observations about an apparent attempt to back-end this money into this financial year rather than make next financial year's Budget look as bad, as it inevitably will. It will look a bit less bad because of this supplementary appropriation.

We have spending in here for things that would normally be part of a state Budget for projects like the Ben Lomond shelter replacement, for example. Why is that something that is part of a supplementary appropriation? Perhaps the minister could answer that. Why has the minister for Corrections, who is overseeing a failing corrections system, not been able to foresee that there would be increased costs and has come to Government for an extra $15 million at this point in the financial year? It is extraordinary. I have never seen a supplementary appropriation bill like this.

Then we have grants programs that would normally be in a state Budget - the Major Events Partnership and Grants Programs, special partnerships for Events Tasmania, and an infrastructure upgrade for the Tasmanian Hockey Centre. That is terrific, I am glad the Tasmanian Hockey Centre is being allocated some funds in the supplementary appropriation bill for an infrastructure upgrade. Why is it something that is in a supplementary appropriation bill that was not foreshadowed in last year's state Budget and cannot be detailed in the upcoming state Budget?

Then we have those handouts to the tourism and hospitality sector, which are large sums of money. Why are they in a supplementary appropriation bill? They total over $4 million.

Mr Ferguson - Sorry, which one are you saying?

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister for Tourism, Boags Brewery Visitor Centre, tourism and hospitality strategic priorities, Tourism Innovation Grant Fund, visitor experience and training - a total supplementary appropriation of operating cost money of $4.73 million.

It is a similar question to what Dr Broad asked about why these sorts of expenditures are in a supplementary appropriation bill. It is really something.

We would like to understand a couple of things. Why a supplementary appropriation bill of such scale, $340 million, a third of a billion dollars, in an appropriation bill, two months before the actual state Budget? That is massive. I do not think I have ever seen a supplementary appropriation bill of this size.

I hope that the Treasurer can explain what assurances there have been around a significant borrowing of $160 million for Homes Tasmania, because there is $2 million for an extra interest payment. That is a very large amount of borrowing for Homes Tasmania. I understand it is not the Treasurer's portfolio responsibility, it is the minister for Housing's. Perhaps the minister who signed off on the borrowings could talk through what assurances there have been around that large amount of borrowing.

Tasracing has been given an extra $480 000. We can be absolutely sure that is not money that will go into integrity functions for Tasracing or animal welfare. As far we can ascertain, even though we did not get an answer out of the minister this morning, there is not actually a chief steward at Tasracing at the moment. Is that correct?

Mr Winter - They have just filled the harness racing chief steward but they are still missing the greyhound chief steward.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Through the Chair, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - There are a couple of things we would like to know in the Racing portfolio. The first is, what is it that the Minister for Racing actually does? Every time a question is asked of this Minister for Racing, we are told, 'These are operational matters and I cannot provide any detail'. It is a consistent theme, whether the question comes from Mr Winter, the Greens or Ms Johnston. Whether it is a question that Mr Winter asks on behalf of concerned industry participants, or Ms Johnston and the Greens ask in relation to animal welfare, consistently the answer we get back is, 'These are operational matters'. You have a minister saying, 'I am hands off on this portfolio'. Other than going to Fashions on the Field, what does this minister do in the Racing portfolio? We would very much like to know that.

We would also like to know, given the absence of animal welfare resourcing, particularly in the greyhound racing industry, how many steward inspections there have been of trainers, for example? Is it all just being allowed to continue without any oversight from the Office of Racing Integrity? Would this minister know if we asked her? Would she answer the question if we asked her? What is it that this Minister for Racing actually does in the portfolio? It is a question on quite a few people's lips. It was certainly a question being asked on the Parliament Lawns today by greyhound lovers, animal welfare advocates, who are scratching their heads about the abysmal state of animal welfare on this minister's watch and their genuine confusion about what it is that this minister does in the portfolio. We will be persevering with that line of questioning. You can be certain of that because we regard Ms Ogilvie as an incompetent minister.

There is also a revenue problem with the Government and the state Budget. We will always argue that the Government needs to have a look at other revenue sources. It needs to have some courage, bite the bullet and make the big corporations pay their fair share into the state's coffers. We will be putting out an alternative budget this year, as we do every year, and it will be fully costed. We will do things in order to raise revenue and to help balance the Budget in the interests of the Tasmanian people, such as defunding the V8 Supercars. Why should the Tasmanian people subsidise the V8 Supercars?. Why should the Tasmanian people subsidise a loss making dinosaur forestry GBE? Why are we giving away our inshore coastal waters to salmon corporations without at the very least getting a fair lease price? But we do not, it is a free for all out there.

We would be increasing mining royalties and rents by 150 per cent. That would just bring us up to the national average. This Government and Labor any time it is in office give away our wealth. The Australian Government has been doing it since forever. We are the stupid country in that way. We allow global mining corporations to dig big holes in our country and we give away our resources. For example, we give away our gas nationally. We give away our mineral wealth and we should be charging mining royalties that are at least at the national average. Why are we allowing ourselves to be taken for chumps?

We would introduce a fish farming royalty of 10 per cent on the gross value of salmonids grown in public waters. We would introduce a 75 per cent tax for property developers on any increase in the value of land that results from a change in the allowable use of land. We would also establish a state register of rezoning decisions that includes the location of land and the value of the land before and after rezoning.

We know, for example, that there are 2700 homes, according to TasWater data and the Tasmanian Tenants' Union, that are empty. Some of those homes will be empty for a perfectly legitimate reason, but places like Scotland, Ireland and Melbourne understand that you can incentivise investors and property owners to get their empty homes back into the rental market. When you look at the latest census data and the alarming increase in homelessness, surely as a government you would be looking for fair, creative and tested ways of getting homes back into the rental market as well as earning some revenues for the coffers.

We have a petition up for Government to introduce a vacant homes levy and it is going off because this levy passes the reasonable person's test, which is why it is operating in Melbourne. This is not a shack tax. This is about residential whole homes that are being left vacant because for some investors it is cheaper for them to do that because they get tax concessions. In order to help Government balance the Budget and secure more revenue for the people of Tasmania, we would defund exploration drilling grants for private mining companies, as well as the Mineral Resources Tasmania funding for the mining exploration and quarrying sectors.

We would certainly like to get back the $100 000 that the people of Tasmania gave to Hobart City councillor Louise Elliot for her phony landlords' advocacy group. That is $100 000 that Louise Elliot basically used to get herself elected onto council. I am very interested to know whether there has ever been an accounting for that money. Where are the receipts? Good question, Dr Broad. Louise Elliot, owner of multiple investment properties that she rents out, no doubt at top dollar, somehow or other got $100 000 out of this Liberal Government to represent landlords. That one sure fails the sniff test. Unfortunately, what happened is that the people of Tasmania subsidised Louis Elliot's campaign for council and, in so doing, she was elected to council and stood there with that disgusting human being, Kellie-Jay Keen 'Posie Parker' the other day -

Ms Archer - You used Ralphs Bay as a platform to get elected.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is very interesting.

Dr Woodruff - She didn't get paid from the public purse.


Ms O'CONNOR - I am so thankful for that interjection, Mr Deputy Speaker. I worked for nothing as part of a community group to help save Ralphs Bay from Walker Corporation's massive Gold Coast-style canal estate in the Ralphs Bay Conservation Area at Lauderdale. I cannot imagine the thousands of hours I willingly put into that campaign because I was part of a community that recognised those flats are a place for birds, for beauty and for nature. I never asked for a cent and I did not want a cent.

It cost me a lot of money, personally, to be part of that campaign. I did not use it because I wanted to get into politics. I do not think like the Liberals. In fact, it is a matter of public record that when Bob Brown first rang me to ask if I would run for parliament for the Greens, I said no because I did not want to be a politician. I was not doing it to serve myself like Louise Elliot was and I certainly did not have $100 000 of public money to help me get elected. Years of my life, impact on my family - every minute of it volunteer work.

In order to help balance the Budget bottom line, we would reverse the land tax cuts. That again tells us that this is a government that is more concerned with supporting the property class than it is in finding homes, providing homes and providing relief for Tasmanians who cannot afford the rent. For investors, over the past five or six years the value of their properties has gone through the roof, so they are getting free money for doing nothing but sitting on properties and this Government gave them two land tax cuts. We would certainly reverse those land tax giveaways from this Government.

I tell you what else we would not do: we would not be allowing this state to borrow even more money to spend on a stadium. Have a look at the state of the state's finances now and this Government wants to put us into more debt, and it is not going to be a $750 million build, we know that. It will be at least $1 billion, so say the state's contribution is half of that. The people of Tasmania are being forced to go into another half a billion dollars of debt when you have a state Budget that is bottoming out already. It is utterly shameful and shameless that you could have a government dealing with the rate of homelessness and housing distress that we have right now that wants to borrow another $500 million and put this stadium into even more debt. I mean, seriously!

Possibly on the stadium alone, I think the Liberals are going to get absolutely thumped at the next state election, and they will deserve it. Hopefully, Labor will lift its game between now and then and provide a credible opposition that may make a credible government. Certainly from the Greens' point of view we will be consistent and we will always stand up for the people of Tasmania.