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

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 23 March 2023

Tags: State Budget, Treasury, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a few comments relevant to my portfolio areas. The amounts of money allocated in the department of Premier in relation to disaster assistance for flood impacted communities, over $10 million was for the floods in the north. I assume it was for those floods. It is a sign, from the silence of the Premier this week on the IPCC's sixth synthesis assessment report - the complete silence. It has not been mentioned by anyone except the Greens in the Chamber at all. This is the world's most important statement about the climate emergency. It has given us more terrible news about the reality of what is happening as our climate system gets ever hotter and is disassembling in ways that we cannot predict. But there is silence from the Labor party, silence from the Liberal party, nothing has been said this week about the world's most important report card on how we are travelling. We are doing really badly. The majority of people who voted for change at the last federal election understand that we are doing badly, and voted to have people in government who would make real change.

We are at a critical point in Australian politics where the Labor Party gets to show whether they are with the last decade of the Abbott-Morrison government complete climate denialism, inaction and gaslighting of Australians or whether they are going to speak for the children of the future, for the people who voted to put them there. We will see. It is in their hands. They get to choose who they listen to. They can listen to big oil and gas, who are major donors of the Labor Party and of the Liberal Party. We have in Australia, state capture at play - that is what we see in the decisions that are made by our governments and we see it in Tasmania.

We have a commitment from the Liberals, with the support of Labor, to continue with thermal coal exploration in Tasmania. We had a vote on that in 2019, and we have already seen the Government make a commitment for a number of companies wanting to extract thermal coal. For anyone who is listening, thermal coal is not the same as coking coal, and it is not the same as metallurgical coal. It is not the coal that we mine in Tasmania and use at Cement Australia at Railton, at their facility. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the same dirty coal that is still being dug up in Australia to make a fortune at the last moment by coal and gas companies to give some of their dividends to the Labor and Liberal parties to make sure they get to continue doing that harm to the planet and our children, indefinitely.

In Tasmania, the Liberals, with the support of Labor, want to do the same. They want to go in, and they are giving out exploration licences to companies that are still having a go, still trying to make a buck out of the dirtiest and most dangerous metal on the planet. The Fingal mine proponent is pushing ahead with a proposal to dig up a million tonnes of coal a year to create what he pretends would be clean hydrogen. What greenwash, what a joke. The idea that we, in Tasmania, a renewable energy state, we trade on that brand of clean and green. That at this point in the 21st century, when we have been directly told by Antonio Guterres on behalf of the thousands of international scientists who contributed to the IPCC report. The idea, after we have been told that we have to end coal and gas mining today, new mines, today, that we get a choice. We can continue to have new coal and gas mines opened up or we have a liveable future, we choose. The Greens choose life. We choose people. We choose functioning ecosystems. We do not choose dirty coal for a quick buck. We do not choose lining the pockets of the super wealthy with more super-profits and handing over some of the taxes to Tasmanians.

We are very concerned at the choices this Government is making on climate change. It is not nearly enough to see an appropriation bill like this at this point, at this juncture in humanity, of some $2 million towards the operating services of the minister for Environment and Climate Change. We need to expand that massively because we are not doing what we need to do and that is to cut our state sector's emissions. We are not cutting the emissions in industry, there is effectively no plan, there are no targets, there is no pathway for cutting the emissions in transport, the direct combustion sector in agriculture, and industrial processing. All of these industries need a pathway to transition, to reduce and ultimately to end emissions because that is the pathway that the scientists have been very clear, we are on. We are on that pathway as a planet because we have to, because we have used up all the time. We are in the red, we are already overheating.

We are very concerned that the Liberals remain silent on this. I would appreciate the minister answering some questions, whether there really has been Government support for the Paladin proposal. From the same notorious person, Dave Hodgson, who was formerly a member of the outrageously cruel Rhodesian special forces unit, a self-described terrorist, who wants to construct a new coal mine near Fingal to feed a hydrogen facility at Bell Bay. He calls it a zero emissions process. What a joke on Tasmanians' and our children's future. I would appreciate hearing from the minister whether he can provide any information about that particular -

Mr Jaensch - What is the question you want me to answer?

Dr WOODRUFF - Has there been any financial support for that million-tonne mine? Also, grants have been previously awarded to support two coal exploration projects through the exploration drilling grant initiatives. Junction Coal got $23 000 and Midland Energy got $50 000. We would like to hear whether there has been any progress and whether those monies have been fully spent. It has not been clear so far. We also want the Liberal and Labor parties to rule out thermal coal mines. They are not able to do it at the federal level. Maybe the Labor Party can look at its soul in Tasmania and make an independent decision. We live in hope.

I would like to ask some questions in relation to the energy part of the supplementary appropriation bill. There is C&I recontracting energy assistance, $6 million, and the Energy Saver Loans Scheme. We would like to understand whether there has been any money in this appropriation budget or whether the minister could answer who is funding the promotion of the Marinus Link project. Who is paying for that? Is it TasNetworks? Is it Hydro? I know there is a Marinus unit that has been established in TasNetworks. There is a massive campaign that is under way at the moment, millions of dollars I would imagine.

We know from Right to Information that $1.1 million went to 'influencers on the mainland so they could spruik it on the socials', to talk about Tasmania. That was $1.1 million in a housing crisis, $1.1 million when there are not enough nurses on the wards in our hospitals. There has also been wall-to-wall coverage on SBS advertising, YouTube, pretty much you cannot go online without seeing some soft promotion for Marinus Link and Tasmania 'repowering our future'. Who is paying for that? How much is being spent on that spin campaign at Tasmanians' expense? We know that the incredibly rubbery figure which, mind you Treasurer, you have never provided any more information to us on behalf of Tasmanians.

Mr Ferguson - About what?

Dr WOODRUFF - About the costs of the loan that has been proposed for Marinus. We talk in round billions because we have never had clarity about the actual costs. We know it is a $5 billion-odd debt to Tasmanians.

This at a time where we do not have a plan to build the climate change infrastructure that is getting pulled out of the Premier's department as a special grant for an extreme event, such as the floods up in the north. We are going to need a lot more than $10 million. There is no plan for the expansion of critical infrastructure, the future-proofing and climate-proofing of roads, bridges, culverts, seasides and infrastructure on coastal areas. That is the sort of work we need to be doing. It will cost money and we need to be making hard decisions today about who and how we engage to do that work and which areas we will continue to service in the way we are currently servicing. We need to have these conversations.

We have seen on the mainland whole communities disappear. We have seen in New Zealand whole communities gone because of extreme events. That could happen in Tasmania. We cannot pretend to ourselves that there is not a risk. We have to be planning for those communities. We have an ad hoc approach at the last minute because we have our heads in the sand about what is happening.

In the 2019 fires on the east coast of Australia whole communities were gone. We never hear the stories about what happened to those communities. They were in the headlines while they were burning and in the weeks and months later. Now nothing. Communities, regional industry burnt down and were never replaced because they were marginal at the time.

You cannot replace some of the industries that we have unless you have a plan. You cannot understand how to transition to resilient communities unless you are doing the work. This Government is not doing the work because it wants to continue with its myopic business as usual approach. It wants to pretend it can grow the population as it is planning but there will not be an increase in emissions. It wants to greenwash the idea of net zero Tasmania when emissions in some sectors have been going up since 1990.

We have had transport emissions increase by 8.2 per cent, agriculture by 3 per cent, and intensive industrial processing by nearly 6 per cent. This is on the back of the emissions that they already had in 1990. We have had successes in holding back some of these sectors. I do not mean to denigrate the work that has been done but we have to do much more. There is no way we can pretend that we are competitive in any of these areas when we are not doing the work. Many other countries are taking this incredibly seriously. Under the Liberals, there is not a plan.

We are planning to appropriate $72 million for the Department of Health for operating services and capital services. That comprises Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment extensions, frontline health workers allowances of $21 million and the COVID-19 health managed costs of $50 million. They are large figures. We could have done more to make them smaller.

The tragedy and the disgrace of this Premier is that he dropped the ball on COVID-19 and has gone to the lowest depths that premiers of other states have gone. It is pure political expediency; there is no other way to describe it. It has nothing to do with the reality of what is happening and the human costs, of people dying in recent months at the highest rate over last three years.

We have just heard we have an excess death burden of 10 per cent. Many of those deaths could have been prevented were we to have had a proper approach to understanding how an airborne virus is transmitted and doing something about it. We can and must do something about safe air. At the moment, we are all playing COVID-19 roulette and the next infection you get could possibly permanently disable you. Information just released is showing that three in five long-COVID-19 patients will have organ damage a year after infection, most of whom were not severely affected when they had COVID-19 initially.

Being symptom-free or having low COVID-19 symptoms is not a preventive factor from long-term organ damage. Most people will have almost no benefit from being vaccinated, from being infected with the virus. Clearly, the better and more recently vaccinated you are the better the chance you will not get severe disease. That is why it is so important to get vaccinated. That makes a difference to the acute severe disease. Being vaccinated is not protective against long-term impacts. A high number of people go on to have long-COVID 19, they are in their hundreds of thousands.

With every additional infection comes an increased risk of serious health effects. A recent massive study in the US showed a whole range of brain, nerve, heart, lung, kidney, blood, insulin, and muscular disorders accumulates every time we get reinfected. The Government is silent on the risks of reinfection. People in Tasmania have no clue if they have or have never had COVID-19. We need as a society to set up safe places for them to go. Humans like to be like the group. We do not like to stand out. Wearing masks in public places is uncomfortable if no one else is doing that, but wearing masks works to reduce infections. That is why they wear them in hospitals. That is why people who work in hospitals with COVID-19 patients almost never get sick. The misinformation about mask wearing and the deliberate reading of research in a narrow, cherry-picking sort of way is dangerous. That is why we need a government to set the record straight, but the Premier and the minister for Health is refusing to do that, and he is refusing to provide any support or help for people with long-COVID-19.

So many Tasmanians are suffering with long COVID-19 and we only have to look at what has happened to our health workforce and public transport. No wonder the situation with Metro has become so dire. There were long periods of time where bus drivers were unable to turn up for work because they were sick or they were recovering from being sick, or they had long-COVID-19. It was same thing in hospitals and schools. We have a cumulative effect in our society where people just get symptoms and they are tired, they have brain fog and they are exhausted when they move. They have to go back to bed. What should have been a one-week recovery ends up being three or sixth months or, for some people, it may go on indefinitely. We know there are things that can be done for people with long-COVID-19 if we cared enough to provide them with some therapeutic support.

This Government does not. This Government just wants everyone to go back to work, end the mandatory isolation period, end the information on the surveillance reports, make sure it is not often. We used to get the weekly reports. Now we do not get reports of death in Tasmania, you have to work it out yourself. There is no weekly report of deaths any more. That is so disrespectful. They are just a number added to the tally since 2020; you are just a number. There is not even the dignity of recording you as a person who has died that week: three people died, five people died, seven people died. It is too uncomfortable to keep reporting that information so they have taken that out of the weekly surveillance information. That is shameful.

The Premier announced a long-COVID-19 clinic would be established in June last year. He called it a new service. He said it was statewide. There was never a real service, there was never any face-to-face clinic. We do not have a place in Tasmania under the Public Health system for people with long-COVID-19. You are on your own, off you toddle, go try to find a GP, and go spend money on GPs who are no longer able to bulk bill because of what has been happening at the federal level, Medicare rebates making it impossible for GP services to function as they did. People are on their own.

It is not surprising that a Liberal Government would take this approach. It is surprising to think they would do anything else. Because of the Liberals' fundamentally, individualistic attitude to these issues, there is no collective response, and therefore there will be no collective leadership. That was something the Liberals tried, but they do not want to continue because it gets in the way of business-as-usual. It gets in the way of funnelling money to private organisations, to health services to do the work, to private companies to run housing and to deliver charity. If there is a problem they can just point outside of the public service.

We have essentially a rump of services, but on behalf of people with long-COVID-19, I find it really disrespectful and appalling that the Premier gaslit the idea of long-COVID-19 when there was never anything coming. It was a statewide navigation service, online. Go online, read some material about having long-COVID-19. That is not a service; that is a fob-off.

Just so the Premier understands the situation, because he clearly does not, this is the statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the International Emergency Committee regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, from January. It is their most recent statement and they are very clear that the pandemic is ongoing. The Premier, mistakenly, referred to it as something that was in the past. They also said that:

… COVID-19 remains a dangerous infectious disease with the capacity to cause substantial damage to health and health systems. [OK]

They are very clear about the impact on health systems around the world:

Persistent health workforce shortages and fatigue and competing priorities, including other disease outbreaks, continue to stretch health systems in many countries. [OK]

That is why they emphasise the importance of maintaining capacities developed during the COVID-19 response and their plea is they say:

… there little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in human and animals for the foreseeable future. (OK)

A long-term public health action is critically needed. We cannot turn our back on COVID-19 because it will not turn its back on us. It will continue to infect and reinfect humans. If we only look at the acute disease numbers of people who end up in hospitals, we are missing the reality of the effects on people's lives, on our whole community and its functioning and also on the disease burden which I would have thought would be something the Department of Health would take a passing interest in because it is just adding five to 10 to 15 per cent in each of the chronic and acute health areas that are costing us so much as a government to fund.

We are adding to those people who continue to need to walk through emergency department doors every year, growing as we have an older population, growing as our population gets sicker, which is what the figures tell us. We are adding to that by our inaction on COVID-19. What we need to do is have money in the Budget in the supplementary bill towards safe care; ventilation and filtration systems in schools, in hospitals where they are not at the moment and in public buildings and public places. Children, especially, are incubators. Adults get sick; parents get sick; school places, especially, must have an air-safe plan - they do not and we would really like the Government to pick up the ball on that in the Budget.