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Appropriation (Supplementary Appropriation for 2021-22) Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 5 May 2022

Tags: Treasury, State Budget, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, the Greens will be supporting this supplementary appropriation bill but we have a mountain of questions about it. As Mr Winter has said, I thank the Treasurer for providing substantial information. That is appropriate and something that past treasurers have not been in the habit of doing for some time, which disrespected this process of parliament in overseeing these appropriations.

This is an enormous amount of money. I do not think that anyone would disagree that in the current context, $441 700 000 is very substantial. The question for me is the extent to which of these things that have come upon the Government in the course of undertaking business could not have been foreseen and which could have been foreseen.

With regard to the latter, I note the $125 million allocation to the Department of Health. This is ostensibly to cover costs associated with the management of COVID-19. It is a matter of record that every year the Government under-allocates money to the Department of Health and every year the Government requires a supplementary allocation usually in the order of $100 million or thereabouts. It changes from year to year.

It indicates a Liberal government that is unwilling to do what is required in the Budget in resourcing at least what can be foreshadowed, which is the necessary obvious increases in medical supplies and in staffing costs. Unfortunately, typically medical supplies in the health sector are subject to far greater CPI increases than other goods in the economy. Medical supplies were in the 12 per cent CPI increase when other departments might have been adjusting in days gone by with CPI in the 2 to 3 per cent increases or 4 to 5 per cent increases. Far greater costs are associated with medical hardware. That is a small part of the under-allocation of resourcing every year in the Health department.

The largest part is an unwillingness from the Liberals to understand the inexorable curve; the increase of people who will be coming through the door year on year because of our ageing and sicker population than other states in Australia. We have to plan for that principally through prevention. The job of any government should be to do what we can to keep people well and only using hospitals and other health services as a last resort.

It takes me back to the good old days when minister Ferguson in the early years as minister for Health was talking about the laudable aim of Tasmania having the best health for the country by 2025. Remember those days? They were the good old days - visions for preventive health. A fantastic committee was established with some very eminent Tasmanians, specialists and people in epidemiology and a whole manner of other clinical and general practice and specialist expertise. They made a whole lot of recommendations about how that could be done. After the recommendations were made that advisory committee was quietly shelved. The report was never picked up by the minister and the Department of Health. That idea ended up wafting away from Liberal policy. It was there in 2014 and disappeared under Will Hodgman in 2018. Off it goes; that is too hard. That actually requires systemic change and a much more substantial investment in health.

So $125 million supplementary appropriation in this budget represents, for example, just about half of the $220 million that was taken out of the health budget by the Liberals when they came to government in 2014. It just goes to show that penny pinching in the wrong areas is something that you, as a government, will pay the worst sort of dividends for down the line in the future.

Here we are today, nearly eight years since the Liberals have been in government, and they still do not get it. Serial underinvestment in the health budget and the resourcing that we need into ambulances, nursing staff, so that we can actually pay nurses in Tasmania to keep them here; to pay them the same wage rate that nurses on the mainland get paid, and also so that their working conditions make it bearable for people who give their lives caring for us every single day to continue to work when the current ratio of nurses and midwives to patients is unacceptable. It is dangerous. It is against the national standards that have been set, the benchmarks for quality in health care and safety for patients.

Because you cannot be surprised if accidents happen or patients get sicker because they have not been able to be attended to in as timely a fashion, with as much diligence and care as they require in order to prevent secondary infections or some other health outcomes to occur post-surgery or during their time in a hospital or a health centre. That is why we need to put the investment into our health services, and I really hope that the Treasurer will not be cutting any corners in that portfolio in the upcoming budget.

I wanted to talk about the money that has gone into vaccinations, testing, hospitals, contact tracing, quarantine, et cetera. There are large amounts of money that have been spent on COVID-19 health funding and they had to be spent. That is just the price of dealing with a pandemic.

However, the way that the Government is managing the current situation in the global COVID 19 pandemic demonstrates total cognitive dissonance, and it is actually written right here in front of us in the text. What we have is a government on the one hand, which recognises the costs of the pandemic and talks about the extension - here we go, $42.8 million to the Department of Communities to extend the Tasmanian Hotel Quarantine program. However, the next phrase says, 'which was a key tool in ensuring the safety of Tasmanians as we managed the impact of COVID-19 in our state'.

It is not past tense, we did not manage it. We are managing it. It is not finished; it is ongoing. There is a future here and it is very anxiety-provoking for Tasmanians when this Government continues to give mixed messaging about the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It cannot be over because people are still getting infected, new variants are still emerging and arriving in Australia. We have had four new sub-variants or variants of COVID-19 arriving in Australia and reported just this week.

We cannot have the continual warped politics of the Liberals and the Labor Party in all states of Australia who collectively are happy to just pretend that they can put the pandemic on hold and get on with a federal election campaign, make merry with politics while Australians and Tasmanians are dying at far higher rates than from any other disease, illness or incident in Australia. Far higher than car crashes, people are dying of COVID-19.

We have had 140 000 people already infected in Tasmania, the largest number of them since we reopened our borders only four months ago. I want to make the point very clearly to the Treasurer that if $125 million on COVID-19 management seems like a lot of money, some of it is avoidable. Some of that could have been avoided because communities that have public health protections in place that are effective, those communities will slow the spread of infection. Fewer people will be infected, fewer cases of long COVID-19 will occur, fewer people will end up in hospital. There will be less people who need to isolate, more workplaces will be able to function more effectively, more people will be able to be out and about in the community.

There are things that we can do. If the Treasurer wants to cut the cloth on COVID-19 spending the best thing he could do would be to have a chat to the Premier - the minister for Health - and remind him that we need to up our COVID-19 protections, not remove them.

I cannot go past the language of the Treasurer who says, 'while we recognise that our economy is strong'. Really? Isn't it time to actually talk about reality? We have a desperate cost of living crisis in Australia and Tasmania is the most expensive place on the country to live. Which part of the economy? Which strength are we talking about? Are we talking about the strength in the lack of houses that are available?

It is completely false to talk about our economy being strong when you have people who cannot get housing. People are struggling to do basic things. They are not driving their car because they cannot afford to fill the tank of petrol. That means they are not participating in the community and they are not enabling their children to do a whole range of activities. They cannot do these things themselves and they cannot get their children places either.

I know it is the federal election but we should expect second reading speeches to have integrity in the language that is used.

Then we have $7 million dollars for Parks and Wildlife Service revenue loss. This has been provided to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment for the impact of COVID-19. I am assuming - and, Treasurer, could you please confirm if this is the case - that this occurred because of a reduction in people attending - well, exactly what is it from? Could you please provide us with some more information? I assume it was over summer, after the chaos with the borders reopening and the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections in Tasmania which kept Tasmanians at home and people stayed home in droves to avoid becoming infected. Many people have pointed out that we had an opportunity to slow down the reopening of the borders. Obviously they need to be open, we do not want to live as an isolated island, but it is about how we do these things, and we opened up a population that had not been exposed to COVID-19 without any mask requirements at all in the first five days, so that is one of the reasons it took off as fast as it did. I would appreciate an understanding of where that revenue loss came from. Did it come from tourists buying Parks passes? It would be interesting to understand that.

With regard to COVID-19 management and the $8 million to the Department of Education to implement a range of actions in response to COVID-19, particularly improvements to ventilation, the provision of air purifiers, air conditioning repairs, window audits and repairs, that is excellent, that money has been spent and that is fantastic. It is depressing and concerning on behalf of our children in schools that the Government did not pick this up in the last budget. We talked about this, have been talking about this, the Aus Sage group were on record from early last year warning that we needed to do upgrades of these government spaces, and indoor spaces particularly and especially schools, because children are very vulnerable and are sitting in classrooms in a static air system.

I would have thought $8 million is a small amount of money to do the job that needed to be done and I expect we will be seeing more of that in the upcoming Budget. If he has the figures I would appreciate if the Treasurer could provide any more information because I know a large amount of it had to go into window repairs and enabling windows to be open. How much of it went to the costs of air conditioning repairs and air purifiers versus the kind of mechanics of opening up spaces and changing spaces? You might not have that information there.

Mr Ferguson - No. It would be a good Estimates question, but I do not have that level of detail today.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is fine, okay. I have to digress for a moment and make some comments about Mr Winter's contribution, because in relation to the COVID-specific funding allocations to the Tasmanian Risk Management Fund of $105 million to reflect the actuarial assessment of increasing liabilities relating to our workers compensation debt and ongoing requirements, this is not my portfolio area but I recognise that this is a massive issue for the state, an ongoing legacy issue, and we will be required to meet those costs, as we should. Could the Treasurer please explain why $105 million extra had to be provided into that fund? I guess it was workers compensation for extra time that people were having off above and beyond the standard workplace conditions as a result of COVID-19 isolations; I am assuming that is what it would be.

Mr Ferguson - I do not think so but I will investigate that.

Dr WOODRUFF - The $105 million is substantial, it is a quarter of it. It says it is to reflect the increasing liabilities relating to workers compensation. It is concerning. I have heard it said that Mr Winter is a hard-right economic rationalist. I have never yet had the experience -

Mrs Alexander - Who said that?

Dr WOODRUFF - It has been said he is on the hard right of Labor; I have heard that said. I am not on the inside track of Labor Party gossip but I was really shocked at the internal inconsistency in Mr Winter's speech. On the one hand he attacked the Treasurer for not cutting expenditure harder enough and was absolutely outraged. That is exactly how he started, by attacking the Treasurer for not cutting it hard enough, but then he said that government spending is so much more but we cannot see it, it is about the management. So on the one hand he wants the Treasurer to cut spending because of the debt burden and on the other hand he wants there to be more money spent. Which is it? It is confusing.

Tasmanians need to know that it seems Labor is prepared to play politics on the issue of debt and it is important that it is not the number underneath the line that matters. It is what it is being spent on. Maybe Mr Winter could correct the record some time, if he cares to, to make sure people understand that is where he is coming from. It seems from his earlier contribution that he is just into cutting for the sake of cutting to make sure the number below the line is as small as possible.

On behalf of Tasmanians who are struggling to get a house and struggling to get health care services, that is a very dangerous position to take from somebody who, I guess, hopes to one day be a future treasurer of Tasmania. What we need for Tasmanians is to be looking at the issues that are important. We need to have fundamentally, as Mr Winter says, more money into health and education, but we cannot look at the budget without understanding that some things like responding to a COVID-19 pandemic are expenses that have to be met. From the Greens' point of view, we would put working towards making sure every Tasmanian has a house as one of those expenses.

Mr Speaker, there was $8 million allocated for Tasmanian Prison Service demand pressures. What can we say? That speaks for itself. The Minister for Corrections and Rehabilitation has an appalling track record behind her for completely disregarding human rights commitments that we have made internationally. She has demonstrated time and again from her actions that as far as she is concerned prisoners in Risdon Prison are there to be locked up and the key may as well be thrown away.

The rehabilitation there for people so far has been appalling, but here we have $1.2 million to implement a wellbeing support program. Let us just hope that today's announcement of ending the idea of putting a northern rehabilitative centre at the Westbury Brushy Creek Reserve has meant there has been an epiphany and the minister has decided to get into the twenty-first century and understand that therapeutic rehabilitation, which means putting money into services so that people have the skills and abilities to leave prison and integrate with the community, is good for everybody. It is good for the offenders so that they can return to the community and have a very low chance of reoffending; it is excellent for the community because there is less crime; and the best result is for the budget because the rivers of money we put into Risdon Prison could be spent on much more important things in society.

In this supplementary appropriation, we have allocated $2.3 million to the Environment Protection Act to structurally separate the organisation from the former Department of DPIPWE, now the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. This has to be authentic otherwise we are wasting our $2.3 million. This could be called $2.3 million on a PR exercise.

We sincerely hope, for the Tasmanian environment, that is not the case. We have international corporations like JBS - the biggest protein producer on the planet - coming here; the Batista brothers, who are on record for their corruption, bribery, fraud, and workplace negligence. When you have those people coming to Tasmania, you sure as hell need some pretty good regulations to make sure they do not use the tactics they have used everywhere else, including in the United States. They have been serially fined in courts, found guilty and fined for breaching the Environment Protection Act, for dumping effluent in the United States. That is what they did on King Island.

It is unbelievable that the Liberals would not be concerned about JBS coming to Tasmania. That is exactly why there has to be a separation of policy and oversight, as well as this structural and organisational separation. The state of expectation which currently stands over the board of the EPA, so that there are no directions to the director of the EPA to put the productivity of business ahead of protection of the environment.

Treasurer, there is a $322 000 forward appropriation for spending on the northern correctional facility project. The minister has finally walked back on the crazy idea of putting a correctional facility in a nature conservation area, and in Westbury, which the community never accepted. We would really like to see, at least in the language describing the northern correctional facility, the words 'therapeutic' and 'rehabilitation'. We would like to see that driving the formation of any northern facility. We do recognise the need for northern prisoners to be able to be visited by their family, for people to be nearer to their communities. That would be a great thing, but it needs to be in an environment which is fundamentally not repeating the mistakes of Risdon Prison. We do not want to build another Risdon Prison, because then we get another powder keg.

Environments create human behaviour, they set people's emotions, they set the frame for culture and for the way that people are conditioned within the buildings. That is what all the evidence from the Scandinavian countries has shown. They should know, because some of them have successfully ended having, anything like the prisons we have in Australia. Instead, they have much more hotel-like situations. I have one last question for the Treasurer, and that is the $2.3 million allocation for GFG alliance, for TEMCO. I do not understand why we were providing support to that. GFG alliance bought the Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Company - TEMCO - and we are pleased that the 250 workers at the smelter have continuation of their employment. We want to understand why the Government made that contribution in particular.