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Budget Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Tags: Alternative Budget, State Budget, Climate Change, COVID-19, Housing, Tasmanian Aboriginals

Budget Reply, Cassy O'Connor MP, 18 November 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise with great pride to deliver the Tasmanian Greens' fully costed, triple-bottom-line, alternative budget. I seek the leave of the House to table our alternative budget and I believe that has been secured.

Leave granted.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. The year 2020 began with a firestorm that devastated communities, forests and wildlife from the south coast of Victoria to the south east of Queensland. Australians barely had a moment to absorb the terrifying magnitude of the climate-induced catastrophe before the global pandemic struck. COVID-19 laid bare already existing tears in our social and economic fabric. It showed us just how unfair the system is on everyday people. It showed us that poverty and inequality are rife in Australia and here where we live in Tasmania.

It also exposed the truth that these came down to the choices governments have made and made it clear governments are capable of making better choices in a crisis. They are capable of making much better choices, and the Greens' alternative budget presents some of those better choices.

The global community is facing twin crises and while we have been buffered from the worst of it, lutruwita/Tasmania is feeling the impacts on both fronts. As an island community with unique advantages we need to tackle both challenges at once. We can re-set to a sustained social and economic recovery from COVID-19 by investing in people to ensure no-one is left behind, and by ramping-up climate positive action. In a climate crisis, action equals hope, and right now humanity and the planet need both hope and action. The science is grim but despair is no response to it; action is.

The Greens recognise that out of crisis comes opportunity, new ways of thinking, innovation and resilience. It is essential that Tasmania's First Peoples are front and centre of creating this new paradigm of respect, fairness and a closer connection to nature. Every single day we are in this place we are meeting on Aboriginal land. Our alternative budget funds progress towards treaty, dedicated Aboriginal seats in parliament, the return of lands, the establishment of reconciliation day, like the ACT, and resources into Aboriginal school history projects. It powers-up the state's capacity to harness Aboriginal cool burning practices to better manage fire risk and adapt to a heating climate.

The Greens have the respect to defund the plan to open up tracks through the Tarkine, the site of some of the world's most priceless and significant archaeological heritage. We also recognise the central role of government in making the big shifts that are required, socially, environmentally and economically. Changes like greening and making our cities and towns more people friendly and climate resilient.

This State Budget is arguably the most socially, environmentally and economically important since World War II. Regrettably, the Government has delivered a narrow-cast roads and bridges 'business as usual' budget. One thing is certain: we cannot go back to business as usual. That is what delivered raging social and economic inequality, habitat loss, an extinction crisis and global warming. In Tasmania, it has delivered decades of underinvestment in people and overinvestment in the big end of town and the rent seekers. COVID-19 has amplified the critical need for government to put people first every time, not just in a crisis.

There is much to do and there is no time to waste. The Greens recognise that reducing emissions, restoring natural systems and adapting to the changing climate must be a priority of any responsible government. The Greens' flagship climate legislation, the Safe Climate Bill 2020, provides an attainable jobs-rich transition pathway for lutruwita/Tasmania, and it is a pathway to recovery from COVID-19. Our alternative budget funds measures set out in the Safe Climate Bill to meet binding 1 per cent annual reduction targets in every sector and to deliver adaptation plans and carbon storage plans. This is the bold action needed to deliver a safe climate and sustained sustainable jobs.

We will also fund the transition to a renewable powered vehicle fleet, low emissions farming and a sustainable waste management system that will power Tasmania's transition to the circular economy. As an island, we do have to become more self-sufficient, less reliant on imported liquid fuels and better able to reuse and recycle.

We will protect lutruwita/Tasmania's carbon stores by ending native forest logging, providing for re-skilled workers to undertake landscape restoration and rewilding, to protect the carbon that is already in the landscape and draw down more CO2 from the atmosphere. This is some of the most important work that will be undertaken this century. This island's forests are part of a shared island heritage and a carbon bank for the world. They must be protected in a time of climate crisis.

We will make sure Tasmania is part of the global solution to the decline biodiversity and threat to natural systems by ramping-up funding for the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden's native seed bank and for our own global southern hemisphere seed bank. We can help to store and protect nature's DNA here in temperate stable Tasmania and we will be ready for global rewilding efforts in the decades and centuries ahead. This can be another gift from Tasmania to the world.

In the climate portfolio we will fund a chief scientist, a safe climate commission, a climate change joint standing committee of the Tasmanian parliament. We will fund the state's emissions abatement obligations and climate adaptation planning and the development of carbon storages.

The Greens recognise that responding to the threat of the warming climate requires a broad, bold approach. We cannot adequately tackle the climate emergency without rebuilding the structures that led us down this path in the first place. It is well past time parliament reformed lutruwita/Tasmania's political system to limit the influence of those who benefit from emitting greenhouse gases and degrading nature at public expense. This means substantial electoral law reform banning corporate, developer and foreign donations and restoring the House of Assembly to 35 seats.

The Greens budget funds these important reforms to strengthen democracy. Every dollar spent on this line item is an investment in a healthier democracy. Young Tasmanians studying or just entering the workforce were dealt a body blow by the pandemic fallout. They were already stressed about poverty, being able to afford study, finding a home or a meaningful job as well as a deepening sense of climate anxiety. The Greens subscribe to the view that action equals hope and that young Tasmanians need a substantially better deal. They not only need it; they more than deserve it. Collectively, we need to commit to delivering a better deal to young Tasmanians and the Greens would argue that should be a Green new deal.

Our alternative budget funds a job guarantee for young Tasmanians. Our plan ensures any young person can get a minimum wage job with full benefits, workplace protections for 16 hours a week if they want one. They can go to work, helping people, greening up our cities and towns, becoming carbon farmers and landscape repair specialists. We can help young Tasmanians develop the skills and knowledge this island and they will need in the future.

Our alternative budget funds a youth jobs guarantee. It establishes a minister for employment and the Tasmanian employment office; it delivers free TasTAFE; it delivers primary carers; leave retraining for displaced workers; it establishes an inquiry into wage theft, which we know are rampant. It funds the Multicultural Council of Tasmania multicultural employment project and allows for a portable long service leave scheme. We want to protect older workers rights and provide funding for that and establish a national centre of excellence in aged and disability care.

We also invest in transitioning regions into new economic paradigms that are reliant on sustainable growth, high employment, climate responsible green industries - like agriculture and renewables - and provide training to harness the skills of displaced workers. Our allocation to strong, regional and rural communities funds a regional rollout of NBN, a farm ownership incubation program, a regional reinvestment program so that regions themselves can determine their own investment needs.

It funds local area strategic development around infrastructure and local economic area development groups. It funds carbon farming startup grants, assists farmers to establish fencing and provides for on-farm renewables transmission discounts.

COVID-19 has taught everyone the importance of digital connectivity and the benefits of flexible working arrangements and that is why we fund $50 million a year to bring fixed line NBN connections into regional communities and a program to identify roles where working from home arrangements could be an option, that would be a truly transformative investment in our social infrastructure. Housing is critical social infrastructure and is the bedrock for a good life. All Tasmanians should have a safe, affordable home. Tasmania's housing crisis has become entrenched through a rapidly changing population, prolonged underinvestment by Government, the unchecked growth of short stay accommodation and by poor planning. The Greens invest in every stage of housing, with $600 million into affordable rent-to-buy properties, funding for crisis and youth accommodation and investment in urban renewal. In addition, of course, a Green government would regulate short stay accommodation to ensure there are more homes for Tasmanians who need them.

All young people and children in lutruwita/Tasmania should be safe, and their emotional and material needs should be met. Child safety services is bursting at the seams, and is unable to care for at risk children and young people in a way that gives them a better chance for a good life. The Greens will invest in 50 new child safety officers and initiate reforms to improve early intervention and family reunification outcomes. We would also raise the age of criminal responsibility and establish a commission of inquiry into allegations surrounding the Launceston General Hospital. We would fund an at-home, Tasmanian bush therapy program so the State of Tasmania, when it is the parent, is not in a position where it feels it has to banish some of our most vulnerable and at risk children to the Northern Territory.

We would provide support for foster carers and invest in recruitment of more foster carers, and establish a child safety joint standing community of the Tasmanian parliament. We would support parent advocacy services. Critically, a Greens government would close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre which is without doubt a failed model that is letting down those young people. We know that evidence from around the world shows you can invest in a much more effective therapeutic approach at what we would argue, ultimately, is a fraction of the cost. It would certainly break the cycle where young people who go into Ashley are too often on a one way ticket to Risdon Prison.

The state's hospitals are struggling to cope with demand. A funding focus has to be preventing people from needing to go to hospital in the first place. The Greens will invest in preventative health, community health services and rehabilitation programs to create healthier and happier communities. We would fund a preventative health reform white paper, increase funding to population health, increase funding to community health centres and into community preventative health.

We recognise food security is an issue in Tasmania and too many parts of Tasmania are food deserts. We invest in improving food security.

If there is one thing that is certain, the war on drugs is a complete failure. It is a long standing Greens policy position that personal drug use should be decriminalised and we fund that. We know that pill testing saves lives. It recognises that young people will take risks and that adults - including in parliaments - need to have in place every measure possible to keep young people safe at festivals. We will fund and establish a pill testing regime for Tasmania. We also recognise that the state's medicinal cannabis controlled access scheme has been deliberately established to shut people out, and that too few people who need this medicine and know it will improve their lives or the lives of their children are able to access that scheme. Our alternative budget would correct that. We also invest critical funds into drug rehabilitation and staffing. Tasmania needs a human rights act. Australia is the only developed democracy in the western world that does not have a charter of human rights. Just because it is an issue that is being argued at the national level does not mean Tasmania should not move down this path - for example, Victoria has done so. We will enact a human rights act for Tasmania. We will fund a human rights commission and a human rights unit, so the fundamental human rights of every Tasmanian. No matter where they come from, no matter their age, gender, race or religion, their rights must be protected. Right now under Tasmanian law, they are inadequately protected. We know this state will have a human rights act one day. We are pretty sure it will not happen under a conservative government, but it is long overdue legislative reform that ensures the rights of everyday Tasmanians are enshrined in law.

The implosion in the corrections system is a by product of a totally ineffectual tough-on-crime policy. It is a negative feedback loop of hopelessness and crime and it is certainly not making communities any safer. The Greens know it will take serious policy reform to turn the corner. We will invest in an ambitious program of restorative justice and diversion programs to improve recidivism rates, bring down the prison population and improve community safety. We will fund a restorative justice policy and programs unit. Funding is provided for the bail hostel, the alcohol and drug court, the drug diversion program extension, and education programs in prison. This funding ensures we are giving inmates every possible chance so that when they get out of prison they are able to undertake education and training, secure meaningful employment and walk away from a life of crime.

We will increase funding to the wonderful people at Legal Aid Tasmania. We will allocate funding towards the Northern Remand Centre and a Greens government would not build a prison in the north. All evolved jurisdictions are putting in place policies that reduce their prison populations, not increase them, so constructing new prisons is no longer necessary. A different approach to crime and justice is needed in Tasmania, not a northern prison - and particularly not a northern prison on a nature reserve which is home to a myriad of Tasmanian species.

We recognise the vast majority of Tasmanians care very much about the wellbeing of animals, and we know community attitudes have shifted towards traditional industries such as the greyhound and horse racing industries. We know successive governments have been resistant to strengthening the Animal Welfare Act to ensure it works for animals and not industry. We believe there needs to be a whole new paradigm shift in a way this state treats its animals, and we should add to our brand that we are cruelty free Tasmania. We would establish an animal welfare commission; regulate dog breeding to put an end to the cruelty of puppy farms; increase funding to the Tasmania Police animal welfare inspectorate; invest in wildlife veterinary treatment; and ensure the long overdue reforms to the Animal Welfare Act actually come into place.

We would continue the Labor Greens government program of buying back battery hen cages and transitioning the industry here to cruelty free and free range. It is easy to dismiss battery hen farming as a niche issue of concern, it happens out of sight and out of mind, but we need to remind ourselves of the misery of the life of a chicken in a battery farm that spends every day of their short and miserable lives in cages about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The Labor-Greens government made significant progress in transitioning the industry to cruelty-free and free-range. The Greens in government made sure that a Treasurer's Instruction was issued to government agencies so that they procured cruelty-free and free-range eggs. All of that was undone in 2014 very soon after the Liberals came to government and that was a choice the new Government made about being prepared to tolerate and in fact endorse cruelty.

As a state we need to do better. Animals have rights. They have an intrinsic right to exist, to life, and we need to change attitudes of governments and industry which treats animals as disposable. We have to do better.

We would increase funding to wildlife carers and to efforts to rehome animals, as well as to support the outstanding work of the RSPCA. We would defund Tasracing because the Greens do not believe that the Government should be in the business of subsidising and supporting cruelty. In fact it is Tasmanian workers and taxpayers who subsidise Tasracing and the cruelty it supports.

I have spent plenty of time talking to racehorse owners and trainers and a bit of time talking to greyhound owners and trainers. I know there are plenty of people who work in those industries who have a very strong commitment to animal welfare. It is the structural issues with the industry. It is the fact that the greyhound and horseracing industries are built on a foundation of animals being bred for profit and when they no longer turn a profit or are too expensive to feed, or are not fast enough, the evidence tells us, and it is unarguable, that those animals are quickly dispatched, and if they are lucky it is a bullet in the head. If they are unlucky they are put onto the Spirit of Tasmania and sent to an abattoir interstate. That is the cruelty that is being supported by Tasracing and through it, Tasmanian taxpayers. I do not think most Tasmanians want to see their taxes going into supporting cruelty.

I am absolutely certain that the days of these industries are numbered. We have seen numbers go down at the Melbourne Cup, takings go down and viewership go down, because increasingly Australians understand that for all the glamour and gloss of the horseracing industry or the Melbourne Cup, there is the most terrible cruelty at its heart where a beautiful animal is treated as a profit-making machine or then is disposed of.

Mr Deputy Speaker, if you do not believe me, watch Caro Meldrum Hanna's piece on the 7.30 Report which went to air last November, which makes it very clear that even some of the most famous and outstanding horses that have raced in this country were sent to an abattoir in Caboolture where they died the most terrible deaths. We can do better than that and Tasmania can be a cruelty-free state.

Responding to the climate and biodiversity crisis requires a significant recalibration of social and environmental policy as well as economic restructuring to insure the economy works for people and the planet, not the other round as it is now. In many ways lutruwita/Tasmania has a head start on the world with 52 per cent of this island's land mass protected and its carbon stores safe. Meanwhile, changes in the forestry industry achieved largely through the tireless work of the conservation movement have led to Tasmania being a net carbon sequestering state.

The island's community punches above its weight in volunteering and donations to charities and non-government organisations. We are genuinely, in action and word, the kindest state in the country, something of which we should be incredibly proud.

The state's economy has produced a clean, green brand that is the envy of the world. lutruwita/Tasmania's Hare Clark electoral system is widely regarded as the most representative and democratic system in the world.

Tasmania is transitioning from an extractive economy to one that relies on the island's brand and high-value niche products, and we understand there always needs to be room for both but you cannot have an economy that is wholly dependent on resource extraction as Tasmania's was for such a long time.

As an island we have much to be proud of and many advantages to leverage. The Greens' budget builds on our advantages. Our budget capitalises on what Tasmanians are proud of and introduces reforms and a pathway to transition the state's economy into a prosperous, safe climate future. This Greens' alternative budget is the foundation for a green new deal which we will deliver after extensive community engagement next year.

Tasmania's future post-COVID-19 can be sparkly bright. It can harness the full capacity and skills of our people. It can look after those now being left behind. It can restore the damage that has been done to nature and strengthen Tasmania's role as a carbon bank for the world.

This future is about the choices we make now and it is time to get on with making better choices for the people we are elected to represent, for young Tasmanians and for those not yet born who will be living with the legacy of the choices we make here today. I commend our alternative budget to the House.