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Budget Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Tags: Alternative Budget, State Budget, COVID-19, Climate Change, Treasury, Housing Crisis

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Speaker, I am proud to stand and deliver our alternative Budget on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens. In this budget we set out a future for Tasmania that enables sustained recovery from the global health emergency that is COVID-19, while taking meaningful action to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency, and create a fairer, healthier and more inclusive community.

Our budget accepts the positives in the Gutwein Government's Budget, defunds the negatives and reallocates funding towards more inclusive, sustainable programs and initiatives. This is a Green New Deal for Tasmania, for this wildly beautiful and fragile place that has sustained people for tens of thousands of years, that sustains us all today, although its natural environment and the ancient culture embedded deep in its landscape are under intensifying assault.

In the shadow of still wild kunanyi, before the First Nations Aboriginal Australian and Tasmanian flags behind you, I acknowledge and grieve the long-gone muwinina people, on whose homelands we meet every day this parliament sits. We meet on the banks of their mighty life giving river, timtumili minanya, the River Derwent, 218 years after the arrival of the English at piyura kitina, Risdon Cove. We now know that was the day Tasmanian Aboriginal people lost their country, this island they had nurtured and shaped over millennia.

The arrival of the English in their ships was day one of the subjugation and dispossession of the palawa/pakana people. Today justice is not yet served. It was also the beginning of an age of taking from this island, working to extract its every drop of goodness. That continues apace today.

Lutruwita, this place, needs its First People to be truly respected, re-empowered to be part of healing of country, the restoration of nature, which the scientists, young people and the Greens all know is necessary in a time of climate and biodiversity crisis.

Our alternative Budget recognises the Gutwein Government's positive, albeit slow-paced and not yet properly funded, moves towards treaty and justice in this year's State Budget. But we argue more and sooner can be done. We allocate $8 million over four years to empower Aboriginal community organisations to address disadvantage, with a focus on child and maternal health, restorative, culturally aligned youth justice, mental health and housing. There is $1.6 million over four years in grants to develop a respectful, effective model for truth telling, along with a memorial to warriors and victims of the Frontier Wars led by the Aboriginal people.

We also invest in building on the Gutwein Government's progress to date on treaty. Along with our ongoing call on government to return culturally significant lands, we fund incentives for private land returns, such as that initiated by the remarkable Tom and Jane Teniswood, who returned more than 100 hectares of land near Little Swanport to the Aboriginal Land Council on an amazing day I was privileged to be part of in February 2019.

We demonstrate the Greens' commitment to dedicated Aborginal seats in parliament, as was unanimously recommended by the parliamentary committee we established in the last term to examine the Greens' House of Assembly Restoration Bill. Our alternative Budget funds and maps out the first steps towards delivering First Nations seats in the Tasmanian parliament.

We fund the restoration of seats in this House to 35 members, which was also unanimously recommended by members of all three political parties sitting on that committee. We do this to ensure Tasmania's parliament is fit for purpose in a growing, increasingly complex to govern state, as we recover from the pandemic and stare down the barrel of a climate crisis.

To remove the stain of self serving corporate influence on our democracy, the Greens fund genuine electoral and donations reform.

We fund the establishment of a Tasmanian Charter of Human Rights to ensure governments do not readily trample the rights of their citizens.

We see the minister, Mr Barnett, and Dr Broad try to outdo each other on authoritarian attacks on peaceful protests that just will not work, and we raise them with a workplace protection from protesters repeal bill which we will slap on this table in the near future.

As we have said before, no government can arrest its way out of a climate and biodiversity crisis. Young people, people of all ages, will resist and resist and resist, and they will win. The Greens stand with them always. Real climate action that gives true hope to young people underpins our 2021 22 alternative Budget.

Our alternative Budget invests more than $100 million directly over four years into actions and programs that will drive real emissions reduction and adaptation planning while generating strong, sustainable economic activity.

It funds free TasTAFE courses, with a $44 million investment, literally, in our future, over four years. It ensures TasTAFE has the educators and resources to deliver 21st century skills in energy efficiency, renewables and climate resilience sectors.

We know there is plenty of work to be done to stay safe, connected and resilient in this century of rapid, accelerating climatic and geopolitical disruption. The Greens are certain young Tasmanians know exactly what the problem is with the climate and they know governments, state and federal, are failing them. They are not frightened by the science and the truth nearly as much as they are by the abject lack of leadership on genuine emissions reduction to cool their planet, their only home, their future. The Greens will not stand idly by while young people are robbed of a safe climate. We will fight for them to have a healthy, socially and economically inclusive future. We will always fight for their future, and we know that future depends entirely on looking after this place with more respect.

The Greens' alternative vision for Tasmania unashamedly focuses on ensuring a safe, prosperous future for young Tasmanians. We invest in a safe climate for this island's children and grandchildren with rapid emissions reduction, sustained adaptation planning, protection of our precious water supplies and electrification of the state's transport system.

Young people are already showing leadership through the climate strike and activist movement. It is growing by the hour and the righteous rage of young people is an increasingly urgent force to be reckoned with. Young people want to be part of the solutions.

Our budget establishes a youth job guarantee with a $326 million investment over four years in skilling up and harnessing the energy of young Tasmanians in community and restoration projects. This will be delivered by a newly established Tasmanian employment office in partnership with businesses, not-for-profit and community organisations and local government.

Our alternative budget funds a life-sustaining, climate-safe, job-generating future for this island and its people. It ends the climate crime of native forest logging and burning, saving $140 million over the forward Estimates. It accelerates the transition to a wholly plantation based forest industry while funding a just transition for workers into new areas of skills need through a dedicated just transition unit based on the New Zealand model.

This century, as a small island community, we will need to do things differently. Our alternative budget repurposes 'Forestry Tasmania' to become Forests Tasmania and invests heavily in forest protection and restoration and into carbon sequestration for a safe climate. The Greens want to see the skills of ex-nature forestry workers redeployed to the plantation sector, into landscape and habitat repair, carbon farming and emergency preparedness for a changing climate.

Our alternative budget holds true to the strong sentiment expressed in the Premier's Social and Economic Recovery Advisory Council Report that we look after the environment much better and strengthen Tasmania's clean, green and lucrative brand. The Greens alternative budget sets out to protect this beautiful island's natural wonders and riches in an approach grounded in the empathetic responsible principle of intergenerational equity.

We also recognise the pressing need to do things differently and to harness the deep cultural knowledge of Aboriginal Tasmanians in protecting life, wilderness and property from an extended bushfire season. We invest in providing more support for emergency services personnel who are there to protect this island and its people from extreme weather events.

In a climate emergency, Tasmania's gift to the world is the carbon stored in our forests. The state's net zero emissions profile is largely due to the forests protected through the hard work of conservationists over decades, but urgency demands we cannot stop there. Scientists and young people are clear that there has to be an end to native forest logging.

Our alternative budget ends these high-emissions, habitat-destroying practices. It provides funding and a path for transition out of native forest logging, into making the most of our plantation estate and it funds the large-scale restoration and reforestation this rare but physically damaged island urgently needs.

To support this landscape's scale restoration and carbon farming endeavour, the Green's alternative budget establishes a youth job guarantee that will provide jobs, twenty-first century skills and a living wage to Tasmanians under 19. We also invest in the delivery of new skills through a well-funded TasTAFE and fund free TasTAFE courses.

As the global economy moves towards a low carbon future, industries are having to adapt. It is vital we ensure a just transition for workers displaced by this seismic shift towards sustainability. Our just transition unit will establish new areas of opportunity to better protect nature and build on the clean, green brand that underpins our economic strengths.

Most Tasmanians know the economic sunshine is not reaching the tens of thousands of Tasmanians living in poverty and experiencing health and housing stress. Our alternative budget invests heavily across the forward Estimates in the extra staffing and infrastructure so desperately needed in our overstretched health system. We fund 600 new graduate nurses, 120 permanent pool staff nurses and midwives, 10 psychiatric emergency nurses, along with 224 full time Ambulance Tasmania new staff and 27 new ambulances to make sure Tasmanians get the best and most timely help they need when they need it.

Whether they are looking to rent or buy, Tasmanians are being priced out of their own paradise. They are paying the price for seven years of a Liberal government that chose to under invest in increasing the supply of housing. The Greens are not afraid to regulate short stay accommodation like the Liberals, nor are we, like Labor, scared of borrowing when money is as cheap as it is now to fund a massive investment in building 4000 new, energy efficient and affordable Housing Tasmania homes and 2000 new rent to buy homes, bringing home ownership back in reach for some of the many thousands of Tasmanians shut out of the housing market.

Our alternative budget also establishes the Department of Public Works so government can help to deliver the skilled construction work force to build homes for all Tasmanians. We also deliver on the poverty relief measures we outlined in the election campaign, including a $20 million over two years top up to the concession system, school fee and costs relief and food relief funding that will provide security and therefore opportunity to Tasmanians living on the breadline.

Unlike both the Labor and Liberal parties, we recognise gambling addiction is a major contributor to poverty, mental illness, unemployment, homelessness, family breakdown and child neglect. One of the most important steps we can take to ensure generations of Tasmanians are not harmed and utterly impoverished is to get pokies out of pubs and clubs. We made a promise to Tasmanians that we would move to get these predatory machines out of communities and unlike Labor, we keep our promises.

Twenty-first century cities and towns need twenty-first century infrastructure. For nearly eight years we have had roads, roads and more roads and little more than words from the Liberals on modern transport solutions. Our alternative budget invests in mobility and modernisation. We establish a public transport authority to run the buses, ferries and Hobart light rail, all of which we fund in our alternative budget, along with free bus transport to get people out of cars, saving money and easing congestion. We also ramp up the rollout of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and fund statewide network planning to inform current and future transport network needs and the necessary policy responses.

The Greens will always be passionate advocates for quality public education. We recognise it is the foundation of a good life as well as incalculable social and economic benefit to the whole community. We show it is possible to prioritise investment in more teachers, school psychologists, social workers and speech pathologists to give our young learners the best possible start and support them in achieving their life's goals. We commit to an ongoing and transparent review of funding for students with disability along with an $82 million investment over four years.

We demonstrate fiscal responsibility through targeting big corporations such as big mining, logging, fish farming and gambling that for decades have been paying the lowest royalty and licence fees in the country. The people of Tasmania are being ripped off by corporate rent seekers and their political enablers. It is a heist on a grand scale and we are all the poorer for it. It is well past time the free ride was ended and a better return delivered to the Tasmanian people to fund hospitals, schools and community services. It is time to make the big corporations pay their fair share. Our alternative budget raises $1.4 billion over four years simply by lifting the state's royalty and licence fees to somewhere in the vicinity of the national average.

Coastal communities from the Channel to Port Arthur know the fish farming industry is out of control. Coastal communities all over the island are horrified by the Liberal's industry expansion plans. They also know neither the Liberal or Labor parties stand with them. The Greens do. We do not, and will never, support the industry doubling in size. We will always be the voice in this place for marine protection and for fisheries for the future.

It is well past time for an independent Environment Protection Authority, an authority that has the mandate and the resources to properly regulate industry for environmental protection, rather than for corporate profits. We fund a standalone Environment Department, chief scientist and an independent EPA, boosting its enforcement and monitoring capacity and we restore funding to the threatened species unit to better protect Tasmania's rare, threatened and endangered flora and fauna. Unlike the Liberals, we will not be waiting until the swift parrot is extinct to rescue this island's extraordinary wildlife from habitat loss and crop protection permits that are handed out like confetti.

Our lives, our society and our economy are entirely dependent on fresh water. When most of us turn on the tap to get a drink we do not think about how lucky we are to have this essential need available right there at our fingertips or how we quite literally could not live without it. Mr Barnett says that water is liquid gold. We say water is life. It is an important distinction. Water underpins our economy, yes, whether that is through energy generation, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism or a whole suite of other industries. Our island’s wild, pure rivers have played a crucial role in building our hard won, clean and green brand from which so many businesses across so many sectors now benefit. In Tasmania for so many people, water is a fundamental part of our way of life.

In Tasmania, there has generally been a perception that we would have access to a limitless abundance of clean, fresh water but, regrettably, the science is clear that is just not the case anymore. I want to talk about that a bit more today. It is important to understand what exactly we are talking about when we say 'fresh water'. Freshwater resources are made up of surface waters, rivers, streams, creeks and lakes and, groundwater, is water stored in underground, called aquifers.

In Tasmania, we have some pretty solid modelling for normal surface water flows but we do not know anywhere near as much about groundwater, nor about how the two are connected. That means we do not fully understand the extent of our overall freshwater resource, nor the impact our past activities have had on freshwater reserves and, of course, another major key consideration is the impact of climate change on our water supplies.

Climate change will affect how much rain is falling in Tasmania, when it falls and where it falls. We have had some outstanding Tasmanian driven climate modelling done just over a decade in climate futures. It is work every member of this place should be very proud of. It looked a range of scenarios for Tasmania in terms of changing rainfall patters over the next century. Given the revisions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has done to their climate modelling in that time, which has painted a bleaker picture than previously, there is a clear need for Tasmania to update our projections and to understand what these projections mean for freshwater resources.

Not only do we not fully understand how much freshwater is available or have up to date models about how that would be impacted by climate change but we actually do not know how much water is being used in Tasmania. Many Tasmanians would be shocked to learn the vast majority of rural water users do not have a water meter. Instead, we rely on what is basically an honesty system. That is a bit of a worry. Undoubtedly, most water users are honest. They understand the need for sustainable use but there are also those who either inadvertently or deliberately are exploiting the system.

When the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment has done case studies of expected, versus actual water usage in a particular catchment, the actual usage is significantly higher than it should be based on the licence allocations. We are also in a situation now where DPIPWE has stated that many rivers in Tasmania have reached, or are nearing full allocation, where no more water is available from a river. They flagged increased competition for water resources and the need to start to ramp up the use of ground water.

So, we are in a situation where we do not know exactly how large the freshwater resource is. We do not have a current modelling about how that will change due to climate change and we do not know how much water is being used but we are already seeing competition for water and it is intensifying under this Government’s policy. On that backdrop, the Government is planning to massively expand water usage in the years ahead in pursuit of their goal to reach $10 million of farmgate value by 2050.

The reason all this matters so much is because if we extract too much water from our river systems the health of those rivers will decline. They will not have the flow they need to sustain themselves and therefore us. If we do not get this right, the flow-on environmental, social and economic costs will be huge. We cannot leave that loss and that debt to our kids. Expanding our water usage beyond a sustainable level will not only impact on these environmental flows but also drive significant changes to land use, which in turn can lead to issues with sediment, nitrates, effluent and chemicals entering rivers. The link between water extraction, land use change and decline river health has been well documented around the world.

DPIPWE's report Temporal and Spatial Patterns in River Health across Tasmania and the Influence of Environmental Factors is a highly in depth and impressive scientific work that takes a detailed look at this issue in the Tasmanian context. We had to get this important report, through right to information in the election caretaker period - not very transparent, but a matter of huge public interest. The report shows that an increasing number of Tasmania’s rivers are declining in health and that the majority of this decline has an increasing number of Tasmania's rivers are declining in health and that the majority of this decline has occurred since around 2014.

The report highlighted how our current approach to water management is failing to account for the cumulative impact of water extraction and use. That lack of cumulative assessment is also missing when it comes to issues such as the proliferation of dams across the island, the use of waterways to convey water from one place to the other and the artificial pulsing of water flows due to pump usage. River health should be of great concern to all of us, after all our lives, our economy and our society all depend on our rivers and their health.

We only have to look at New Zealand for the terrible consequences - environmental, social and economic - of failing to take river health and water quality seriously. Regrettably the flagship water policy the Government has developed, the rural water use strategy, has not taken on board the reality of what is happening in our rivers. They have continued to press ahead with massive capital investment into increased irrigation and water use and their rural water use strategy is designed to facilitate this process. This is despite scientists, farmers, anglers, tourism operators, oyster growers and people from all over the state raising serious concerns about the Government's approach and TasWater sounding the alarm bell on the potential impact on the quality of our drinking water.

Thankfully, it is not too late to change course and ensure the health of Tasmania's beautiful rivers and the people and the industries that depend on them well into the future. This is not about holding back economic growth. It is about ensuring we can sustain our economic growth into the future rather than creating a bubble followed by a rapid decline.

PESRAC has recommended that the Government develop '[a] broader water resource policy approach' as 'an immediate priority'. This should be a priority for every member. The Greens are pushing for an inquiry into fresh water management in Tasmania and we hope that this inquiry will be established by the parliament and its recommendations will be used to develop a broader freshwater policy like PESRAC has recommended. This is one of the most crucial issues we face in Tasmania today and we hope members across this parliament are open to working together to make sure we get the settings right and guarantee future generations of Tasmanians healthy rivers and abundant well managed fresh water supplies.

Our alternative budget will no doubt again be described as 'kooky' by the Premier and the Treasurer. We note that some of the policies he has wrapped up in the kooky bundle in the past have made it into this year's Government Budget. The electrification of our transport system; tick, Greens policy. The rollout of free energy efficiency upgrades to low income households; tick, also Greens policy. Extra school trauma specialists; tick. Carbon farming grants; tick again. A circular economy; tick. A medicinal cannabis regime that is not driven by ideological fundamentalism and that really helps people; tick. I guess our vision for the future is not so kooky after all.

I am really proud of the work Dr Woodruff, our team and I have put into this genuine, triple bottom line, fully costed alternative vision for an island community facing down twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change. We have the courage of our convictions. They are here in this document. We lay out in clear costed language just what you can do when you put this place and our people first, for lutruwita, Tasmania and its people always.

I recommend our alternative Budget to the House.

Dr Woodruff - Hear, hear.