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Budget Reply

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tags: Alternative Budget, State Budget, Treasury, Climate Change, Tasmanian Aboriginals, Forests

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I acknowledge the first peoples of this land, lutruwita/Tasmania, the palawa pakana. For many tens of thousands of years they have shaped the landscape, living intimately connected with the natural world through ice ages and huge shifts in vegetation. Our ancient coastal middens, button grass plains and half woody hills tell the story of hundreds of generations of lives lived. When colonists arrived, there was no recognition of that ownership and no peaceful cohabitation. Invasion was brutal and the domination of this island's first people by colonists was rapid.

The Greens are committed to truth telling and to justice, including through a treaty and the return of lands. We welcome the treaty process that is underway and are committed to listening and learning from aboriginal people and to funding the implementation of what is agreed.

I am proud to speak to the Tasmanian Greens fully costed, long term vision for Tasmania, our alternative budget 2021 22. The Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Cassy O'Connor, presented the budget in full yesterday. I will outline the details of my portfolio areas.

Our vision is for a future that is a healthy, resilient and prosperous Tasmania, where our natural environment is restored and protected and every citizen feels included and respected. The latest IPCC sixth assessment report did not pull any punches. We are facing massive and irreversible changes to all natural systems, threatening humans and all life. The UN Secretary-General calls it a 'code red for humanity'. Importantly, it is still possible to limit temperature rises below catastrophic levels but only if all governments, businesses and societies take immediate and ambitious actions. Every tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere matters. Every chance to act that is ignored by government matters.

The Liberals refused to vote in support of our motion to declare a climate emergency last week. They are on the wrong side of history. The Greens will not be deterred. We did not just attend the school climate strikes and wring our hands. We listened to the children who spoke at them, we heard their concern and agreed with their calls for action.

The Premier has accused us of scaring children but we will not be gaslit. We are standing with them, firmly grounded in the reality of our challenge and a desire to work collectively to make urgent meaningful changes. The Liberal Government has spent the last seven years dragging its heels on taking real climate action to drive down the state's emissions. As Peter Boyer said, 'Instead of leading the world in cutting emissions, Tasmania's efforts are actually nothing special'.

Our emissions have been rising across transport, agriculture, industry and waste since 1990 and the logging and burning of our mighty forest carbon banks is accelerating. It is only because of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement and tricky carbon counting conventions that we can use the carbon stored in our growing native forests to offset the mounting emissions from our other sectors.

The reality is that this Government is doing precious little to cut emissions in transport, industrial processes, agriculture, manufacturing, waste and construction. Our Safe Climate Bill 2021 sets out a clear achievable path for a safer Tasmania. We fund the work of an independent safe climate commission to work with businesses and the community to bring down rising emissions from all sectors and to prepare for a hotter future.

We fund the statewide community adaptation planning with local government. We fund planning for future insecurity, including food risk, the protection of strategic agricultural lands and importantly, the critical issue of coastal management for erosion. We have also invested $12 million towards greening our towns and cities to make them safer in heatwaves.

We have to fast track the electrification of our transport system and we have provided consumer incentives for electric vehicles, including trucks and we mandate that all new government cars are electric. We invest in grant programs to assist farmers to transition to practices that will reduce enteric emissions from livestock and develop climate-friendly farming practices and produce and we fund the discount of transmission costs for on-farm renewable energy transmission.

All industries will need targets and incentives to reduce emissions and we fund the investigation of alternative production methods for cement and the commercial feasibility of an alternative cement industry in Tasmania. We also invest in a machinery and equipment grant program for ferrous metal smelters, to help them transition to hydrogen based or other low emissions refinement.

UTAS and the rest of the world's fire modellers keep warning about the accelerating risk of catastrophic bushfires. The 2020 summer's explosive fires on the mainland have erased whole communities and natural systems, leaving people in the eastern states reeling with emotional loss and re build costs and they are facing the looming threat of mass species intinctions. The 2019 summer fires in Tasmania destroyed homes and more than 200 000 hectares of the TWWHA. That is what an increase of only 1.1 degrees in temperature looks like, let alone 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees, or the current global track of 3 degrees or more.

The scientists and the national fire service chiefs are clear. We cannot always control the power of the intense bushfires that our ever warming world is producing. The Greens are listening to the scientists and the fire chiefs. Every tonne of carbon we emit today makes a huge difference and as well as reminding us that governments need to cut emissions across all sectors, the sixth IPCC report is crystal clear that deforestation everywhere on the planet has to end.

In Tasmania we must end the logging of native forests. This will keep our existing forest carbon dioxide stores intact and it will also, importantly, keep bushfire risk to neighbouring communities lower. It is clear now that intact native forest can be a lower bushfire risk than native plantations, or regrowth forests. Community resilience to the more extreme bushfires, floods and sea level rise and the wind events mean that we need to continue to invest highly in this area. Our budget provides $20 million into community resilience hubs across regional Tasmania, modelled on the outcomes of the royal commission into the New South Wales bushfires. We fund more support for the people who are there whenever we need them in an emergency, including by recruiting 30 rapid response remote area firefighters and providing resources and extra staff to improve volunteer training and wellbeing in the SES and TFS.

A few weeks ago US meteorologists from Greenland reported several hours of drenching rain fell in the coldest place in the northern hemisphere - a place where rain has never before recorded, only snow. This is very bad news. Along with the deadly summer heat and flooding, it is an undeniable sign of a planet heating far too fast. Greenland might feel far away for Tasmanians but we share the same heat trapping atmosphere and the same heat storing oceans. Animal and plant scientists, birdwatchers and marine biologists in Tasmania are all recording dramatic pressures on all species. Those that are threatened are becoming more precarious with the accelerated rate of heating, but it is not just global heating that is pushing our globally special biodiversity to struggle for their survival. '

The actions of this Government have been cheered on by Labor and the clear-felling of threatened forest communities impact upon the very habitat that we have to protect to save the swift parrot, the wedge tailed eagle, the masked owl, the Tasmanian devil, the grey goshawk, the giant blue lobster and so many other wonders from extinction.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has called for a transformation in society's relationship with biodiversity. Their draft 2030 milestones for all countries include retaining existing, intact and wilderness areas. In our budget we support environmental carers and fund the vital conservation work of Wildcare, Coastcare and Landcare volunteers. We fund a review of the Tasmanian reserve estate to upgrade the status of appropriate areas to national park. That would include the future reserve forests identified through the Tasmanian Forests Agreement as well as all areas of existing or proposed World Heritage listing.

We also fund the review of the World Heritage Area Management Plan which the government refused to conduct and invest in establishing World Heritage recognition for the globally important wilderness areas in Tasmania that must be protected including the takayna, the Spero-Wanderer wilderness, the West Coast Range, the Vale River Catchment, Granite Tor conservation area and Recherche Bay.

You cannot protect what you do not know exists. So we fund the department of Environment to undertake ongoing data collection for our state of environment reporting obligations and we restore the shameful removal of resources from DPIPWEs threatened species unit and provide $8.4 million towards updating threatened species recovery plans and tracking individual species population of movement.

The UN Convention's working group calls for at least 30 per cent of land and sea areas globally, to be conserved. We fund $12 million into the private land conservation program and provide incentives for farmers and other landowners to expand the important private land reserve estate. We fund a marine protected area strategy, setting an early target of 10 per cent of Tasmanian waters becoming 'no-take' reserves. The MPAs prioritise existing marine conservation areas and make sure that all eight bioregions and habitat types are represented in no-take reserves. All new fish farms will operate as closed loop land based farms, and licences for coastal farms will not be renewed as they expire. We fund an immediate review and update of allowable stocking levels and environmental licence conditions for existing fish farms and we include stronger controls on marine debris.

The Environmental Protection Authority is Tasmania's most critical environmental regulator. Under the Liberals, supported by Labor, the EPA has been cowered into allowing environmental pollution and degradation to occur unpunished or handing out ineffectual penalties. The Liberal Government's policy is to double the size of the salmon industry and it instructs the EPA to facilitate affluence and productivity for businesses. We have a serious problem. At the moment we have gross environmental pollution still being unmanaged in Van Dairy's farms in the north and we are facing the prospect of the international Brazilian meat pariahs, JBS, who are waiting to hoover up and control our already marine polluting salmon farm company. We desperately need an environmental watchdog with teeth. We would amend the Environmental Management Pollution Control Act to make the EPA truly independent from government and industry influence. We fund $8 million for increased monitoring and enforcement activities.

We desperately need and we fund in this budget, a standalone environment department and a coastal management unit in DPIPWE. The government and Crown lands cannot continue to have a hands-off response to the serious coastal erosion that is occurring around Tasmania. We are only a few extreme rain and tide events away some roads and houses in places around the state, such as Lauderdale, Sisters Beach and across the Huon, from being seriously undermined.

The Government's recent health dashboard update paints an alarming picture of a hospital system in continual decline. Tasmania's emergency departments are at record lows. In July only 40 per cent of patients in category three with potentially life threatening conditions were seen on time. That is nearly half the national standard of 75 per cent and sadly July was not a blip. The 12 month average for these and most other key health measures in emergency departments around the state have been declining everywhere compared to the previous year.

This is shocking but it unfortunately rings true for anyone who has had the misfortune of needing to be placed on a public health elective surgery waiting list or who has visited an emergency department. Despite these numbers that hide the reality of thousands of Tasmanians living in pain and anxiety, the government failed to dedicate money into increasing and maintaining staffing levels in our hospitals and that is a sincere shame.

Doctors, nurses and other staff are working incredibly hard and doing a fantastic job under enormous pressure. Every day they are looking after Tasmanians and I want to stress that the worst thing about his public health system is the time it takes for people to get access to a hospital or to healthcare but I never have people contacting my office with complaints about the care they received. Invariably the comment is always 'it took us such a long time to get there but gee it was fantastic. Gee they were caring, gee they did a fantastic job.'

During the election campaign we talked very intensively with working nurses, doctors and paramedics and our budget prioritises investment in recruiting training and holding on to 600 new graduate nurses, an extra 120 permanent pool staff nurses and midwives, an extra 10 psychiatric emergency nurses, an extra 25 clinical educators, and an extra 50 clinical coaches.

When you most need them, often out of the blue, Ambulance Tasmania staff are there to help you. They have been working under intolerable pressure for too many years and on behalf of the Greens I want to thank them for continuing to turn up to support us. Our budget backs them to the hilt. We fund 224 extra full time Ambulance Tasmania staff including non-operational support staff and a stand-alone rostering unit. We also back Tasmanians living in regional communities and fund 27 new ambulances, seven new light fleet vehicles and build new ambulance stations in Rokeby, the Channel, Ouse and Legana.

A properly functioning health system should be front loading investment in keeping people well and out of hospitals. Community health centres across regional Tasmania have to be better staffed to do that and we invest 50 allied health professionals into the areas of critical need. We have also committed to establishing and operating two urgent care centres in the north and the south of the state to ease those avoidable pressures on emergency departments.

The Greens know that prevention is worth far more than cure both for the patient and the health budget. There are many health focused non-government organisations across the state doing excellent low cost community preventive health work so we funded a $12 million grant scheme to support that work. We also help people recovering from addiction and have substantially invested $65 million for 23 extra withdrawal management beds and 70 new rehabilitation beds.

Despite the government's focus on building more roads in the Budget, the government has failed to invest in the infrastructure that most Tasmanians would prioritise. Building hospitals in advance of the inevitable increases our larger and older population will make on hospital visitations is essential. Over the budget period we have committed $260 million towards building a new Royal Hobart Hospital campus at the Repatriation site and $60 million towards kickstarting the new LGH build. These are critical pieces of future infrastructure and we are proud of the planning and commitments that we make in these areas.

Mr Deputy Speaker, democracy is a core pillar for the Greens and justice is its pigeon pair. We have at the moment in Tasmania a prison system that is in disarray. There are inhumane standards and the minister, through her inactions or actions, is contravening UN commitments. This is a situation that the Greens would reset. We make some very strong commitments in this budget to both democracy and justice.

We fund $12 million towards restorative justice policies and programs, including towards a programs unit and therapeutic services, and to establish a restorative justice programs and policies division in the Department of Justice. That division will develop and deliver programs and policies, and monitor the outcomes, with the objective of reducing the amount of reoffending and making sure that inmates have every opportunity to successfully reintegrate into society.

We also fund $30 million towards a drug and alcohol court, to establish the court and to expand the court-mandated diversion program, which is currently underfunded by the Department of Justice. That would include alcohol-related offending, and removing the program participant cap which is still in place.

We also spend $18 million over the forward Estimates to establish and operate a bail hostel, so that defendants who do not have stable housing, and who are being imprisoned on remand just because they do not have stable housing, will have somewhere to go. They can be bailed to that place and not be incarcerated unfairly.

Importantly, a strong commitment that the Greens have funded in this budget finds the money to defund the northern prison. We have no support for either the idea of the need for a northern prison, or the diversion of money away from programs that ought to be used for restorative justice practices, and that ought to go into establishing and funding humane conditions within the existing Risdon Prison. We also fundamentally reject the site that the Government has selected. Without any transparency or accountability, and with no sense at all, they have chosen a place that is part of a Tasmanian Reserve Estate, and which must be declared a conservation area to reflect the values that it has. We fund that money in the forward Estimates. We will remove that from the Budget and find savings elsewhere.

Finally, I want to talk about the importance of planning. The Greens have long supported the need for amendments to the statewide planning scheme to make it fairer, and to make greater protections of local character, and greater opportunities for communities to have a meaningful say into the planning decisions that are taken in their council areas. We would fund changing the Department of State Growth to become the Department of State Planning.

We want that department to be focused on the future, and planning for the future. This Liberal Government has had real antibodies to taking any action towards future planning over the seven years it has been in government.

There has been silence on the planning policies that are needed and have been promised. It seems the Government is very good at paying lip service to things and ticking boxes from a public relations point of view, but when it comes to grappling with the serious issues that are confronting us as a state, they are not prepared to do the hard work and actually make enforceable statewide policies.

We would fund the establishment of a Queensland-style tribunal for appeals to planning decisions. That would adopt much more informal processes than currently occurs in the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal. It would deliver decisions that are in plain English, and it would prohibit legal representation, except in exceptional circumstances, or if both parties agree to waive that right.

It is critical that people have the opportunity to access justice on planning, as in every other part of the system, and it is increasingly becoming something outside the average ratepayer's ability.

The Tasmanian Planning Commission is a key pillar of the state's planning justice system, and we would return decision-making, policy-making and advisory powers to the commission. They are so important, and coming into the future, we need them more than ever to be strong and independent and expert.

We would fund the biodiversity mapping that the Tasmanian Planning Commission recommended the Liberals do as part of the statewide planning system. The Premier - who was the planning minister in 2015 - rejected that recommendation, and shamefully did not undertake the comprehensive biodiversity monitoring that the Planning Commission said is needed.

The Greens know we need this now more than ever. We are facing a global biodiversity crisis. We need not only the information to go in there, but the funding to maintain critical biodiversity overlays so that these can inform planning decisions at the local council level.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we have an opportunity to make a real difference for our children's futures, and for people who are living today in crushing hardship without access to the basics of life, such as housing and health services. It is up to the Greens to show leadership, and we have a proud history of gifting evidence-based, sensible, visionary policy for Tasmania.

This Government has rubbished us from the sidelines, but we have seen them, year after year, silently picking up the initiatives we have proposed in our alternative budget.

So, on behalf of the Greens and all the people who put their faith in us at this election, I sincerely hope the Government adopts even more of the good programs that we have funded in this year's alternative budget. If they do, it will be all the better for Tasmania.