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Budget Reply

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Tags: Alternative Budget, State Budget, Tasmanian Aboriginals, Climate Change, Environment, Children and Young People

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, for 60 000 years or more the ground beneath our feet has been Aboriginal land. The Greens acknowledge the trauma and unfathomable loss caused by colonisation and stand with today's proud Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

In here, we should all be a voice for truth, Treaty, justice and the return of lands and, of course, do much more than talk about it. The Greens' alternative budget, which I am proud to present today, commits to working with First Nations Tasmanians to establish a robust and respectful truth telling process, strengthening the path to Treaty, which has stalled egregiously under this Government and this Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. We also allocate $8 million over the forward Estimates to upscale Closing the Gap initiatives to address disadvantage in child and maternal health, youth justice, Aboriginal mental health programs and housing.

I have heard it said that the first Tasmanians are a patient people but it has been nearly two decades since this Parliament returned any land. Shame on this institution, Mr Speaker.

Our alternative budget is inspired by the generosity of east coast residents, Tom and Jane Tenniswood who, in a moving ceremony I was blessed to attend four years ago, returned 100 hectares of land to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. We contribute half a million dollars over four years towards private land returns. It is the right thing to do while the Rockliff Government dithers on justice and the return of stolen lands for the palawa pakana.

We know from the history and this year's debt laden Budget, the Liberals seem to have a casual regard for public funds. That was confirmed in Senate Estimates yesterday. In a staggering, and we believe potentially costly, act of incompetence we now know the Treasurer either forgot or decided not to include a request for the $65 million in Commonwealth funds for the York Park upgrade in his request to the federal Treasurer for a GST exemption.

It is also now clear the substantive request to exempt the $240 million Albanese Government grant towards the stadium was not sent until 11 days after its announcement, on the day of the federal Budget and some time after Question Time on 9 May. These people want us to believe that they are responsible budget managers.

Mr Speaker, I seek the leave of the House to table our alternative budget, which has been circulated.

Leave granted.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Mr Speaker, every year at Budget time the Greens do the work to lay out a clear, big hearted, evidence based alternative plan for Tasmania. At this time of the parliamentary year, Dr Woodruff and I are reminded that the Liberal and Labor Parties are more alike than not. We have each pretending they know more about what Tasmanians want and need than the other and each frustratingly narrow and rigid in their thinking about how to meet the enormous challenges we face as an island community.

So often in here it feels like an alternate reality where business as usual or worse is both the question and the only answer.

This amazing island and the community it has shaped deserve more honesty, vision and courage from their major party elected representatives. We have a still-reeling and fumbling Liberal minority Government which has offered up a budget that tells a tail of precipitous financial risk, of serious cuts to the public service and underfunding of the community sector and a deeply unwell public health system that is haemorrhaging good staff. It is treading water on cost of living and playing catch-up on housing while the number of Tasmanians who cannot afford the rent or have nowhere to call home continue to spiral. Our alternative budget shows it is more than possible to do better.

Tasmanians are being made to feel they should be grateful for not having enough, for not being given enough in this budget. 'We have record health spending', we are told by the Premier and the Treasurer, so why are Tasmanians unable to get in to see a specialist or have that urgent surgery their clinicians say they need? Why are people dying waiting seven hours for an ambulance?

Apparently, we also have 'record spending in education' so why do our precious children still lag the nation in educational outcomes? Why are so many once-dedicated educators leaving the profession? Why can all our schools not be COVID-safe?

Of course, there is also 'record spending on concessions' too so why can so many of the people we represent not afford the basics - rent, food, electricity and transport? The cost of living is creating a true Hunger Games in our society.

Our alternative budget reins in rents, increases food and power price relief and delivers sustained cost-of-living relief. Why does this Rockliff minority Government, like our alternative budget does, for example, not make public and passenger transport free? Now, there is some serious human potential unlocking cost-of-living relief that is more than affordable, particularly in the context of a blank-cheque-stadium deal. The free Metro trial last year was a raging success, increased patronage and a substantial drop in antisocial behaviour - safer for drivers and for passengers. Win, win, win for an investment of just $22 million a year. That is the kind of vision that is missing from this year's state Budget.

The housing monopoly game continues in this budget too. Promises, promises, out to 2032 and limited delivery. Why will this Government not move to reign in soaring rents or out of control short-stay accommodation?

Mr Speaker, Tasmanians are expected instead to give thanks for the Macquarie Point stadium. Such folly it is, riddled with sovereign risk - an albatross around this Government's neck and if it is not stopped it will saddle generations of Tasmanians with loss and debt. The Greens will never accept that stadiums are more important than homes for Tasmanians. We will never agree it is good budget management to starve the Public Service. We will argue protecting the health of our people is a solemn duty, that all Tasmanian children deserve to be treasured, well-nourished physically and emotionally and safe from harm.

We argued strongly in a letter to the Premier late last year that money needed to be set aside in this year's state Budget to ensure recommendations handed down by the Commission of Inquiry this coming August can be funded and implemented immediately. We are pleased to see $30 million set aside in the budget for the Commission of Inquiry but have questions about where that money came from? Is it just reallocated money that would have been spent otherwise in child safety over the forward Estimates? There are definitely cuts and delayed spending in that portfolio which we will be pursuing in Estimates next week.

The Greens are with the thousands of Tasmanians who just cannot believe what is on offer. A billion dollar plus loss-making edifice at Macquarie Point that we do not need; $240 million out of this Budget and that is just the beginning. It cannot be allowed to happen and I do not think it will. I do know community resolve against the stadium is only hardening and we saw that in a most recent EMRS poll.

Mr Speaker, I move -

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words in Appropriation Bill No 1 of 2023:

While not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the use of public moneys proposed in the bill to fund a new stadium at Macquarie Point.

We do this because we believe Tasmanians overwhelmingly do not support the expenditure on this stadium. We made a promise to the Tasmanian people that we would seek to remove stadium funding in the Budget.

Mr SPEAKER - Please table a copy of your amendment.

Ms O'CONNOR - Instead of a stadium at Macquarie Point, the Greens choose to invest in the Tasmanian people and the future of this island. We are serious about investing, for example, in restoring nature. The ancient Maugean skate and the Swift parrot are barrelling toward extinction. This business-as-usual Budget - mostly for business, to be fair, because it is always about the money and the stubborn attachment to trickle-down economics - fails nature and future generations of Tasmania.

Our alternative budget funds a massive upscaling and job creation in landscape repair. It cannot only be done with political will and an ear for the science, it absolutely needs to be done, and it would give young people hands-on hope for the future, tangibly improving mental health across the community.

The natural environment and climate get lip service in this year's state Budget, but that is more than they got from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, who failed to mention either in her speech. If you are not serious about the need to protect Tasmania's natural systems and get real about the climate shocks coming at us hard, you are not a serious alternative premier.

We got a pitch for Labor's vote yesterday, but the Greens believe they remain undeserving and ill-equipped for government. Listening to the Member for Bass, Ms Finlay, shill for the globally corrupt corporation JBS, or Dr Broad going in to bat for a Chinese state-owned company that wants to drown a rainforest in mine waste is enough to confirm that. Labor suffers from corporate capture, as do the Liberals. On industrial fish farming, forest destruction, weak regulators, they are both the same. That is why you need the Greens who are clear-eyed about the future, accompanied by Independents who do not sell out in here.

Here is a pitch for the Greens: vote Greens to get values money just cannot buy - honesty, integrity, and a strong drive to act in the public interest. Vote Greens and you will not be let down by major party politicians who say one thing and then do the exact opposite.

There will of course, and thankfully, be much more diversity in the next parliament, because the mood of the electorate is changing. Power-sharing parliaments will become the norm. It is politics for grown-ups and the best chance this island has of collectively meeting the demands of the times we live in.

How anyone could walk into a mighty forest like the Grove of Giants or the Blue Tiers or takayna and convince themselves those wildly complex life-giving ecosystems are better off flattened and burned remains baffling to those of us who love these places with our every breath. Western Australia and Victoria have banned native forest logging, ending the wanton vandalism and climate crimes, stopping that river of public money from funding destruction and giving skilled industry workers a transition pathway to secure employment. The Greens would like to see these native forest workers restoring forests to create the Tasmanian carbon bank and helping to buffer landscapes and the communities within them from the impacts of a heating climate.

Our alternative budget is geared strongly towards real life-saving, job-generating climate action. The Greens will continue always to work towards nature's protection, strong laws and regulations, genuinely independent regulators and robust integrity bodies. We cannot survive long without clean air and water, healthy soils and a stable climate. We will not survive, for example, without bees, nature's tiny allied soldier for good. It is important that we do not lose sight of these things.

Dr Woodruff and I are often dumbfounded by the disconnect, the anti-environmentalism, that both the Labor and Liberal parties have in common. It is no cause for pride. It is short-sighted, It's unscientific. It works against the interests of our children and grandchildren and this beautiful island.

We recognise every budget represents a set of values and choices. In making our case for a different way to prioritise the expenditure of public funds, we avoid the drab rhetoric and tired clichés heard too often in this place. It gets so boring, Mr Speaker, the use of this bland, lazy language. It also says nothing. We heard the Labor leader yesterday brazenly use the slogan trashed by the Albanese Government and promise to 'leave no-one behind' if elected to government. Try selling that to a Tasmanian living on JobSeeker who got a miserly extra $20 a week from a government that refuses to tax big corporations and is committed to the obscenity of the stage 3 tax cuts for the rich; or to the disabled and immune compromised, which the Albanese Government has abandoned to COVID 19 infection or a life of shielding - that is not participating in community life, as is their right. That is what is happening to too many of our constituents and they have been left behind.

Still on clichés and COVID 19, we heard the Premier say with a completely straight face yesterday that his Government has a strong record of keeping Tasmanians safe and well. Tell that to the families and friends of the hundreds who have died from COVID 19 since Jeremy Rockliff became Premier. Tell that to the Tasmanians newly disabled by long COVID and the parents of children sent into unsafe schools who are now on their third infection. That is not safe and it is not secure.

Instead of a stadium, the Greens invest in keeping Tasmanians healthy. The air we breathe has a profound impact on our health. Sometimes, like cigarette smoke and other toxic aerosols, it can be poisonous, which is why we regulate exposure to these contaminates and take measures to reduce the risk to public health. The right to breathe clean air is also a key workplace health and safety issue. We need to tackle airborne dangers like SARS CoV 2 or COVID 19, which has claimed an estimated 20 million lives worldwide and almost 300 of our fellow Tasmanians as at 30 May 2023.

Despite the known risks associated with COVID 19 infection and reinfection, all Australian governments have denied or downplayed the fact of airborne transmission, sidelined Public Health and removed nearly all proven mitigations. As a result, in Tasmania, as elsewhere, community transmission remains high along with a devastating toll of long COVID, disability and death. Experts tell us this is unlikely to be the last pandemic humanity faces in this decade. We must scale up investment in ventilation and filtration to make safer the air Tasmanians breathe in schools, workplaces, health and aged care, retail and other community settings.

The Greens recognise the clear need for a clean air transformation in Tasmania. Government needs to step up and better protect people. It needs to help employers make their spaces safer for everyone, including the disabled and clinically vulnerable, who are being shut out of society by COVID 19 risk. Experts around the world have been calling for clean air standards. In places like the US, France and Belgium responsible governments are listening and responding. Tasmania must too. It is our moral duty to the Tasmanian people. It would also be a job creator and good for small business.

In our alternative budget, we develop clean air standards and regulations to be phased in, along with funding for education and compliance. We fund clean air upgrades in public health care and education settings and provide clean air financing for community organisations and businesses. It is just the right thing to do.

Instead of a stadium, we invest in attracting and retaining the essential workers who hold our society together. For a healthy, inclusive lutruwita that genuinely leaves no-one behind we need a strong, well resourced and valued public service. Our public doctors, nurses, paramedics, allied health professionals, teachers, community and child safety workers, case managers, bus drivers and the like, and all the people who support their work are struggling. They are at the frontline of systemic underfunding and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. They are also paid less than their interstate counterparts. Staff shortages are becoming the norm. This must change. We need a plan to attract and retain the essential workers who hold the fabric of our society together.

Our alternative budget develops and implements a retention and recruitment plan to ensure Tasmania's State Service can sustainably deliver essential services to the Tasmanian people. It provides a pathway to pay parity, transitioning essential public service awards to be equal to their mainland counterparts.

It builds a stronger, safer child safety service with an extra 200 child safety officers and extra resourcing for the advice and referral line. It invests in education by recruiting 50 school psychologists, 40 social workers, 70 speech pathologists, 30 education support specialists, removing principals from the school staffing allocation and employing an extra 195 teachers for our kids because they deserve it.

Our alternative budget seeks to address the nursing shortage by investing in a total of 600 new graduate nurses, 120 permanent pool staff nurses and midwives, 10 psychiatric emergency nurses, 25 clinical educators and 50 clinical coaches; and the establishment of 10 designated perinatal mental health beds supported by trained perinatal mental health midwives. We also show it is possible to provide more paramedics and ambulance staff by recruiting 224 full time staff into Ambulance Tasmania and establishing a stand-alone rostering unit.

Looking after our people is essential. Looking after our public servants so that they can look after people is a core responsibility of government and this parliament.

The night skies over our island are among the world's clearest and most glorious, perhaps nowhere more than in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. There, light pollution is a rarity, allowing visitors to look up and see deep into the wonders of the universe. This is something to treasure and a potential tourism boon to lutruwita/Tasmania.

Founded in 2001, the International Dark Sky Places conservation program recognises and promotes stewardship of the night sky. The program has certified 200 places globally, including three in Australia. Dark Sky Sanctuaries draw visitors from across the light filled cities of the globe. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area already meets many of the Dark Sky Sanctuary criteria. This is an opportunity for our island that the Greens believe is too good to pass up. Declaring the World Heritage Area a Dark Sky Sanctuary will enhance connections to nature and the wilderness for Tasmanians and visitors, strengthen Tasmania's authentic natural brand, expand Tasmania's visitor appeal as an astro-tourism destination, contribute to rural and regional economies, and add to the already outstanding natural and cultural values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

We will progress a TWWHA Dark Sky Sanctuary by funding compliance work for the requirements of the program, preparing an application and ongoing tourism promotion and marketing. We encourage our colleagues in Government, particularly the Minister for Parks, to take this pitch seriously. It is an extraordinary opportunity to value-add to our brand and draw in a whole new cohort of visitors from other parts of the world to see the magical skies above the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Ms Ogilvie - I am supporting you. Astro-physics already and Science are already on board so we could have a chat about that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would love to have a chat about that, Ms Ogilvie. Thank you.

Mr Janesch - More people in the wilderness area.

Ms O'CONNOR - It may mean more people in the wilderness area. But that is pretty rich coming from a Parks minister who is still overseeing an expressions of interest process for commercial development inside Tasmania's public protected areas. A process that is secretive, lacks transparency and is immensely unpopular with a broad cross-section of Tasmanian people. Far better that we have light-touch bushwalkers and enjoyers of night skies staying in our wilderness World Heritage Area than plonking lodges and other hard commercial infrastructure into a place that is like nowhere else on earth.

This minister and this Government knows, because there is science behind this, that the infrastructure and those commercial developments tangibly damage our wilderness values. Our proposal protects wilderness values. The Government is currently on a trajectory of undermining them.

How do the Greens pay for our initiatives? We will make corporations pay their fair share. Tasmania still charges the lowest lease and licence fees for royalties and the like in the country. We are giving away our wealth to global corporations like JBS, MMG and all the other mining corporations currently being given free money to explore for minerals in Tasmania.

We would reclaim funds by ending subsidies for the V8 Supercars. We would increase mining royalties and rents by 150 per cent, bringing Tasmania just in line with the national average. We would defund exploration drilling grants for private mining companies, as well as MRT funding for mining exploration and quarrying sectors. Let these private companies pay for their own exploration. They are more than capable of doing it. Many of them are multi-million-dollar corporations. We have a government here that gives away the money of Tasmanians to multi-million-dollar global corporations to mine our special places. We would increase abalone licence fees by 30 per cent and we would move towards a full-cost recovery charge for water licence fees.

In our alternative budget, we retain our focus on water quality and good water management in Tasmania. It is not an issue that the Greens are prepared to let go because water is not 'liquid gold' - water is life. It matters to all of us and it matters to future generations and the economy.

We would increase casino tax rates to a level that covers lost tax revenue from banning electronic gaming machines in pubs and clubs.

We would introduce fish farming royalties of 10 per cent on the gross value of salmonids grown in state-owned waters.

We would introduce a 75 per cent tax for property developers on any increase in the value of land that results from a change in the allowable use of land. We will also establish a state register of rezoning decisions that includes the location of land and the value of the land before and after rezoning.

We would introduce a vacant homes levy, a levy of 1 per cent of unimproved value on residences left vacant, with the exception of legitimate uses such as shacks. It would reduce underutilisation of houses and provide revenue for investment in affordable housing.

We would reverse the Liberals' land tax cuts for property investors. We are unashamedly here to represent Tasmanians struggling to find a home and pay the rent.

We would defund the Liberals' equity injection into the Stadium Authority. It is nothing more than bread and circuses while people sleep in tents and die waiting for an ambulance. And we would reduce consultancies. Successive cuts to the public service over many years have increased the State Service reliance on external consultancies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers. In the paper that Mr Ferguson tabled in a timely way yesterday, we see that PwC, the disgraced corrupt consultancy firm, has numerous consultancies with the Tasmanian Government. We look forward to more conversations with the Treasurer about that in Estimates. A reduction in consultancies provides a savings of $8 million a year. Instead, we prioritise an extra $10 million a year into cost-of-living relief to expand eligibility for the full range of Tasmanian government concessions to all Tasmanian residents, including temporary visa-holders, who currently live below the recognised poverty line on less than $430 a week, as well as every household living on less than $600 a week.

Dr Woodruff and I are extremely proud of the alternative budget that we prepared and present today. We encourage members who do not support the allocation of public funds towards the stadium to seriously consider our amendment. We will not block the Budget but we want to see this stadium money removed from it.

Mr Speaker, I commend our alternative budget to the House.