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Budget Reply

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 1 June 2023

Tags: State Budget, Alternative Budget, Health, Environment

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this is the land of the palawa pakana who walked across this plain and treasured the dolerite columns of kunanyi for more than 60 000 years. More awe inspiring than any cathedral, kunanyi is the sacred mountain of ages that will never have a cable car built across it. The middens and rock depressions of takayna and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area have been shaped by countless generations of Aboriginal Tasmanians, who lived in those beautiful lands during multiple glaciations.

Our wild places area a treasure like nowhere else on Earth, not the plaything of private companies. We will defend them and protect their living Aboriginal culture. We recognise this land was stolen and never ceded. We will continue to work towards land returns, a treaty, truth telling and an Aboriginal voice to federal parliament as well as Aboriginal representation in the Tasmanian parliament.

I am proud to speak about the Greens' alternative Budget 2023-24 and outline more details following the words of the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Cassy O'Connor, yesterday. This is a fully costed alternative to the Government's Budget and it shows Tasmanians what the Greens value. We put more money into climate action, building homes, public health and restoring the natural world.

The last year has taught us everything about this Government's priorities. They are warped. There is not just one way to cut the fiscal cloth. The Treasurer's $300 million cut to public sector workers was a stark reminder of what the Liberals will choose. An unnecessary, vicious attack on essential services for the most vulnerable and on the people who provide them.

A year ago, newly minted Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, promised to lead a more kind, accountable Government. We really hoped he would turn the dial towards compassion and fairness in his Liberal Cabinet. We cheered him on all the way. It was with a heavy heart that we have seen him disappoint Tasmanians time and again and always when it counts the most. The Premier could not be honest with us that he had signed Tasmanians to a pact with the AFL devil to build a $1 billion stadium at Macquarie Point on their terms, and he could not even be honest about that deal with Tasmanians. We only found out some of the details during a Public Accounts Committee grilling of public servants. Jeremy Rockliff hid the truth because he knew in his gut Tasmanians would hate it, and he was right. Tasmanians' repudiation of the stadium is visceral and crosses party lines. It would be a blind eye that does not see people sleeping rough around our towns and a hard heart that does not feel the pain of people suffering on the elective surgery waiting list.

In Tasmania today, women and children are stuck in family violence because there is no home for them to escape to. The Liberals take Tasmanians for mugs who think money grows on trees. It is obvious we already do not spend enough because people are in desperate need; they cannot get a home and they cannot get a hospital bed, so how could the Liberals hand the AFL a billion-dollar plaything and consign us to so much debt for an unneeded and unwanted luxury? The stadium will be a millstone around the Liberals' neck, dragging them south all the way to the next election, and we will be with the community all the way opposing the build and supporting the creative, vibrant, alternative plans for Macquarie Point.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we noted the short shrift given by the Government to environment and climate issues in the Premier's and Treasurer's budget speeches and we especially noted the complete absence of them in the Opposition Leader's speech. As we get closer to an election, Labor is hardening its language. I predict crickets from Labor on nature and climate between now and the election, except that is, on their commitments to cut down more native forests, expand fish farm access further into public waters and push the Liberals to go harder on weakening our environment laws.

Federal Labor won the election by hoodwinking Australians on climate and environment action. People desperately wanted to believe they could not be as bad as the climate-denying Morrison government but it turns out they are the smiling assassins some of us have feared. Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment, is doing her job perfectly as a Labor foot soldier for fossil fuel corporations. She is down in the coal mine with CEOs approving developments that will send our national carbon emissions to stratospheric levels for decades into the future. She is leading the fossil fuel industry push to monetise nature. Both major parties are gunning hard for big gas, peddling the misinformation that gas is necessary for the transition. They are right to a point; it will be a transition into their dystopian future.

Meanwhile, our children's hearts weep with concern for their futures. Solastalgia, the grief over the loss of the natural world, does not even begin to describe their pain. Many of them fluctuate between terror and a collapse of hope. The enormity of natural system crashes and pollution and extraction overload brings their future hopes and dreams to a grinding halt. It is partly the reason behind the tsunami of anxiety, depression and eating disorders that grips our young people.

It is another reason why the recently announced closure of St Helens Private Hospital is such a catastrophe and a loss we cannot afford. Young people, together with people of all ages, depend heavily on its outpatient mental health and recovery treatment. We hear that 3000 are likely to have no services available through the psychiatrists who work there. There is deep fear among patients and staff confronting a future not only of climate crisis but without any life-saving care that St Helens provides. With 31 mental health beds, the only mother and baby unit in Tasmania, DVT and long-term recovery groups, the services and the specialist staff are irreplaceable. We know that in only three weeks' time St Helens will close its doors. It is unconscionable. Something can and must be done to stop it.

The Premier has moved mountains for the AFL to secure a billion dollar stadium but he has not lifted a finger to stop this critical healthcare plank from closing. We strongly support calls from the union, healthcare staff and patients for the Government to step in to ensure continuity of service. Ultimately, the hospital should be part of the public health system. Our budget funds the process of entering into a continuity of service agreement with private providers of St Helens for one year of continued service while longer-term solutions are explored. It includes an independent due diligence process for the Government to acquire the facility.

Young people and all of us desperately need leaders who confront the reality of the climate crisis. There is an acceleration of extreme weather events happening across all countries. Our planet is about to breach the red line and we are going to go past the 1.5 degrees average global temperature increase in the next four years. It is a threat to our lives and our futures. The climate is now snapping between extreme drying and heating events, with violent windstorms in between. It is bringing not just more human suffering and dislocation but global volatility in food and good supply chains.

The COVID 19 pandemic has shown us that nowhere on Earth is immune, even in Tasmania, where some people like to delude themselves that at the southern end of the Earth we are so far away. The only sane response is for a government to lead a collective response and focus on urgent emissions reductions and protecting the most vulnerable. The Liberals tabled their climate action plan today. It has some welcome parts but it is fiddling around the edges and it just shows incrementalism is holding sway amongst the Liberal and Labor parties.

There is no serious climate action today that can exclude ending native forest logging and burning. The destruction of our native forests releases enormous amounts of stored carbon and, by the most recent and still undisputed estimates of Dr Jen Sanger, the native forest industry is the greatest CO2 emitter in the state, far greater even than transport. We fund the transition of Forestry Tasmania staff, along with their specialist skills - which Dr Broad will be pleased to hear - into bushfire mitigation, road and trail maintenance and forest regeneration.

The Government's climate action plan is about assuming a steady state. We have listened to the scientists. Our budget funds industry-mandated emission targets, with the support the businesses need to transition their operations to become future-proofed. As well as enhancing our forest carbon stores, we finance a carbon bank project, soil carbon monitoring, and targets and incentives to restore soil carbon levels particularly on agricultural land. We have invested $20 million into a large-scale rollout of free energy efficiency audits and upgrades to help low-income households cut power bills as well as being good for the planet.

Mr Deputy Speaker, how can we forget the 2019 bushfires that threatened regional Tasmania for months on end, and the 2020 eastern shore bushfires where lives were lost, tens of thousands of homes and more than three billion animals were incinerated? The shock waves for threatened species are still being counted. We have had three years of La Niňa wets and fire experts have grave fears at the paucity of our current response planning.

With escalating climate heating, the approaching El Niňo summer doubles down on our bushfire risk. There is a horrifying underinvestment in the Liberals' Budget for bushfire mitigation capacity and emergency service volunteers, the people who protect our communities and wild places. Hobart is exquisitely vulnerable to fire roaring down from the Derwent Valley and has bottleneck evacuation routes and limited safe places. Our budget has listened to the concerns of Hobart City Council and fire experts and we prioritise comprehensive bushfire safety planning for the city with far greater community consultation, education and simulation trials.

We also fund 30 extra rapid response remote area firefighters, the people who go in and do the hard work at the beginning to make sure parks and reserves are better protected in this drying climate, and to make sure bushfires stop as fast as possible and do not spread into communities. The great environmental challenges that lutruwita faces is the loss of biodiversity through developments and extractive industry destruction or by official neglect under this government.

As we have come to expect from the Liberals, the state Budget failed nature utterly. Threatened species are further threatened instead of protected. This is a stadium or bust budget that has carved money out from every area of essential services including environmental protection that it can.

As the planet heats, almost all native species are imperilled, especially in Tasmania where there is nowhere else for them to go. Only 4 per cent of our continent's intact functioning ecosystems have remained after colonisation. That is a horrifyingly small number but it seems that Tasmania has roughly half of these. Governments have a moral responsibility to protect these intact communities of plants and animals but the Liberals have delivered massive cuts to environmental management resource and they end recovery efforts for the orange bellied and swift parrots in two-years' time, maybe after they have driven them to extinction perhaps.

There is not a shekel to reverse the extinction trajectory for the myriad other endangered species across lutruwita. It is almost as though the climate and biodiversity crises do not exist. In reality, protecting the swift parrot or masked owl conflicts with the Liberals' political anti science native forest destruction plan and protection of maugean skates conflicts with the growing growth agenda of big salmon. Robbins Island should be listed and protected as a Ramsar wetland of international significance. Instead, the Liberals ignore their obligation to protect its critically endangered migratory birds and disease-free Tasmanian devil population and they promote it instead for industrial scale wind farm development. We cannot trade vanishing, intact natural habitat for a renewable energy that can be put elsewhere. We have choices.

Roger Jaensch is the latest in a line of anti-environment ministers, Labor and Liberal, who pretend they are working to protect nature. He is the latest Liberal shill who is working to protect the interests of big businesses. He is content to dither and monitor endangered animals into extinction. So we fund a maugean skate recovery plan and the essential first-steps in its protection, that is, the permanent removal of fish farming from Macquarie Harbour and a plan to repair the basin. The Liberal's salmon is a faux science-based sham. It is government funded promotional material for Cook and JBSs customers. The Liberal and Labor Parties are both comfortable watching the salmon industry grow and see our marine waters turn from rainbow to beige. The Greens will transition fish farms out of Tasmanian waters onto land. Licenses for coastal farms will not be renewed as they expire and we fund what is needed to immediately review the current stocking levels and the license conditions for existing farms.

We would establish nutrient and biomass caps, we would end the harmful wildlife management practices -

Members interjecting.

Ms O'Connor - You keep shilling for JBS.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, order.

Dr WOODRUFF - and we would strengthen marine debris controls. Ah, they are alive.

The pressures are hard for plants and animals to survive in a heating world. We need to restore habitats damaged by developments, forestry and other destructive industries. Our budget provides annual eco-system restoration grants across the state and incentive schemes for private owners to heal flood basins including wetlands in flood-prone areas. We know this important work of repairing environmental damage is done by an army of unpaid volunteers and we support the vital conservation work of the Landcare, Coastcare and Wildcare volunteers who work for our collective future. We fund them for community capacity building.

The catastrophe of unchecked invasive species will unbalance our ecosystems and tip threatened species into extinction unless we act. We will initiate a plan for professional eradication of infestations like phytophthora and chytrid in Tasmania's reserves. We will declare fallow deer a pest species and make eradication the sole management objective. We will fund a shooter accreditation program and establish professional ground and aerial shooting, along with deer farm regulatory compliance and education. We know that feral and stray cats kill wildlife in their thousands every year. They impact on primary producers, and cat diseases are a threat to people's health. We will finish what the Liberals squibbed on in this place, and enact mandatory cat confinement laws. Our budget resources community education and counsel enforcement activities.

In 2016, the Tasmanian Planning Commission recommended the Liberals update the critical biodiversity maps needed for councils to make informed planning decisions about development impacts. It is no surprise they have never done it. So we do. So many citizen scientists do incredible work for free and for love, reporting and monitoring our biodiversity. We thank them and give them support with tools to share their data, departmental support and a strategy for improving data gaps in our biodiversity maps.

Tasmania's marine diversity is disappearing before our eyes and our budget creates a coastal management unit to develop a climate-resilient coastal plan and take charge of a new marine protected area strategy. We will enact the United Nations Environment Program Treaty which Australia has signed onto and make 10 per cent of Tasmanian waters into no take marine reserves. They will not be paper parks, but comprehensive, adequate and representative of our biodiversity. Our MPAs will become a source of species abundance. They will help marine life be more resilient to heat shocks and improve the prospects for fishers outside these areas.

When the Liberal Party holds fundraising dinners and gives global salmon CEOs privileged Premier access, it sends warning bells to ring-fence development decisions from the influence of corporate profit motives. Our signature environmental policy is to strengthen our laws that protect nature, for she is everything for us. We end the ability of government ministers to influence EPA decision-making and will change the law to cut ties between the government of the day, Labor or Liberal, and development decisions. We also give our environment regulator the money it needs to strong, pro-nature decisions and for monitoring and enforcement.

Nurses and paramedics are the glue in Tasmania's hospitals, but they are not appreciated or supported. Today we heard the Health department has tried to claw back a $1000 COVID 19 'thank you' payment from the Ambulance State Operation teams, and, it seems, another 500 people. It is a little window in the lack of understanding the minister and his executive for workers who put their lives on the line to serve the most needy every day. Apparently, that decision has been hastily reversed after we raised it with the minister this morning. But the fact remains, there are far too few health staff to meet demands and is causing and sickness. This is something that the Liberals have been guilty of under-investing in now for almost a decade. They have maintained lower salaries for healthcare staff than mainland colleagues by many tens of thousands of dollars. So, it is not surprising that they are leaving in droves to work in other states with higher salaries, better-resourced work environments, and less intolerable stress.

Our plan tackles this critical health shortage by investing in 815 new nursing staff that increase over the Budget period. These include community nurses, specialists in palliative care, psychiatric emergency nurses, clinical educators and clinical coaches to support new graduates, perinatal mental health midwives, and a 600 person-strong increase in nurse graduates with an extra 120 new nurses and midwives in the permanent staff. We have got the worst ambulance times in the country. They are far worse under the Liberals and they are still dropping. We will invest in 224 new paramedics and ambulance staff to help people get to hospital in time to save their life. Of course, the aim of a health system is to keep people out of hospital and well for longer, so we have a substantial investment in alcohol and drug treatment facilities and in preventive health.

Many Tasmanians had hoped that the fact Jeremy Rockliff is a decent guy would make a difference to how the Liberals operate. His actions over the last year show that dishonesty is baked into the DNA of all the Liberals. Government transparency in Tasmania has gone backwards, if you can believe it is possible. By all measures, we are a more secret state than when the Liberals came to Government nine years ago.

This Government reflexively covers up inconvenient truths, like the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money used by Liberal candidates in the 2021 election to pork barrel votes by promising non merit tested sporting and recreational facilities, the internal Health department suppression of reports of child sex abuse and the failure to publicise the abuses of children at Ashley Youth Detention Centre or the cover ups of animal abuses in the racing industry and fur seal deaths by salmon farmers.

The Greens invest strongly in transparency. We will allocate funding to the Ombudsman for a new role of transparency and information commissioner under a new Information Accessibility and Transparency Act.

We have to stop the rot at the top. That means electoral reform. It means including legislation to cap political donations, limit donations to natural persons, caps on electoral expenditure and a regulation of third parties. It also means funding, which we provide for the real time disclosure of political donations and funding for the establishment and resourcing of a political advertising commissioner to administer truth in political advertising laws.

Truth matters now more than ever. We are providing all Tasmanians with the views and the values of the Tasmanian Greens in this alternative budget. It is a bold and compassionate vision for our island and its people. It tackles the deep social challenges that are facing Tasmania, especially housing and injustice. It starts to address a decade of under-investment by the Liberals in the public system.

We have put serious investments into real climate action, in emissions reduction, ending native forest logging, landscape restoration and community resilience. Our budget ends the era of wanton plunder of natural resources and the privatisation of wild places. It values what is magical and special about this beautiful little island.

Instead of locking in grand windfall profits for multinational corporations, we unashamedly expect them to pay their way. Our budget takes those handouts and the sweet deals for the top end of town and directs them to build more houses, employ more nurses, more paramedics, more teachers and more child safety staff.

We focus on healing and enhancing our great natural assets, our marine life, wetlands, grasslands and forests. These biodiverse carbon banks are not just a source of inestimable wonder and delight, they are the backbone of our tourism and agricultural industries. They buffer us from extreme events and prevent our climate from heating to even greater levels.

This Greens alternative budget is for the people of today who are left without the supports we can afford. It is for the children of the future who need us to pass on this wonderous, habitable little island that we are so lucky to enjoy today.