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Budget Reply Speech

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Tags: State Budget, Alternative Budget, Climate Change, Housing Crisis, Health, Education, 1080 Poison, Housing Waiting List, Electric Vehicles, Recidivism, Pill Testing, Elder Abuse

Tasmanian Greens Budget Reply: O'Connor


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens to respond to the 2019-20 state Budget and to deliver the Greens' fully costed alternative budget.

Before I begin, I acknowledge that we are standing on the land of the Muwinina people and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, to acknowledge that we are standing on land that is owned by the Aboriginal people of Tasmania and that we must move towards a treaty with the first people. We must restart the land returns process and acknowledge that true reconciliation requires much stronger leadership and action from the Tasmanian Parliament and, indeed, the Tasmanian Government.

Mr Deputy Speaker, every Tasmanian has the right to a good quality of life. They have the right to access high-quality health services, to attend and send their children to great public schools, to go into a well-funded TAFE system or to university, and to secure stable, meaningful employment. Every Tasmanian has the right to a secure, affordable home, whether it is one they rent or are able to buy. They have a right to access well-funded support services when they need them. If life is not going so well and they are afflicted by mental ill health, every Tasmanian has the right to well-funded and resourced accessible mental health services in both community and clinical settings.

We just had a debate on the increasing levels of depression and anxiety amongst young people. Every young Tasmanian who is experiencing distress has the right to access the best psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists in the public system. An increasing number of young Tasmanians are experiencing mental distress over their future and we have seen it here on the lawns of our Parliament when young people were striking in their thousands demanding action on the climate emergency. We saw it in this place last Wednesday when young people, with very little prompting, came to this place to watch the debate on the declaration of a climate emergency, and it is a matter of historical record that that motion was defeated by both the Government and the Opposition members with the casting vote of Speaker Sue Hickey, but I can commit on behalf of the Greens that we will come back into this place and again give Parliament an opportunity to declare a climate emergency and accept the facts of climate change. Young people want to know that their leaders are actually leading and responding to the climate emergency.

This year's state Budget is a bitter disappointment to those of us who want to see government lead on climate action. It is a bitter disappointment to the community sector and those organisations and individuals who are working on the front line of our communities.

I go back to the report card TasCOSS issued on the day the Treasurer handed down the state Budget. There are more people accessing energy concessions now than when we left government in 2014. The number of people who are seen at the ED within four hours at the Royal Hobart Hospital has gone from 60.3 per cent to 54 per cent in 2018-19. The elective surgery waiting list has climbed from 7438 in 2013-14 to 9043 in 2018-19. The proportion of people who are deferring access to GPs due to costs has risen from 6.9 per cent to 8.7 per cent. TAFE and VET enrolments have fallen from 63 400 to 54 100.

In good news, the school retention rate has increased from 68.4 per cent to 74 per cent, but in terms of unemployment, we have heard a lot from the Liberals in government about creating jobs, but the hard data shows they are failing. The number of unemployed in 2013-14 was 18 900 and it is now 17 500, so that is an improvement in real terms of 1200 people who have been able to secure employment and, let us not forget, the data from 2013-14 was when the state was coming out of the impact of the global financial crisis. The number of under-employed people has risen under this Government.

The number of people on the housing register has increased from 2054, when a Greens minister was administering the portfolio and had the housing waiting list to its lowest level in a decade, to now 3233 languishing on public housing waiting list. It is taking much longer for people to be housed. It has gone from 19 weeks under a Greens minister to 56 weeks under a Liberal minister. The number of children in out-of-home care has climbed from 1054 to now 1310. On any metric, socially, Tasmania has gone backward after five years of a Liberal Government.

We are proud to present the Tasmanian Greens' fully costed long-term vision for Tasmania, our alternative budget 2019-20. As Greens, we recognise a good state budget must address the triple bottom line. It must also apply the lens of intergenerational equity to policy and funding decisions. Future generations deserve nothing less. The forward Estimates are only four years but the reach of policy and funding decisions made in a decent long-term budget must look past the forward Estimates and the next election.

Our vision for the future is of a healthy, resilient and prosperous Tasmania where the natural environment is protected and every citizen feels included and respected. We know Tasmania can be a beacon to the world of sustainability, creativity and fairness. This requires both leadership and heart, a preparedness to see past the short-term and to recognise an investment in the wellbeing of people is an investment in the future wellbeing of all Tasmanians. In a time of climate emergency, as a community, we must prioritise strong climate action. We can bring down emissions, adapt to a rapidly-changing climate and create new career pathways for Tasmanians looking for work. On this critical measure, we demonstrate it can be done. All it takes is leadership.

Right now in Tasmania, unemployment is the highest in the country. Too many people simply are not feeling the 'golden age'. A growing number of young people, families and older singles are finding it harder and harder to rent, let alone buy a home. At the same time, both patients and staff in the state's four public hospitals are under intensifying pressure. With under-investment in public health comes further disadvantage across the community and it impacts on all Tasmanians. The Greens' alternative budget prioritises high-quality health, housing and education services for every Tasmanian. It makes a clear choice to deliver better social infrastructure over roads and bridges. We demonstrate it is possible to really tackle the housing crisis, to increase the supply of secure, affordable and energy-efficient housing.

Our alternative budget removes poker machines from communities and raises the tax on casinos. It levies international visitors for the privilege of spending time on this beautiful island and increases registration for high-emission vehicles. It cuts funding to V8 Supercars and imposes a sensible waste levy to pay for environment protection and community wellbeing. The Greens have always recognised that strengthening Tasmania's democratic institutions and the human rights of all citizens in an equal society makes for a stronger, more diverse and resilient community. A state budget is a statement of values. Our values are clearly reflected in our alternative budget.

This was the hottest summer in the state's history with fires that threatened communities for weeks and months and burned 6 per cent of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Tasmania is feeling the escalating, volatile climate with bushfires, droughts and floods. People want reassurance their government recognises and is prepared to act and protect them in response to the climate emergency. Climate action is at the heart of the Greens budget and it starts with leadership. Our alternative budget reinstates a minister for climate change and the Climate Action Council, both axed by the Hodgman Government in 2014. Our budget appoints a chief scientist to oversee all government policy with a view to ensuring the Government's response to the climate emergency is grounded in the latest evidence. Our alternative budget ends all native forest logging to preserve the state's much needed carbon sinks and to protect the wondrous biodiversity of our forests.

We also fund multiple methods of carbon sequestration across farming and land management. We recognise our farmers are doing the hard yards and their costs are rising. Our alternative budget invests in on-farm renewables and energy saving measures to support our farmers. With a dry El Niño forecast this summer and extreme weather events no longer exceptional, our budget recognises the costs of responding to these events are likely to soar year on year into the future. We invest in 20 extra remote area firefighters and fund the trial of two very large air tankers to fight bushfires that threaten homes and wilderness. We also provide the resources for communities to better plan for bushfires and we substantially increase funding for the State Emergency Services by $8 million across the forward Estimates.

Our alternative budget supports the necessary and inevitable transition from fossil to renewable fuels and prioritises funding into public transport options. We fund the state's contribution towards Hobart light rail and invest in Derwent ferries to remove more cars from Hobart's busy roads. We electrify the ministerial and government fleets and fund the roll-out of electric buses. This is an example of a government showing leadership. We build more pedestrian infrastructure and cycleways including the Battery Point walkway and light rail to reduce emissions, improve people's health and create a more liveable Hobart. The Greens would also invest $3 million per year in energy efficiency upgrades to low-income households, those people hit hardest by climbing energy costs. This would restart the highly successful roll-out of free energy efficiency upgrades that was undertaken by a Greens minister, who delivered nine-and-a-half thousand free energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households, community groups and small business, lowering emissions and improving the cost of living.

Responsible governments prepare for the future. The Greens recognise there are massive transitions occurring worldwide in the employment, communication and energy sector as well as the global climate system, which is in an alarming state of disruption. Our budget prioritises planning to position Tasmania for tomorrow's opportunities as well as its challenges. We want to protect our island's many values that are the source of our precious clean, green brand. We established the portfolio of minister for employment to tackle our high unemployment and to actively prepare for the industries and jobs of the future. The employment minister would oversee the reskilling of seniors and people in regional areas where industries are changing fast in an increasingly automated world. We need to help our young people move into the jobs that robots cannot take. As it is, they are deeply concerned about automation, artificial intelligence and what that means for their future employment prospects.

Our budget focuses on all regions and provides the tools communities need to choose their own economic path. We invest $50 million each year into a regional reinvestment infrastructure fund to help communities prosper into the future. Tasmania has a growing population and an increasing number of new arrivals are climate refugees. Our settlement and land-use patterns must actively reflect the demands of the climate emergency. Planning must prioritise environmental protection, public participation and it must value our shared public places. The Greens' budget establishes the offices of the chief engineer, the state demographer and it reinstates the state architect. These offices will ensure Tasmania is equipped with the expertise needed for future planning. We institute real state policies and fund comprehensive biodiversity mapping so that Tasmania has an integrated framework for future development that works for people and protects our environment. We provide additional funding to the Tasmanian Planning Commission, the Resource Management Planning Appeals Tribunal and the Environmental Defenders Office to guarantee the planning system maintains its integrity and the public has a real say in developments. To offset some of these costs, we would gladly defund the Office of the Coordinator-General.

Dr Woodruff - Hear, hear.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Dr Woodruff. Every Tasmanian has the right to a secure, affordable place to call home. This is a fundamental human right being denied to a growing number of Tasmanians. On any given night in Tasmania, up to 1600 Tasmanians are homeless. They are living on the streets in shelters, tents, temporarily at friends' places or in their cars. Many more are languishing on the housing waiting list, now at its highest level in a decade. We can and must do better by Tasmanians who are being shut out of both the rental and the real estate market.

To deliver a sustainable social housing system, the state needs to absorb the Commonwealth housing debt into the consolidated fund or the public account, as we now call it, and unburdening Housing Tasmania to increase the supply of affordable housing. We demonstrate that it is necessary and achievable to do this. It is all about your priorities. The Greens' alternative budget invests $50 million in building new, energy-efficient homes in the next two financial years. We also invest $30 million into new homelessness facilities to help those who need immediate emergency relief. The Greens would regulate short-stay accommodation and implement a vacant residence tax to free up the supply of affordable homes. The Greens' alternative budget tackles the housing crisis immediately and would provide real relief for those in housing distress. We present housing solutions to meet the immediate, medium and long-term needs of Tasmanians.

The Greens understand health and wellbeing is the basis of a healthy community, which our investment priorities reflet. Tasmanian hospitals are bursting at the seams. When patients arrive, they will wait hours for acute care and we know there are patients dying in our emergency departments. In order to tackle the rising demand for emergency services, we understand it is critical to properly fund those preventative health services that help keep people well and out of hospital. This Government has dropped the ball on reducing the very high rate of smoking, alcohol and drug use and of poor nutrition. There are food deserts in Tasmania where families cannot access healthy, affordable food. This is not good enough in a modern society. We invest $23 million into community preventative health services, expanding the population health unit and into drug rehabilitation treatment.

We also recognise that when people need an emergency service, they need help immediately. Our budget provides $16 million for ten psychiatric and ten emergency department nurses and for extra clinical specialists to reduce the pressure in acute emergency care. The levels of mental ill health in Tasmania, including rising depression and anxiety amongst young people are deeply concerning. The Greens' budget prioritises an extra $25 million into mental health services. This includes $12 million for child and youth mental health services with a focus on protection so that young people do not fall through service and age cracks and can have age-appropriate care. People should have access to excellent health care across their life span including at the end stage. We provide substantial funding of $42 million into those palliative care services Tasmanians want and need, including a northern Whittle ward and $3 million each year for Hospice in the Home. The safety of young people at music festivals must be paramount. Our budget provides for an education program on pill testing. Pill testing saves lives. It is good policy and it must be supported by any responsible government. Pig-headed politics and 'just saying no' ideologies do not keep young people safe and it risks losing lives. This alternative budget that funding preventative health is a budget saving, with a total $22 million investment we promote healthy living and mental wellness, along with reproductive health and compassionate palliative care choices.

Tasmania's protected areas and environment are the main reason people travel from around the world to visit. Those values must be protected, not exploited. Our alternative budget establishes a standalone department of environment and parks to prioritise the protection of the places we love that are unique in the world. We also invest in an extra 15 park rangers and field officers. The booming visitor economy is having a heavy impact on parks and regional areas. You only have to have a look at the queues lining up for the Wineglass Bay track and to get into Cradle Mountain to know that our protected areas are under extraordinary pressure from increasing visitor numbers. Our budget institutes a visitor levy so people who visit our state contribute to ensuring its values are looked after, protected, well-managed and maintained for all to enjoy into the future.

The Greens would establish stronger environmental laws and in independent environment protection agency to protect our natural marine and land areas. Our alternative budget defunds the divisive and exploitative expressions of interest process established by the Liberals to develop in parks and reserve areas and it funds a statutory process to govern the development decisions within parks and reserves. Our budget ensures protected areas can no longer be privatised by stealth and it gives Tasmanians a say about how public lands are protected for generations to come. We recognise Australia's largest temperate rainforest, the world-renowned and celebrated takayna Tarkine, should be protected. The Greens would create a takayna national park. It would be an iconic attraction for north-west Tasmania. It would create lasting employment and long-term economic prosperity for the region. The Greens' budget invests $5 million a year in regenerating farming and other degraded lands, to improve biodiversity through an ecosystem regeneration fund. We also provide extra funds for the important work of Landcare and toward a bigger seedbank to preserve native species.

Our alternative budget addresses the escalating waste crisis by introducing a waste levy, long supported by local councils, with funding directed toward a container deposit scheme, statewide single-use plastic laws, addressing trade waste, and preparing Tasmania for a zero-waste future.

Every young Tasmanian deserves a high-quality public education that nourishes their wellbeing, personal development and future potential. They also deserve clear training and career pathways. A strong investment in public education underpins the state's future social and economic wellbeing. The Greens will work with parents and communities to develop a quality guarantee for Tasmanian schools, setting annual minimum standards for all schools and holding government to account for lifting standards. The Greens' alternative budget invests $32 million for 90 additional teachers and 80 support staff to ease pressure on educators and lift educational outcomes. We also allocate an additional $30 million toward quality school infrastructure and we invest in greening up our schools, with funding for renewables and more energy-efficient schools. This will lower power costs and emissions and it demonstrates climate leadership to students.

We recognise some students need extra support to reach their potential. We will provide funding for 30 hours of literacy and numeracy tutoring in each subject area for each student who falls below the national standard. Young people are experiencing depression and anxiety in increasing numbers. We understand a quality education is not solely about academic performance, it is also very much about student wellbeing. Our alternative budget invests $8 million into extra school psychologists, $6 million for social workers, and it establishes a climate resilience program across the public education system. We want young Tasmanians to be ready for the future in every possible way. We allocate resourcing towards introducing comprehensive civics education into the school curriculum to ensure young Tasmanians are engaged and aware of this nation's democratic foundations. Tasmanian schools are fostering the leaders of tomorrow and we see this as a crucial education reform.

The Greens also recognise the vital role TasTAFE plays in preparing young people for the jobs of today and tomorrow. This alternative budget revitalises an underfunded TAFE system and establishes a centre of excellence in aged and disability care, an area of rapid and increasing jobs growth. Our alternative budget provides the education framework Tasmania needs, improving education and wellbeing outcomes for every young Tasmanian.

Children and young people are able to flourish in a secure and stable environment. To reach their full personal and emotional potential, young people need to be nurtured and supported through a sustained commitment from all sectors of the community and government. Tasmania's child safety system is chronically and dangerously underfunded. Significant investment is urgently needed. Our alternative budget provides for 50 new child safety officers and restores the support staff cut by the Liberals. These initiatives will free up child safety workers to investigate allegations and to support families. The Greens recognise the wellbeing of Tasmania's children should be above politics. We will move to establish a joint standing committee on child safety to provide nonpartisan parliamentary leadership and to foster collaboration.

Our alternative budget funds a specialised child, youth and family intervention course through TasTAFE and a cadetship program trial to run over three years in order to attract, train and retain new staff. We invest in developing minimum standards for foster carers and increasing the support available to carers. We also fund parent advocacy services to improve the chances of safe, sustainable family reunions. The Greens alternative budget provides additional case workers, restores support and provides the building blocks for a more secure, safer child protection system.

A healthy democracy and justice system are critical social infrastructure, vital elements of a fair and equitable society. When these erode, the whole community suffers. The Greens understand the importance of justice for Tasmania's first people, the palawa pakana. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community has long been neglected by governments. To have justice, we must take real steps towards reconciliation. Our alternative budget provides funding to develop a treaty with Aboriginal Tasmanians. We would restart the process of returning lands, consult to establish a reconciliation day and ensure Tasmanian Aboriginal history is taught in our schools.

All government policy and legislation must take human rights into consideration. The Greens will move to establish a Human Rights Act and our budget supports the legislation with a human rights commission to ensure human rights compliance by parliament and government. Our budget establishes a restorative justice policy and programs unit within the Department of Justice which focuses on crime prevention and rehabilitation programs in prisons and within communities.

The Greens have long recognised the Ashley Youth Detention Centre is not fit for purpose. Our alternative budget establishes two facilities, one in the north and one in the south. These facilities are based on world's best practice, the Missouri model that emphasises rehabilitation and adopts a therapeutic model reduce reoffending.

We recognise our integrity bodies are a critical part of holding governments to account and are currently underfunded for the important work they do. We increase funding levels to the Integrity Commission and to the Ombudsman. The Greens budget puts rights back into the justice system and invests in democracy, both critical pillars for the healthy functioning of Tasmania. Healthy and vibrant communities require investment, good leadership and tangible investment.

A keystone of the Greens alternative budget is the removal of poker machines from pubs and clubs. This is a critical economic and social reform. Poker machines cost lives. They lead to suicide, family breakdown, homelessness, mental illness and addiction. They must be removed from communities. Poker machine addiction leeches funds from some of the most disadvantaged areas. Our alternative budget increases the taxes and licensing fees on casinos in Tasmania which profit hugely from gambling and the misery of others. This is in line with similar approaches towards alcohol and tobacco products and would provide $58 million in revenue over the forward Estimates.

We also invest $1 million per year into a medical cannabis compassionate growers scheme to ensure more Tasmanians currently suffering with chronic conditions or illnesses can access this critical pain relief medication.

The Greens understand that Tasmanians living with disability who require services not covered by the NDIS should not suffer. Our alternative budget provides funding for those services and for a disability self-advocacy program to ensure people living with a disability are guaranteed their own strong voice.

We also invest in world's best practice elder abuse prevention legislation to protect older Tasmanians from physical, emotional and financial abuse. Our alternative budget properly invests in the community sector. We restore indexation to community sector organisations so those who support Tasmania's most disadvantaged are not disadvantaged themselves. We establish a community services commission to ensure there is appropriate oversight of the sector and that individual rights are recognised and protected.

The Greens understand that cultural investment is critical to healthy communities, particularly in regional areas. We invest $1 million in regional arts grants and $200 000 for emerging artists to foster talent and to connect communities.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the way we treat animals reflects who we are as a society. Tasmania still has chickens trapped in battery cages, 1080 poison is being laid on farm lands and plantations and greyhounds are still being killed by the hundreds every year to prop up a cruel industry. Tasmania can do much better by all its creatures, great and small. The Greens alternative budget establishes an animal welfare commission to ensure that the rights of animals are respected and protected.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The member's time has expired.

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the member be heard for the short remaining part of her speech.

Leave granted.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have about two minutes left. Thank you. The Greens will move to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act 1993 to contemporise the legal framework for a more humane Tasmania. As members know, we have legislation on the table.

This alternative budget outlaws the cruel industries of battery hen farms and greyhound racing, as well as rodeos. We will also move to ensure the mental suffering of animals is captured within the Animal Welfare Act 1993 so those who torture animals face meaningful consequences. We will also establish an animal welfare inspectorate within Tasmania Police.

Animal cruelty offences and welfare crimes are currently under investigated or not prosecuted due to a lack of inspectorate resourcing. We recognise the pressing need for Tasmania Police to be properly resourced to effectively undertake inspectorate work. The Greens alternative budget invests in animal sanctuaries and shelters in recognition of the vital work they do on behalf of the voiceless.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek the leave of the House to table our alternative budget 2019-20.

Leave granted.