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Consolidated Fund Appropriation (Supplementary Appropriation For 2018-19) Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 11 April 2019

Tags: State Budget, Fuel Reduction Burns, Climate Change

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam speaker, here we are again as we are every year at around about this time dealing with supplementary appropriation. This is a substantial supplementary appropriation in the order of $218 million, a very large proportion of which, again, is going into the Health budget, because every single year the Health budget is underfunded in order to make that year's budget look better than it is. Of course we want public servants to keep being paid and make sure quality public services continue to be delivered so we will support the Consolidated Fund Appropriation (Supplementary Appropriation) Bill for 2018-19.

But it has been interesting to see the change in the Treasurer's attitude in this parliament in recent weeks. We had to put up, in this place, with nearly five years of intolerable hubris from this Treasurer who talked about things like the 'golden age' which turned out to be a 'golden minute'. He talks about his sound financial management and yet here we are dealing with a shortfall in recurrent funding across a number of agencies and looking forward, there will be a projected $560 million less to allocate towards public services in Tasmania.

What we know - and it has been pointed out by commentators such as Saul Eslake, John Lawrence and Greg Barns - is that there has been no structural reform by this Treasurer and this Government. In fact what happened is that the Liberals came into government and got lucky. Part of the reason for that was the global financial crisis, the recession, had come to an end. In the previous term of the parliament between 2010 and 2014, we had a Labor-Greens government that had to make some really hard decisions, and we pulled the budget back into line and cut our cloth to fit our sail. For that, every day in this place during that period of time we got beaten up, but it was certainly laying the groundwork for Mr Gutwein's first four years in which he made no significant structural reform.

The projected shortfall in stamp duty sits on Mr Gutwein's head. He was prepared to ride that wave of surging stamp duty revenue without thinking about the future or considering, for example, increasing the level of stamp duty so we can put some of that revenue back into increasing the supply of social and affordable housing. We have now a lazy approach to budget management which is much more about spin than it is about the substance of the state's finances, and it is really easy to be Treasurer in the good times, but not so easy - as Mr Gutwein is discovering now - to be Treasurer when revenues are shrinking nationally and when the forecast revenue coming in from stamp duty turns out not to be so terrific after all.

I have a couple of questions for the Treasurer. I see here that there is $ 20 million in additional funding to support out-of-home care services and acknowledge the answer made by the minister responsible for children this morning in relation to new appointments to child safety. Is that an extra $ 20 million recurrent, so $5 million a year recurrent extra into Child Safety Service? Is that what we are looking at here, or given that it is a supplementary appropriation, is it backfilling funds? In this portfolio I would like to understand that better.

In the context of additional funds into Risdon Prison, $5.5 million extra is going into the Tasmania Prison Service and the Treasurer's second reading speech talks about current prisoner numbers. We know that Risdon Prison is bursting at the seams and part of the reason, in fact nearly all of the reason, I am certain, is because of this Government's approach to law and order. On the previous government's watch, we had recidivism rates going down and the number of people incarcerated at RPC going down as well. Something has happened in the past five years and it sure looks like a reflection of government policy that seeks to lock more people up and is not dealing effectively with recidivism rates in Tasmania. Could the Treasurer please detail to the House what is the current population of prisoners at Risdon Prison and at Launceston Remand? Perhaps he could tell us, for example, what the numbers were in 2014 when this Government came into office.

In the supplementary appropriation bill there is also an initial allocation of $35 million to meet the costs of the major bushfires. That money is of course welcome but there is an element of fiddling while Rome burns, quite literally, about the way fire management and managing the accelerated impacts of climate change is dealt with not only by this Government but by their federal colleagues. There is this persistent denial about the accelerating impacts of climate change and the increase in frequency and intensity of bushfires. We have now seen on the east coast, at a time of year which normally falls well outside the fire season, a planned burnoff escaping, getting into a tinder-dry landscape and threatening homes and lives.

As the former fire chiefs told the country yesterday, what we used to understand as the fire season no longer exists. We need a whole new approach to landscape protection and making sure we are properly resourcing our firefighters with well-resourced remote firefighting capacity. We must consider the possibility of doing things a different way.

Mr Shelton - More fuel reduction.

Ms O'CONNOR - If Mr Shelton thinks he is being smart and provocative by interjecting on the question of fuel reduction burns, I do not know how many times I have stand up in this place and make it clear that Greens policy, as evidenced by our position when we were in Cabinet, is to support strategic fuel reduction burns. What you people consistently do is conflate strategic fuel reduction burns with forestry regeneration burns and they are two different things. Even when you are doing strategic fuel reduction burning in the landscape you have to be careful, Mr Shelton, as your community in Lyons at Dolphin Sands found out the night before last.

I understand from an answer that was given this morning that it was a private landowner who was undertaking a burn, as was the beginning of the Dunalley fires, who was a private landowner at Forcett, but as a government you can't say that was a private land owner so it has nothing to do with us. It does, because there is a set of policies and regulations in place around permits for burnoffs and clearly they need to be relooked at, because why is a private landowner burning on the east coast when we know that the soil moisture has almost completely disappeared? It has not rained on the east coast in any meaningful way for months and months. We can tinker around in supplementary appropriation bills and toss money here and there at bushfire management and fire recovery, but unless you step back and have a look at the science and take it seriously and commit to properly resourcing fire management, we are going to be back here each year having to make extra top-up allocations to the TFS, or Parks and Wildlife, or Forestry Tasmania because we have had another horrific fire season.

We still have not had any comfort from the Premier about this coming fire season because the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this year we will enter an El Nino weather phase and that means hot, dry conditions. If we thought last summer was bad, if El Nino comes to bear, this summer is going to put last summer's fires in the shade, so we really need to see in this year's state Budget a proper allocation towards bushfire prevention, management and recovery and it must be through the lens of accelerating climate change.

If the Treasurer could address what the thinking is in terms of not having to go back through supplementary appropriations to deal with bushfires as they happen in each year and have a more systemic approach to protecting our people, communities, wilderness and our towns he should reveal that to the Parliament.

This is business as usual in the Treasury portfolio. If the Treasurer could answer some of those questions, that would be helpful. We do not need to go into committee. We will support the bill.