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Cost of Living Pressures

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Tags: Cost of Living

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, we are quite comfortable supporting this motion. Most of it lays out some of the facts relating to the challenges people are having with cost of living at the moment. I listened very carefully to the minister for consumer protection's contribution. She answered some of the questions, or dealt with some of the issues, that are in the notice of motion. It was very nice to see her in the Chamber after her absence during our private members' time when we were calling on her and her colleague, Mr Ferguson, to apologise to Ms Tiffany Skeggs. I am not sure how Dr Broad feels about Ms Archers' response and whether he felt that there was a sincere effort made to deal with some of the questions that he raised, particularly about how the Government is going to give effect to fuel price capping.

Dr Broad - No answer there.

Ms O'CONNOR - No answer there? Okay. We will be supporting this motion. I wanted to, and again this goes to the profound disconnect between members of the Government and what is happening in the community, and Ms Butler is to be commended for that work she did reaching out to people to find out how soaring fuel prices are affecting everyday Tasmanians.

Can you imagine being reliant in some form or another on Commonwealth income support, having a part-time job and having to fill your car with petrol at a bit over $2.21 a litre, while your rent is going up and the cost of so many other elements of living a dignified life are going up as well? The rise in petrol prices is having a profound impact on people's capacity to work, to pay the rent, to feed their children, to go to university or TasTAFE. This is compounding what was already very financially straitened times for many Tasmanians.

As we know, due to the policies of state and federal governments, we also have wage stagnation in this country. There is a deliberate, concerted effort to keep, not just downward pressure on wages, but to crush the hopes of Australian workers that there would be some kind of equity and social justice in the system and that they would be able to look forward to wage rises. We know that the really big end of town, the corporations, only one in three of which pay tax, are working with governments to keep wages supressed. We have wage stagnation, increasing house prices, increasing rents and its costing people between $90 and $100 in an average car to fill up the tank.

There are mechanisms that the Government can use to ease petrol price pressure, but the long-term problem here is our reliance as an island on imported fuel. What we really need to see from Government is an accelerated commitment to increasing the number of electric vehicles in the government fleet - and that is not just about ministers. That is about everyone who works for government and in government agencies. There are plenty of good quality increasingly affordable electric vehicles on the market. As we know, when government purchases electric vehicles, at a certain point in time they go into the second-hand car market and that enables more Tasmanians, who are not the richest people in this country, to purchase a second-hand electric vehicle.

I know there has been an accelerated rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure but it is still insufficient. The Government could commit to not only increasing the number of electric vehicles it purchases and use its fleet power to do so, but it could commit to, for example, a massive rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, particularly reaching into rural and remote areas of Tasmania, who so often just miss out.

Yesterday's announcement about five free weeks of Metro bus travel was really interesting. It is commendable at one level because it is a cost of living measure but it really came out of nowhere. It was a weird announcement because suddenly a government which has taken very little interest in cost of living struggles for Tasmanians is announcing free Metro bus travel.

I am very interested to hear what patronage is like, not only on Metro buses but also on the other private operators in the bus system, particularly those who are servicing rural and regional Tasmania. I am sure other members in this place are getting correspondence from people who are highly alarmed at the lack of mask wearing on closed buses with windows that do not open, getting onto buses where drivers have surgical masks hanging under their chin and letting unmasked people onto buses where there is no ventilation apart from when the doors open to let people on or off.

Members in here know that some particularly vulnerable cohorts of people rely on public transport, young people, students and older people who either do not own a car or who cannot afford to own a car. There is a set of demographic vulnerabilities in public transport during a raging global pandemic where, in Tasmania now, we have had 73 000 of our people infected with COVID-19, where the Government has completely taken its hands off any form of protections for everyday Tasmanians.

Tasmanians are not stupid, they do not want to get on a bus and catch COVID-19 from someone who has got on a bus without a mask because the Government has told them that is just fine in defiance of the evidence of epidemiologists, like Professor Nancy Baxter from the University of Melbourne School of Geography and Population Health. Like Professor Raina MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute, or Professor Brendan Crabb from the Burnett Institute. All these esteemed independent health experts are sounding the alarm and saying we have rampant community transmission. In Australia reported case numbers are soaring.

We have a new sub variant BA.2 on the loose which is driving up hospitalisations and deaths in Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States. These experts are saying if you want to keep yourself safe, wear a mask. Independent experts, not captured Public Health officials but independent epidemiologists, virologists and immunologists, are saying to be safe right now wear a mask. They are telling us this is a very serious virus. They are giving us the message that we are not getting from the Premier, and to be fair, they are not getting from Tasmania Public Health either.

There has been a choice about language here where people are told that Omicron is 'mild' or 'milder'. That is a choice that has been made by the Premier and the Director of Public Health. The Director of Public Health could, for example, have said, yes, it seems on the evidence that Omicron is a less severe variant of Delta but it is at least as severe as the wild Wuhan version of the virus.

In our opinion, it is not a virus that you want to catch. It is not a virus you want to invite into your body because there is some concerning evidence coming in from around the world about the impact that it has on the human body. It can age our cells profoundly. They have just released research which shows that a three-year-old who contracted COVID-19 after the acute phase, had a cell age of a 37-year-old. This is the sort of information that Tasmanians are not being given.

This is a very serious virus and many people get it, which is why they are keeping their masks on. They do not want to catch it and they do not want to infect anyone else. They are avoiding public transport and retail outlets. Have a look at the mobility data. Dr Broad detailed it earlier. In retail, in hospitality, we are seeing people vote with their feet on this virus. That is why I think this Government announced a five-week-free Metro run - bless you, Mr Speaker, I hope that is just a cold.

We will be supporting this cost-of-living motion. We think it is important that the parliament has the opportunity to talk about these issues because that is why we are here. We are here to represent people who right now - and this is not a platitude - are really doing it tough. I agree that for many Tasmanians, the cost of housing, the cost of petrol, food, clothing and shelter is making life stressful. I believe it is one reason why we are losing so many of our people to interstate. It is a cost-of-living issue.

There are whole lot of things you can do to bring down the cost of living. It would be great if, instead of every question time having those four banal, vacuous Dorothy Dix questions with read-out answers that we are insulted by, we had a government that came in and said, 'We recognise that there is huge cost-of-living challenges for Tasmania at the moment. Some are them are caused by contemporary events such as Putin's devasting assault of Ukraine. Some of them are caused because there is a supply issue in the housing sector and, as a government, we recognise that there are levers that we can pull that can genuinely take the pressure of people'. Those levers are talked about in this motion to some extent.

We support Dr Broad's motion. I am interested to hear if there is any more coming from Government on this. We believe it is a perfectly factual, reasonable motion, therefore we will support it.