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Estimates Reply - Minister Barnett

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Cruise Ships, COVID-19, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

Ms O'CONNOR - I am going to begin my response on Mr Barnett's Estimates by challenging a statement that Dr Broad made then. There is an acute lack of understanding, on at least Tasmanian Labor's part, about the reality of the trading situation that we are in as a nation, and as a state, with the Chinese Government. It is not reasonable to say that a diplomatic solution will fix this. We are not dealing with a rational government. We are dealing with a vindictive government and a serial human rights abuser.

I have always taught my kids that you have to stand up to bullies, because if you do not stand up to them, you embolden them. I am no great fan of the federal Morrison Government. I know there have been missteps made along the way, but as a proud sovereign democratic nation we cannot allow ourselves to continually get kicked by an irrational, misogynist, genocidal Chinese government regime.

It was an interesting Estimates experience with minister Barnett. There are still questions outstanding, which we hope will be dealt with through the independent inquiry into the Ruby Princess. There are still many questions outstanding about the decision-making matrix around the release of the Ruby Princess passengers into Tasmania. From the Greens' point of view, we expect to see some answers around that decision. It is not about pointing the finger at anyone. It is about making sure that those same mistakes are not repeated.

We had a quite long discussion about the explosion of the deer population in Tasmania. The survey work undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment really only studied the north-east area, and into the Central Midlands a little bit. The number that has come back from that survey is an estimated 54 000 fallow deer in the Tasmanian landscape. We know that figure is unreliable, because so many other parts of Tasmania were not surveyed.

We certainly know from the farmers' point of view - and I know Mr Barnett understands this - that yes, there are farmers who have a cohort of shooters who come and clean up deer on their property, and it is important for that shooting community; it is an important professional and recreational opportunity. But it is not a long-term solution to the expulsion of the deer population in Tasmania.

A huge part of the problem is the fact that deer are listed basically as a protected species under the Nature Conservation Act 2002.

When I put to Mr Barnett the proposition that professional shooters should be allowed into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) to clean up deer populations within the TWWHA where we know they are having a devastating impact on the cultural and natural landscape, the answer from minister Barnett, regrettably, was to point to something that my friend and colleague, Dr Bob Brown, has said about how you eradicate deer. The goal here has to be eradication, and our skilled professional shooters have an important role to play in eradicating deer from the Tasmanian landscape. In doing so, they would do a massive favour to our primary producers, but they would also help to ensure that our wilderness areas are not trampled by this destructive feral species.

We also had some interesting back and forth across the table about the decision to allocate $2 million to Scottsdale Pork for the construction of an abattoir for a private business person who is a member of the Exclusive Brethren, which is a religious cult that not only does not pay tax, it does not believe that girls should receive an education. It is a legitimate question. Why is the Government giving $2 million to one primary producer who is a rabid Greens hater? Absolutely rabid, Mr Deputy Chair. In fact, Felix, you were probably still in college in 2006 when Mr Roger Unwin and the Exclusive Brethren ran a highly discriminatory and hateful campaign against the Tasmanian Greens in the lead-up to the 2006 election. There is a legitimate question here about why other pork producers were shut out of that equation. Why $2 million has been given to someone who has a long history with the Tasmanian Liberal Party.

We also had a discussion about the failure of this Government to protect the leatherwood resource for Tasmania's honey makers. There is a memorandum of understanding between Forestry Tasmania and the Beekeepers Association, which is clearly not being upheld. I encourage minister Barnett to talk to more people than Mr Bourke from the beekeeping sector about their deep worries about the long-term viability of their businesses as honey producers but, importantly, as leatherwood honey producers. We know that through Forestry Tasmania's logging practices leatherwood coupes are routinely being flattened. It takes hundreds of years for a leatherwood coupe to recover to the point where it is a healthy flowering little ecosystem that will provide the honey that those beekeepers need. I encourage minister Barnett to get on to that as a matter of priority.

There was also a question that we think needs to be answered for all of Tasmania, and that is, where is the balance being struck between this rollout of mass irrigation in the state and sustainable water supplies, environmental flows coming through our rivers and streams, as well as supplies to towns and cities across the state? I quoted from a well-known fisher, Mr Carl Hyland of Fishtas, who visited Brumbys Creek at Cressy recently, and found a once-plentiful fishing spot had developed boggy banks, and the only fish seen were lying dead on the edge. He said it was a muddy, smelly ditch. Mr Hyland, who said he saw water being used for irrigation at farmland near the creek, said Brumbys Creek's conditions were the worst he had seen in decades. He said -

I have fished streams of Tasmania for more than 50 years and Brumbys was always up there as a favourite. It was for years renowned for its healthy aquatic life, but when I was there I saw no signs of insect life at all. It was devoid of that. It was dead.

The Greens are very concerned to ensure that, in this frantic rollout of irrigation schemes across the state and the allocation of water to primary producers, we are not draining our rivers and creeks dry, and we are not heading into a summer period where there will be restrictions on domestic water consumption, because the drawdown for irrigation is so high.

In fact, in the Budget Papers we see that the allocation to irrigation has increased. I think it was by about 1000 megalitres. Sorry, minister, I do not have that information in front of me.

Mr Barnett - It was a lot more than that. I can help you out.

Ms O'CONNOR - Was it a lot more than that? In the past year? Thank you for confirming that. I cannot find the number right now. We have to be very careful in Tasmania. It is a state that has different climates for different regions. We know, from the Climate Futures work that has been done through our fantastic scientific institutions in Tasmania, that projects climate change impacts out for the next century or so, with a 10 kilometre by 10 kilometre grid on the Tasmanian landscape. We know that substantial parts of Tasmania will be drier over the course of the next century and you have to very careful that you are not putting primary producers into land that will be naturally drying out and try to pump it full of irrigation waters removing important environmental flows from places like Brumbys Creek near Cressy.

We believe there needs to be a substantive examination of Tasmania's water stocks and what the projection is for the future so it is equitably shared and we are supporting our primary producers as well as making sure there is sufficient water there for domestic consumption and not drying out our rivers, creeks and streams. It is so important that we get this right. If you over-irrigate you cause huge environmental damage and on top of that you run the risk of increased salinity. We know this minister is a big fan of irrigation and he purports to represent primary producers. To do that you have to get this right. We want to make sure that Tasmania's world-class primary producers are able to access the irrigation they need but it has to be done carefully and we urge the minister to have a root-and-branch examination of water resources in Tasmania.