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Estimates Reply – Street

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Pork-Barrelling, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Chair, it is not always a pleasure to sit across the table from a minister at Estimates. I am not saying that every second of minister Street's Estimates was a pleasure but it was refreshing. I know that any time a member of the Opposition or the Greens, for example, say nice things about Mr Street, we potentially endanger him politically within his own party but I feel it is important to acknowledge minister Street's straight talking, sometimes disarmingly so. I get the sense that minister Street would be a terrible liar; I am not sure he has much capacity to do that. I have always regarded him as a man of very good heart. When we had the answer to the question from Mr Tucker this morning on local government reform, the answer given was clear, precise and open and engaging and did not devolve into a political attack. That is very much appreciated.

In some ways, when you are a straight talker it can come back to bite you. I thought that the comments made by minister Street at the TasCOSS post-budget briefing showed respect to the sector not to stand up there and run a line at them, but to acknowledge there is a lot more work to do to put the community sector onto a sustainable footing. I thought it was a bit unfortunate that minister Street's honesty was used against him by the Opposition, to be honest. I thought it was an unnecessary attempt at wedging Mr Street, who was simply being frank and making a commitment to work with the sector in the future on its long-term sustainability.

Of course the community sector provides essential services in the same way depended on by Tasmanians as does, for example, the health system. There are so many interactions within our community with those community sector organisations. The work they do is critical to our wellbeing as a society, but more than that, for individuals who are struggling, or experiencing poverty, domestic and family violence, mental ill health, gambling addiction, it is those community sector organisations who are there to help people.

Of course it raises the question of financial viability. I simply point the Government to our alternative budget. If you want to find a way to make sure you can responsibly and properly fund the community sector, you might, for example, stop giving away our fresh water. We have the cheapest water in the country and you could bring our water licence fees up to somewhere near the national average and you would have many more millions of dollars to invest in the community sector. You could, for example, make sure that we had mining royalties that were at least near the national average, which would deliver tens of millions of dollars to go into the community sector, into housing, health and education.

What is happening on this island is that corporations do not have cost of living problems. Corporations are being given, in many cases, something close to a free ride for extracting the resources that belong to the broader Tasmanian community. We will never buy that the Government does not have enough money to properly the fund the community sector because if the Government properly earned revenue from the resources that they are the custodians of for the people of Tasmania then there would be far less stress about the Budget.

Today in my time, I will focus on the Local Communities Facilities Fund, because that has broad implications across the Budget and the forward Estimates. There remain outstanding questions. For a bit of background, this was a pot of public money that was announced before the 2021 state election. Up in Liberal HQ, a group of people was determining what community organisations or communities would receive what funding based on the Liberal candidate who came forward with a funding request. No merits based, no nothing.

Even though we have received answers to questions on notice, we still do not have the discrepancies dealt with. We asked the minister:

Minister, the list of LCFF you tabled in parliament includes 220 projects but the right to information we received recently from Treasury includes 230 letters from MPs sent to community groups after the election saying they had been awarded funds through the LCFF. Then a brief prepared for the Premier in June 2021 put the number at around 250. A question time brief for you prepared in February this year obtained under right to information says there are 255 LCFF projects. How do you explain this and what is the true number?

Unfortunately, the answer to the question on notice does not answer the question put on notice. The answer says:

The number of LCFF projects is 220 as per the tabled list in the House of Assembly on 14 June 2022; 35 additional election funding priorities, not part of the LCFF, were specifically appropriated in the 2021-22 Budget.

The problem with that is, we have, through our right to information, a series of letters written to recipients who are not included in that list which says:

We're very pleased to advise you that we're now able to provide you with funding of …

for example, for the Exeter Show Society -

… $735 000 as part of our commitment. The funding is provided to you as part of our Local Communities Facilities Fund.

To another organisation that is not on the list tabled, Woodbridge School:

… pleased to provide with funding of $30 000. This funding is provided to you as part of our Local Communities Facilities Fund.

The Migrant Resource Centre, incredibly important funding, received $250 000 for a new multicultural hub. The letter signed by the then Premier and the Liberal member for Bass, Sarah Courtney says:

This funding is provided to you as part of the Local Communities Facilities Fund.

There are still questions about this fund. The answers that have been provided by the minister to this House are simply not good enough. The mystery remains about exactly how many Local Communities Facilities Funds projects there are.

In the answer to the question on notice that we sent, we asked the minister about the Australian Rules History and Heritage Museum, which even on the paper provided by DPAC to Communities questions whether or not they have a steering committee, got $250 000 in public money without an entity attached to them. That comes through on 20 August 2021 from DPAC to Communities Tasmania, yet we have information here that says the Premier decided. On 23 September 2021, the Premier's office informed Communities, Sport and Recreation that four additional projects were to receive funding including the Australian Rules History and Heritage Museum project.

We asked what process was undertaken by the Government to assess and approve this funding request? The former Premier, Peter Gutwein, approved the request. That is not a process that is telling us who signed off on the request. What a process. Our right to information document is clear that DPAC told Communities Tasmania about that particular $250 000 grant on 20 August, yet we are told in these answers to the questions on notice that it was on 23 September in that year.

Many questions about a stinky electoral bribery scheme which has opacity behind it, attempts to persuade a whole range of community organisations around Tasmania to vote Liberal. We have a paper trail as long as this parliament. We will get to the bottom of it.

The minister says that the full list was tabled in the House. This is the full list of 14 June 2022, tabled after considerable pressure from the Greens. It does not contain all the projects. We encourage the minister to go back to his department and get some real priority on this. Furthermore, we encourage the minister to make sure that this does not happen again. He has the capacity to do that and we are calling on him to do just that.