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Estimates Reply – Street

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Local Government, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Chair, I have some comments to make on conversations I had on behalf of the Greens in the portfolio of Local Government with the minister. I want to echo what many other members have said: Mr Street is certainly a breath of fresh air as a minister to work with in this portfolio.

Mr Street - Don't do it, Rosalie.

Dr WOODRUFF - I know, it is the kiss of death, isn't it? As I say that, I see that you are sitting next to the Attorney-General and I would like to extend that to her too. We had some pleasant conversations. There were a few and they happen to be in the Chamber now.

Ms Archer - We are a pigeon pair.

Dr WOODRUFF - Now I have all cast you in concrete. What struck me in talking about local government reforms is that the reform process - and Mr Street said this himself - is a tightrope that is being walked. He said it is about being as open and transparent and collegial as possible in terms of getting feedback from the sector and the uncertainty about the outcomes, because the only alternative to reduce the uncertainty is to do it by stealth. I pointed out that is exactly what Jeff Kennett did in Victoria and it was such a terrible blow to regional Victoria - the Night of the Long Knives. It was awful and I do not think regional Victoria has ever recovered from Jeff Kennett. You cannot underestimate and we must not underestimate how local government nurtures and maintains communities in so many ways, one of which we also talked about.

I spoke about the Australian Services Union's very reasonable and valid concerns about any reforms and the impacts on local workforces. Councils are enormous employers. The employees have families, their children go to schools, people buy things in the local shops and they support the small businesses, and they play footie and soccer and netball and have the lantern parades, like the one this Saturday in Cygnet. That is the joy of local community in a regional area and it does involve having jobs. The first purpose of a local council is not to provide employment but in fulfilling all the other duties of a local council, that is what happens and is such an important part of the reform process.

We talked about the tightrope between transparency and secrecy. I felt comfortable with the minister's answers. However, the point is, when we get to a report that is handed down in, whenever it is, October, it is not about the minister; it is all about the reform group and the work that they do and the conclusions that they come up with. As comfortable as I was with the conversation I had with Mr Street, that there is a good heart and an ethic and a real commitment to local communities, there is, however, a process which is under way at the moment and it has had, along the way, quite a reasonable amount of criticism from different community groups about the consultation process that has occurred so far.

We do not know whether people feel that they are going to be properly heard in this final consultation phase. This is a critical point, but the points leading up to it are critical as well because, over the years, it has built up a narrative about local government. There have been many people in Tasmania, including other members of the Government, who have liked to beat up the narrative that there are just too many councils. We go back to first principles and ask, 'By what measure?'. In this reform process, when it comes down to a final report, we will be expecting that whatever recommendations are backed up with the outcome they say we are seeking to achieve.

If it is because the panel considers that local councils are not efficient, then we want to see the numbers. We want to see on what basis they have made that assessment. It is not good enough just to say it is so. It is not good enough to say it could be better at this or better at that; we want to know why it is not doing the job now. That is what ratepayers will want to know. They want to know on what basis a reform process has come to a bunch of recommendations which have been presaged a number of times by the Government and will, in all likelihood, lead to some amalgamations of councils. There are nine blobs on a map that is circulating around the state, or more than nine blobs; there are various positionings of Venn diagram blobs over councils.

They have substantial impacts on the characteristics of communities, and to the representation of people in local areas, being able to have a say in their local politics, so this stuff matters a lot.

We hope the minister will use his influence to make sure the process continues to be - as he assured us it was - focusing on the strength of local communities, which Mr Healey, the Director of Local Government, said is entirely the focus of the board.

Without strong communities, in a climate change world, we are in deep trouble, because it is strong communities that will be best prepared for the changes in climate that are already happening. When we are predicted to tip into that 1.5 degree increase in global long-term average temperature in the next couple of years; when we are seeing 47 49 degree temperatures across Texas today, which is unsupportable, and people are dying in large numbers; when we are seeing very concerning changes in the jet stream over the northern hemisphere; when we are seeing temperatures in the Arctic seas more than 7 degrees above the long-term average - these are horrifying rapid changes. We cannot fiddle with the strength of local communities and we cannot in any way undermine them. We can only increase them.

I will finish by briefly adding to the comments Ms O'Connor made in relation to the questions I put on notice about the Australian Rules History and Heritage Museum. The answers we got back were, quite frankly, some sort of rubbish. They did not answer the question. We asked: Were any representatives of the Government involved in the group that requested the funding for the museum prior to that request being made?

The answer was no. That does not make any sense, because on Facebook, on the Tasmanian Australian Football Past Players, Officials and Family page from May 2021, they said:

After very promising initial discussion with parliamentarians and key advisors to the Gutwein Government, coordinated by our member, Vince Taskunas, we received encouragement.

So, it is not correct that no representatives of the Government were involved.