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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Skills and Training in North-West Tasmania

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 1 May 2019, Rosalie Woodruff MP


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I am very happy to speak on skills and training in the north-west. The Greens are particularly passionate about this because we understand the basis of thriving regional economies in Tasmania is handing the decision-making to communities and taking it away from the pork-barrelling election cycle charade we are seeing happening at the moment. Unfortunately, this has had truly devastating impacts on the sustainability of industry and the success of skills and training in the north and north-west areas of Tasmania. The fluctuating political seats between Labor and Liberal parties occurring over decades has had a substantially negative effect.

In 2017, the Productivity Commission completed a major inquiry into transitioning regional economies and how to do that best. The message from the Australian inquiry was crystal clear; regions that are transitioning from a resource economy need to have community-driven plans to inform their spending decisions. The traditional election pork- barrelling policies are neither effective or sustainable and they do no service at all to those communities. The north-west is a marginal seat and has been subject to cash splashes before every election. At the recent by-election and the current federal election, we have another in a continual wave of cash splashes that are not based on any long-term planning and are not informed by community-driven plans. It is clear the Productivity Commission's inquiry has not changed the way either Labor or Liberal parties engage with regional communities. They simply cannot help themselves.

Despite a great deal of posturing and grandstanding, the real issues for people living in the north-west only attracts real attention when there is an election to be won and that attention is short-lived, pork-barrelling and include no broad plans. The Labor and Liberal parties have ignored the tough realities of transitioning away from resource economies and the move that inexorable, that none of us can control, toward automation. This has major impacts on people's jobs. They have splashed out, given corporate subsidies and bailouts in an attempt to stave off this inevitable decline in traditional forms of employment.

The Liberal Government's over-investment in the salmon industry is another prime example of how they pick industry winners. They perpetuate the myth of 'trickle down' and nothing could be further from the truth. The salmon industry is a prime and perfect example of the failure of the promise to provide sustainable regional employment. Those three major companies - Tassal, Huon Aquaculture and Petuna - are all committed to increasing automation of their operations and reducing jobs. We have seen the evidence from the Chief Financial Officer's report to the board from Tassal. A couple of years ago they were promising increasing automation in feeding.

They have now centralised many of those jobs that used to be in regional communities in southern Tasmania to the Marine Board Building in the centre of Hobart. This process will continue and the investment by the Liberal Government, and the Labor government has done exactly the same thing in the salmon industry, is so poorly considered. It has been widely opposed by affected communities and it jeopardises other marine based industries, particularly in the north-west. A perfect example, King Island is up in arms about the idea of having Petuna and Tassal in the area of the north-west. There is extreme community anxiety about the impact on local commercial fishers as well as on the marine environment. The flow-on effects have not been considered. There is a picking of winners and an idea that if you have one big company, somehow everyone is going to win.

The changing nature of employment is a matter that needs serious attention . At the state level, the Greens have committed to an employment policy unit. Federally, we have committed to a future of work commission. We have a regional reinvestment policy that paints a pathway forward for regional communities. Our plan is to create a government unit that would assist regions to establish community planning groups similar to the award- winning George Town Economic Development Group Steering Committee. We would fund a non-political grant pool with money for projects consistent only with community-driven plans. We believe the role of government in developing regional communities is to empower communities in regions to develop the pathway forward and then to front up with the cash. Understanding the nature of the changing workforce and having a clear and realistic blueprint for the future that plays to the region's strengths are essential for informed and viable investment in skills and training.

In the new term, it is essential to have investment in social infrastructure, reskilling initiatives and a robust welfare system. The Tasmanian Forestry Agreement provided significant funds to reskill those exiting from an industry that is facing increasing pressures from changes in global demand and increasing pressures from automation. That is the model the Greens support, unfortunately it is a model the Labor Party has recently walked away from.