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Motion to Establish Budget Estimates Committees

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Tags: Environment, Parks, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, this has been a very poor process. As a result of the poor process, the Tasmanian Greens have not been able to advocate for more time to be allocated to critical portfolios that are of deep and enduring concern and interest to the Tasmanian people.

When Mr Ferguson emailed through the schedule, he did invite us to get back to him personally, which we did yesterday. We pointed out, for example, that last year in Estimates there were five hours in total allocated to Environment and Parks. That was cut this year to a total of two hours for Environment and Parks. While other members in this place, apart from the Greens and probably Ms Ogilvie, are not particularly deeply concerned about the Environment and Parks portfolios we sure are, because tens of thousands of Tasmanians care to have a clean, natural and healthy environment, and they care deeply about our public protected areas.

While the Government might point to Labor - and I will get to Labor in a minute - for the way the schedule has fallen into place, it was a decision of Government to cut Environment and Parks scrutiny from five hours to two and then Labor, of course, shaved another half an hour off the Environment and Parks scrutiny. This is a slap in the face to every Tasmanian who gives a toss about the place that we live in, the state of our environment and our public protected areas.

It is so insulting. There are on the record here, through the petitions that have been signed, thousands and thousands of Tasmanians who have expressed concern about the state of the environment, about the privatisation of parks.

Of course, in those scrutiny sessions, it will be the Greens again who are advocating for those people and their concerns because both the major parties in this place are contemptuous of those portfolios and we are seeing this here today. We are supposed to be grateful, the Greens, because Labor's budged on half an hour. So, we have another half an hour for the entire Environment portfolio which is completely separate from the Parks portfolio so now we are up to two hours for Environment and Parks. In fact about the same, a little bit less, more than what is allocated to Building and Construction for example.

We have gone also from last year three hours allocated to the Resources portfolio, which people also care about and take a great interest in, to one and a half hours. Halving the time of scrutiny for Resources which, of course, is where the Greens are able to ask questions about the devastation happening in Tasmania's old growth and high conservation value forests.

How insulting when we are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis that we are given the crumbs of a 30 minute scrutiny session for Climate Change. It is only the single most significant existential threat humanity has ever faced - and we will have half an hour. I sure hope Labor has the grace in those portfolios to allow us to do our work for the people we represent in Environment and Parks and climate, and just backs off on some of their banal questions in those portfolios.

The most damning and telling change that Labor made to this proposed schedule was to cut the Finance portfolio scrutiny in half from two hours to one hour. Why would that be? Gambling. That is where the Gaming Control Act sits. It sits with the Minister for Finance.

Mr O'Byrne - Is there a conspiracy behind this?

Ms O'CONNOR - We hear Mr O'Byrne pretend it was not a consideration. Sure. We do not believe you because you back flipped on pokies five minutes after the last state election.

Ms White - We lost the election.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, you sure did lose the election and your deserved it.

We are partly in this position because the Liberals, the party of small government, have 36 portfolios. We have a Cabinet of - what is it? Eight or nine now. Nine. A Cabinet of nine with 36 portfolios. That is ridiculous. It is pointless to have a portfolio that no-one in this place understands, let alone I think the minister who has been given responsibility and that is Strategic Growth. Why would you make a Minister for Strategic Growth? It is a huge part of the problem. We have gone from, last year, four hours for Infrastructure and Transport, a critical portfolio, down to three hours.

Mr Ferguson - No, it is four.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it four now again? Did you take it back? I had not seen that sudden change.

We have a new portfolio of Climate Change which has been allocated just half an hour, a new portfolio of Prevention of Family Violence, again 30 minutes for scrutiny of that. A new portfolio of Strategic Growth, which is just still mindnumbing. I cannot understand what the point of that portfolio is. A new portfolio of Mental Health and Wellbeing, which is an excellent decision to establish a portfolio.

Here we are. Primary Industries and Water last year, four hours; three hours this year. Building and Construction - one of the few portfolios that has had an increase in time from last year where one hour was allocated to it and this year will have 1.5 hours.

Ms Butler - It is very important.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is very important, says Ms Butler. Of course, it is very important but the most important thing we should be dealing with is climate change.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please. Dignity in the House.

Members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - Climate change - do not give me balance. That is what the neoliberals have been saying for decades, ever since they started stuffing the planet in earnest.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me, order.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will just end on NAIDOC Week. This year, the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio is also reduced to 30 minutes for a portfolio where is so much unfinished business, so little action on the part of government to improve the lives of Tasmania's Aboriginal people and we have cut scrutiny on that portfolio from a miserable hour to an even more miserable half an hour.

This is the poorest Estimates schedule I have seen in my 12 years' in the parliament. The reason for that insignificant part is because there are 36 portfolios. There are too many portfolios allocated to just nine ministers. They have been created for largely political reasons. The consequence of that has been an absolute dogs' breakfast of an Estimate schedule where critical portfolios have not had the time allocated to them, where the Greens will again be marginalised when we are advocating for people who are totally left behind by the Liberal and Labor parties. People who really care about the environment, who do not want to see their parks privatised, who want to see meaningful action on climate change, and who do not want to have poker machines in pubs and clubs in Tasmania.

This has been a stitch up. Of course, we will be in there asking the questions that we always do. I encourage members - if you think that our fury about this schedule is unjustified, have a look at the 2019 and 2018 Estimate schedules for comparison. Yes, we did not have a Minister for Climate Change then but last year even the Government knew that Environment is a separate portfolio from Parks and allocated two and a half hours to each of those portfolios, which mattered deeply to the people of Tasmania, including I am certain many people who would usually support the Liberal and Labor parties.

So we will be in there again doing our work within the constrained circumstances of an unfair allocation of questions and hard-line chairing that came in when the Liberals came into government. Any member of this place who was not there at the Estimates table back in the day when either Labor was in government, or Labor and the Greens, I need to tell you that the crossflow of questions and answers was much more free flowing; it was much more of an exploratory conversation to extract information; it was much more interesting to viewers; a bit more challenging for chairs, no doubt, but we have now such rigid control on the Estimates process that it has been all but entirely sanitised.

The irony of it is that it was the Liberals when they were in opposition who had total free rein at the Estimates table. I was there - total free rein, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, questions and answers. In this regime we have a constricted and deliberately constrained process for the Estimates table.

It is about control because there are people in this Government who are control freaks. You should not do that to an Estimates process. It needs to be the freest possible exchange of questions and answers. Instead it is rigid, unproductive and it does not elicit the information that it should.

We will tolerate this Estimate schedule because we have no choice. Again, it will be Dr Woodruff and I who are in there asking the questions from people who really care about the State of Tasmania, its environment, their public protected areas, the need for action on climate, and the need for us to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs.