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Motion of No Confidence in the Premier

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Tags: No Confidence Motion, Stadium, AFL

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, what a performance. There are a couple of things I need to challenge the Premier on before I get into the substance of my contribution. I do not know where the Premier was at the school assemblies of the year 2014, but I was there watching teachers and students in tears because the Hodgman Liberal Government had cut around two staff from every public school in the state. While they were doing that private school funding was untouched. I remember. We asked a question about it. I do not know, more flim-flam from the Premier, who can say?

The pain of those cuts in 2014 to public schools is still being felt. It was real and it hurt and it was discriminatory because public schools copped it and private schools were protected. Not that we would expect anything less from a bunch of Tories.

On the issue of housing. One of the reasons that this stadium is so thoroughly on the nose with the people of Tasmania is because they see the housing crisis. This is a small island. Everyone in this place, because we deal with stressed constituents, understands that the rental market is the most savage in the country, that the housing situation is the worst it has ever been. To hear this propaganda from the Premier on housing is unsurprising but it is also appalling. If you look at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, it tells the story. It is all there in the numbers. The spin we get out of Mr Barnett when the truth is for nine years this Government deliberately underinvested in social and affordable housing. It made a political choice to create the housing crisis. That is why we are where we are. Rents in Hobart and Launceston are up 50 per cent in five years. Rents are soaring and short-stay accommodation is absolutely out of control, but if minister Barnett wants some assistance in understanding what a failure he has been complicit in, here it is in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data. The data on newly allocated social housing, as minister Barnett might say, is going down, down, down. In 2013-14, for newly allocated social housing in Tasmania, public housing was 1034 new homes, community housing was 1759 homes, with the total being 2793.

In the following year, the flow-through year of having federal and state governments that cared about people and providing them with a home, in 2014-15 newly allocated public housing 679, community housing, because that is when our Better Housing Futures reforms were flowing through, was 2303, for a total of 2982. Hold those two numbers in your head, Mr Speaker, because the public housing numbers for 2015-16 were 689; in 2016-17, 779; in 2017-18, 632; in 2018-19, 643; in 2019-20, 549; in 2020-21, 416 newly allocated social housing homes, so less than half of what the Labor-Greens government these people constantly denigrate did. Compared to 2013-14 when there were 2793 newly allocated social housing homes, the total for last year under this Government that pretends to care about people who need social housing is 1087, so almost a third of what we did in a global financial crisis.

We are not going to cop this propaganda from government ministers who pretend they have been doing something about social and affordable housing. We, like most Tasmanians, do not believe them when they say that they will build 10 000 homes by 2032. There is no money set aside for it. It is Monopoly money right now and on their record, they will not be able to do it, but they can pour, at a minimum, nearly $700 million into a brand-new stadium at Macquarie Point. That is why Tasmanians are so furious.

They see the evidence of social hardship in front of their eyes and then they have these people to my left strutting around with the likes of Gill McLachlan and saying, 'You will have a billion-dollar stadium at Macquarie Point. We have sold this island out. Your grandchildren will pay this debt', and that is what will happen. This is a stadium that the Government's own business case makes clear will lose around $306 million in 20 years. Who pays for that? Not Jeremy Rockliff, not Gill McLachlan, not Michael Ferguson. The Tasmanian people will pay for that.

The Tasmanian people will pay to build that stadium, the Tasmanian people will pay for the high-performance centre, the Tasmanian people will pay for every cent of cost overrun on this stadium folly. Imagine if we had a government that was prepared to put $700 million into building new homes for people and how that would transform this island.

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, before the break I was talking about the state of housing in Tasmania. We often hear from the Premier and his ministers a simple mantra that they keep repeating: 'We need to invest in this catastrophic business venture in order to grow the economy so we can invest in the essential services that Tasmanians need.' We hear that very often. That is another way of describing trickle-down economics. It is a government that says, 'We will prioritise the making of money for our donors and other corporations over finding ways to look after the Tasmanian people. We will prioritise a billion-dollar stadium over building homes for people'.

I was going back over the transcript of Mr Rockliff's conversation with Leon Compton. This belief that if you take thousands of building and construction workers and skilled tradies out of the system and point them at a stadium that there will magically appear another workforce that will create the homes Tasmanians need is misguided at best, dishonest at worst.

In the paper today we have the headline, 'Cheap rental crisis bites', where the Hobart market is described as being in a terrible state, with just one in 25 houses under $400 a week rent. Of course, if you are living on Jobseeker or a single parent pension or an age pension, the kind of rents you are confronted with now in the Hobart rental market are beyond your capacity to sustainably pay. If you can pay it, it means you are going without food, not paying your power bills, or your child is not able to go to school camp. They certainly would not be able to have something like music lessons, for example.

There are choices being made by Government that are impacting on the lives of everyday Tasmanians. One of them, of course, is the explosion in short-stay accommodation. There are thousands and thousands of homes in Tasmania, whole homes across the island, that have been put on to short-stay platforms like Airbnb and Stayz. They are homes that are not available for rentals. Some research that the Tenants' Union cites shows that during that difficult period early in COVID 19, when we basically put the drawbridge up, about 100 homes went out of the short-stay market and back into the private rental market. That saw a drop in rents of 9 per cent. We know that putting some restraint on short-stay accommodation is what we need to do to ease the rental crisis and yet this Government, this Premier, this Deputy Premier and Treasurer, both of whom own short stay properties, have refused to act. That is just another element of why the Greens have lost confidence in Jeremy Rockliff and his Government.

There is also that great collective of civil society, who we sometimes hear the Premier and his ministers describe as the anti-everything brigade, which is just lazy and inaccurate language. I did not see the Premier or any other Liberal members at the rally on the Saturday before last so I know they were not there and they did not get a sense of that crowd. It was a crowd that filled the lawns to the stone edges, estimated at 6000 people. I had conversations with people who had come from Devonport, Burnie, Falmouth, and St Helens. I knew of people who had come from the east coast, Orford and down the Tasman Peninsula. It is fair to say that was the most demographically and politically diverse protest I have ever attended on the lawns of parliament. It is an indication of the depth of community feeling about this stadium. Tasmanians genuinely feel affronted by it.

The Premier said to Leon Compton that it is a hard sell. It is a hard sell when we are talking about $1 billion-plus in contrast to the lived experience of Tasmanians who have been suffering nine years of neglect of areas like housing under the Liberals. I actually do not blame Mr Rockliff for all of this. He has only been Premier for a bit over a year. This goes back to the early days of the Hodgman era and Peter Gutwein's reign. Continual decisions were made not to invest in the essential social infrastructure that is housing.

It is also confirmed in polling undertaken recently. The Tourism Industry Council, Tasmanian Hospitality Association, Property Council and Master Builders Association - the famous quadrella which is always there to back in the Liberals - undertook some polling. We have not seen the polling but we have had Luke Martin from the TICT report the polling. It says that roughly one third of Tasmanians support the stadium. Two thirds do not. Two thirds support us being granted the 19th licence and one third do not. That is strong public feeling. We had Luke Martin trying to spin it but you cannot really spin your way around that.

We have another lot of polling released today by a company called uComms, which is a member of the Australian Polling Council, undertaken by the local group Our Place. It polled 1100 people statewide and had almost identical results: 61.3 per cent of those polled were strongly opposed or opposed to the stadium; 57.8 per cent said they were less likely to vote for a party that built a stadium; and 53 per cent of those polled wanted any surplus public funds to be spent on homes for our people - the people we were elected to represent.

Mr Rockliff really believes in this stadium. I believe that. However, I also believe that there was a failure at a critical point to understand the risk associated with doing a captain's call on a project of this size and expenditure. He did not understand the political risk. He did not sit with the potential for that risk long enough. He was so keen for us to get a team - and good on him at one level. However, in that process, he has not fully assessed the risk to the state of an expenditure of this scale.

When you have a look at that contract, it really is something else. One thing is clear: there is not a hard business brain in the Government or in State Growth. This is a deal with the AFL where we have been absolutely rolled. The naivete of the substance of this contract from the Tasmanian Government's point of view is really something. We have had senior bureaucrats in State Growth, senior politicians and their senior advisers decide, basically, that they were prepared to get this licence at any cost. That is where we are because this contract is a blank cheque to the AFL.

It is nonsense that we could build a stadium with a translucent roof for $715 million, particularly when you think about that site. There are a number of reasons that site still has not had much done to it. One of them is that it is a complex site for rehabilitation. It is built on sloppy ground. It is what they call reclaimed land but not really reclaimed because the sea always had it before we came along. It is a complex site. Towards the edge of Macquarie Point are the sewerage tanks, which are also a complex challenge to deal with. They have been left there for nine years under the Liberals, which is why they were there as a perfect backdrop when Anthony Albanese came here to stand with Premier Rockliff to announce the Commonwealth's funding - the $240 million plus the $65 million for York Park. Now, it transpires that that money definitely came with multiple strings attached. I sometimes wonder if it is the Albanese Government setting a mousetrap for the Rockliff Government, I really do.

What we now understand to be the case is that these totally naïve, not business brains in government did not think to negotiate with the Commonwealth to have that payment GST exempt - again, a sign of maybe being trusting or being naïve. I think naivety and a desperation to get the team is where we are at.

Although the Premier told Leon Compton that the deal had been released in full, it has not. There are multiple redactions in this document but there is also a missing schedule - schedule 6 - which is the ground occupancy agreement. That is where I believe the poison pill for Tasmania may well be: that is where the agreements are regarding ticketing, merchandising, catering and the like, and the fact that we cannot see it is worrying, to say the least. I suspect the detail in schedule 6 would seriously dilute an already weak business case.

We are not going to cop accusations from Government that we are threatening the licence because the sovereign risk here very clearly was created by the AFL and the Rockliff Government. They created it because they attached a billion-dollar stadium that had not been consulted on and was being dealt with secretly to an application for a licence which overwhelmingly Tasmanians supported and overwhelmingly Tasmanians recognise we earned the right to join the national league. If the team falls over, if the licence falls over, no-one but Jeremy Rockliff and his ministerial colleagues and his advisers in State Growth should feel responsible. They attached the stadium to the bid and until Peter Gutwein had that brain burp last year just before his state of the state speech, a new stadium was not even part of the conversation.

There is a range of reasons to express want of confidence in Jeremy Rockliff. I say this with a heavy heart because, of the three Liberal premiers - every leader has their strengths and weaknesses - but I find Premier Rockliff to be the most admirable in character of the three Liberal premiers we have had. However, I think one his failings is that he is a pleaser, so when Gill came in and said, 'Mate, I think we need a new stadium at Macquarie Point', I can almost see our Premier sitting there and within the beat of three seconds going, 'Yep', with barely a thought for the political and financial risks to the Tasmanian people.

Of course one of the consequences of a government that has been singularly focused on a vanity project like the stadium is that you are seeing the impacts across other areas of government service delivery. Members in this place who have regular contact with their constituents are receiving emails and phone calls from people who are waiting two and three years to see a specialist, or who have a story of waiting in the emergency department for 16, 17 or 18 hours. We have a health system that is unarguably under more strain than it has ever been in its existence in our little democracy and that is because we have a part-time Health minister. I also recognise it is because of the failure to manage an ongoing global pandemic and a biosafety hazard level-3 pathogen that we are seeing even more pressure on the health system in the last year or so than we have seen before.

We are seeing even more doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals either leave or start thinking about leaving, looking to places like Queensland and Victoria where they can be paid $30 000 or $40 000 a year more for the same work. It is the failure to protect the health of Tasmanians by having commonsense transmission prevention measures in place that is causing such enormous stress on our health system.

I regularly talk to people who work in the public health system, as I am sure a number of other members in this place do. At the moment we have COVID-19 cases climbing, we have the highest reported numbers since the middle of January, hospital admissions are increasing and every time someone goes into a hospital bed with COVID-19 or into the ICU struggling to breathe, that is a hospital bed that cannot be taken by someone else who requires urgent surgery. It is a compounding effect.

As the Greens discovered in our question that we put on notice last year, between December 2021 and August 2022, 422 people acquired SARS-CoV-2 in our public hospitals. That is an epic failure of infection management. If you apply the national assessment of the number of those infections that proved to be fatal, between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of those 422 people who acquired COVID-19 when they were in hospital for something else will have died as a result. That is a damning indictment on this Government, on the Albanese government and on public health officials who have allowed themselves to be captured.

This disease, as we know - and again there will be long-term compounding impacts - causes increased risk of stroke, heart disease, myocarditis, pericarditis, Parkinson's disease, early onset Alzheimer's and diabetes in children. Yet, our part-time Health minister went to National Cabinet with no evidence to back himself up and argue for the removal of five days isolation, which was the last protection people who are clinically vulnerable or people with disabilities had from infection in the workplace.

I do not care if people are offended when I use the word 'eugenics' in relation to the COVID-19 policy being applied by western governments because prima facie, according to Women with Disabilities Australia, it is eugenics. According to disability advocacy organisations in the United States and the United Kingdom, it is a eugenicist policy which requires people to be cloistered inside their homes for fear of infection.


Government members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - I know, Mr Ellis and Mr Jaensch, you do not like to hear this, but I clearly read more about these matters than you do. You do not know what you are talking about. I suggest you talk to some disability advocacy groups because they regard the complete abrogation of responsibility towards people with disabilities as a form of eugenics. I have a close family member who is disabled. The number of times support workers or people from the clinical mental health unit have turned up at his door unmasked in the past six months is deeply confronting. Walking into my family member's home unmasked during a global pandemic is eugenicism. I do not really care what Mr Ellis or Mr Jaensch think of me.

Mr Ellis - You have been unmasked for the last half an hour.

Ms O'CONNOR - Quite obviously I do not care. It is true that the Liberal Government has transformed Tasmania, but only CommSec and the top end of town really believes it is for the better. On every social metric in health, in housing, educational attainment and in child safety we are seeing stagnation or policy outcomes going backwards.

Mr Jaensch - Give us some numbers.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will give you some numbers at Estimates, Mr Jaensch. I am ready for you.

Mr Jaensch - I am asking you questions at Estimates about numbers?

Ms O'CONNOR - I will give you some numbers and ask you about those numbers in Estimates, Mr Jaensch. I will not be told by you what I need to say in this contribution.

Mr Ellis - I will give you a number; 20 closed schools.

Ms O'CONNOR - You want to talk about schools? What I know about schools is that there is a very high level of COVID-19 transmission schools. There is a high level of COVID 19 transmission among under-fives who are unvaccinated despite us having a Health minister in National Cabinet who will not argue for the vaccination of under-fives, like the United States' Government does and yet, we live in a society where honorary infection is the norm. I think we are in for a world of grief, unfortunately.

There is a whole range of reasons that we do not have confidence in Jeremy Rockliff. We recognise he is a nice guy. That is not enough when you are leading a state on this issue of the stadium. Overwhelmingly Tasmanians reject it. For people with Green hearts we also recognise that the Premier has failed us on wilderness protection, continues to log the carbon banks and the wildlife habitats, hands over marine public waters to predatory global corporations, continues to want to put a cable car on kunanyi, even though it has been rejected by Tasmanian Aboriginal people, is deaf to community. He is apparently deaf to the RSL, which has also overwhelmingly rejected that stadium because it would overshadow the sacred ground of the Cenotaph.

The part that is missing from the no-confidence motion, and it has probably captured by the word 'dishonest', is this Government's attachment to secrecy. This lack of transparency, a default reflex to spin or conceal, is a significant part of why the Greens do not have confidence in the Rockliff Government. We wish it was not so.