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Reply to Premier's Address

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Tags: Political Leadership, Parliament, COVID-19, Housing Crisis, Tasmanian Aboriginals

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise to reply to the Premier's state of the state speech of last Tuesday.

First, I acknowledge the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, I acknowledge 219 years of dispossession from landscape and violence towards First Nations people, and this country, their island, lutruwita, Tasmania. I acknowledge, that we are on the land of the mouheneenner and the nuenonne people. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I acknowledge with the greatest respect the warriors who fought to defend their country when the Europeans first arrived, and the warriors in the Aboriginal community today who stand proud in their culture, deeply connected to country and community.

We are on a path in lutruwita towards truth telling and treaty. The first steps down that path have been laid through, work commissioned by the Premier, to his credit, where he asked professors Tim McCormack and Kate Warner to work with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people to hear their hopes and their aspirations for truth telling and treaty, for genuine reconciliation and healing.

I noted, with a heavy heart, the response of some members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to the Premier's state of the state speech. It told me that what he said in that speech came as a surprise to them. It is not a good foundation for a consultative process that needs to be designed and led by Aboriginal people, that at that this parliamentary step there was such disquiet about the Premier's words. It was when he talked about a government not being here to determine Aboriginality or eligibility that we saw the unrest in the public gallery. It reminds us this is a very complex issue and we need to tread with the greatest of care. We cannot afford for this process not to work. It is far too important. We are held back as an island people by the fact that we have never come to terms and made recompense in any meaningful way for what happened to Aboriginal Tasmanians when the English arrived in 1803. The Greens stand wholly committed to work with Aboriginal people and across this parliament to deliver that truth-telling process and treaty.

You must pay more than lip service to Aboriginal people. We heard in this place last week the minister for Parks be quite dismissive of the need for Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. One of the expressions of interest processes to develop lodges along the South Coast Track has potentially very significant impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage. I am certain that within the broader Tasmanian Aboriginal community there is enormous unease about how this Government manages or mismanages hugely culturally-significant lands, like those along the South Coast Track and in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

kunanyi is a sacred place to Tasmanian Aboriginal people yet the Government, at every step since 2014, has supported a desecration of the mountain for a cable car for a private development against the explicit wishes of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

If we are serious about resetting this relationship, we must listen to what Tasmanian Aboriginal people are telling us about how they want their country - this landscape, this beautiful island - looked after and managed into the future.

We also need to do much better on the protection of Aboriginal heritage. If you are a developer in Tasmania, very rare is it that Aboriginal heritage will get in your way. This heritage belongs to Tasmanian Aboriginal people and it deserves respect.

I note that the Premier's state of the state speech gave passing mention to the environment. This is a positive because in previous years we have not even had passing mention. It was in quite cold language that demonstrated no connection to place. It was the language of circular economies and container deposits and waste levies. It was not the language of a government that understands what sets this island apart from the rest of the world is the natural environment - our wilderness, our forests.

We had three pages dedicated to sport and stadiums and a third of a page dedicated to our priceless natural treasures. It was a subsection within a speech that was so much about spin over substance.

What about being aspirational for nature? What about being aspirational for young people who right now are so stressed about the state of the climate?

It is the United Nations' Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Young people are having significant mental health challenges when they look to the future. This is compounded, of course, by the impact of COVID 19 on their lives. There is an opportunity here to work within the framework of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, to bring Aboriginal people, together with young people, with the Mental Health Council of Tasmania, Landcare, Coastcare, NRMs, farmers, and other landowners, and do some of that repair work we know needs to be done. We see it all around us; there is an extraordinary opportunity here, that is a win, win, win. Repair the landscape, get young people working on the land. One of the most healing things you can do is to have your hands in the earth and making things grow.

This should be beyond politics, it is something we can do as a state; and we know that action equals hope. If we can point young people who are worried about the future in the direction of action that leads to repair, that leads to more carbon being sequestered in the landscape, we are doing an enormous positive - not just for young people, but for all land managers, for our farmers.

We know from the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council (PESRAC) findings, that Tasmanians overwhelmingly see through the spin, and they see that the perception of Tasmania as this clean, green, natural state is not matched by the facts and not matched by the effective government policy on this island's landscape and ecosystems. We need to stay true to PESRAC. We need to recognise that Tasmanians love this place. It does not matter how they vote.

One of the most meaningful revelations to me personally about how deeply Tasmanians love this wilderness has been over the course of the journey to save Lake Malbena and Halls Island from Daniel Hackett's heli-tourism proposal. I have spoken to people who have been lifelong Liberal voters, lifelong Labor voters, Greens voters, vote independent - to a man and a woman and a child, what it is that they love is the wilderness, and they know that it is their common wealth, that we are among- in many ways - the luckiest and the wealthiest people on the planet, because we live in an environment which has not yet been trashed. We need to do better by nature.

We have a Minister for Resources here who is overseeing the running dry of Tasmania's river systems; pollution in Tasmania's river systems; the over allocation of irrigation waters; not metering the water that is taken. and as we know from the report he sought to conceal - Temporal and Spatial Patterns in River Health across Tasmania, and the Influence of Environmental Factors - almost every major river system on this island is impacted, and their health has taken a steep dive since the Liberals came to Government in 2014.

These rivers do not belong to the minister, they do not belong to anyone here; they belong to this island, they have an intrinsic right to be looked after. They also belong to everyone who will live on this island in the future, because, contrary to what the minister says, water is not liquid gold; water is life, and without it, we are knackered.

I encourage the Government to recognise this is the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration; to work across the parliament; to work with all those outstanding organisations that are doing fantastic stuff on the ground, but it is not coordinated yet, it is not harnessing the capacity of young people. It has not identified landscape scale projects, it has not really looked at what is happening to our river systems, but there is a golden opportunity for us to do something really different, really catalytic, and give young people hope for the future.

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, before the break, I was talking about the importance of being aspirational for Tasmania's environment and there are few issues I want to touch on before I move on to other parts of my contribution. At the moment, we have a government, and indeed a Labor Opposition, that supports putting a toxic mine waste dump inside a rainforest in takayna that has been proposed by a Chinese state-owned company, MMG. We need as a state to demand better from companies that come here to make profit. We should have the highest possible standards and, if you want to work in a place like takayna, you need to have the lightest of footsteps. But we have a government that is quite happy to see one of the great temperate wildernesses of the world being slowly trashed by mining, logging and other inappropriate activities.

We have people who live in and around Derby, a town that has seen the most extraordinary revival as a result of Tasmanian Forest Agreement funds where we now have people coming from all over the mainland and the world to take part in Blue Derby bike rides. Yet, Forestry Tasmania, the Government's GBE, is still logging coupes in and near Derby. There is a letter from more than 200 tourism operators to the Tasmanian Government saying knock it off, stop it, they are actually incompatible. A healthy tourism sector and industrial-scale native forest logging and burning that goes with it are incompatible. At face value, we all know that, but because it is ideological we cannot have a government that accepts it.

We also have, it was revealed on the weekend, a most extraordinary Huon pine forest that is around 2000 or 3000 years old on the Wilson River near the site of the proposed Venture Minerals Mount Lindsay mine. Again, we need to be smarter about the choices we make and we should not be caught in this false paradigm of jobs or the environment. There are actually a lot more jobs in a healthy brand and if this Government allows a mine to destroy a truly ancient pine forest for a mine then it will tell us everything we need to know about this Government's priorities. These Huon pine trees have been here since before the birth of Christ. We are talking about ancient, timeless, miraculous wonders, and yet this forest is threatened.

We have to do better. You cannot be taken seriously on climate - and this is our message to the Government - if you keep logging and burning native forests. Young people see straight through it. They know this is ideological, they know it is happening at public expense, and they know that practice on the part of the Tasmanian Government is releasing vast, as yet unquantified, volumes of carbon into the atmosphere. That is an intergenerational crime, but we are seeing intergenerational crimes being inflicted on children and young people in this state on multiple levels.

My daughter's best friend has spent the past three years working at a hardware store full-time saving, saving and saving. She pulled together what she thought was a deposit to buy a house in the Huon Valley and was so excited as she started house hunting about six months ago. My daughter's best friend is so shattered and demoralised by the experience of constantly missing out that she is about to blow that deposit by travelling around the world. Who can blame her?

This story has been repeated all over the island. We have Tasmanians who cannot afford the rent. We have people who are homeless because of the rents. We are the least affordable capital city in the country. Tasmanians are leaving this beautiful island to find somewhere they can afford to live on the mainland. We have young people who are giving up on the dream of being able to own their own home which, until not that long ago in Tasmania at least, was a dream well within reach. No longer.

A huge part of the reason for this act of intergenerational theft is federal and state government neglect of the need for more social and affordable housing. For the first three years under former premier Will Hodgman, no new money went into increasing the supply of affordable housing. Spin, spin, spin is what we got. Now we have a government that is playing catch-up. It is good to see them adopt the Greens target of 10 000 homes within a decade but on their track record Dr Woodruff and I are not particularly optimistic.

You could fix, to a significant extent, soaring rents within a very short space of time if you put some regulations around short-stay accommodation, had some rent controls like they do in the ACT and if you taxed vacant residences. What do we get from this Government? We get a $220 million land tax gift to the propertied class and then a complete falsehood about the effect of this massive land tax cut, a falsehood called out, I might say, by economist Saul Eslake. Cutting land tax does not bring down rents. If it did, rents would be lower in Tasmania because there was a cut to land tax not more than a year ago.

This Government pays lip service to the aspirations of Tasmanians to be able to afford to live here, to rent here and to buy a home in Tasmania. When this Premier talks about being aspirational, he is out of touch with the dashed aspirations of so many Tasmanians who are being priced out of their paradise. The policy steps you can take to bring real rental relief are there, they are evidence based and we know they will work but, no, this Government will not rein in short-stay accommodation because it does not want to hurt investors, it will give them a land tax present instead. Spare me the rubbish about being aspirational on housing.

It is aspirational to have a good education and hope that you might be able to go into a career of your choosing, something you are passionate about, to make a contribution, to have a successful life. How can it be that after seven years of the Liberals in government on NAPLAN we are accelerating in reverse?

I commend to members Dr Lisa Denny's exceptional analysis of NAPLAN results over the past seven years; it is deeply confronting reading. Dr Denny says an analysis of 10 years of NAPLAN results reveals an alarming trend of low and declining literacy and numeracy, knowledge and skills for Tasmanian students as well as a substantial and widening socioeconomic gap and considerable gender gap. Where was the aspiration for Tasmanian children and young people when the Liberals came to office in 2014? What they did in their first year was sack one to two teachers from every single school and schools have been playing catch-up ever since.

Have a look at the Premier's Address. When they talk about investing in health and education, you do not see them talking about investing in people; it is buildings they talk about. It is infrastructure, hard infrastructure.

There was no acknowledgement in the Premier's Address of the need to have a strong, dedicated and independent public sector. No. Instead, what we have is a government that is dismantling the agency that has one of the most important front-facing roles of any in government, and that is Communities Tasmania. No rationale for that has really been given; no Dorothy Dix question on pulling apart Communities Tasmania. It really does tell us something about what this Government values.

I acknowledge that we have extraordinarily dedicated and decent people who are working on the commission of inquiry. I have spoken to survivors who have given preliminary testimony to the commission and have been very heartened by the evident dedication that the commission has to giving survivors voice and acting on what they hear to make sure that we become the safest place in Australia for children and young people.

Closing the Ashley Youth Detention Centre is very much a part of that. This is the same Ashley Youth Detention Centre which has been torturing children and young people, damaging them for a century. The current Education minister told us, when he was previously the minister for Children, that it was a safe place for the detainees. We now know that not to be the case. Of course, this is the same minister who tells us that schools are safe places to send unvaccinated, unmasked children; the same minister who stood in front of the media yesterday announcing his extension of the back to school plan, who was really cheery because apparently it has been a really successful return to school.

It is not successful for 1747 children and young people to be infected with a virus that medical science is only just beginning to understand. No proportionality principle has been applied to those children and the return to school.

So far this year in Australia, there has been a COVID-19 death every 30 minutes. Not one of those Australians suffered a mild death. We have become somehow desensitised to such a staggering death toll. Death from, by, with, of, COVID-19, is becoming normalised. An approach to a potentially deadly, disabling bat virus - it is a bat virus - has effectively been to let it rip.

What did Tasmanians discover on 15 December last year? They discovered they are on their own. For two years we had a government that told us it was dedicated to keeping us safe. We had two years to get ready. What happened after 15 December? Well, for the first four days, no masks, as thousands and thousands of people poured in from the mainland; no masks, no restrictions. What did we have? We had government sanctioned super-spreader events like Party in the Apocalypse. Have a look at the reported case data after Party in the Apocalypse, where some of our youngest and brightest and most healthy young people contracted this virus. We had people who could not, for love nor money, book in a PCR test. They would go down to get a rapid antigen test, like my son did one day. He was in that queue for seven hours. We had whole families who believed they were infected, and they had one RAT delivered to their home.

It is an absolute, egregious lie to say that we were ready. We were not ready. Talk to some of the people who contracted COVID-19, particularly in those early days. Talk to some of the people who waited for seven days for a callback from the COVID@home program, only to speak to a doctor who would not give their last name; kept trying to tell them their painful symptoms were just a mild case of the disease; and asked did they have other stresses in their lives that perhaps were making them feel this terrible.

I spoke to a woman who is also a friend of mine, but would also be well known to people in this place, who contracted COVID-19 on 2 January, got a call back seven days later from COVID@home, and her experience of going through that illness - which was designated mild - brought me to tears. The trauma that this person still lives with to this day as, months later, she continues to work through her recovery; the trauma is profound.

We have a Government that continues to this day to call a variant of COVID-19 'mild'. All the evidence tells us that while Omicron may be less severe than Delta, Delta was twice as severe as the original wild Wuhan variant. At every step of the way, we have had this Government minimise COVID-19. We have had this Government treat COVID-19 infection as it is some kind of trivial inconvenience. We had the federal Health Minister advise us to simply go and buy Panadol, while the New South Wales Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, basically said you are all going to get it anyway.

I do not buy that neoliberal garbage, Mr Speaker, and Tasmanians should not either. If we had a Government that was not so content to let this virus spread, there would be at scale public education about this virus; the known health consequences of this virus; the questions that science has not yet been able to answer; and there would be advice from Government on how to effectively shield yourself. But no; because of the messaging coming out of federal and state governments, there seems to be this belief within the population that it is over, that we are through this. Today, Tasmania recorded more than 1000 COVID-19 positive cases. An unknown number of them will be children in primary school. The Greens have been in very good company sounding the alarm on COVID-19.