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Reply to the Premier's Address (state of the State)

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Tags: Tasmanian Aboriginals, Housing, Justice, Political Leadership, COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - On behalf of the Greens and every Tasmanian who recognises we meet on stolen land, I acknowledge and pay my deepest respects to Tasmania's Aboriginal people, the palawa pakana, to their elders past and present, to those still finding their wisdom, to the warriors who fought to defend this island when the English arrived, and to the warriors who fight for justice for First Nations people today. I pay humble respects.

I express deep regret, and I lament how far we still are, as a society, from justice for the palawa pakana. The Greens recognise your blazing anger and the intergenerational trauma your people suffer to this day. I say this directly to Tasmanian Aboriginal people: we recognise that you suffer as a result of the murder of your ancestors and theft of your land. Although we may differ on the Voice to Parliament and constitutional recognition, the Greens will never pay you lip service and, until there is Aboriginal representation in this place, we will remain your unwavering, consistent and fierce voice in the Tasmanian parliament. Until there is treaty, we will fight for and alongside you. Until there is truth-telling, we will be your voice telling the truth in this place.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it was disheartening, to say the least, to hear so little from a Premier - and so late in his Address - on the path to truth-telling and treaty. That brief mention was in the next breath after the Premier again revived the spectre of a cable car on kunanyi, sacred land to the palawa, who have made oxygen-clear their rejection of the cable car. So, too, the lip service Tasmanian Aboriginal people heard from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in response to the destruction and desecration of priceless Aboriginal heritage in takayna. The lip service given to Aboriginal people in the Premier's state of the state Address was insulting and disrespectful.

It was also downright depressing to hear nothing from the Leader of the Opposition about justice for Tasmanian Aboriginal people - not one word. We heard more about Ms White than we did about the people who have been here for 60 000 years or more. Ms White, who is not in the Chamber today, if you want to be the Premier of lutruwita/Tasmania, you need to do better.

Premier, just get on with it. Make your legacy the foundation for truth-telling and treaty. Not a billion-dollar stadium on the very site Aboriginal Tasmanians were promised a truth and reconciliation art park - or a cable car on sacred land, a sacred mountain, kunanyi. Have some respect, both of you.

It was a dispiriting Premier's Address but I completely agreed with him when he said, 'Tasmania, today, is very different from the Tasmania when we first came to government in 2014'. Yes, it sure is - on every social and environmental metric. On health, between 2014 15 and 2021 22, ambulance response times in the 19th percentile have increased by 64 per cent in Hobart and 34 per cent statewide; and in the 50th percentile, by 28 per cent in Hobart and 16 per cent statewide. People are waiting up to seven hours for an ambulance to arrive. Some have died waiting in their homes or on ramps outside our public hospitals. In that same time, the proportion of emergency patients seen on time has declined from 83 per cent to 49 per cent.

On children and young people: while we commend the Premier and the Government for their commitment to the commission of inquiry in implementing its recommendations, there sure is a long way to go to make this island the safest place in the country for children and young people - as it can and should be. Between 2014-15 and 2021-22 the proportion of child safety investigations that take more than 29 days to commence has increased from 24 per cent to 55 per cent. The proportion of child safety investigations that take more than 90 days to complete have increased from 15 per cent to 64 per cent. Something is very wrong with the child safety system and it is letting children down and placing them at risk.

On housing, perhaps successive Liberal premiers over the last nine years most manifest failure of the Tasmanian people. Between 2014-15 and 2021-22 waited median rents for the state have increased from $262 to $440. We weekly have people ringing our office in tears because their rent is going up $50, $80, $100 a week, because they are being shut out of the market by short-stay accommodation and a government that refuses to act because its own ministers own short-stay accommodation properties. Residential vacancy rates in Hobart have declined from 1.8 per cent to 0.6 per cent and in Launceston to 0.8 per cent. We have the tightest, most savage rental market in the country, and this after nine years of Liberal government.

In the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest report on housing affordability the greater Hobart area was the only region in Australia ranked as having "unaffordable rents".

In justice and corrections breaking the cycle has been utterly abandoned and it has made this island a less safe place. The accrued prison rate between 2014-15 and 2021-22 since the Liberals came to office the imprisonment rate, per 100 000 adults, has increased from 117 to 149. Our prisons are jammed full because this Government is failing on corrections and is failing to break the cycle. Adults released from prison who return to corrective service within two years, that is recidivism, has increased from 45 per cent, almost 5 per cent below the national average, to 51 per cent, almost 10 per cent above the national average. The proportion of offenders proceeded against with non-court action has declined from 42 per cent to 25 per cent. Police use diversions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have declined from 41 per cent to 22.5 per cent. Unsentenced prisoners on remand have increased from 98 to 207. Over the past five years the percentage of unsentenced prisoners on remand for longer than a year has been between 7 per cent and 10 per cent. In four of the five years prior to the Liberals coming to office, that is under a Greens minister in a Labor-Greens government, it was zero per cent. These are people the Liberals are locking up for over a year who have not been convicted of a crime. Not unlike the young people who are locked in their cells at Ashley Youth Detention Centre on remand.

We are living the tale of two Tasmanias. Perhaps it has ever been thus - an island ruled by elites and the big end of town and another island where disadvantage is not only a cruel-lived reality, it is entrenched. Recently, on a Thursday, the top end of town and a few other invited guests gathered at PW1 to hear AFL chief, Gillon McLachlan, and our Premier cheer on a billion-dollar stadium to the clinking of champagne glasses over seared, antibiotic-laced Brazilian butchered salmon no doubt and other tasty treats. We were told by the guy, who is effectively blackmailing us over our unquestionable right to join the national league, that there will be a footy in every hand and a footy in every home. There are nearly 5000 Tasmanians on the housing waitlist, people are sleeping in tents and cars, there are rents up 50 per cent in five years and the Premier and his new mate, Gillon McLachlan, give us the Aussie version of Marie Antoinette, 'let them eat football.'

Mr Speaker, a Premier with backbone would stand up to Gillon McLachland and the AFL elite and tell them we have earned a team, we deserve a team, but my people cannot afford a new stadium and they do not want one. A Premier with a backbone would say, 'We already have two we can refurbish. What my people, the battlers need, is homes they can afford and a health system that meets their needs'.

In privileged, wealthy Tasmania, we have land tax cuts for property investors and short-stay accommodation unregulated and out of control, with ministers - at least of whom own short-stay accommodation properties - refusing to take any action. Then we have my constituent who lives in a bus in a paddock, and the single mums who ring our office in tears because they cannot pay the rent or they face eviction or they cannot find a home.

In one Tasmania, that governed by the wealthy and the privileged, we have $4000 tickets to a dinner with the Premier and other Liberal ministers and global corporates like Cooke, which bought Tassal, and JBS, which bought Huon Aquaculture, where the Premier tells those big-money interests his Government is absolutely committed to massive expansion of industrial fish farms in public marine waters, despite strong community opposition.

There is fierce community opposition around this island to the expansion of industrial fish farming in our public coastal waters. That opposition is being absolutely ignored by this Government, which is captured by global fish farming corporations, which is deaf to coastal communities, which does not invite members of those communities to their $4000 corporate donor dinners. This is a government that bends over backwards to corporates at the expense of our communities and our once-pristine coastal marine waters.

We have emergency departments under enormous stress. They have gone backwards in the last nine years and no amount of spin from government will take away that truth. We have a lethal virus rampant in our community. More than half the Tasmanian people have been infected and, increasingly, people are being reinfected and reinfected. This Premier, who is part of the National Cabinet, led the charge to remove the five-day isolation period for people who are COVID-positive. He did not lead the national charge to have children under five vaccinated. He did not advocate for people under the age of 30 to be eligible for a booster shot, and a number I know are now on their third infection.

This is a virus which hammers the immune system. It is a biosafety hazard level 3 virus. In laboratories they wear full-body PPE when they are dealing with a pathogen of this nature, but not in Tasmania, not in this parliament, not in our hospitals where people are being infected, not in our schools, and not in our public buildings or public places. This Government, captured by corporations and moneyed interests, has unleashed a deadly pathogen on the people of Tasmania, a community which has the highest chronic disease burden in the country and the oldest and fastest-ageing population in the country, with the highest self-identified level of disability.

If you want to ask why our health system is under so much pressure, why things have changed so dramatically in our health system over the last 18 months, look no further than this Premier and Health minister. He has absolutely betrayed the Tasmanian people. All protections have been removed. The Tasmanian people have been left defenceless. There is no public education campaign on the fact that this virus is an airborne pathogen. There is no education or advertising campaign to encourage people to get their booster. There is no warning or advising people to wear a mask to protect themselves. People cannot get a PCR test. The data is being fudged. There is no focus on clean air and now Australia and Tasmania have one of the highest COVID death rates in the world. It is the normalisation of deviance.

We need a clean air revolution. It is a human right to breath clean air. Twenty-three years ago the World Health Organisation issued a statement entitled 'The right to healthy indoor air'. It came out of a meeting of the World Health Organisation in Bilthoven in the Netherlands, and it says this:

Principle one - under the principle of the human right to health, everyone has the right to breathe healthy indoor air.

Principle two - under the principle of respectful autonomy, everyone has the right to adequate information about potentially harmful exposures and to be provided with effective means for controlling at least part of their indoor exposures.

Principle three -

Boy, are we being failed on this one -

under the principle of non-maleficence, doing no harm, no agent at a concentration that exposes any occupant to unnecessary health risk should be introduced into indoor air.

Mr Speaker, not only is it introduced into indoor air, this virus is being allowed, facilitated, permitted into all our indoor spaces, including this one which has walked away from its COVID safety plan. I advise the House that we have written to WorkSafe Tasmania and asked them to undertake an inspection of this place. We have sought legal advice to protect people who work in this building, including our colleagues in this place, from the 'let it rip' approach to this deadly virus, which is weakening and sickening the Tasmanian people.

We need a clean air revolution. We need to focus on ventilation and filtration. We need to recognise that children are being denied the right to good health. They have been given no say in being exposed to this pathogen, and perhaps the Minister for Education, Children and Youth could explain why the COVID-safe schools plan has been removed from the Department of Education website? I am sure that is information Tasmanian parents would be interested in. We need safe workplaces and a government that is serious about the health of the Tasmanian people would invest in a clean air revolution. That is how you look after the heath of your people and you create jobs. Breathing clean air is a human right, just as drinking clean water is a human right, and it is about time our Government caught up.

We live in two Tasmanias, where we have the privileged and handsomely funded private schools where the students want for absolutely nothing, and we have children in public schools, in classrooms, where teachers are leaving in droves. What does this Government do when the Australian Education Union on behalf of teachers asks for more in school support? It unleashes the adolescents they have working in the social media unit on the 11th floor or the 10th floor, or wherever they are, to insult teachers and school support staff. We had the Australian Education Union say on 1 March this year, in desperation:

Dear Premier and Minister,

Every day Tasmanian students are missing out due to a lack of in-class support. Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession due to excessive workloads and lack of support. Every public school student in Tasmania is funded at $2000 a year below the minimum student resource funding requirement. For 18 months, teachers have negotiated and pleaded for the in-class support our students need. Enough is enough. Teachers should not have to beg for the support students need and the support we need to keep teachers in the profession. Teachers should not have to take stop work action to win the in-class support our students need, but we will, and the deadline is today.


David Genford

President of the Australian Education Union - Tasmania Branch

What did they get? They got insulting, puerile, childish twaddle out of the Government media unit attacking the education union. This one, which got a massive 11 shares, says:

The education union is forcing schools to close on Friday, Tasmanians deserve better.

What Tasmanians deserves is a government that recognises our public schools need more resources. That is what Tasmanians deserve, that is what teachers deserve, that is what our children deserve.

Then we get:

The education union has come to their senses and cancelled Friday's school strike. Commonsense prevails.

Jeremy Rockliff liked that post. He liked that childish post.

Dr Woodruff - Yes, that was sickening.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was sickening wasn't it, Dr Woodruff? There are children in our classrooms showing more maturity than the Government's social media unit.

Another one here from the Tasmanian Liberals attacks essential workers again. They wonder why we have huge workforce challenges in the public service. It says:

When they pull stunts, schools close, nurses get sacked and Tasmanians get sent to the dole queue by the thousands. Tasmanians deserve better than this mob.

We never got an apology from the Premier to teachers and everyone who works tirelessly every day trying to give our children the quality education that they deserve.

In our two Tasmanias, we have ministers being taken to work in luxury cars with leather seats and air conditioning, and we have children, old people, poor people, people with disability, people wanting to get to work left waiting for buses that never come. This Government has made a choice not to prioritise the economic and social wellbeing of every Tasmanian.

This Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the minister for self-love, is an abject failure as minister. Never before have we had a situation where 100 bus services are being cancelled in a single day. It is still happening. We have a Government that has removed protections, masks from public transport. They wonder why we have a shortage of bus drivers. We know security is an issue on buses. Interestingly, when they made Metro transport free for a month the incidents of antisocial behaviour declined dramatically.

What is the solution? It is not heavy handed, expensive security, it is free public transport. Mr Speaker, it would cost this state $11 million a year to provide free public transport. It would unlock enormous social and economic opportunity for Tasmanians. It would help to lift people out of poverty. It is a fraction of the billion dollars that would be spent on a stadium. It is a solution that would work.

Make public transport free and you will see antisocial behaviour on buses decline dramatically - because that is what happened when it was trialled. However, this puritanical minister does not want to think about a solution like that, because he does not think government should provide free stuff for people. It is mean-spiritedness and a lack of imagination. Make public transport free. This Government has made a political choice to foster poverty in our community.

We have Liberal members who can tap public funds for pet and family projects, and who would not know a conflict of interest if it punched them in the face. We have communities without the benefits of these connections missing out.

Here is the tale of two regional communities, and two Louisa Streets at the opposite ends of the state. In Louisa Street in Bracknell, the public funds that have gone into that town in that street: $400 000 for a hall rebuild; $80 000 for a hall refurbishment; $45 000 for goal nets; $30 000 for an electronic scoreboard; and $25 000 for lighting. The town of Bracknell - home to the Shelton family - will have a kitted-out field, two halls, a brand-new gym, new toilets, footy club rooms and footy change rooms.

In Louisa Street in Cygnet, home of the Cygnet Sea Dragons Junior Soccer Club - which has teams from under-six all the way up to under-18 - their ground only has a small storage area that they have to share with the school. Nothing else. The ground does not have toilets. Kids have to cross the road and walk 100 metres or so to get to a toilet, if those toilets are even open. The Louisa Street Cygnet ground does not have change rooms. David Neil from the club says, 'This is particularly an issue on a wet day'. They have not been able to secure government funds, despite needing help for years. They do not have a Shelton on their committee, Mr Speaker. It is a bit like the Sandy Bay Rowing Club where Ms Ogilvie's daughter attends. The Sandy Bay Rowing Club, which received $150 000 of public funds during the last state election campaign, Mr Speaker.

The Cygnet Junior Soccer Club says it feels like they have got the short end of the stick, because they have. They have got the short end of the stick because they are not connected enough with the Liberal political elite, and that is a fact.

The Premier's state of the state Address was all about money and privilege. It was all about the economy. I thought the journalist who summed it up best was David Killick, in the Mercury on 4 March, in his article 'Tasmania politics - Liberals serve up more of the same'. He starts:

As Jeremy Rockliff extolled his latest health initiative at the Royal Hobart Hospital on Monday, nurses two floors above were searching in vain for clean sheets to put on beds. When Mr Rockliff read to the children at Lenah Valley Primary School on Thursday, ramp officers were settling in for another wasted afternoon shift in immobile ambulances, and a mother was waiting for straight answers about why her daughter waited seven sorry hours for transport to hospital. She is still waiting. Like a Metro patron at a bus stop for a service that will never arrive, or anyone who has lodged a right to information request in the past decade.

He writes:

Speaker Mark Shelton could not detect a conflict of interest in voting to shut down a committee referral, a chance to answer questions in a no-confidence motion about his own alleged conflict of interest.

Racing minister Madeleine Ogilvie kinda sorta admitted leaving out the important bit about why the TasRacing CEO left suddenly, and the Integrity Commission stumbled upon some sort of misconduct in a Tasmanian council but refuses to tell anyone who or where it was.

He says nine years after the Liberals took power, nobody seems to have tweaked about the link between a chronic lack of accountability and the chronic poor outcomes the citizen of this state shrugs off as par for the course.