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Section 19 of the Public Account Act 1986 - June Quarter 2018


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Tags: Section 19 Return, Treasury

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, we note that in a relatively short period of time since the election, there have been very significant shifts of public fundings across and between agencies, out to private enterprises.

There is a significant budget impact here. On page 3 of the section 19 return in column 3, subsection 11(22), we have a total sum of a bit over $ 21 million. It says on the explanatory notes the budget impact of these additional costs has been offset on a whole-of-government level by increased Australian Government revenue or by asset sales. I understand that this is an explanatory note but given the substantial quantity of public funding we are talking about here, I think the Treasurer -

Mr Gutwein - Whereabouts are you?

Ms O'CONNOR - We are on page 3, the columns, and it is column 3, which is the second footnote that talks about offset by increased Australian Government revenue. Could you please detail if that is simply the GST distribution funds or by asset sales? It would be appropriate for you to detail to the House what those asset sales are because, as we know, even though the Premier came to government saying that his would not be a government that privatised assets, it has gone about doing just that at a pace.

It is about to flog the Treasury building, it has given away title to at least 500 Housing Tasmania properties, it has flogged about 29 000 hectares of public plantations. There is a big question mark hanging over the privatisation of public lands. We know that there is privatisation of public marine waterways, shared waterways, through the rapid expansion of fish farms. There is privatisation of public protected areas through exclusive use arrangements with private developers.

I would put it to you and the House, Madam Speaker, that this is the most privatising, corporatist government in Tasmania's history, so could the Treasurer please tell the House what asset sales have contributed towards that bottom line and whether any of it involved public Crown land through a process which is, as we know, opaque?

Moving on to table 2 and some of the funding transfers that have been detailed here, I see that the rubber continues to meet the road in having to provide extra resourcing to prison services in Tasmania because the Liberals' tough-on-crime policies are filling our prisons with people. You can harrumph away there, Minister for Corrections, but it says here in the table:

Savings of $500 000 resulting from salary and other administrative savings generated during 2017-18 have been transferred from WorkSafe Tasmania to meet the cost of sustained increase in prisoner numbers during 2017-18.

Ms Archer - All across the nation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ms Archer says this is happening all across the nation. She needs to table the evidence of that. We know from Tasmania Police's annual report of last year that under Liberal policy, crime rates in Tasmania went up by 10 per cent in the space of a single year, so there is obviously something wrong with the policy framework here if we are creating an environment where more and more people are going to prison.

Ms Archer - It'd be so good under the Greens.

Ms O'CONNOR - Would you like to say that out aloud, Ms Archer?

Madam SPEAKER - Yes, Ms Archer, could I ask you -

Ms Archer - I said it would be so good under the Greens - we'd have people let out of prison.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms Archer, could I ask you to abide by the same rules we apply to every other member of the parliament? Thank you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Madam Speaker. In fact a Greens minister for corrections took up the 'breaking the cycle' work that had begun by former Labor minister, Lisa Singh, who is now a senator. He introduced a change management process at the prison, brought in Brian Edwards, who made a huge difference to the culture and the operations of the prison. In fact, not only were the numbers of prisoners within the system going down but recidivism rates were improving, so the evidence speaks for itself in terms of management of the correctional system in Tasmania.

I note here also that there has been savings of $340 000 resulting from salary and other administrative savings transferred from Victim Support Services and the Safe at Home program to meet increases in demand experienced by the Guardianship and Administration Board, the Mental Health Tribunal and the Office of the Public Guardian. Invariably when there are section 19 returns brought into this House, one of the integrity or probity bodies will have had to come to government with a request for additional operational funding. This is a very good example of systemic and sustained underfunding of these important bodies so that each year they have to come back to government just so they can continue to operate effectively in the interests of the people of Tasmania.

It has happened to the Office of the Ombudsman and to the Integrity Commission. They have been to the office of the Equal Opportunities Commissioner, as I recall - and I am happy for the Attorney-General to correct me on that - but our integrity bodies should be properly funded. We should not have an Ombudsman's office where you can send off a right to information review in 2014, as now Senator Nick McKim did in relation to the expressions of interest process for development in protected areas, and there is still not an answer because there is a huge backlog in the Ombudsman's office for examining agency and ministerial decisions on RTI applications. As we know, ministers understand that obtaining a review of a right to information decision is going to take years and in all likelihood they will not be the minister when the decision comes down, so we are dealing with a system that has been undermined by a government that has no commitment to its transparency and accountability unless it suits them. They are underfunding the integrity body, the Office of the Ombudsman, and delegating decisions so that they cannot be internally reviewed. I can hear you sighing heavily, Ms Archer, but these are the facts.

I note that the Tasmanian Planning Commission has a cumulative cut to it of $210 000 and that is salary savings in the first instance in table 2, and that money has gone into the Planning Policy Unit. Let us be really clear about what has happened here: the independent statutory planning body, the Tasmanian Planning Commission, has had money taken away from it and that money has been put into the department and the advisory capacity for the Minister for Planning. This is undermining and eroding independent planning system in Tasmania. It is diminishing the capacity of the Tasmanian Planning Commission to do its work effectively and it is a continuation of the erosion of independence in our planning system that has been happening over the past five years, where we have gone from having one of the most robust, fair and independent planning systems in the country to having a planning framework that is being written by and for developers with explicit intent to shut out public appeal rights and concerned constituencies in relation to planning decisions.

We also see here a savings from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to again go back in to a political and government agenda. It says here $40 000 is saved from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner transferred to assist with meeting the costs of increased resources required to implement the Government's legislative reforms. Why should the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner pay for that? That is a very reasonable question, so perhaps the Treasurer could address his mind to that. What are these legislative reforms that require taking money away from the Equal Opportunities Commissioner? Why is an independent statutory office having its funding cut to support the Liberals' legislative agenda, flawed as it is?

Also, could the Treasurer please explain why $100 000 has been taken out of the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service to assist with meeting the cost of increased use of priority postage due to changes in Australia Post delivery time frames following the same-sex marriage reforms? Why is the state paying for that? Why is the state compensating Births, Deaths and Marriages for a federal policy that was too gutless to just let the federal parliament do its work and institute marriage equality? A political decision at the federal level was made to send it out to a plebiscite, which caused division and psychological damage in our community and now the state is being made to pay Births, Deaths and Marriage $100 000 for a federal plebiscite. It is very hard to understand and perhaps the Treasurer could explain that.

We see here in a continuation of column 2, after $110 000 had been taken out of the Planning Commission and put into the Planning Policy Unit, there is also $100 000 taken out of the taken out of the Tasmanian Planning Commission to put into the Magistrates Court. Why is the Magistrates Court not being given sufficient, ongoing, recurrent base funding so money is not having to be taken from the Planning Commission and put into the Magistrates Court? This section 19 return has a whole lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul imbedded in it.

In the Health and Human Services output, Housing Tasmania has requested $ 1.7 million as reimbursement for the payment of stamp duty relief to a community housing provider for properties transferred under the community housing stock leverage program? The notes here say there is a zero dollar impact on the budget. Was that for the transfer of title? Can the Treasurer please give the House more detail on whether that relates to title transfer or management transfer? If it is stamp duty relief, logic would tell us it is related to title transfer. Can the Treasurer give us some details on what community housing provider and how many properties were subject to this stamp duty relief, which means it is in your portfolio and do not fob it off to your colleague?

Mr Gutwein - If we have the information I will provide it.

Ms O'CONNOR - I also have questions about the $30 000 assistance to remove damaged trees at the Tasmania Golf Club. Who owns the Tasmania Golf Club?

Mr Gutwein - It is a community organisation that made a request after a bad storm, as I understand it.

Mr Hidding - All the trees had died through lack of water and they were about to start falling on people's heads. It was very dangerous; a massive stand of dead trees.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. In table 4, Parks and Wildlife Management, there is the sum of just under $2 million allocated to the Parks and Wildlife Service for fire suppression activities. This is déjà vu. Why are we dealing with another request from Parks and Wildlife simply to be able to perform its basic statutory land management duties in the lands it manages ? We are in a period in which the intergovernmental panel on climate change dropped the most bombshell-depressing report last week, which tells the people of the world they have 12 years to save the planet, yet the Parks and Wildlife Service is still having to come, cap in hand to government for fire management resourcing. I hope the Treasurer agrees we can do better than that and there should be substantially increased resourcing to the Parks and Wildlife Service, to Forestry Tasmania for its fire fighting capacity, and to the State Emergency Service. We need resources put into fire prevention, community protection and landscape and natural resource protection as a priority.

As to energy policy and advice, I note in the paperwork it says, 'This request for additional funds of $885 000 reflects consulting expenses to provide independent legal advice to the Energy Security Cabinet Committee relating to BassLink'. In the old days, we used to have that sort of expertise in-house. In the old days, in the former department of infrastructure, energy and resources, in saying the old days it is only five years ago, there was policy advice capacity of a highest standard. Many of the good policy people went out of what was then known as DIER, now it is State Growth, so we lost a breadth and depth of advice and experience. It is hard to escape the conclusion that spending nearly $1 million on consultants in seeking advice on energy issues points back to the 400 people who lost their jobs in the Department of State Growth and the economic development, infrastructure, energy and resources restructure . State Growth lost a huge number of quality staff and policy expertise and the taxpayers of Tasmania are paying for that through increased consultancy fees.

Could the Treasurer please tell the parliament why Government went out for independent legal advice, purchased advice, presumably legal advice, when we have here the office of the Crown Solicitor, the Solicitor-General? We have in-house counsel in a number of government agencies. Why are we paying for legal advice when we have impartial advice of the highest quality available to government? Why is the Government outsourcing legal advice and policy advice?

Finally, the House should know details of the compensation payment to a landowner under section 41 of the Nature Conservation Act 2002 due to the presence of threatened species or threatened native vegetation on their property. It raises a whole lot of questions. First, while I recognise there are provisions within the Nature Conservation Act for compensating landowners for decisions that are made by government that might impact on their capacity to profit from their land or manage their land, if a landowner is informed there are threatened species on their property, whether it be threatened flora or fauna, why should the taxpayers pay $ 2.5 million or really, any amount of compensation to a private landowner for that? If a private landowner did not already know they had threatened or vulnerable species on their property, they were operating in ignorance or had chosen not to understand the nature of their property. To then come to government and demand or request an extra $2.5 million, it is a huge sum of money. Maximum transparency on that compensation payment is in the best interests of transparency, accountability and the taxpayers of Tasmania.