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Section 19 Return

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Tags: Climate Change, State Budget, Greyhound Adoption Program

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - I was enjoying your contribution, Mr O'Byrne, and I know you have more to say.

Madam Deputy Speaker, as ever the Return under Section 19 of the Public Account Act 1986 tells a story of chronic underfunding of public services and agencies that have to keep coming back to the Treasurer for additional funds. Critically, it tells a story of accelerating climate disruption. All through this return is evidence of the exponentially increasing cost to governments of extreme weather events. Yet here we have a Government that does not have a climate adaptation plan.

As far as we know has not yet gone to the Commonwealth and sought the $ 50 million, which I understand is owed to us as a result of last summer's utterly devastating bushfire season. I can understand why there would be some hesitation going with your cap in hand to a coal-kissing climate- denying prime minister who has run a mile from those communities that have lost everything as a result of bushfires. In fact, he went to the cricket . The longer it takes to extract that money from the Commonwealth the heavier the hit on our finances are.

Let us go through some of the climate-related costs in this section 19 return. On page 6 we have a transfer from the State Fire Commission to other outputs. According to the explanation, it is to enable the provision of funding to the entities that incurred the costs fighting fires. So, $10°million went from the State Fire Commission of which $ 1.5 million went to SUS Tas, yet there is an $8.5 million expenditure that has no footnote, no explanation; it is 'other grants and subsidies'. Can the Treasurer explain what those other grants and subsidies are, and where the $8.5 million ultimately went?

Then we have the climate-related costs in FinanceGeneral to the State Fire Commission, $29°million. This request for additional funds of $29 million reflects initial additional firefighting costs incurred during the 2019 bushfires. Major areas of expenditure included aerial firefighting, the cost of interstate resources and firefighting costs.

Another $3.8 million was requested under the Natural Disaster Relief Scheme for the costs associated with the June 2016 flood event and the May 2018 severe weather event.

Under Premier and Cabinet, Security and Emergency Management, there is a request for additional funds of $2.3 million reflecting funding for the southern Tasmania extreme weather event, which in part is funded through the Australian Government with the remainder being state funded.

An extra $1.4 million has gone to Security and Emergency Management for data collection and flood mapping. Another $620 000 request for additional funding to Security and Emergency Management to coordinate whole-of-government support for recovery from the southern Tasmania extreme weather events.

A request for additional funding of $581 000 for the bushfire recovery taskforce. We then go to Parks and Wildlife, page 27, Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment, where Parks and Wildlife had to request $ 5.3 million to cover year-to-date costs of firefighting-related expenses incurred by the department. The explanation is that this expense is partially offset by a saving of $2.7 million in Finance-General from funding provided in the 2018-19 Supplementary Appropriation Act. Is that $ 2.7 million from government broadly or $2.7 million that was saved from Parks?

Mr Gutwein - My understanding is that would be in the Supplementary Appropriation Bill. At that time it would have been based around what we understood the cost as being. There was a further request for funding.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Treasurer. We have, under Infrastructure Strategy, another climate-related allocation, a request for additional funds of $1 million reflecting the state Government's contribution to the Latrobe Flood Mitigation Project. Extreme flooding events are also becoming increasingly prevalent. There is no longer any such phrase as a once-in-a-hundredyear flood. We are in the age of the new abnormal. That is why the costs to the State budget will continue to get exponentially higher.

What we need, as Mr O'Byrne stated, is to factor these costs into the front-end of budgeting so we are not constantly playing catch-up, where we have a state budget that is crafted and passed through the lens of accelerating climate impacts across all government agencies, all layers of our community, but no, it is all in here as RAFs because there has been no forward planning for climate impacts.

The Fiscal Sustainability Report was really clear that they did not seek to factor in the climate-related costs to the budget, but it is a glaring hole. This Section 19 Return makes that really clear. The highest costs that have come through in the return relate to climate impacts on Tasmania and our emergency services, Parks and Wildlife and SUS-Tas having to respond. Right across our firefighting agencies there have been requests for additional funding in order to try to save lives, wilderness, property and communities from extreme weather events.

There was a request for additional funding - page 29 - in industry and business development of $200 000 which were for small business recovery grants provided to small businesses affected by storm damage in 2018.

If you add all of that up, that is a huge hit on the state's finances. We need to be preparing fiscal sustainability reports that understand you need to embed the science in your economics. It is no longer justifiable to say because we cannot quantify the impacts, we cannot account for them. We cannot project four years ahead to what some of those costs might be on the state's finances. We do not have that excuse anymore. We have seen at least some of the costs over the past year to the state Budget and they are high.

We need to have a coordinated climate mitigation and adaptation plan for Tasmania. There is no coherent adaptation strategy coming out of this Government. Of course, let us not forget this is a government that wants to open up new coal mines, log carbon-rich forests and lock up those people who will not stand for it. As I said at the rally yesterday, you cannot arrest your way out of a climate emergency, but no doubt the Liberals will try.

We have also seen in the section 19 return that a bit over half a million dollars has been taken out of the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal and the Tasmanian Planning Commission and put back into a government agency. I would like to think that most Tasmanians appreciate their robust and independent planning bodies. I believe that most Tasmanians want to make sure that our planning bodies, which give people voice in land use planning decisions, are properly resourced. However, what we have seen here is half a million dollars being sucked out of the tribunal and the commission to go back into a government department. That means less expertise, and fewer human resources in our independent planning system. That is the bottom line of that reallocation. If the Treasurer could detail to the House what advice he was given by RMPAT and the TPC about the human resource implications of that transfer of moneys, that would be most helpful.

To some other sections of the requests for additional funding, could the Treasurer explain page 8, Justice, and the transfer of $230 000 out of the support and compensation for victims of crime into the Guardianship and Administration Board, the Mental Health Tribunal and the Office of the Public Guardian? There is no question that those bodies require more resourcing, but why does it come out of a fund established to provide support and compensation for victims of crime from a government that has spent most of this afternoon trying to tell the House they are the only people in here who care about the victims of crime? You are taking away money from a support and compensation fund for victims of crime. Talk about hypocrites.

I reiterate a question asked by Mr O'Byrne on the allocation of funds from Metro, nearly $750 000 into the private passenger transport system, noting that it was always part of the mantra when the passenger transport contracts were being renegotiated that it would be a revenue-neutral outcome. Clearly it has not been revenue-neutral and perversely it has led to worse passenger transport outcomes for many people who have relied on those services and certainly the frequency of Metro services, in my view, has diminished. You have a government that is taking nearly $750 000 out of public transport and putting it into the passenger transport system. We argue that the passenger transport system needs that money, but you should not be taking it out of public transport. In terms of access to transport, we are agnostic about whether it is private or public, as long as it is accessible and affordable to people. You should not be robbing Peter to pay Paul to provide access to the transport services that Tasmanians need.

In great news for all of us who suffer the congestion in Hobart, there is $ 200 000 extra that has been allocated for the Greater Hobart traffic solutions, an exceptional outcome for the people of Hobart who have endured worsening congestion ever since the Liberals were elected. There is also the $241 000 that was taken out of Traffic Management and Engineering Services and allocated into infrastructure strategy. A total $ 9 million has come out of student-only passenger services to go into non- metropolitan general access services, again robbing one underfunded part of the Budget in order to top up another.

It is fascinating that the Department of Health can declare $2.8 million in savings. Scandalous, really, quite breathtaking. Perhaps the Treasurer could explain how it is that the Department of Health can declare a savings of $2.8 million when elective surgery waiting lists are skyrocketing and people are waiting in our emergency department, sometimes for days on end.

Mr Gutwein - Sorry, what page were you on?

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for interrupting my flow - page 14. People are waiting in the emergency department for days on end. You have junior doctors at the Royal Hobart Hospital very clear that they are working in an unsafe environment and yet the Department of Health can find $2.8 million in savings. It is quite amazing, Mr Deputy Speaker.

This Government is doing a great job - not - of resetting the relationship with the Aboriginal community, so it is totally unsurprising that there was unspent funding from 2017-18 for resetting the relationship with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. It is a total of $166 000 in Communities and the explanation is:

This request for additional funds of $166 000 reflects the utilisation of unspent funding in 2017-18 for resetting the relationship with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

That means very little progress was made last year on resetting the relationship with the First People and, as we know, the year before that, the year before that and the year before that. This is a government that has promised the First People of Tasmania that it would reset the relationship but it has done nothing but divide Aboriginal people. It has returned no lands and will make no commitment to treaty or changing the date from 26 January. There has been no substantive resetting of the relationship with Aboriginal people, other than to take the relationship backwards. That is why Aboriginal Affairs did not spend that $166 000 in the last financial year.

In Education we see this massive allocation of extra funds to the private education system, nongovernment schools, $6 million at the top of page 19. This request for additional funds of $6.1 million reflects additional Australian Government funding provided in the 2018-19 Australian Government Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for the non-government schools. There is another $1.6 million RAF reflecting an increase in the Australian Government funding agreement for non-government schools. Another $765 000, request for additional funding reflecting an increase in state payments to the non-government sector; $110 000 request for additional funds provided in the 2018-19 Australian Government budget for non-government schools. This while in our public schools parents are having to hold raffles to buy art materials. Teachers are paying for art materials out of their own pockets. School communities are having to raise funds for some of the most basic needs in their schools, let alone play equipment.

We know this all started under John Howard as prime minister where you saw this massive shift of public money into the private school system so that the wealthy private schools can build big pools and concert halls for their precious children. Meanwhile, the public schools are having to go to parents with their caps in their hands asking for raffle money and other donations while their kids are taught in terrapins, in demountables. I wonder how many members of the government send their children to public schools.

The health system is a litany of underfunding. This is a health service that could find $2.8 million over here, but on page 21 and I am not going to go through it all, but large requests for additional funding in the health system: $4 million, $2 million, $1.5 million, $1.4 million, $682 000, $500 000, $160 000, $130 000, $70 000, $900 000. The total health request for additional funding was $11.3 million. Why doesn't the Government just properly fund the health system? It is a question many Tasmanians are asking.

On some of the other smaller matters, on page 23 under Legislative Council, there is a RAF for $20 000 for the office set-up costs for the new Liberal member for Prosser. My understanding was that members of parliament could spend about $10 000 on set-up, that we had an allocation of about $10 000, new members, to set up their offices. On behalf of the taxpayers of Tasmania, I would like to know why it is that the new Liberal member for Prosser got twice that much to set up her office.

Can the Treasurer confirm that the $790 000 request for additional funds, in additional costs for ministerial offices, was to fund the staff clean out after the last state election? We believe it is. We believe that is election fallout costs.

Of course, we have the $350 000 that the taxpayers of Tasmania had to pay to cover the High Court challenge to the original Workplaces Protection from Protesters Act 2014 in which the High Court made it very clear that the law that was enacted and rubberstamped through this House of Assembly in 2014 was unconstitutional. That determination was made in October 2017, from memory. The taxpayers of Tasmania have forked out $350 000 on that legal challenge to the High Court to defend the indefensible.

Now we have legislation in this place which seeks to put a shine on a cow pat. In fact, the amendments to the workplace protection from democracy act, broadens the reach of the legislation, alienates Tasmanians from their own land and sea and Crown lands, their own roads and thoroughfares.

In all likelihood, should these laws pass the parliament, the police will not use them because they already have all the powers they need under the Police Offences Act. We already have trespass provisions in our law. So, either the police will not use them, as they were reluctant to use them last time, or they will use them and this law will again be struck down by the High Court. Are the taxpayers of Tasmania going to have to face another massive legal bill defending a political piece of legislation which is designed to be a bill of rights for business? It is a bill of wrongs. I hope that when the legislation is debated in the parliament, every member in this place who believes in the fundamental tenets of democracy and has a good look at that amendment bill, and seeks some advice from people with expertise, will vote against the legislation and not buck pass their responsibility to the other place.

Finally, there is a request for additional funds of $30 000 reflecting funding for the Brightside Farm Sanctuary greyhound adoption program. I take this opportunity to again thank Emma Haswell for everything she does for the voiceless, for the countless hours that she puts in to looking after animals and advocating for animal rights. It is a great thing that she got a small sum of money from the Government to try to rehome greyhounds which are the victims of a blood sport industry.

I am interested to know what happened to the pledge for all greyhounds to be rehomed by June or July this year? Mr Deputy Speaker, before you came into this place, in 2015 this House established a parliamentary inquiry into the greyhound racing industry and we heard overwhelmingly compelling evidence of the cruelty at the heart of this industry. I was the chair of that committee. I ended up being sacked as chair because I supported a ban on greyhound racing which I believe has very significant community support -

Mrs Rylah - You went out to the media.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mrs Rylah, I was asked to speak at a rally. I happened to be the chair and I was speaking about the welfare of greyhounds and supporting a ban on greyhound racing. I remind you, Mrs Rylah, in case you were not paying attention at the time, when your colleague Mr Barnett was the chair of the Triabunna inquiry, he went out into the media on an almost daily basis and he preempted the evidence that we would hear. He forecast his own personal views, put conspiracy theories out there which were truly, truly whacky, made multiple repeat comments on the issue of the sale of the Triabunna mill by a private company to a private company -

completely inappropriate conduct as chair. He sent letters to people that he never bothered to check with the committee; bullied witnesses; and tried to stop me from asking questions in the inquiry. So do not give me your, 'You went out in the public to defend greyhounds, therefore you weren't fit to be Chair'. I certainly was fit to be Chair, but that is okay because I could not have supported the committee's report in the end anyway, because it was captured by the industry and both the Liberal and Labor parties were not prepared to support better protection for greyhounds, ultimately.

It will be interesting to see when Tasracing comes before GBEs next week what explanation they have for failing to rehome all the greyhounds, failing to fix tracks so we are not seeing those beautiful dogs injured by bad track designs, and their failure to be transparent about the life journey of greyhounds from whelping through to invariably premature death. It will also be really interesting to hear from Tasracing their response to the damning evidence that went to air on the 7.30 Report before the Melbourne Cup that thoroughbreds born, bred, raised and raced in Tasmania are finding their way to an abattoir interstate to die the most terrifying deaths.

Tasracing has made no public statement since that allegation went to air on the 7.30 Report a bit over a month ago. They have hidden from the media, refused to go on ABC Mornings to explain to the people of Tasmania what happens to racehorses after they have passed their use-by date. Yes, $ 30 000 going to Brightside is a good spend. At least we know that the greyhounds in Emma Haswell's care will be well loved.

I will close by saying that this section 19 return was tabled in September . It is no surprise at all that the Government has not wanted to bring it on in the period of time since. It tells a damning story of a government that is underfunding its agencies, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and not adequately accounting for the accelerating impacts of climate change on Tasmanian people, our communities and our natural environment. It is well past time that this Government took the threat of the climate emergency seriously and accounted for it in their financial planning.