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State Policies and Projects Amendment Bill 2023

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Tags: Legislation, Stadium, Planning, Macquarie Point

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, there has been a lot of talk about the stadium. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the stadium. There has not been a lot of clarity about where all members stand on the stadium. There have been different angles that the Government and the Opposition have taken in relation to this bill before us today. The Government is keen to, as they say, draw out the Labor Party's view about where it stands on the stadium.

We are concerned about the integrity of planning processes, and we are very concerned about the overwhelming majority view of Tasmanians that spending up to a likely $1.5 billion on a stadium that we do not need, and that the majority of Tasmanians do not want, is a terrible spend of money.

This bill before us today is about resolving a planning matter and making better legislation. We support the amended bill that the Government has tabled.

We have an amendment that I will talk about in a moment. Fundamentally, this bill, if passed, would still be part of a process of walking Tasmanians down a road to building a stadium that we cannot afford, that is the wrong spend of money in a housing and hospital infrastructure crisis, and it would head us towards a process for approval or rejection of that decision.

We are here to say, if Tasmanians have not heard it clearly enough, we do not support it. We do not support being part of any part of a process to approve, potentially, a stadium.

The simple question for Tasmanians is not about this legislation. It is simply: can we afford a stadium? Is this how we want to spend a whole lot of money at the moment? Is it the best use of our money? Is it the right place to put a stadium? Should we even be considering a stadium in the first place, given we have every right - and have earned the right - to have an AFL licence in Tasmania?

The answer to us, and to the majority of Tasmanians when they have been surveyed on this matter - the only public available and the best and most credible surveys - is very clear. The majority of Tasmanians think it is a stink-bomb of an idea. They do not support spending government money, precious taxpayer money, in this way, when they know there are things they would rather spend it on.

We all need to come to a position of honesty with Tasmanians. People are sick to their back teeth of politicians who they feel are using matters of great public importance as political opportunities, as an opportunity for electioneering, as an opportunity to do down political opponents.

These are all things that just serve us badly as politicians in the eyes of people in the community. It serves our democracy badly when people think that members of parliament, who are elected to represent them, are not listening to what they are saying.

People are being really clear about this. They are being really clear in regional Tasmania. They have been really clear in Launceston, Devonport and Hobart that the majority view is that this stadium is not supported. As much as the Premier likes to pretend that it is and talk about a reset and a focus, and create a minister for stadia, and tack other events on the end as though that has got any part of it, just shows how much he is still refusing to listen.

Frankly, it is a sad day when the government of the day has to hang its hat on ignoring every single other issue Tasmanians are crying out for him to focus on as Premier, the most critical other issues - the ramping crisis, the terrible state of underspend on hospital infrastructure, and now we know the enormous under-commitment and actual dollar figure that is being spent on housing construction.

All the talk about building 10 000 houses is just talk, talk, talk. If it does not have a dollar figure attached to it in the Budget that is commensurate with building 10 000 homes, you can make anything up. They could be saying 100 000, 1000, 1 million. It is pointless, because unless there is money to back it - unless there is a commitment in the Budget and the forward Estimates - then we know it is not going to happen.

If the Government is so definite that by October 2028 they can build a stadium and put the money into doing that, then where was the money in this Budget to build those houses so we can see it? It is because they are not focusing on it. They are not committed to it.

Why is there no money to plan for an extension to the Royal Hobart Hospital? We do not have beds now, let alone in five years' time. This is where the big questions need to be focused and all the energy of the Government.

We know we cannot afford it because the little bit of information we have had from the Government - the Government's own business case - shows it does not stack up. Even their own business case has shown that it is not going to make money - it is going to lose money. As well as the fact it is an opportunity cost that we are not spending money on building houses, we will also be paying - not just in the debt we have to service to build it, but every year, year on year because, by the Government's own estimation, it will not be making any money.

It is a loss making venture. Let us face it, Tasmania's history is littered with loss making ventures that are all about the one big idea that is going to save us as a state. It is an uncomfortable truth that life is very complex, and there is not just one big idea that we can point to. It is a lot of different ideas. It is about diversity, and it is about fundamentally listening to the people who elect us all.

It is not okay to use the public's opposition as a political opportunity. We are calling on all members - especially Labor, who ostensibly at times have said that they do not support a stadium, but seem to be comfortable with this process where there may be approval of a stadium. They would sit with that after an election came. I can imagine the Leader of the Opposition if she was the Premier saying, 'Sorry everybody. We did not want to support this, but sovereign risk, you cannot do that'.

The clue is in the amendment that has been made to this bill. That amendment has nothing to do with giving confidence to the business community. It has everything to do with making sure that if there was a Labor Premier after the next election they would be able to do whatever they wanted on projects of state significance. They would not have to do the process they are expecting the Government of today to undertake, which is to bring a project of state significance back to the parliament.

That is not good enough, which is why we are here today. We are in this situation because a number of members of the Government's backbench have decided it is not good enough to hoodwink Tasmanians and to be secretive about these major infrastructure issues. They have decided that we all need a say and there has to be eyes on the planning processes. If you are going to have legislation like projects of state significance then they should come back to the parliament because it is a statewide matter and it has been declared by the parliament, therefore parliament needs to have the final say.

We support the changes and we support the team. We support the obvious response that the Premier should have made rather than being gutless and continuing with the position that Peter Gutwein took as premier, who folded in the face of the AFL bullies. He should have and could have resisted the pressure and said, especially as Health minister, 'I understand we have a right to this licence. I also understand Tasmanians do not deserve to be forced to spend money that no other state has spent when we cannot afford it'.

It would be great to do everything. We would all love to be able to do everything but Tasmanian taxpayers are not a magic pudding. You cannot keep taking billions of dollars out, hooking out $1.5 billion for a stadium and another $5.5 billion for a Marinus link without the reality of what is the right spend for our money.

I foreshadow that we have an amendment that seeks to deal with the fact that the order in the final report of the commission only requires approval from both Houses of parliament if it is a government or government-entity proponent for the project, or if the premier of the day elects to invoke that provision in relation to a proposal where the state is not a proponent.

That means that the final report of the commission would be mandatory for government projects but would only be discretionary for private projects. We are not happy with that. That is not good enough when it comes to a project of state significance because it has enormous impacts, which is why it has become a project of state significance. Public, private - it all matters to the Tasmanian community. If it is significant enough to be a project of state significance then whether it is public or private is not the most important issue. What is most important is that there is a comprehensive assessment of the impacts. Our amendment would cover developments that are not necessarily proposed by government but that would also involve the use of public land.

The Greens are concerned about the way governments choose public land as though it is Monopoly property to be distributed to big developers and vested interests without any accounting for the environmental and social impacts. We cannot accept a situation where public land is not considered to be as important and worthy of proper integrated assessment and the decision of both Houses of parliament after the commission's final decision.

Before we broke for the winter recess, we had a number of motions seeking information about the approvals process within the Government and within Cabinet for the stadium. We were on the cusp, before we left parliament, of the Government potentially losing a vote on a process that would have given parliament the opportunity to determine what were reasonably considered cabinet-in-confidence documents and which ones were not.

Our concern is that the Government has hidden the information from Tasmanians. According to the testimony of Kim Evans, when he made his submission to the Legislative Council PAC inquiry, that decision had been taken about the stadium by the Government much earlier than the Premier had told Tasmanians. We want to know, as do most Tasmanians, what was the information before them and what did they base their decision on? What did they use to decide that Tasmania was going to be best served by a $750 million, likely $1.5 billion, stadium. What we finally got after a motion that the previous leader of the Greens, Cassy O'Connor, moved before we rose for the winter break was a shortlist of what had been to Cabinet. We do not have any confidence that the Premier has been honest with Tasmanians about whether those documents are valid cabinet-in-confidence or not.

Before we left, the Premier promised that today, Tuesday 8 August, he would table information about the process: a protocol for the establishment of cabinet-in-confidence documents. Labor's proposal was to establish a protocol for determining cabinet-in-confidence based on the ACT and the legislative government processes, which uses an independent member of the judiciary to make an assessment of whether a document should be classified as cabinet-in-confidence or not. It uses a third party.

Premier, you said that you did not want to make something that would be on the fly and you were concerned that any attempt that seeks to amend long-standing processes relating to cabinet in confidence and other Cabinet conventions on the run without Tasmania specific advice was a concern to you. You flagged the potential to create additional complexities and inefficiencies that could lead to unforeseen consequences such as privacy matters, commercial-in confidence and further administrative costs that could not be estimated.

You agreed that the House of Assembly had ordered the full set of papers and that you recognised the view that the House wants a process to govern the review of orders for papers. You made a statement that, in the interests of cooperation and ensuring confidence in transparency, you would task the Department of Premier and Cabinet with getting expert advice and conducting jurisdictional analysis and producing a report to inform a Tasmanian response. You said you would make that available to members of the House and bring forward a considered proposal by today to the parliament in the form of a motion which reflects advice contained within the report. I do not know if I was a bit preoccupied with Mr Bayley's first morning this morning but I do not believe that was tabled.

Mr Rockliff - The report was tabled.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, but the process we are talking about. That is a separate matter. What was tabled this morning was the additional cabinet in confidence - you allege - documents that came from each agency about the stadium to Cabinet. You promised to table in parliament the process for determining whether a document in fact is cabinet in confidence or not.

Here we are, this is what happens when you take people on good faith. Let us say there was a lot of trust put in that commitment. You can shake your head now but I can stand here and say with absolute confidence that the conversations that were reported to me from Cassy O'Connor at the time were a commitment to looking at a protocol that would stand 'for all time'.

Mr Rockliff - And we committed to that.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, and the commitment was made to deliver it today. So where is it?

Mr Rockliff interjecting.

Dr WOODRUFF - What do you mean? Does a date mean something or not? You have written it and you have signed it. The whole time this has been like pulling teeth. Honestly, you cannot be honest and we cannot take you at your word. You cannot say and promise to the House that you will deliver a protocol for a process for determining cabinet in confidence and then say the date does not mean anything. Why did you put your signature on there? Do not bother next time. Or, if every time you sign something, do we have to take it with a question mark hanging over it?

The point is, here we are today, where is the process? You tabled a whole lot of documents about the stadium from different agencies that went to the Cabinet. You allege they are cabinet in confidence. We maintain our right, the House maintains its right, to be deeply sceptical about that. We want to know whether they should be made available to Tasmanians. This is a huge issue. If you cannot be honest with Tasmanians, then they are going to ask questions about your capacity to govern at all.

We want to hear a statement from you about where that process is, or the only conclusion we can make is that you have no intention of being honest with Tasmanians about the process that you used to determine the approval of the stadium. It is probably because there was no process: there were no Treasury documents that went to Cabinet; Treasury did not give you any advice, and you made a decision to go ahead with spending one and a half billion dollars by today's estimates to build a stadium with nothing backing it and all the rest of the material has been developed after that decision was taken. At least that is what we can conclude from the secretary, Kim Evans's comments in the Public Accounts Committee and the fact that you are not making this information available. You have a choice to put this matter to rest. You promised to the House, to the members, that you would do that today. Here we are, Labor had a motion and they proposed a process and that is something that we want you to honour and make an explanation to the House about.

In terms of this rest of this bill before us we will go into Committee and listen to the Labor Party's amendment and we have our own amendment that I have already circulated to members. We will continue that debate shortly.