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Supply Bill (No. 1) 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 June 2021

Tags: Legislation, Treasury

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the new shadow treasurer from Labor for that contribution which I found constructive and interesting. Thank you very much.

The Greens will be supporting Supply Bill (No. 1) 2021 because clearly we need to keep paying our dedicated public servants and make sure that quality public services are being delivered to the people of Tasmania, but it raises a whole sequence of questions about what the plan is on this Government's part to respond to the Fiscal Sustainability Report, which across every scenario projects ongoing deficits and debts.

You have this completely contradictory approach where on one hand Treasury is going in fact the Budget is looking rocky as we look into the future, and on the other you have government saying no new taxes. We do not have any clarity of understanding about where the Government will be drawing its revenue from in the future or indeed what services will be cut and whether or not there will another attack on the public service, as there was when the Liberals came to government in 2014-15 when hundreds of public servants lost their jobs.

The first question we would like answered is why the Treasurer is not tabling and delivering this legislation and why it has been relegated to the Minister for Finance. We would like to understand what the Government's response to the Fiscal Sustainability Report will be and how it marries its commitment to no new taxes as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been promised during the election campaign with Treasury's dire forecast about the future.

I will go through the bill shortly because there is a series of questions we want to ask about the allocations, particularly in capital works. I absolutely agree with the shadow Treasury spokesperson that if a minister is asked at this stage in the cycle what the Infrastructure spend has been to date, that is information that should be at their fingertips and it is disrespectful to the parliament and the people of Tasmania not to be able to detail that. It is information that would be readily available to the minister and should be made available to the parliament and therefore to the people of Tasmania.

A little later this afternoon we will be debating the Treasury miscellaneous legislation, which brings in some measures for land tax relief - again, cutting revenue at the same time as Treasury's warning about shrinking revenue streams in the future. I listened to Ms Ogilvie's contribution the other day where quite disingenuously she said that by cutting land tax you are putting downward pressure on rents. Ms Ogilvie needs to get out more. There is only upward pressure on rents and there is a range of reasons for that. Substantially it is about the Government's failure to deliver on supply. It is also about the Government's failure to regulate the short-stay accommodation market, but the notion that landlords, because they have a modest cut to their land tax responsibilities, will pass that onto tenants, I think is naive at best. I understand that the Government has made it clear that its expectation is those savings would be passed on to tenants, but London to a brick, Mr Deputy Speaker, they will not be. There are still tenants who to this day are being told that their rent will increase substantially and to unaffordable levels.

I have a family member on a disability support pension who already pays $250 a week for a very small, very modest flat in Hobart, and a note has come from the agent to say that the rent will be going up by $50 a week. This is someone on a disability support payment. This is a story that is happening all across the island. There is a deep and worrying disconnect between the language of the Premier and the ministers about the state of Tasmania's economy and the social reality on the ground.

Mr Jaensch interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - We have 120 000 people living in poverty. I hear the failed and former Housing minister heckling from behind me on the issue of housing, a portfolio that was taken away from him because he failed to deliver. Mr Jaensch knows full well that for the first three state budgets there was no increase in the supply of money to build more homes for Tasmanians who need them. We now have a public housing waiting list that is over 4000 people, and they are just the people on the list, because out there in the community there are people that are not on the public housing waiting list who are in desperate housing stress. There are people who are homeless who are not on the public housing waiting list.

In my entire time in parliament I do not think that the public housing waiting list has been over 4000 people. What I do know is that under the Labor-Greens government with a Greens minister, the public housing waiting list was at its lowest level in a decade.

We are not in a golden age, Mr Deputy Speaker. The state's economy is doing quite well for a range of reasons but we should acknowledge that people are coming here not because they are won over by the economic policies of a Liberal government. People are coming over here to escape a heating continent. People are coming here after the 2020 bushfires, because if you had a look at the Bureau of Meteorology map at the time, the whole country was a deep red purple and there was a little green drop at the bottom of it. They are images that people saw all over this country.

I have spoken to many climate refugees who have come to this place to seek sanctuary from a heating planet and a heating continent. We also have people who are moving here as a response to COVID and a global pandemic because they understand that being on an island provides a barrier, provides some safety and we have all benefited from that.

It is galling to hear the Liberals claim credit for the fact that people are coming to live here substantially because of global events and this place is seen, and rightly so, as a safe and welcoming community. It has got nothing to do with the Liberals' economic policies because people who come here - families, working families are coming here and are unable to either buy a home or to rent a home.

Mr Jaensch - So we need to build more.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is actually very glib. The failed minister for Housing glibly says that the only answer is to increase supply. Unfortunately, this minister and this Government did not recognise that for the first three years between 2014 and 2017. It also has an awful lot to do, Mr Jaensch, with the explosion in short stay accommodation which your Government, and you as minister at the time, manifestly failed to regulate. Now, instead of bringing in some rent controls like the ACT, your response to soaring rents is to give the property class a land tax break as if it will be passed on.

Mr Jaensch - An incentive for investment.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Mr Jaensch.

Ms O'CONNOR - He is out of control, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I do not need your help thanks, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Speaker, I have not heard the Premier or a government minister acknowledge the extent of the poverty crisis in Tasmania. That is reckless. It is out of touch and it lacks compassion from a premier who said he would lead a compassionate government. We are prepared to cut him a break because we want to see that compassion manifest in good public policy.

Every Tasmanian who needs a home has a right to a home, a secure and affordable home but under a conservative government it is the property class that are prioritised, not people who are living in poverty. They have to swallow the line that they are living in a golden age.

One of the disappointments in the Fiscal Sustainability Report - and it is an issue that I have taken up with Treasury before - is the failure to acknowledge that accelerating global heating will impact on the budget. There will be a whole range of expenditures that government will need to make in order to respond to climate change, just as after the Dunalley bushfires in 2013 there was a whole range of unexpected expenditures there the Government needed to respond to in order to help the people of Dunalley and everyone who was affected by bushfires.

After those devastating bushfires went through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in 2019 there was a whole range of extra expenditures that went through this place for the Parks and Wildlife Service, for the Tasmania Fire Service, for the SES and thank you to all those services for the outstanding work that they do.

Good, responsible fiscal management in this age requires us to understand that the planet is heating exponentially, more rapidly, and we are a little island that can be buffered from some of the worst effects because of where we are but we will not be buffered from all of the effects. As I said yesterday, we drove through the Central Highlands on the way back from takayna on Saturday and one of the most devastating sights I have ever seen in my life is the skeletons of Miena Cider Gums. Some of those gums have marks on them that were put there by the palawa people. They exist nowhere else on earth.

Climate futures tells us that the Central Highlands will receive less rainfall over the next hundred years. It is already drying. The consequence of that will be less run-off. That will impact on water supplies, on the quantity of water, the quality of water and the level of environmental flow through our river systems.

We have to start accounting for the increased impact of climate on our budget. We need to start working with communities on comprehensive adaptation planning. That will require resourcing. We need to look at the way we have extracted resources and make some adjustments.

We cannot look children in the face and tell them it is okay to log our carbon stores because they do not buy it. They understand that the science is very clear about the need to keep the carbon that is in the ground in the ground and to return more carbon to the ground to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere through forest protection and management and through restoration.

In that restoration there are many jobs. We have so many skilled forest workers on this island and when I talk to those people the one thing that really stands out to me is that they just love the bush. It is not that they love chopping down trees or being part of a native forest industry which has some image problems. Most people I know who work in the industry really love the bush. So why would we not harness that to repair some of the damaged landscapes here? We are going to have to. It just baffles me. We pretend in this place - or the collective does, not the Greens - but we pretend that life is going on as usual out there. It is not and we have to do things differently. We need to understand, as PESRAC made clear, that our competitive advantage is our natural environment.

The wilderness is Tasmania's competitive advantage. It enables our fantastic agricultural producers to get a premium on their exports and it draws people here from all over the mainland and all over the world to experience something which is disappearing from the planet so we need to look after nature.

PESRAC made it clear and that was the feedback from around 3500 Tasmanians. The view amongst many Tasmanians, and they might be people that Liberal ministers or backbenchers get up and denigrate as conservationists, I think most people are conservationists at heart. It is the extent of their commitment that can waver. We are talking here about 3500 everyday Tasmanians from all walks of life and the consensus that they reached according to PESRAC is that our clean green natural brand, that myth, does not stack up to the reality and we are seeing it.

We have a Government that in real time is undermining the brand, the brand that gives us economic heft, not just nationally but globally. You have PESRAC saying if you want a sustainable economic recovery you have to look after nature. Yet we have a government here that backs in a toxic mine dump in the Tarkine, that is accelerating native forest logging, privatising protected areas, supports sticking a cable car up kunyani - the wilderness in our backyard - and wants the fish farming industry to double in size by 2030.

It is an industry which has been largely unregulated, let off the hook every time by the not independent Environment Protection Authority, and which has poisoned waterways. It has led to great piles of fish faeces, as well as worms, underneath pens to the extent that people cannot catch a fish, for example, around the D'Entrecasteaux Channel where there are fish farms. That is not clean and green and it undermines our brand. To have integrity a brand needs to be upheld through good public policy - policy that looks after nature. We encourage the Department of Treasury and Finance to get the program and look at the outstanding science that is founded here in nipaluna Hobart, in Tasmania on climate futures and incorporate that into their future fiscal sustainability examinations.

In terms of specific allocations, could the Minister for Finance explain what the $431 000 capital allocation to Children and Youth Services is going towards? Is that capital funding part of upgrading the failed Ashley Youth Detention Centre?

There is an $18.5 million capital allocation in Development, Construction and Housing. How many homes is that projected to build and does it include the money that we would otherwise have sent to the Commonwealth under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, which sat at around $17 million every year?

What is the $132 000 capital allocation for the Minister for Finance for?

Ms White - His empire.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is a pretty cheap empire-builder.

There is a nearly $18 million allocation for capital services in the Minister for Corrections' budget. Is that money that will be allocated to an unpopular, divisive brain burp of a site for a proposed northern prison, because that it is a substantial capital allocation?

Interesting and entirely unsurprising that there is no capital money there under the Minister for Climate Change's portfolio.

I do not know if you picked up all of those questions, minister?

Mr Ferguson - I would be happy to receive a summary from you while I am summing up and obtain those answers. I have made a note of some of them but not all of them.

Ms O'CONNOR - You have made notes?

Mr Ferguson - I would like it if you could provide me with your summary and I will obtain those answers.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister Ferguson, unlike you, I do not have an army of advisers to write my speeches and questions. I do not have them written down.

Mr Ferguson - I have been writing them down.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would have hoped you were paying attention because when members are on their feet asking questions of the minister -

Mr Ferguson - Thank you for the advice.

Ms O'CONNOR - No worries.

A member - Thanks for Greensplaining that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Any time.

It is important for the House to know when the Minister for Finance will be tabling the amendments to the Gaming Control Act 1993. Before we were sent off to a needless early election, in response to a Greens question, the Premier said he expected that the legislation to keep poker machines in pubs and clubs on an individual licence model - and to cause, of course, endless social harm and distress - would be tabled in the first half of this year. We have another sitting week before the winter break. I would like to know, and it is reasonable to ask because there are budgetary implications - and I am certain that the minister's agency advisers have been working on the legislation - when we will see the amendments to the Gaming Control Act 1993. As we know they are the quid pro quo for the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in donations and in-kind support funnelled into the Liberal Party in order to secure them a win in 2018. Arguably one of the most immoral election wins in Tasmania's history. If the minister wants me to write those questions down because he was not paying attention I am very happy to do that, but those questions were reasonable and self-explanatory.

In closing, there is a question here about the revenue for Tasmania going forward. As we said repeatedly during the election campaign, in Tasmania corporations pay some of the lowest royalties and license fees in the country and if the mining industry had even paid the national average in royalties over the past 10 years the Tasmanian budget would be $460 million better off. The people of Tasmania are being robbed because this state has failed to charge a fair price for its wealth. This is a cultural legacy issue where we have been so desperate down here to provide secure employment that successive governments have gifted mineral wealth or our public waterways to corporations over many decades.

Could the minister please give the House some indication whether there is any plan to stop Tasmania from being an absolute laggard nationally in the royalties and license fees it charges, or if perhaps given the projection of the very difficult fiscal circumstances we are entering, there will be consideration to making sure Tasmanians reap some more of the benefit of their own wealth?