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Supply Bill (No.3) 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tags: State Budget, Treasury, COVID-19, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the two supply bills (No.3) and (No.4), and recognise that this is simply a prudent measure on the part of the Department of Treasury and Finance. As Dr Broad said, it is quite conservative. It is based on actual expenditures of agencies and it is there as an insurance policy effectively in the event that we cannot take the Budget through because there has been a disruption as a result of COVID-19.

We cannot see anything contentious in these two bills. There is nothing that stands out as particularly noteworthy but there are a couple of things I would like to say.

I note what Dr Broad said about how positive it was last year when this parliament came together and demonstrated to the people of Tasmania that when the chips are really down, we can work together in their best interests. I am sure other members received similar feedback from their constituents, that feeling of gratitude from Tasmanians who could see the three political leaders working together, the House being constructive, making sure that we passed the emergency bills, that those emergency bills had protections in them that gave Tasmanians a great sense of comfort.

I note, with appreciation, that the Premier has again initiated the weekly conversation between the Leader of the Opposition, myself as the Leader of the Greens and him. They are a really important opportunity from the Greens' point of view. I know that in the conversations that we have had so far, Labor takes the opportunity as well to ask outstanding questions, queries we have about orders or arrangements and also to ask questions that our constituents are asking us. I do appreciate those conversations and they are an important part of how we collectively respond to COVID-19.

I also take this opportunity on behalf of my constituents in Clark to thank Public Health and Dr Veitch and his team, Tasmania Police and Commissioner Darren Hine and his team for the work they have done since the pandemic broke out. The professionalism of our public health response, the near-seamlessness of the processes if you need to get a COVID-19 test. There have been a few bumps in the vaccination rollout but the people who are working on the ground or in the agencies or in call centres are doing an outstanding job. Tasmanians broadly have enormous appreciation and great faith in the work that Public Health, particularly, is doing to keep us safe.

I know we are on a knife edge and the Delta variant is a beast. What we know from interstate is that it moves very quickly through a human population and is quite a different virus from what we all call the Alpha variant, which was the first one that came to the world's attention. We have been really lucky so far - and it is not just luck, I appreciate that. It is good advice and clear decision-making. But there is a broad acceptance, certainly amongst senior people in government agencies, that we too are vulnerable to a Delta outbreak. We will need to make sure that we do not do a Gladys here in Tasmania and that should Delta arrive on our shores, that we have a short and sharp lockdown to contain community spread.

We should also be talking to our constituents who are nervous about getting vaccinated. I hopped into an Uber last night to go to the Catholic Education dinner and got chatting with the driver about vaccination, because I was checking in on the Uber. I said, 'Oh, are you vaccinated?' He says, 'No, I'm not vaccinated'. He explained why he was hesitant to be vaccinated. As we talked, it became clear to me that there was some quite easily dealt-with misperceptions about the vaccines and the health risks. We talked about how his family, which moved here from overseas, has in the past winter experienced asthma, which I suspect is from wood smoke in Hobart. He was worried about the impact of vaccinations on asthma. These are obviously complex medical questions. I said, 'You really need to go and talk to your doctor. But I'll make an observation that there's more risk on the evidence from contracting Delta than there is from a side-effect from the vaccines.' I feel like I fulfilled my purpose yesterday in life when, as I left the Uber, the fellow said to me, 'I will definitely book my vaccination tomorrow. Thank you very much and I'm going to talk to my wife'.

These are the conversations we should all be having. Members would also be getting emails from people who may be reading things on Facebook and in other social media forums that are either deliberate disinformation or misinformation fuelled by a distrust of government and of the vaccines. Some of the mistaken beliefs are quite dangerous because we know that this virus will mutate in unvaccinated populations. We have a responsibility to not judge people who have not been vaccinated yet too harshly and to meet people where they are and talk about vaccination, and how straightforward it is.

Part of the reason there has been vaccine hesitancy is because of the mixed messages coming out of the Morrison Government. What has been described, and quite rightly so as the vaccine 'strollout', the demonisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine - I am doubled vaxed with AstraZeneca and feel incredibly lucky to have had that vaccine. At a federal level, it has been an absolute hash. It has been state leaders, whether they be Liberal or Labor leaders - and I am going to park the way Gladys Berejiklian from New South Wales has responded out of that group who have shown the leadership, made hard decisions and done everything they could to keep their people safe. It is a neo Liberal mindset that has put New South Wales in the situation it is. We are not seeing any clear sign that the community transmission of the Delta variant is declining yet. It is all very precarious.

We do need to have an insurance policy in our budgeting so that we can make sure our excellent public servants keep getting paid should we not, touch wood, make it through the entirety of the Budget sitting.

I have a question about the allocation for the Legislature General. In the 2019 20 Budget, there was $150 000 per year set aside, I quote from the Budget Papers in 2019-20, 'to enable legislative drafting support for members of parliament in consultation with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel'.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we put that proposal to the former Speaker because it is not reasonable that non government members in this place do not have access to parliamentary drafting support. In most other Westminster parliaments, there is a provision for non-government members to be able to seek drafting support.

In the Greens, we are very lucky to have an adviser on staff who is a gifted drafter. Members who have looked at the legislation we have put on the table here will know that. We have that skill set in our office. I am not fighting this fight particularly for us. On a matter of principle, an allocation was made of an extra $150 000 per year so that non government members could access the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. That allocation was made two years ago. By my rough calculation, there has been $300 000 allocated towards providing non government members of this place with OPC support.

We asked the previous Speaker about it. She expressed frustration but provided no clarity. Finally, in a debate, when we came back after the election, on another bill I asked the Finance minister what had happened to that allocation, which was solely, as we understood it, for non-government members of parliament to be able to access OPC. We thought there was $300 000 sitting there in the Legislature-General budget. It took a question from the Floor during a second reading debate for the Minister for Finance to say, 'Oh well, it must be there, take it up with the Speaker'.

We wrote to the Speaker and asked what happened to that allocation for non-government members to be able to draw on OPC. We got a letter back from the Speaker and we are preparing a response, but basically what we are being told is that $150 000 a year went straight into the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in the Department of Premier and Cabinet to provide extra parliamentary drafting support for Government. If I am wrong about that, I ask the Finance minister to correct it.

The Speaker has told us that if we want to access OPC, we need to come to him with the proposal then he will negotiate it with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. No, there is no need for the Speaker to be the middle man here. Members should be able to access that resource by talking to OPC about what their level of resourcing is at the moment, how much they have on their plate, and whether they can provide help at a particular time.

The whole thing has been mishandled but it feels a bit underhand. It feels like non government members got something and then it is quietly taken away, and that resourcing was parked in the Department of Premier and Cabinet so that the Government has more drafting capacity. That is not what the 2019-20 Budget Paper said it was for, and the 2019-20 Budget Paper certainly did not say that the Speaker of the House should insert himself as a middle man for non-government members to get OPC support.

If you step back from it for a bit and look at it through a political lens, why should non government members necessarily flag with a partisan Speaker what their legislative agenda or intention is. It politicises that potential access that members have to parliamentary drafting support.

I would like the Finance minister to lay out where that money actually ended up. Did it end up back in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, or is it still in the Legislature-General budget? It is certainly a question that we will be asking in Estimates again as well, if we do not get a satisfactory answer today. It is in the interests of everyone in this place that legislation that comes in here is well drafted. It is in the interests of Tasmanians and our democracy that amendments are correctly worded and well drafted, so that the laws we send half approved upstairs are robust in their language and would stand the test in a courtroom.

I feel a bit like we have been robbed of, so far, $300 000 for Parliamentary Counsel support, and this is more of an issue for the Labor Opposition, because at this point they do not have that resource that we do, where we have a very talented parliamentary drafter on our staff. So, for all non-government members of this House, I would like an explanation on that. It just feels a bit dodgy. It might be a $300 000 oversight, but it also might be about not giving non government members access to Parliamentary Counsel.

I also want to note that in the winter break, after skirting the issue all the way through the campaign, we finally found out what casino pokies tax rate had been negotiated with the Federal Group, and the hit on the Budget. If you look at the difference between the tax rate that has been negotiated for venues, and the tax rate that has been negotiated for casinos, ACIL Allen, which does the social and economic impact statement work, estimated in the information that they provided to the Independent member for Nelson, Meg Webb, that the hit on the state Budget would be $248 million over 20 years.

It is also worth noting that at no point, in the lead up to either the 2018 election or this election, was the then Treasurer, now Premier, or any member of Government really honest about what was in the future gaming market policy framework.

Tasmanians were not told that this is eternity legislation - unlike a monopoly deed, where you have a single entity to deal with, and a single piece of legislation that governs and regulates that entity, so if there is a policy change around gaming machines, you can deal with a single entity. The draft legislation, as the former gaming regulator Peter Holtz said, makes the embedding of poker machines in pubs and clubs impossible to unpick.

Worse than that, what the draft legislation does is make sure that licences are perpetually renewed. So, if I am a venue and I get a 20-year licence, and after five years I decide I want to lie on the beach in the Caribbean and not run a pokies venue anymore, I hand back my licence, which still has 15 years on it, and it is renewed and recharged and reissued at 20 years.

It is eternity legislation. It will claim lives, Mr Deputy Speaker. It will be extremely difficult for any future government, that does not want to see the heart and soul being ripped out of our communities, and does not want to see people living on the breadline made poor, to unpick this policy.

It is the quid pro quo for the Federal Group bankrolling the 2018 state election. It just is. As is a casino pokies tax rate of just under 15 cents in the dollar. I honestly sometimes wonder how some of my colleagues in Government sleep at night, when they know the gambling industry helped them into government in 2018. The gambling industry helped to write the legislation that will embed harm in our communities, take food off the table, and leave kids without shoes or dental work, for decades into the future.

The human cost of that corruption will be profound, and we can only begin to imagine it at this point, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Regrettably, it looks like there are only three members in this House who will be voting against the legislation: Dr Woodruff, myself, and the Independent member for Clark. We come in here and say we will work in the best interests of the people of Tasmania, every one of us does - and yet we will see 21 of our colleagues line up to back in gambling harm in our community for generations. It is a travesty. It is a tragedy unfolding.

I hope now that Dr Seidel has announced he is leaving the parliamentary Labor Party, he will use the power of his voice and, for as long as he is in the Legislative Council - until December this year - vote against the Gaming Control Act amendments.

These amendments do not even have harm-minimisation anywhere in them, because we are all supposed to wait until the regulations are written. You do not know what will happen with the community support levy, because that is apparently being consulted with a small select group of stakeholders, in secret.

It is breathtakingly rotten what the corrosive influence of the gambling industry, and particularly the Federal Group, has done to democracy in Tasmania, what it has done to the lives of poor people, what it has done to people who are vulnerable to addiction, and what it has done to children.

With those few words, I will close.