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Treasury Miscellaneous (Cost of Living and Affordable Housing Support) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 June 2021

Tags: Cost of Living, Legislation, Housing

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Treasury Miscellaneous (Cost of Living and Affordable Housing Support) Bill.

We recognise that all its key components are about meeting election commitments that were made by the Liberals during the campaign.

There are actually some excellent initiatives here, particularly around encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles through registration offsets. As a Green who has been in this place for 13 years, it has been quite encouraging to hear government ministers, in a conservative Government, championing the uptake of electric vehicles, and recognising that government has a critical role to play in seeding the second hand vehicle fleet through its procurement of electric vehicles for the government fleet and for the public sector. So, we are very pleased to see that. As members would know, if you had a Greens government, not only would we be bringing down the cost of registering electric vehicles, but we would be slugging HUMMERs and big high-emissions vehicles that really need to be a thing of the past.

Earlier I heard the minister talk about Tasmania's record of climate leadership. I went back and had a look at the latest greenhouse accounts, which were released just last week or early this week. And, you will not hear it from Liberal government ministers, but I encourage members to have a look at the document, Tasmania's Greenhouse Accounts 2021. It contains a statement that is unarguable. It is what we have been saying since 2013, when Tasmania became a net carbon sink. I do not know if Mr Barnett has read it, but the statement in the Government's own documentation says -

Tasmania's forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They offset all of our emissions.

That is right, Mr Speaker. This is the pre eminent document for understanding our emissions profile. A document that has a message from the Premier and the Minister for Climate Change in the front, and has been through the Tasmanian Climate Change Office.

It is absolutely oxygen clear: the reason we are a national climate leader is because of our forests. In fact, if you look at the graphs - and I do not want to bring them in here and be accused of holding up a prop - when you look at the greenhouse accounts going back to 1990, you can see in 2012 13 a clear and sharp shift, where we became a net carbon sink.

Minister Barnett unfortunately is not here.

Mr Ellis - Wood is good.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is probably what he would say, but forests are better for life on Earth. I am just going to repeat that statement, so that no Government member can stand up in this place again and pretend that our forest estate, whether it is on public or private land, is not the single most important contributor to our emissions profile -

Tasmania's forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They offset all of our emissions.

When you read further into the report, it is terrific. Because of our forests, every member of this place, per capita, is emitting 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. We are, per capita, the lowest emitters in the country. Why is that? It is because of the hard work of conservationists over decades, and it is because of the Tasmanian forest agreement. I just wish we had enough honesty from people like Minister Barnett - who never saw an intact forest he did not want to take a chainsaw to - to be honest about the state of our greenhouse accounts.

So, if the minister is going to say something about Tasmania being a climate leader, he should expect that either Dr Woodruff or I will get up and tell him a few facts, because he often occupies a fact-free universe.

The greenhouse accounts also make it really clear that we have a lot of work to do. In all other sectors of the economy, our emissions are going up - in waste, industrial processes, agriculture, electricity generation, transport and stationary combustion. We are seeing emissions rising because of this Government's failure to deliver legislation that actually works to bring down emissions, and their failure to work with industry - as we did when we were in government, with the full support of the premier of the day - to engage with our major industrials, major employers who have been part of this island's fabric and culture and economy for many decades, to work with them about how to bring their emissions down.

I will always be surprised and thankful that people like Ray Mostogl from Bell Bay and Rod Bender from Norske Skog were prepared to sit down with a Greens climate minister and advisers from the Climate Change Office and talk about how they might contribute towards lowering Tasmania's emission profile from industrial processes.

None of that work is happening now. None of it. It is a failure of leadership. It is a failure to work with industries to modernise their processes and ensure that they are constantly seeking ways to bring down their emissions profile.

We encourage Government to do the work that needs to be done. There is a genuine willingness among leaders of our major industrials - and across sectors such as plantations and the mining industry - to be part of the solutions, not to be part of the problem. If you have a government that is not showing leadership, the problem starts and ends with government, unfortunately.

The legislation we are looking at today gives effect to some of the recommendations made by PESRAC. I want to read into Hansard this wonderful section in the PESRAC report - '6.2: A Vision and Culture of Sustainability in Tasmania' - because the Premier promised to act on all of the recommendations of the PESRAC report. We are still waiting to hear what the Premier's response will be to the clear call from Tasmanians, and from his own Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, to have a plan for sustainability, to be prepared to do things differently here in order to retain our competitive advantage, which is 'clean, green and wild Tasmania'.

PESRAC says:

Tasmania currently enjoys an environmental comparative advantage from our century long history in hydro electric energy, the large share of our land in reserves, a geography and climate that supports productive agriculture, and relatively low rates of industrialisation and population growth. These all contribute to our existing 'clean green' image.

Tasmania is a non net greenhouse gas emitting jurisdiction - an enviable position in the current global context. Annual net greenhouse gas emissions in Tasmania have fallen by 111 per cent from 2005 levels, to negative 2.2 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2018. [OK]

Here are the next sentences from PESRAC -

This has been driven primarily by changes in the forestry sector over the past decade. Carbon sequestration through regenerative forestry management and the production of solid timber products could be an important part of Tasmania's ongoing decarbonisation strategy …

While forestry has driven reductions in Tasmania's carbon emissions, our underlying emissions from other activities continue to grow, particularly from industrial processes, manufacturing and construction.

Tasmania can get on with reducing emissions in other sectors of the economy.

Hear, hear PESRAC.

PESRAC also makes a strong recommendation for the Tasmanian Government to deliver a Tasmanian sustainability vision and strategy, to articulate ambitious goals and measurable targets and concrete actions to deliver the targets. PESRAC says by setting out a strategy over short, medium and long-term horizons, targets and actions can be tailored to suit the complexity of the problem, allowing varying degrees of intervention and iterative or scalable steps for longer-term goals.

This is one of those areas that the Greens would love to work with Government on. We would love to be able to find that safe space to work with Government and across this parliament to help develop a sustainability vision for Tasmania. It is one of the most important things we can possibly do, so I put that out there in the hope that when the Premier said he would adopt all of PESRAC's recommendations that is actually what he meant.

This is a miscellaneous bill, the stated intention of which is to ease cost-of-living pressures on Tasmanians. It provides a land tax break for people like most of us in here who are lucky enough to have a second property. When you walk into town down Murray Street, as I did the other morning to make a rare visit to church for the opening of parliament, one of those great sandstone piles there next to the one with the red awnings, obviously owned by someone or someones with substantial financial resources, has emblazoned across the top a series of placards about unfair land tax is. Imagine having a four-storey pile of historic sandstone in Murray Street and bleating about land tax. It is, as I said earlier, naïve at best to think that these relatively modest measures to ease land tax will bring downward pressure on rents, as Ms Ogilvie tried to tell this House yesterday. It is naïve at best and delusional at worst.

Mr Ferguson - There's a Clark thing going on here.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, there is not. Do you actually think I am that worried about Clark? Well, maybe Ms Ogilvie is not the only delusional one in here.

Ms Ogilvie - Don't call me delusional.

Ms O'CONNOR - I called the statement that land tax relief -

Ms Ogilvie - No, you called me delusional.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is not all about you. Remember you are a team player. Let me put it this way - it is definitely naïve to think that bringing land tax relief to the propertied class and landlords will lead to any reduction in rents.

Mr Ellis - So you're not going to reduce rents to your tenants?

Ms O'CONNOR - I do not have any tenants, Mr Ellis, but I know a lot of people who are stressed to their back teeth about the increase in rents and the risk that if they raise an issue with their landlord or cannot find the money to pay the rent they will be made homeless. If you want to bring real cost-of-living relief to tenants you do not give tax breaks to the propertied class. You make sure that your Residential Tenancy Act has some capacity to rein in unreasonable rent increases, as they have in the ACT through a mechanism that actually works. It provides certainty to landlords and provides an avenue for relief for tenants. But no, none of that, no real breaks for tenants here, not really. You hand out a bit of a break to people who own a second, third, fourth or tenth property and leave tenants swinging, and that is exactly what has happened.

I was having a look at the real estate pages the other day online just out of interest and I saw a dog box in Moonah - basically a dog box with no garden, no real fence and the pictures of it inside were pretty bleak - on the market for $770 000. My heart broke for young working people, for young people who want to own a home. They are absolutely priced out of this market. It is over for them. They cannot buy a home and they can barely afford to rent one, yet this Government brings in a bill that is called 'Cost of Living Support'.

I do not think most members of this place have fully grasped the depth of socioeconomic distress in our community caused by a housing shortage and an explosion in short-stay accommodation, coupled with increased population. I urge members who think giving a land tax break to the propertied set is an appropriate cost-of-living measure that may bring down rents to get out more and talk to people who are trying to live, for example, on a Commonwealth support payment in the private rental market. There are people right now who can barely afford groceries. There are people now who after they pay their rent are left with about $120 a fortnight, Mr Speaker.

Ms White - If that.

Ms O'CONNOR - If that. I understand we are dealing with a conservative government. It is a Tasmanian type of neoliberalism but it is neoliberalism. It is about the moneyed set. There is a significant difference between a conservative government and a progressive government in terms of what they prioritise. Progressive governments, historically, will prioritise giving people at the margins of society a break, and that is not happening here in Tasmania where there are 120 000 people living in poverty.

If you want to do something serious about the cost of living have a look at your concession system. Bring in some controls on rent increases. Invest more in emergency accommodation. Properly roll out free household energy efficiency upgrades for low and medium income households, whether they are in the public or the private rental market. Because of the way public housing has gone, people who previously would have been able to rely on Housing Tasmania for secure affordable housing cannot do that. They are at the mercy of the private rental market.

We could be making all TasTAFE courses free, expanding vocational courses, increasing skills, green skills, renewables roll outs. We took a policy to fund an extra $10 million a year for two years initially to expand eligibility for the full range of Tasmanian government concessions to every person resident in Tasmania, including temporary visa holders who currently live below the recognised poverty line on less than $430 a week and every household living on less than $600 a week. There are plenty of them, Mr Deputy Speaker, in my electorate, in your electorate - there are plenty of people living on $600 all over Tasmania.

Where is the relief for school costs for children? What about some free public passenger transport to enable people to affordably access education, skills and training, to provide some real equity for people living in rural and regional areas? Where is the extra allocation for emergency food relief? I was somewhat encouraged to hear that all parties took to the election an increase in funding for our marvellous Neighbourhood Houses, but the need in our community grows. In the context of a housing market that is boiling - it is not only hot, the housing market is boiling - you increase your first home builder's grant to $30 000 in a market where there is a dog box for sale in Moonah for $770 000. It is a noble gesture on Government's part, but for most people, they cannot get past first base, let alone be able to utilise that grant to buy a house that is three quarters of a million dollars. In every Hobart suburb, house prices are soaring. You can have a look in Claremont now and most properties on the market in Claremont are over $500 000 to $600 000, half a million dollars to buy your first home, so yes, it is terrific, we have increased that money up front for first home buyers, but it is not enough.

We need structural reform, significant new supply built to a quality, we need to have medium density in our built-up areas, we need to regulate short-stay accommodation and we need to start thinking about one in four Tasmanians right now who live in poverty. They are the ones who need real cost of living relief. They need expanded concessions, rent controls, energy efficiency upgrades and access to quality healthy food. As the Heart Foundation tells us, in Tasmania, this beautiful little island with all this agricultural land, there are food deserts.

I was pleased to hear my colleague, the new member for Clark in her first question yesterday, ask about school lunches. Why wouldn't that be something we could all agree on in here? It is actually good policy, as the school breakfast program expansion would be good policy. That is enduring, substantive, cost of living relief to people who need it most, but most of the measures in this bill, we would argue, slightly misfire because they are not reaching the people who need the relief most.

We will support the bill.