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Vehicle and Traffic Amendment Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Tags: Electric Vehicles, Newstart

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I struggled but I found it hard to disagree with very much of what Mr O'Byrne said in his contribution then. We do have a vision problem in relation to mobility and the future transport systems of Tasmania, particularly relieving congestion in the south. We have five years, manifestly, of neglecting the need to make some catalytic changes to the way people in Tasmania get around.

There is no real evidence that the government fleet, for example, is being electrified therefore seeding the car stock with new electric vehicles. There is no statement of vision that relates to increasing the uptake of public transport. We are still well behind the eight ball in terms of cycleways in and around Hobart and our other centres, and it is a most fantastic way to get around. We need to have more safe cycleways in Tasmania and encourage people to get on their bike or to invest in an electric bike or a scooter. They will get to work quicker and have a lower emissions footprint. We need to be driving what the RACT in its mobility vision described, and that is significant mode change where we are recognising the restrictions of our geography. We are an amazing city, the most beautiful city in the whole wide universe, but we are a city that is hemmed by kunyani and the river and that is part of the reason that congestion is as intense and unproductive as it is. Even driving into work a couple of mornings ago, coming into Barrack and crossing over Collins Street to get up to Macquarie to head into town, it was very clear to me that the lights were not synced, because you had backlogs of cars down Collins Street and up the back of Barrack. There were lights green up the top and red down there. I may be mistaken but it did not seem to me that there was coordination that ensured the smooth flow of traffic in the morning.

We have this amazing opportunity as an island that is innovative and creative and connected, renewably powered in a very large part, to drive that mode shift that the RACT is talking about and help Tasmanians to get past that deep attachment that we all have to our vehicles because our vehicles give us a measure of freedom to get from A to B or to get away from A and B. We would like to see this minister in his new role, pardon the pun, drive that mode shift and make sure there is substantial investment going into pedestrian and public transport and cycleways and that we are making a really concerted effort together to reduce the reliance of people on their motor cars. Building another lane on the Outlet is not the solution and the minister knows that. It is a bit like telling a person who has a weight problem that we will just give them a bigger belt. If you build another lane, more cars come. It is not a long-term solution.

We will be supporting this act, which hardly sets the parliament on fire today. I was curious to know what drove this amendment. Has the Registrar of Motor Vehicles routinely been a state servant? I point out that there is an increasing tendency for statutory roles to be filled by state servants. It is not always an ideal scenario and I can think of one senior very capable state servant in the Department of Justice who is the commissioner for numerous things. I know he is a safe pair of hands but I wonder if he gets a loading or something for that extra work and responsibility.

There was some talk this morning after a question the Greens asked about the role of the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, which is a person I would posit very few Tasmanians know exists. I had a look at decisions that had been made by the Residential Tenancy Commissioner in relation to unreasonable rents and found, for example, only this year that the commissioner found that a 70 per cent increase in a low-income tenant's rent was reasonable. It certainly was not reasonable to that tenant. This makes the case for a stronger regulatory system to be in place so that we can protect low-income tenants from unreasonable rent increases.

I remind the House that some of us here will have had a period in our lives when we have been dependent in one form of another on a Commonwealth benefit. It is a really hard way to live. If you are a person on Newstart you cannot afford a rental so invariably you are living at home or in a share house. But if you are on a disability support payment and your rent has, for a period of time, been $220 a week and the landlord says to you, 'We're going to jack up the rent again another $20 a week', Commonwealth rental assistance has a cap on it. We are in an absolute frontier land here for people who are dependent on the Commonwealth for support in order to live where the rental market has seen some quite wild increases in rents. The Commonwealth system caps rent assistance, so every rent increase on top of that cap is coming out of the pockets of some of our most disadvantaged people. If a person is on a disability support payment there will be vulnerabilities in their lives. If we are going to have a statutory officer that is the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, the work of that commissioner needs to be seen through the lens of looking after the interests of tenants and we have not yet seen any evidence that the commissioner in this instance has been given the direction, if you like, to prioritise the wellbeing of tenants.

I encourage the House when we have the debate about housing rentals to remember those of our constituents who live on a Commonwealth payment and are having to make decisions about paying their rent, or feeding their children, or going to the op shop to get some clothing for their kids, because we are pushing people to the point where even going to the op shop becomes unaffordable because your rent is taking up so much more than 30 per cent of your income. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know you know this as a former minister for Housing - once you are getting past 30 per cent of your income going on rent, the wolves are at the door and they are barking loudly, snarling and gnashing and you spend your time worrying whether they will get in because they are always there.

I wanted to follow up the question we asked about statutory officers today. I support this legislation and sincerely wish you all strength and heart in overcoming the past five years of really very woeful inaction on these big questions about the future of transport and the movement of people in Tasmania. The most obvious example of that, which people in the south have been living with for five or six years now, which is chronic congestion in and around Hobart, which is having a significant impact on people's lives, their productivity and on businesses in and around the CBD. I encourage the minister to seize the opportunity of having another three years in this important role in helping to develop a vision for vehicles, traffic, and the movement of people into the future.