Legislative Council Thursday 24 May 2018
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I welcome the opportunity to make some comments in reply to Her Excellency's speech on the opening of the Forty-Ninth Parliament.
I do not intend to cover areas more appropriately addressed in a reply to the state budget, which is almost upon us. I expect many of the election commitments will be reflected there.
I am pleased to note Her Excellency's comments regarding Tasmania leading the nation in electing over 50 per cent of women to the House of Assembly. Of course, until very recent times the Legislative Council has had 40 per cent female members and with the election of another woman to the seat of Prosser, we are now at 47 per cent. Indeed, we are doing well in the gender diversity measure.
Parliament overall now has 50 per cent male members, reflecting our society in the gender diversity measure at least. However, we must not overlook the need to work to ensure other diversity measures are also considered.
I make this point because I recently attended a women's forum held in London as part of this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM. Other forums included a business forum, a youth forum and a people's forum. Some joint sessions were held that added value to the contributions of all who attended. I will comment further on the resulting communiqué from this forum at a later time.
The representation of women at all levels of government was a topic discussed throughout the forum. It was great to be from a jurisdiction already leading the way in our nation and many other parts of the world.
As Her Excellency stated, Tasmania became the first Australian state parliament ever to achieve this milestone of national significance. I agree that is worthy of celebration.
I congratulate the Government on its success at the 3 March election and sincerely wish it all the best in working to make Tasmania a better place to live, work and spend recreational time.
I also congratulate the members of the House of Assembly re-elected at the 3 March election. For those who were elected for the first time, it is a great privilege to be elected to parliament and it comes with significant responsibility. I recognise and thank those who retired or lost their seats for their contributions. It can be a thankless task at times, but there are rewards when you are able to assist constituents with challenges they face and have an impact on the future of this wonderful state.
I note the contribution of our first female premier, Lara Giddings, who retired and is now the proud mother of daughter Natasha. Lara gave up much to serve Tasmania and made a significant contribution to this state for many years. She also created many firsts for youth and women throughout her career. Lara remained a strong, articulate and well-informed contributor to parliament whether in opposition, as a backbencher, a minister, treasurer or premier - often holding more than one challenging portfolio. It was a remarkable achievement. I wish her every happiness and success in her even more important current role of raising one of the next generation of female Tasmanian leaders.
I acknowledge and note the retirement of former member for Rowallan, Western Tiers and McIntyre - he moved around - Mr Greg Hall. Greg represented his electorate well over 17 years as a member of the Legislative Council. He made a significant contribution in this Chamber, including by serving as deputy president and chair of committees for a number years. I wish him well in his future endeavours and in his retirement from parliament, which I am sure will not be boring or lacking in ongoing contribution to the region in which he lives.
I congratulate the member for Hobart on his re-election. I have waited do this and I think this is the appropriate time. I am sure he will continue to represent his constituents well and work hard in the best interests of the state. I congratulate and warmly welcome the inaugural member for Prosser. I am sure she will work hard to represent the people of Prosser, who gave her a recent vote of confidence. IS look forward to her contribution in this place. I congratulate the Leader on her renewal of the appointment as Leader of the Government in this House. Her role comes with a significant workload and I believe she manages it well. I congratulate the members for McIntyre, Mersey and Launceston for their appointment as deputy chairmen of committees. I thank members for their vote of confidence in me by electing me to the position of Chair of Committees and Deputy President. I thank members who have publicly and privately congratulated and wished me well in that role; it is appreciated.
Before responding more directly to Her Excellency the Governor's speech, I will make some points regarding our role in the Legislative Council and how I will endeavour to achieve the best outcomes for Tasmania and the people of Murchison. My approach to this will, at it has been in the past, be collaborative. However, I will challenge and argue against short-termism and promotion of populist politics. We have seen a win-at-all-costs approach that has created an erosion of trust at all levels of government.
I am not sure how many members are aware of the Australian Futures Project. I hope they are after my contribution on Tuesday. If you are not, I urge you to visit their website and learn more. The project is a non-profit company with a key mission of fixing short-termism in Australia. They acknowledge this is a big task but state their concern that short-termism is blocking a flourishing future for Australia. They suggest that until short-termism is fixed we cannot create the future Australians want. This applies equally to Tasmania. We have a chance and, I believe, a responsibility to move beyond this approach, restore trust and work for the wellbeing of all our citizens. We can achieve this through the formulation and application of relevant and compelling visions for a future and a clear pathway to achieve the future we want.
We need to know and articulate the future we want. If you cannot dream it, you cannot describe it or articulate it, you cannot take the people with you and you will not achieve it. We need to work collaboratively to solve the big challenges we face at local, state and national levels. Short termism is a significant barrier to solving some of the big challenges we face as a state and country. We know change is constant and we need to adapt and change, too. We have seen this place change over the years. We need to ensure all Tasmanians benefit as we solve the problems and challenges we face and create an environment in which we can all flourish.
All decisions we make in our communities, and particularly in our role here in the Legislative Council, need to be made with an acute awareness that the decisions and choices we make here need to bring long-term benefits to all Tasmanians.
We must avoid short-termism if we are going to be able to solve the big challenges in health, education, housing, planning and infrastructure - to name a few - and see the state flourish. It is through this lens that I will focus my decision-making and consideration of all matters before the parliament over the come years.
To respond more specifically to the Governor's speech, I will make a few comments about the improving economy of the state, as noted by Her Excellency. This improvement is welcome and positive, provided we can all share in the benefit. The Government always needs to have a balanced approach with regard to economic growth that is beneficial, and from which we all benefit. We all benefit if economic growth is managed and consideration given to its long-term impact on Tasmania, our people and our environment.
We have seen significant growth in tourism. While this has an economic benefit, it can also present other challenges that need to be planned for and managed.
Her Excellency said that not many places are able to boast World Heritage wilderness at their backdoor, the cleanest air in the world and easy access to some of the world's best beaches and fishing and camping spots - not to mention our fantastic mountain bike trails and walking tracks, our historic architecture and low-rise cities, and what is internationally renowned as the freshest produce. Tasmania's way of life is unparalleled.
This is true and to ensure it is not lost, we must ensure that adequate planning for and investment in infrastructure is undertaken to meet demands associated with growth in tourism and population. We need to be particularly careful that we do not damage the very things about Tasmania that bring people here.
Her Excellency mentioned the Government's long-term plan and policies to address Tasmania's growth to ensure all Tasmanians, no matter where they live, can share in the benefits. I do not quite share her optimism in the alleged long-term plan because I do not believe there is any real evidence of long-term planning and commitment to infrastructure and health, to name two. We constantly see short-term fixes in health and pre-election pork-barrelling in infrastructure aimed at winning votes rather than planning for our future.
In the last year or so, including the 3 March election, we have had frequent commentary regarding the make-up and value of the Legislative Council. This certainly happens from time to time, especially when a government is being challenged in the upper House regarding some of its legislative program. This is not new and has happened in the past.
It is important to put this in context. The vast majority of legislation and motions put by the Government in this House are supported. Unfortunately, a vocal few have sought to undermine and criticise the role and function of Legislative Council, suggesting members are acting as a barrier to legislation and the Government should be able to expect every policy position put to the Legislative Council to receive endorsement almost without question.
Disappointingly, some of this inaccurate assessment and criticism of our role and function, and lack of appreciation of the work we do, is coming from within. Some commentators, particularly those critical of the Legislative Council, are fixated on the use of slogans and politically loaded words such as 'mandate'. That is a tool of choice for those intent on criticising individuals and seeking to discredit the views of others rather than focusing on the important issues.
No doubt the vast majority of Tasmanians understand, accept and appreciate the role of Legislative Council.
The party that wins any election is elected to form government, and to govern and bring forward policy and/or legislation it believes necessary and beneficial for the state to the parliament, which includes both Houses.
If the elected government is unable to provide the evidence of the need, benefit and stakeholder support of a particular policy, that policy may well be challenged, likely to be amended and occasionally rejected by the Legislative Council. That is how it works.
This is particularly true for policies not presented to the people in a timely manner prior to the election. Not so long ago the Legislative Council was described as the last bastion of conservatism with a majority or voting bloc, to use a well-worn slogan, of conservative members. Some would call these members right-wing.
In the past, progressive governments have had legislation rejected by this conservative bloc. That is the other side of the same coin and not new to Tasmania.
I believe the description of being right- or left-wing unnecessarily stereotypes individuals and policy platforms, and I prefer to use more descriptive terms. My politics are moderate, are predominantly socially progressive and economically conservative.
History shows a conservative group of members of the Legislative Council regularly voted to block legislation seeking progressive social change, including, but not limited to, maintaining protections enshrined in Tasmania's anti-discrimination laws and decriminalising homosexuality and pregnancy termination, and allowing marriage equality, to name a few. Some of these same people now seek to criticise and condemn those with moderate and socially progressive views who support progress in these areas and who oppose some conservative policy positions. How is this any different from what the conservative bloc did in the past?
I have one more comment on the mandate question. If ever we need a reminder of the role of parliament, we saw it downstairs with the election of a new Speaker. The Government may have had a mandate to nominate a particular person as Speaker, but the House, in its wisdom, voted for someone else. Isn't that the way democracy is supposed to work? Parliament is not simply a facility for rubberstamping. Proposed changes to gun laws, pokies in pubs and clubs, sentencing and TasWater are examples of contentious matters raised during the recent election campaign. In some cases these were real points of difference between the conservative and progressive parties, if you want to call them that.
Government policy straddles the progressive/conservative divide. To continue to classify them as one or the other shows a limited view of the world. It is interesting to note, for example, the introduction of mandatory sentencing has been proposed by the Liberal Party in Tasmania and by the Labor Party in another jurisdiction. Does this make mandatory sentencing a progressive or conservative policy, a left- or right-wing policy? Is maintaining pokies in pubs and clubs a conservative policy? Is maintaining TasWater in current hands a progressive policy? It provides no benefit to the debate or public discourse to use such narrow, ill-conceived descriptions. We need to take a broader view and assess each policy on its merits and potential benefits.
The Tasmanian Liberals by retaining government have a right and a responsibility to bring forward policy positions and fund all election commitments. However, the voters also know the Legislative Council has a role to play, ensuring policy requiring legislative change meets the above tests of evidence of need, community benefit, stakeholder support, and is effectively drafted to achieve the stated policy objective.
Gun laws were hidden from the voters until, falling out of a cupboard only a limited number of Tasmanians had access to, two days before the election.
Mrs Hiscutt - The letter was written earlier than that.
Ms FORREST - This was when it fell out of the cupboard, I said. The information was sent to some people, but when it was publicly released and fell out of the cupboard, it was only two days before the election. This was after many people had already cast their vote. In regard to this, a number of the proposed changes are sensible and not contentious. However, stating the Government has a mandate for all proposed changes in the absence of meeting the above test beggars belief.
As with most challenges, often more than one solution exists. These solutions do not often require the dead hand of legislation, which is often a blunt instrument. For example, why extend firearms renewal from five to 10 years when a drivers licence has, at most, a five-year renewal after many hours of training? If this proposed change delays processing renewals, as many licences fall due at the same time every five years, staggering the renewal to smooth out the workload of the firearms branch could address this.
Resistance to the proposed takeover of TasWater in the last term of government came from the conservative right-wing members as well as the so-called left bloc, and was comprehensively defeated in this place. TasWater is a capital-intensive business and needs to continually upgrade and maintain the long-term generational assets it is responsible for. A revenue stream is needed from this business to fund its ongoing capital works and major maintenance, regardless of who owns it. I have consistently stated there is merit in state ownership, but if this were to occur, it must have the right structure and governance model.
History shows a minister holding the pricing lever risks short-term decision-making at the expense of long-term sustainable investment. I am not opposed to state ownership of key infrastructure, but we need to ensure the model is right.
We now see a different, more conciliatory approach from the Treasurer with an option that was not taken to the people for a mandate. The Government still went to the people with a mandate to take over TasWater. It is only since the election that has changed. Interestingly, this new proposal was an approach I suggested to the Treasurer in mid-2017 in a one-to-one meeting with him well before we debated the TasWater takeover legislation last year. At this meeting he rejected this proposal. I also wrote an opinion piece about the suggestion, published in the Mercury on 4 July 2017. This is not something that I thought of afterwards. I will quote a short section of the opinion piece -
It is a sure sign that we are heading down the wrong track when the disputing parties summon lawyers.
In the case of TasWater, I have been curious as to the legal basis to seizing water and sewerage assets. I simply assumed the government was on safe legal grounds - not according to legal advice attained by TasWater and its shareholder owners, the 29 municipal councils. What now? The last thing we need is a dispute between two tiers of government. To what end? To score political points? So that things get fixed quicker?
If the latter is the case and money is the problem, why doesn't the Government invest in the company rather than try a hostile takeover?
Has the Treasurer considered all options before heading down this adversarial path using questionable tactics? Is there another way to achieve what Tasmanians want - clean, safe drinking water and compliant sewerage services at an affordable price?
The Government has provided $20 million per year in the latest 2017/18 budget to give councils what they would have received as shareholders of TasWater. Half, say $10 million, would pay the interest on a $300 million loan the Government could borrow to invest in TasWater. So why doesn't the Government chip in equity to solve any problems? It would then have money left over after paying interest to spend elsewhere.
It can be a win-win for all parties. The Government can put equity into TasWater so its pet projects can be brought forward, provided existing shareholders agreed to their interests being slightly diluted. The Government would pick up a seat or two at the board table so it could speak to the wider community on the management of infrastructure instead of sniping from the sidelines. And the community would be spared the spectacle of two levels of government engaged in a melee that will ensure a further loss of trust in the political process.
I am not sure of all of the details of the memorandum of understanding, but it seems the Treasurer was not averse to my proposal after all. Of course, we need to see all the detail before we can agree to the final proposal when it is presented to the parliament.
Mr Valentine - And we would need to know what the councils think, too.
Ms FORREST - That will all be part of the scrutiny process. We need to ensure the proposal is in the best interest of the state - not just the councils. For the record, I note this was not taken to the people before 3 March.
Mr Willie - There was a similar proposal from the Opposition.
Ms FORREST - I did not see that one; when was that?
Mr Willie - We said it should stay in the current ownership arrangements, but also that we would fund some of the bigger capital projects into super funds. There have been various talks about those sorts of arrangements.
Ms FORREST - Yes, but it was before July when I put that forward. It is interesting how the wheels turn. Last year's budget of capex funding clearly shows budgets being propped up and balanced by repeatedly delaying capital works and raiding profitable GBEs to fund election promises. We need to understand the full deal before making a decision on the best way forward. At least there now appears to be more meaningful engagement and consultation with the current owners of TasWater than we saw in the last iteration.
Regardless, in the absence of a long-term plan governments past and present have consistently deferred infrastructure funding to fund other areas of government activity and balance their budgets. In more recent history, TasNetworks has been the de facto bank for the government. Now it is Motor Accidents Insurance Board. The Premier informed us during the election period that a special dividend will be collected from MAIB to fund some of the hundreds of funding commitments the party had made. Did he ask the voters if they were happy to do this? If the Government is going to use the profits from MAIB, gained from overcharging motorists to fund the Premier's election promises, should he not have sought a mandate from the voters for such a proposal, not just tell them that this is how the election promises were going to be funded? That is what he said.
Mr Valentine - It could be a tax by stealth.
Ms FORREST - He was taking out a special dividend, as he is 'entitled to'. Should the voters be asked whether that is the way they want election commitments funded? Perhaps the voters would prefer lower motor registration costs.
Mr Willie -They canned it halfway through the campaign.
Ms FORREST - Probably realised they ran out of money.
Recognition of Visitors
Mr PRESIDENT - I welcome Elizabeth College students into the Chamber. At present members are debating a reply to Her Excellency's Address to this House on the opening of Parliament on 1 May. We welcome you here and we hope you enjoy it.
Members - Hear, hear.
Mr Valentine - A good school in the electorate of Hobart, Mr President.
Ms FORREST - Maybe voters would prefer a lower motor registration cost and these young people in the Chamber would have an opinion on this.
At least we should be able to expect the Government to be open and honest about how all its election commitments will be funded and whether other options may be available to reduce living costs for ordinary Tasmanians. It is ordinary Tasmanians who pay motor vehicle registrations and where some of this money is coming from.
Despite the commentary of some, it seems the Legislative Council does have a role and can add value. The Governor indicated that her Government would continue to work to strengthen the Tasmanian economy and ensure all regions of the state benefit from economic growth with new jobs by reducing payroll tax rates for businesses. This will provide one of the most competitive tax regimes in the country for small- and medium-size businesses.
It is time meaningful tax reform was placed on the agenda. While it is getting a bit of a run in the federal budget, with a bidding war going on between major parties leading up to next year's federal election, there seems absolutely no will to fix the broken nature of the federal system who raises the taxes, what tax base is used and who spends the money. The states meekly sit around and wait to see what largesse will land in their laps. The system is hopelessly lopsided in favour of the federal government, with state governments completely beholden to the federal masters, and they do nothing about it.
Only 20 per cent of the Tasmanian government's revenue comes from state taxes. Payroll, stamp duties and land tax are the principal taxes, and all have problems.
Stamp duty is regarded as inefficient because it suppresses economic activity more than other taxes. Payroll and land taxes apply to narrow bases and are inequitable.
Since the early 1970s when the then prime minister Mr McMahon handed over payroll tax to the states, the tax base has narrowed. It has been a race to the bottom, because all states have fiddled with the rate and thresholds in trying to make their states more competitive.
The result is a highly inequitable dog's breakfast. The widespread view is payroll tax is an anti-employment tax. Any attempts to broaden the base, lower the rate and make it fair are unlikely to succeed because they are too politically hot and challenging. Why not scrap it? Why not get rid of it?
The federal government has floated corporate individual tax cuts totally around $300 billion over a 10-year period. That averages out at $30 billion a year. Coincidentally, payroll taxes collect about $25 billion yearly across all states.
Why not a bit of cooperative federalism for once? If the overall consensus view is payroll taxes are beyond repair - and I am not the only person who thinks this - scrap it, arrange for taxpayers to receive a share of income taxes about to be handed out as part of the latest federal vote-buying campaign.
We will have yet another bill to deal with before the financial year dealing with the ongoing erosion of the payroll tax base. Why do we not think and act more broadly?
Her Excellency also commented on the issue of housing. This is an area in which the government has dropped the ball and is now playing catch-up. The Housing Summit is fine, but people are lacking safe, secure and suitable shelter, and they need outcomes. One of the essentials of life is shelter. If a person or family does not have safe, secure and simple shelter, their chance of experiencing good health, accessing education and gaining an educational outcome that will assist them into employment and reduce the reliance on social support is extremely low.
Access to shelter, both emergency and longer term, is predominantly the responsibility of a caring community. Government must take the lead. This does not mean all social housing should be provided by government through the public sector. Government needs to set policy to facilitate and encourage the participation of non-government organisations and private enterprise in the provision of and access to safe, secure and suitable housing for all Tasmanians.
The relatively recent growth of the sharing economy and the emergence of platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz has added to the challenge. The state Government has acknowledged this impact and offered incentives to property owners to convert Airbnb properties to long-term rentals. This is not enough and more needs to be done. I am not convinced about the sharing economy arguments. We need to be mindful of what is happening overseas, where there is a growing revolt against the short-term accommodation industry which is disrupting local economies. Existing property owners may benefit by extra income and higher land values. Banks welcome being able to make higher loans, but there are downsides that hopefully the member for Launceston and her committee can explore. It is a really relevant point.
Government has been leasing inner city offices, many of which have been vacated recently by workers moving to other accommodation, including the new Salamanca building where some of us have offices. These buildings may have secured office tenants but some of them may still be vacant or not fully occupied. Maybe the Government could offer incentives that could be provided to the private owners of these buildings in the CBD in our major cities and towns to repurpose parts of these buildings to provide a range of housing options, including affordable housing and social housing.
The same applies to second and fourth floor spaces above retail shops in our inner city areas. High density inner-city accommodation assists in meeting many of the challenges facing individuals without secure accommodation. It is close to services, including transport, education, employment opportunities and health services. Ownership of a vehicle, a costly exercise, becomes less important and can create increased disposable income for the tenant. Planning schemes and legislation generally provide such use. We do not need to change anything to enable those spaces to be used for housing.
Perhaps additional incentives should be considered to encourage private property owners to consider housing as a viable option. If legislative change is required, which I do not believe it is in many areas, make it a priority. Focus on things that are going to make a difference to Tasmanians. The new Minister for Housing needs to start making some outcome-focused decisions with the winter upon us. The need is obvious.
I agree with and support Her Excellency's comments regarding the Government's belief in the power of education and the opportunities it provides. The commitment of more new teachers and other vital school staff is welcome, with additional support for the early years and additional mental health support in our schools an ever-increasing need, unfortunately. The progressive removal of school principals from staffing formulas, enabling principals to focus more on school leadership, I believe will benefit all. This is particularly so if the principals and aspiring principals are provided with relevant, targeted professional development to prepare and assist them in their role.
Mr Willie - That need is greater than ever. There is a big group of principals about to leave the system.
Ms FORREST - They are all about to retire, yes. I know it is the case in jurisdictions such as Finland that all principals have management training and qualifications before they are appointed to any leadership position. You have to remember Finnish teachers all have a masters degree before they even reach the classroom. You cannot become a principal without completing another degree in business management. It is taken seriously. A principal - I am sure the member for Elwick will back me up on this - requires a different set of skills in addition to teaching skills.
Mr Valentine - They have teaching skills, which is important.
Ms FORREST - They do, but they need to have the additional skills to take on the principal's role.
Mr Willie - They are administrators and educational leaders.
Ms FORREST - That is right.
Mr Willie - Sometimes they are project managers if the school is being redeveloped.
Ms FORREST - That is correct; they take on a huge range of roles.
Mr Valentine - If the change is to put them in more as administrators, they have to have that teaching experience; that is what I am saying.
Ms FORREST - I will be interested to know more about what the Government actually proposes in this area and hope some of the members of committee B will take this up in Estimates to find out what is actually being proposed.
Health services, particularly access to quality time and care is a matter of concern to all Tasmanians. It is clear that governance of the Tasmanian Health Service - THS - has been poor and change is needed. We have dealt with the legislation and will finish this today to address that.
The one-THS model is widely supported, but the need for local decision-making is crucial. While the proposed changes are broadly supported, we need to make sure there is no unnecessary duplication and all available funds are spent on patient services.
I was going to say more before we debated the bill, but I wanted to make the point that my proposed amendment for focusing on outcomes-based data is really important. I am pleased it was incorporated into the bill.
It is important to manage a budget within the health system and ensure the efficient and economic operation of a hospital, but the efficient and economic delivery of health services and the efficient and economic use of resources have to be in a context of good patient outcomes.
There is already a requirement to collect health data and provide this for research and reporting purposes. In numerous past budget papers, the patient outcome measures as opposed to output measure have been lacking. It will not be in this year's budget. That is already at or returned from the printers.
It is vital to remain focused on patient outcomes, not just the number of procedures being carried out but in ensuring adequate investment in primary and preventative health to all to prevent the demand on our acute health services.
This winter is going to be equally challenging for people seeking acute medical care, particularly in the south of the state as the Royal Hobart Hospital rebuild continues. I am not sure how much damage was done during the recent storms, but it adds to the challenge of the medical staff and patients seeking to access the Royal.
The member for Rumney spoke about the challenges and the numbers of ambulance ramping. This coming year will be really challenging, because the rebuild is not finished. The 250 extra beds are not there. The beds at the Repat will perhaps take some load, but we must have adequate trained nursing staff to back up those beds. Sometimes it must be specialist nurses. You cannot operate without them. The operating theatre and the Department of Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care Unit have to be adequately staffed. With flu season last year, even the staff got sick - and then you are really in a bind.
Mr Valentine - It is not just something money can fix.
Ms FORREST - No, it is not. Planning for it and having a bit of redundancy in the system does not hurt.
It is one thing to open additional beds onsite or offsite, but unless there are adequate numbers of suitably qualified and skilled nursing staff being paid a rate that attracts them to Tasmania, there will be a problem.
I will leave other comment regarding some of the other election commitments and that sort of thing particularly relevant to my electorate but also more broadly for Tasmania until a later time. I note Her Excellency the Governor's speech on the opening of the Forty-Ninth Parliament and again congratulate the Government on its re-election. I look forward to working constructively with the Government and other members of this House to achieve the best possible outcomes for the people of Tasmania.Go Back