Published: 08 November 2017

Legislative Council Thursday 19 October 2017

Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, as the honourable Leader said, this is a regular occurrence.  I think it will be the second last one before we change to the new Financial Management Act and it will be a section 23 or section 24 report, which, from memory, will be a similar process.  As the Leader also said, much of it has been shifting around within agencies and does not have an overall impact on the budget.  The Leader has gone through the areas where there are no offsetting revenues to cover that and where the shifting within agencies has been.

As I have said many times before, this is approval after the event.  There is very little we can do about it, whether we agree or not, except to go through a process and say, 'Okay, I see what the various government departments have done'.

There are some interesting things in this that I want to put to the honourable Leader so she can provide some further information on them.  I commend the Government and Treasury on the amount of detail they are now providing with these; it used to be much more scant.  It makes it easier to follow, so I hope there will be fewer questions than there might have been.

I want to go through the June quarter report 2017 and I will refer to the page numbers as tabled.  I note that on page 6, there is an interagency transfer from Health Services System Management.  It is a line item in the budget.  I always struggle to understand what actually comes out of that.  It is a big line item, which those on the Health Estimates Committee will remember, and it is a bit hard to know what actually falls under it.

Mrs Hiscutt - Was it 7.1?

Ms FORREST - We have moved from 1.1 to 7.1; it was an interagency move.  There was a movement of $5 million there from Health Services System Management to Children's Services. 

The description of the reason for that was that during 2016-17, the department incurred significant above-budget costs to support the needs of children in out-of-home care.  We accept that this is a money-hungry area and there is a lot of unmet demand - no problem with that.  The purpose of this transfer was to meet a portion of those over-budget costs.  I am interested in what this $5 million was actually spent on.  What was it targeted at that was not being funded?  When scrutinising budgets each year, we ask questions about how this is going to meet the needs.  Obviously there are shortfalls in various areas.  This one does not affect the overall budget because it is an interagency transfer.  But what was that money spent on?  Why was it not identified as a budget need when a budget was set previously?  That question remains for all the questions I am asking.  Why was this not identified as a budget priority?  Did something extraordinary happen or was it just that the budget was underdone?

On page 7, budget line items 1.4 to 1.6, Protective jurisdictions, there is a movement from Support and compensation for victims of crime, and there is also a movement in the next couple that relate to this matter.  This transfer reflects significant increases in demand for the Guardianship and Administration Board, the Mental Health Tribunal and the Office of the Public Guardian which resulted in significant cost increases in 2016-17 for these bodies.  That was $130 000. 

The next one down is movement of Enforcement of monetary penalties to Protective jurisdictions, with the same reason being given as I just gave.  That is $120 000.  Then, again, there is movement from the Tasmanian Industrial Commission of $190 000 to the same areas - Mental Health Tribunal, Guardianship and Administration Board and the Office of the Public Guardian, and also from the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal, $140 000, for the same purposes as the previous three I mentioned.

It seems to me that there must be a particular increase in demand for those services where this money, over $580 000, was transferred to those bodies to enable them to function.  One would hope that we have seen decreasing demand in the need for support and compensation for victims of crime from Enforcement of monetary penalties, from the Tasmanian Industrial Commission and from the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal to cover this.  I want to get a bit more information about that.  What has driven that increased demand for those other bodies?

On page 9 there is movement from Tasmanian Planning Commission to Equal Opportunity Tasmania of $200 000.  This transfer reflects increasing cost pressures for Equal Opportunity Tasmania in 2016-17.  Savings were $200 000, the amount that was transferred, resulting from salary savings generated during 2016-17 from the Tasmanian Planning Commission.  I am wondering how that was actually achieved because the Tasmanian Planning Commission does not seem to have much less work to do.  There are a few other movements from the Tasmanian Planning Commission as well in other areas.

One that I was particularly interested in is on page 11.  This was a transfer from Student-only passenger services of $7.405 million.  It is almost the whole line item in the budget.  I went to the budget papers and $5.8 million of that went to Non-metropolitan general access services. I need to understand why that massive movement went from one to the other - that is one question.

The other issue that I was quite surprised to read and would really like some clarity on is the $900 000 transferred to Shipping and ferry subsidies.  The description says the transfer also reflects the provision of funding to the Shipping and ferry subsidies output to support a shipping service for King Island.

This is all on the public record.  It is published on our website so I am not talking about any committee business that is not public.  During our inquiry into King Island shipping, I asked the minister about how much it cost to run the service after SeaRoad effectively withdrew its service and had to be contracted for additional sailings until the Investigator II started, operated under the Bass Island Line.  The amount for those 10 sailings - I think it was - was $900 000 or $890 000, but $900 000 was the figure that was said at points and then it was $890 000, but it is the same figure, remarkably the same, as this figure.

The minister told us - and it is clearly on the record for anyone to look at that - that $900 000 came out of the Emergency Shipping Fund.  So what is the truth?  Where is the Emergency Shipping Fund?  That does not line up with what the minister told us in the committee hearing and it definitely needs to be answered.

Page 14, Orders made pursuant to section 11(2), Requests for additional recurrent funds - under the output group of Education, 1.1 In-school education, there was a request for additional recurrent funds of $1.746 million.  The description says -

This request for additional funds of $1.74 million is for the return of proceeds from the sale of assets previously held by the Department.  The sale proceeds will be expended on maintenance across a number of school sites.  The proceeds have been generated from the following asset sales ...

The schools are listed there and how much they received.

Would it be possible - not necessarily today, Leader - to get some information about where this maintenance was done and how much was spent on each school and where this money actually went from the asset sales?  It appears that it all went on maintenance within schools, but I would like that clarified.

On page 15 under Finance-General, 2.1 line item Superannuation and Pensions, there was $400 000.  This request for additional funds reflects expenditure associated with the reform of the public sector superannuation in Tasmania.  I asked a number of questions about this in budget Estimates.  The cost of running this area was supposed to reduce.  I quizzed the minister at the time whether there was enough here to run this?  We have budgeted adequately to manage it?  Yes, yes, yes.  Here we are, requesting more money.  What has happened there, particularly as we were told this is going to reduce costs?

The question regarding 4.3, Miscellaneous, the $6.784 million.  This reflects related ex gratia payments to be made in respect of the corporate restructures.  I thought there was an expectation and budgeted allowance going to be paid in that.  I would be happy to be corrected if I am wrong.  How much will this be?  Will we request additional funding to cover it?  We put a line under it in the budget and this seems a lot more money.  The Leader mentioned this in her contribution to the motion.  It is a lot of extra to pay if we have already budgeted an amount.  There is a huge amount more requests for ex gratia payments.  If she could clarify whether that is the sum total or whether it is in addition to a budgeted amount and how much was the budgeted amount?

On page 16, under Health and Human Services, 1.1, Health Management Systems, there was a request for additional funding of $569 000 for the Rural Alive and Well program.  As it says in the description here -

It was announced by the Treasurer in the 2016-17 Budget Speech that the Tasmanian Government would provide funding of $569 000 in 2016-17 to Rural Alive and Well to extend mental health support in rural communities as part of the Government's long-term plan for mental health in Tasmania.

We all acknowledge and accept it is a really important vital service.  This is a request for additional funding, even though it was supposed to be budgeted for, according to the media statements at the time.

Then I recalled recent media coverage in early October this year, with a headline in the Mercury, 'Funding cuts hit suicide watch service Rural Alive and Well' -

A TASMANIAN wellbeing and suicide-prevention organisation working with rural communities risks losing outreach workers because of a cut in federal funding.

Is this money to cover the removal of federal funding?  Shame on the federal government for removing it, if that is the case.  The article goes on -

Rural Alive and Well chief executive Liz Little said because of federal and state funding decisions, RAW had cut 1.4 staff from its statewide suicide-prevention outreach program since July, and faced making bigger cuts to services next year, with the foreshadowed withdrawal of Commonwealth funds.

Ms Little says 'federal and state funding'.  I am really concerned if this service is being cut back, particularly when money has been promised and additional funding allocated.  Then we hear, via the media - whether it is true or not, one assumes it has some level of accuracy - it is being significantly cut.  In a headline from the ABC, 'Tasmanian suicide prevention program warns federal funding cuts will hurt outreach'.  That only mentions 'federal' in the headline -

A suicide prevention program for Tasmanians living in regional communities says its outreach services will be affected if the Federal Government goes ahead with planned cuts to its funding.

They go on to talk about the obvious need through Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.  They mention federal.  I am really interested in what is happening there.  We all know there are significant challenges in our rural communities in terms of adverse mental health outcomes and suicide risk.

On page 19, under Legislature-General, in Services to Members, the line item is 4.3, $62 000 is reflecting additional funds for insurance premiums paid to the Tasmanian Risk Management Fund.  It was well budgeted, so why was it necessary?  Maybe there has been an increase in premiums for some reason.  What area is that?

I do not need an answer to this.  Everyone is probably appalled by the $765 000 additional funding required under Premier and Cabinet to cover the costs associated with the Glenorchy City Council and the Huon Valley Council boards of inquiry.  Huge amounts of money.

Mr Valentine - It is not of their making.  Well, it might be of their making, but it is by the direction of the minister.

Ms FORREST - Yes, but surely we need to do something better to avoid these things happening.  Prevention is better than cure.

Mr Valentine - The bill yesterday might do it.

Ms FORREST - That is a debate for another day.  Under Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment 6.1 - Biosecurity, page 22, the request for additional funding of $120 000 reflects action taken to respond to blueberry rust and myrtle rust.  The total cost for each response is blueberry rust, $111 000 and myrtle rust, $9 000.  A committee is looking into this now or will shortly, and hopefully it will see biosecurity is adequately resourced. Do we need to see Biosecurity funded more fully to meet the needs of some of these really challenging biosecurity risks to our state?

In State Growth, page 24, 3.1 Energy Policy and Advice, the request for additional funds of $394 000 reflects unseen costs associated with the provision of specialist legal advice associated with the Basslink outage.

How much have we spent on this?  We are living in a vacuum of information.  I have not had a chance to thoroughly look at Hydro's annual report, which was only tabled today.  It seems getting information out of Hydro about its dealings with Basslink is next to impossible.  They say they cannot talk about it, but that does not stop people publishing quarterly information on their quarterly reports to the market.

Mr Valentine - How will we get the information out of TasWater if it is transferred through?

Ms FORREST - I am saying it is just as hard to get it out at the moment in many respects.  This is another just short of $400 000 on this problem.  Why has the legal advice cost here fallen to the Government rather than Hydro?  Was it particularly a government-related issue with Basslink?  It was Hydro who were dealing with Basslink so why did the burden fall to the Government and not Hydro?

On a matter not specifically covered here, but under Health and Human Services, Capital upgrades - and this could be a timing issue - I note there is no additional funding for the maternity antenatal clinic upgrades at both the Mersey and Burnie hospitals.  It is not here and maybe it will come in this financial year.  Once the maternity services were changed and the antenatal and postnatal care were predominantly provided under the Tasmanian Health Service - THS - and the birthing services under the private system, it was identified that the antenatal clinic areas were inadequate, and they are.  A lot of work is going on at the Mersey.  There is some work going on at Burnie and more to come.  Clearly it was an unidentified cost and requirement when the service started, so it would fit under unexpected.  I have no problem with that - mind you, they should have expected and known what it was like.  Where does this fit?  Is it outside this financial year's reporting?  Maybe that is the case. 

So that is a short list of my questions.  The Leader hopefully can provide some answers today.  If not, her advisors will go through Hansard, as in the past, and provide answers later because ultimately we cannot effectively say 'No'.  We can, but it would not do any good.  The money has already been shifted and spent.  These are after-the-event matters, but this give us a chance to actually look at what is happening and properly understand it for further scrutiny of the budget next year.  If there are areas consistently requiring additional investment or additional money, why are they not being budgeted for properly in the first place?  A lot of these are not unexpected, or should not be, and should be able to be more fully understood.

Mr Dean - While you are still on your feet, one that comes to mind is $10 million to the Coordinator-General for the Northern Cities project.  Why was that not previously budgeted for?

Ms FORREST - I did highlight that.  I thought other members might want to talk to that one, whose areas that it relates to.  They may know more about the project.  A lot of money has gone into that anyway.

Mr Dean - Millions every year. 

Ms FORREST - That is an additional amount.

Mr Dean - An additional amount, $10 million.

Ms FORREST - Maybe the Leader could add that to her list, the $10 million extra, for what purpose?  The member for Windermere highlighted a point I had highlighted in there.  It is right.

Mrs Hiscutt - To be clear, while you are on your feet, member for Murchison, any answers we cannot provide today, you are happy to take later after they have been through Hansard?

Ms FORREST - I would like the one on King Island shipping today.


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