Legislative Council Wednesday 18 March, 2020
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, Tasmania and Australia are quite different places now as opposed to when the Premier delivered his address. We are facing, and will continue to face, significant financial pressures in coming months as our health services face enormous pressure to provide care for those who need it for matters other than and including COVID-19.
We know COVID-19 will put significant and hopefully not overwhelming demand on all our health-related resources - human, supplies and other resources and financial. It is vital all Tasmanians heed the advice proactively, responsibly and with a real appreciation of the reality that the inconvenience we all experience may actually avoid the deaths of many vulnerable members of our community, our own loved ones and even ourselves.
Considering our actions, we also need to remember Tasmania has a more rapidly ageing demographic than any other state, and a population with a higher burden of chronic disease. I appreciate the serious manner with which our Premier and Minister for Health have taken this very serious public health matter. I particularly appreciate the openness and willingness of the Premier to engage with me directly when I raised concerns with him as well as providing clear evidence based advice to the public. It is difficult in a cacophony of noise out there around this issue and we as community leaders need to all sing from the same song book. We all need to demonstrate the behaviour as well as talk about it. When I was at a public event recently and heard a federal member say it was all 'bullshit', and that was the word he used, I was horrified. That was only a few days ago.
I am sure there will be opportunities and likely imperatives to re-visit the challenges we face that are changing on a daily basis. They will continue to change on a daily basis for some time yet. That makes it difficult for the public because the message seems to change. The reality is the message is not changing, it is evolving as the circumstances evolve and we need to keep on top of it and we need to be sure we are singing from that same song sheet and providing accurate advice.
I appreciated today the opportunity to have the briefing on COVID-19 which focused on education. It is a shame we cannot record that and give it to the public because there was some very good information in that briefing. I urge the Leader to make sure we have very regular briefings of that nature so that we can be kept up to date. I had a Facebook message today that was just full of so much rubbish and scaremongering -
Mrs Hiscutt - You are aware of the 9.15 a.m. daily updates?
Ms FORREST - Yes, I watch that every morning, except when we start to sit and I cannot.
Mrs Hiscutt - We sit at 11 a.m.
Ms FORREST - We had a briefing at 9 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. by the time it started today, but it was not finished at the time, but that is okay. It is not going to be the case every day.
Mrs Hiscutt - Noted.
Ms FORREST - I have been tuning into those; if you check the feeds, you will see.
Those matters are frightfully important and whilst it seems to be overtaking everything - it should - we also need to make sure we continue the everyday things that need to be done. Particularly at the moment, we need to support our nurses, midwives, doctors, health professionals and teachers who are still working. We should remember that we may be angry at times about the fact that we might not get tested if we ask for it, or we might have a delay getting to a service, but we need to be kind to each other and actually work together in all of this.
There are some really good things on social media and there is some absolute garbage. I ask you to filter out the accurate information and share that. I have actually deleted stuff off my page that has been completely inaccurate when people put it on there.
I will now turn my attention to the Premier's Address.
Mr President, I wonder if you have listened to a chairman's address to shareholders reviewing the past and talking about the future where not once there was a mention of the overall financial outcome now or at any stage in the future. All we heard in the Premier's Address was how much we are spending here and how much we are spending there, but there was not a hint as to whether our revenue will be more or less than our spending, not a word. I am pretty sure we will now know that our spending will be much more but this was done before COVID-19 was understood to be the financial challenge to the state and the country, and the world.
I am pretty sure I did not miss it and I was very surprised that there was no mention at all of whether our revenue was to go anywhere near to matching our expenditure, and this is even more relevant now with the additional costs that will result from COVID-19.
We heard lots about what we were planning to do - we were planning to do this and then hoping that something else would eventuate so that we could do that. The member for Mersey alluded to some of those points.
Do not get me wrong, Mr President, I am always keen to hear about what the positives are for this great and wonderful state of ours. I dare to dream. I am all for it but I am really pleased to see funding commitments in areas that bring benefit to the broader community and that is important and we need to keep doing that.
We all like to see our electorates supported and we also like to see the state supported. On that note, I was particularly pleased to see the funding commitment to the Unconformity that the Leader alluded that I would, and I will. I declare that I sit on the board of Unconformity; along with our artistic director and other board members, we have actively lobbied for this funding to be secured in a timely manner to enable Unconformity to go ahead this year, which is in October so it may do. It is a matter of the board and our artistic director to decide in coming weeks whether we will proceed. We needed the funding in a timely manner before the budget announcement to enable staff to be engaged and things like that.
For arts organisations, these sorts of things are really important. They run on a shoestring. I was a little bit disappointed in the Premier's announcement today and the financial support for the state, for business and that sort of thing, the arts community basically was left off the map.
There are arts organisations that are really struggling. They have had to cancel every show. My daughter is the chair of a small professional theatre company. They have been working four years on this production and it was due to start this week. They have had to cancel it - four years of work. It does not mean it will not go ahead but those little organisations - and they are everywhere, and there are bigger ones like the Burnie Arts and Function Centre, the Princess Theatre, Devonport would have one, all of those.
Mrs Hiscutt - …[3:44:56] was cancelled. TBC
Ms FORREST - That is right. I was surprised that was cancelled and not postponed, but there was a link from the Burnie Arts and Function Centre today. I had bought tickets for most of those events. I will leave that money with the organisation.
I bought tickets for the Australian Musical Theatre Festival in Launceston. I will leave the money with that organisation. I have the capacity to do that, not everyone does. I will consider making additional donations to those small arts organisations to keep them going but I want the Government to come in and back us on that. The arts are so important to this community. They are important at a time like this, to make sure they do not fall over.
Mrs Hiscutt - Can I encourage you to make sure the money goes to where you think it is and not disappeared somewhere within the council?
Ms FORREST - Absolutely. The money will go to the artists; that is what I am talking about, these little art organisations. Some of them are not really small. I can understand absolutely why David Walsh has decided to cancel Dark Mofo. The investment in that is huge. The cost to the taxpayer is huge, and that is entirely sensible. His media release was very David Walsh-ish but he explained it really well. Someone may have taken out some of the esoteric arguments in it but still.
We need to remember it is not only about businesses in town that run businesses. Yes, they are very important. The big supermarkets look after themselves and certainly are at the moment. It is the small tourism operators. People who own a couple of B&B facilities. They are the ones who will need the support and the arts and hospitality organisations definitely need it.
We do not know whether Unconfirmity will go ahead this year. It will be subject to decisions the board will make regarding COVID-19 and it is a challenge all arts, sports and other events will face in the months ahead. Someone mentioned that it may be by spring; no, it will not. I can honestly say it will not because it takes 12 to 18 months to get a vaccine in place.
Whilst we have got some good news out of some of the research in Melbourne recently about some of the anti-virals that may be able to treat some cases, it still takes months of human testing. You cannot fast-track these things. You do not want to kill people by the treatment, and that is the risk. We have to be practical and realistic about this and we have to plan for the long term here.
If we do find a drug that will kill off the virus and does it effectively and consistently and does not harm the patient further, then good. We will be ahead of the curve. But we cannot plan for that. We have to plan for the most likely scenario, which is a year or more of these sorts of measures.
I commend the Government for acting decisively. We have evidence around the world where it has not worked so well and we have evidence where it has and we need to learn from those as well.
Sporting and arts events in small communities, such as on the west coast, will continue to face these challenges in tourism and well as the arts. Particularly on the west coast, the Mount Lyell mine is still on care and maintenance. I acknowledge the tragic death earlier in the year of Cameron Goss, a miner from Queenstown who worked at the Henty Gold Mine. I offer my sincere sympathy to Cameron's family and friends. I appreciate the tragic impact this had on the whole west coast community.
Festivals such as the Unconformity help communities come together and heal. I am hopeful it will be able to do so in October or at a delayed time if it cannot happen in October.
In welcoming all the funding commitments, I am keen to hear about the way we will fund these commitments. To the dreams and aspirations of government, I like to know what is coming in as well as what is going out.
You may call me a bit 'nit-picky' around this, but surely we need to talk about revenue and how much of a shortfall there will be and how much we will have to borrow to cover the shortfall. I know the federal government will stump up some of the money for the COVID-19, but before that, we still had a shortfall and there was no discussion in the Premier's Address about how we were going to manage that. What happens when the shortfall keeps growing every year? What are we doing?
Otherwise, listening to the spending and the hoped-for spending like this, the State of the State reads a bit more like a wish-list. Since this Government assumed office six years ago, never can I
recall not being reminded in this sort of address how the Government has turned around the fiscal fortunes of the state and how there will be surpluses as far as the eye can see; never, until now. When I say now, this was a couple of weeks ago, before the impact of COVID 19 was factored in. My question is, what has happened? Has the Government finally accepted that the surplus measure they have always used does not include all outlays and is, therefore, potentially a misleading indicator of the budget outcome each year? Is the Government finally admitting that, for the year 2019-20 and for the next three years of forward Estimates, we will spend more than we will receive?
I have always hoped the Government would acknowledge the fiscal reality facing the state, so we could have a sensible discussion based on the real world. Alas, there was no acknowledgement of this fiscal position. It is going to be hard to interrogate over the coming years because of the effect of COVID-19. It is all going to be lost. Not lost, but it is going to be harder to fully appreciate the underlying fiscal condition of the state.
It might have become a bit irrelevant because we are going to have to move forward and find ways to support the people of Tasmania. My concern was that taking this whole comment off the agenda is a step toward denialism and that could be where we are. It may be a perverse blessing for some; the party you remember will no longer be encumbered by the need to say where the money is coming from. The current Treasurer often criticised the Labor Party for that - to fund promises made to the people of Tasmania. The Government is no longer bothering to do that. The alternative will not have to, either.
I hope we might all move to a more disciplined discussion of revenues and outlays and what the future holds for Tasmania but I feel we are moving toward a political environment more detached from reality than ever. The State of the State address made no reference to the predicted outcome in the Revised Estimates Report issued last month. I draw your attention to a couple of matters to back up the points I have been making from the Revised Estimates Report.
The Government is a cash business, cash in and cash out. The cashflow statement on pages 38 and 39 is a Revised Estimates Report sets out the revised Estimates for cash in and cash out for this year, 2019-20. If you take a look at the last line on page 39, the cash deficit for 2019-20 is $340 million. That is the net cash from operating. After recurrent spending, paying for the delivery of services less the net cash outlays from non-financial assets, such as infrastructure et cetera, there are other outlays. There are outlays that relate to financial assets. These include equity injections into GBEs, which are legitimate government outlays. If you include those, the cash deficit for this year would be $604 million.
The Government does not use this figure from the cashflow statement to highlight its budget position, but that is the cash available to fund the services we all need and use. Instead, and it is not just this Government who has used it, it uses a net operating balance on the income statement. It is on page 18 of the Revised Estimates Report, a net operating balance or the surplus as the Government calls it is $10 million in 2019-20. That is a far cry from a cash deficit of $604 million. For a service deliverer, isn't this the figure that really matters - the cash?
Even if a net operating figure is $10 million in the Revised Estimates Report, it is not really a meaningful figure to rely on to understand our real position. Grants from the federal government make up a lot of our income. In the Revised Estimates Report income statement on page 18, there are grants totalling $3.9 billion for 2019-20. Included in that figure is $100 million of NPP grants, National Partnership Payments, that were included as income last year, in 2018-19.
Mr President, $100 million of income has been counted twice, can you believe that? I am not making it up. The Government has even claimed surplus of $10 million, which should really be a deficit of $90 million, and I will be asking the Leader to confirm the double-counting in case I am wrong. I sent a question through and am unsure if I have received an answer yet, but we ran out of time today. Hopefully, we will have that tomorrow, at the latest.
Maybe that is why the Government no longer wishes to talk about surpluses. People are waking up to the fact that the surplus figure has been used to paper over our problems. Nowhere in the Revised Estimate Report is the accounting policy which has produced this one-off situation or unspent grants in one year are once again included as income in the next when spent. Yes, the change was noted in this year's Budget papers. There was a whole page on it. Someone picking up the Revised Estimate Report receives no explanation for such a significant matter that surely deserves some explanation.
We owe it to the people of Tasmania to help them understand our true situation. That is why I keep banging on about our fiscal situation. It is not so much what the Government is telling us; it is what they are not telling us that is the problem. There is no doubt we are spending more money every year, certainly more than the previous Labor government, a fact which the Government will tediously remind us of whenever it can, but I get no sense that we are catching up and fear about the people falling behind.
As I alluded to, the latest troubles in the globalised world will only make matters worse. The best way to tackle the current global pandemic is to be open and honest about the challenges ahead. I am hopeful the Premier and Treasurer will take this approach, as he has shown he can in relation to COVID-19 in relation to our fiscal position.
To move to a small number of other key matters I wish to comment on in my response to the Premier's State of the State address, I will confine it because there are other times to comment on these things. The financial position is one and COVID-19 is another major one. I will touch on a couple of others. During the Christmas and summer break, I travelled extensively around my electorate, engaging with my constituents, to understand what matters to them most. I met with people from all areas and all age groups. It is interesting to note there are some very familiar themes across my electorate. As I said, I will speak to some of these issues briefly now, as I will be raising some of them again by way of notice of motion to enable a broader debate on some important matters, including family violence.
When our former premier, Will Hodgman, resigned I promptly sent him a message acknowledging his service to the state. I wish him and his family all the best for the future. I was also pleased to see the Treasurer, the honourable Peter Gutwein, being elevated to the role of Premier. I was particularly pleased to see him retain the very important portfolio of Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. Members would be aware I have placed a notice of motion to debate this very serious matter more fully in coming weeks.
My concern behind our need for serious and focused attention into this area has recently heightened significantly with the emergence of COVID-19. We are all facing stressful and worrying times. People are being required to self-isolate, possibly in homes where they may not be safe. Financial pressures and employment concerns, even the cancellation of our beloved sports events, or just being locked out of the games, causes significant stress to many people. All these factors increase the risk of an escalation of family violence. Our service providers and police may require additional resources to ensure we can keep families, particularly women and children, safe. We know stress increases the risk of an escalation in family violence. I will speak more about this.
Regardless of the immediate challenges related to COVID-19, we must all take responsibility to address this extremely serious crime of family violence and work in a united manner to achieve gender equality. Without gender equality the scourge of family violence will not be overcome. Again, I appreciate the Premier's willingness to engage personally with me on this terribly important matter. I have met with him a number of times since he became Premier - I really appreciate that - and discussed my desire for a nonpartisan cross-party approach to finding real solutions and ensuring adequate resources are available to address this matter. I appreciate he is terribly busy at the moment, but he showed a willingness to look at that, which I appreciate. I know he will get to it and I appreciate he is very busy at the moment.
In terms of family violence, primary intervention must be the key focus; however, we also need to ensure we have well-resourced service providers, shelter and financial support for victims, predominantly women and children, and evidence-based programs to enable behaviour modification of perpetrators. We need adequate funding and resourcing for gender mainstream and training and implementation across all areas of government, and support for programs to be provided in the private sector. We need to ensure all our education services promote and demonstrate gender-neutral approaches and gender equality. Respectful relationships programs are key to success but they need to be consistent and they need to be universal. We simply cannot tolerate the murder of more than one woman a week in Australia by her current or former intimate partner. I will speak at more length about this in a debate at a later time.
Another matter frequently been raised with me in my electorate by people of all ages and backgrounds is climate change. I was pleased to see the Premier reinstate this portfolio area as a matter of genuine concern and interest to people of Tasmania. Last year I spoke about a young Wynyard woman, Mishca Linden, who lead the climate strike in Wynyard. There are many other young people who are equally passionate about climate change and their future. I am pleased that the Premier has taken it on.
It is a time that is hard to focus too much attention on that, predominately, but I am hopeful that the office will be well resourced to enable it to go about its work. It is interesting that COVID 19 might bring about a perverse outcome with climate change, as people cannot travel around the world to the same extent that they have been and even interstate travel has been questioned. We may use more private vehicles than public transport at times but the planes and the international travel stopping, basically, will have a significant impact.
The other side of the same coin is that it will set us back a little. There are a number of cafes no longer accepting keep cups. They only want to use disposables. I can understand that. There are calls in some parts not to use reusable shopping bags. There are swings and roundabouts. We can do some of these things if we are careful about it. As for our work, I am sure all members would have noticed that the diary has been cleaned out. We will have time at home with our families, which will be nice.
Mrs Hiscutt - We will have time to put another row of carrots in.
Ms FORREST - Yes. In doing that, it is important we keep the wheels turning - meetings can be held by video link and we can keep the committee work going as much as we can with deliberative meetings and things like that. We can and will still do that. It is nice to think that I will have some weekends and evenings at home. I am being honest about it. It is amazing.
Mr Valentine - It is forced personal time.
Ms FORREST - Yes, and we should make the most of it.
The other matter I wanted to raise was about families and children. This fits in to the family violence aspect as well. Primary prevention must be the key in looking after our vulnerable children in our communities. This year, I noticed that in February, the Commissioner for Children and Young People released her report, 'Investing in the Wellbeing of Children and Young People in Tasmania'. This report made a recommendation for the Government to develop and implement a wellbeing strategy that implements a long-term, cross-partisan and evidence-informed strategy for promoting and improving the wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania. The Commissioner described the approach that should be taken and what the data required to measure and monitor progress against the strategy and inform the future action should look like. This is clearly outlined in her report.
The Commissioner also recommended that whilst the strategy is under development, and I suggest under implementation, the Tasmanian Government should immediately focus on investing in two critical areas, strengthening support in the first 1000 days of a child's life and reducing fragmentation of effort in service delivery. That makes so much sense. Regarding the first 1000 days of life, which is effectively from conception to the age of two years, we can provide care to the mother and family to ensure the best possible outcome for the child. In this area the Commissioner recommended that, when striving to achieve the very best experience for all children in their first 1000 days, we need a cross-partisan mainstream undertaking in Tasmania that it is a key priority for all relevant government agencies. Any intervention in the first 1000 days should take an evidence-based, holistic, integrated and inclusive approach to be delivered both universally and proportionate to need.
I was pleased to hear in the Premier's State of the State address that the Government has announced it will fund Tasmania's first-ever comprehensive long-term, whole-of-government child and youth wellbeing strategy. This is good news; I will be keen to see how the strategy is developed. YNOT has also been lobbying the Government because the Children's Commissioner's role only goes to the under-18s, whereas Youth Network of Tasmania's focus is for young people from 18 to 25. The lobbying of YNOT was part of the reason why the Government also committed to including young people from the ages of 18 to 25 in this strategy.
Mrs Hiscutt - I am sure the member for Pembroke will be pleased.
Ms FORREST - Yes. I am sure she will.
Whilst the needs of very young children and people in their early twenties are quite different, I hope and expect to see an action plan or implementation plan to accompany the strategy.
What is really important in this is to insure there are actions and funding to support it focused on primary prevention, as this is an area where long-term lasting and intergenerational change will occur. To make a real difference, we need intergenerational change.
Primary prevention in these challenging times takes time to demonstrate. Financial return on investment will take time and it should not be the priority. It is the same in the healthcare sector.
On the north-west coast, we have an excellent example of effective primary prevention in the area of family violence, gender equality, empowerment of young women and intergenerational poverty disadvantage and low aspiration. The Leader and the member for Montgomery represented the Minister for Women at the Big hART Project O celebration of This is Us. Big hART's Project O is one such example of a very effective, amazing primary prevention model. It requires government funding and the minister Mr Jaensch has been on the board for the last five years, as I have, with this project. It is such an important and life-changing project. I have watched these young women for five years and some of them are doing amazing things. As I said, this program relies on funding from the Government. I know government members in the north-west and Opposition see value in this program.
I have been engaged with the program for the five years of its operation when they had they had their world-first colourathon in Wynyard. I have witnessed the amazing outcomes we are now seeing for these young women and their families, as the Leader will attest. Some of the young women in this cohort are now going through with siblings of some of the young women in the first or subsequent programs.
Project O, as I said, commenced in Wynyard and has since expanded to Smithton and three other areas on mainland Australia. There are many other areas of the state that would benefit and the return on investment in every sense would be significant. I encourage the Government to continue to financially and practically support this effective, important and valued prime prevention model and program. I encourage other members whose electorates could benefit from this - which is all of you, I expect - to think about this sort of program and work to even engage Big hART to look at investing in that area. Obviously, they cannot do it without funding.
Another area people are expecting action from the Government is in the area of political donations. I appreciate this may not be the Government's highest priority at the moment - the answer today would so suggest. We need to keep working on other matters of importance while addressing our immediate challenges, so I will speak more about that at a later time.
There are many other areas of concern to people in my electorate and, as I said, I will speak more to those at other opportunities. Our key focus needs to be on supporting our communities to respond effectively, appropriately and consistently to the very real challenges we face related to COVID-19.
I also ask when people go to the supermarket they think about others. I read in the media yesterday and saw on social media that about three buses from Melbourne went up to a small community of around 1500 north of Melbourne. Two hundred people got off those buses, went into the supermarket in this small town and cleaned it out so that community had nothing. I cannot believe we can bring up the worst side of humanity at times like this. We are seeing some of the best - the Somerset Rotary Club has initiated a service where people can call them if they need groceries delivered or if they need urgent supplies of anything, and a member of that club will go and do it for them. That is the best of humanity and then we see the worst. Let us think about it.
When we go to the supermarket, ask ourselves, 'Do we really need that?' Yes, we have the money to buy it. We are lucky. Many members of my community do not have the money to stock up. They might have to go back 10 times to find toilet paper. For goodness sake, what is that about? You cannot buy hand sanitiser anywhere. Yes, now people are looking at how they can make their own. I wonder how many people have a cupboard full of hand sanitiser that will sit there? I wonder how much will be thrown out.
Mrs Hiscutt - More to the point I hope those people with a cupboard full are not trying to on sell it at a more expensive price.
Ms FORREST - Well, some of them are.
Mrs Hiscutt - I know.
Ms FORREST - Some of them are. That is the worst of humanity.
Then you see the other side, the beautiful side of humanity - you have little children who put notes in their neighbours' letterboxes; I saw the member for Nelson on her Facebook feed the other day when she got her 'Who gives a crap?' delivery. I use the same toilet paper and you do buy it in bulk.
Ms Webb - I am really stocked up if anyone needs help.
Ms FORREST - And she said that on Facebook.
Mr PRESIDENT - I hope you mean the same brand of toilet paper.
Ms FORREST - Those are the sort of things we are seeing. I have seen on social media people hanging plastic tubs on their fence posts in the streets in Melbourne and places like that with a few essential supplies for people to help themselves to. There are many examples of really the best of humanity but there are some shocking examples of the worst of humanity.
Mr President, I am almost done. I appreciate the open and proactive approach the Government is taking and as I read on one of the many social media platforms where information is provided, some of them are good and some are not. But take the time to act before you really think you need to. Is this going to help and I do commend the Premier for taking this seriously.
I finish with the words of C S Lewis from 1948, which may seem a little bit out of context but when I read the last paragraph, I think you will understand why it resonates with the moment. This is a quote from On Living in An Atomic Age by C S Lewis -
How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply, why as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in the Viking age where raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night. Or indeed, as you are already living in the age of cancer, the age syphilis, the age of paralysis, the age of air raids, major railway accidents, an age of motor accidents. In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear Sir or Madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented and quite a high percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics. But we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to the world which already bristled with such chances, in which death itself was not a chance at all but a certainty. This is the first point to be made and the first action to be taken -
and this is what I think applies here. Mr President -
…is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb then let the bomb come when it finds us doing sensible things and human things, praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint or a game of draughts, not huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies, a microbe can do that, but they need not dominate our minds.