Legislative Council Wednesday 23 June, 2021
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I will start with congratulating Her Excellency Honourable Barbara Baker on her appointment as our new Governor, and I look forward to ongoing engagement with her.
Further, I acknowledge and sincerely thank our previous Governor, Kate Warner, our first - and obviously not the last - female Governor. She has held this position in an exemplary manner. Kate Warner was a trail blazer in the legal world, a wonderful role model for all women and girls. A strong and fearless advocate for Tasmania and the areas on which she focused her work. Her work promoting restorative justice, more effective sentencing options, and gender equality will not be forgotten. I am sure she is not done yet. I am sure we would all agree that she has been an exemplar.
Before moving onto comment more broadly in reply to the Governor’s speech I will read some of our former governor’s own words, as written in a book Postcards from Tomorrow: A Collection of Letters from Inspirational Women to the 21-year-old Selves, edited by Kim Chandler McDonald. The book was published to raise funds for Lou’s Place, the only daytime women’s shelter in Sydney. I will not read the whole letter as it is a little too long to read here. I encourage members to buy the book, because you will support Lou’s Place. I will quote the closing paragraph of our former governor’s letter to her 21-year-old self.
Working as a judge’s associate was enlightening and the cases in our courts have alerted you to problems and issues you were not really aware of - issues affecting women in particular. The trial of Molly Savage highlighted the problem with lack of access to safe abortions in this state in 1970. Molly, a backyard abortionist, was responsible for the death of a number of young women in Tasmania, who contracted septicaemia from abortions she performed. And in the divorce court, cases where women petitioned for divorce on grounds of cruelty, the petitioners were invariably women, and shone a light on domestic violence at a time when this was not considered a serious crime, and a definition of rape precluded the prosecution of a husband for the rape of his wife. At the same time, the emergence of second wave feminism was drawing attention to issues of gender violence, and so the first domestic violence refuges or shelters were being opened up along with rape crisis centres.
You were pregnant with your first child in December 1972 when Gough Whitlam won the federal election. This heralded many changes, including the Royal Commission on Human Rights, which sparked conversations on complex social issues and gender equality. The birth of the Australian Law Reform Commission under the leadership of Michael Kirby was another legacy of the Whitlam government. It was exciting to be an emerging legal academic, a law reformer, presenting so many diverse opportunities and projects to be involved with.
While you seized many of those opportunities, you could have been bolder, and less worried about failure. You often wished to be smarter, quicker thinking, better at grasping philosophical theories, more original, and particularly, better at maths and statistics, and better at telling jokes. And I think, our family might have wished you were more sympathetic and patient when they were feeling unwell. However, determination, enthusiasm, persistence and a willingness to continue learning, have been your greatest strengths, and this has led to so many opportunities. As a result, there have been many of these - some surprising - not the least being given the opportunity to be the first female governor of Tasmania, and you have learned that seizing opportunities, no matter how daunting, is rewarding. Here I am signing off to you as Kate Warner, Governor of Tasmania.
I find it really quite an amazing reflection, her writing to her 21-year-old self, so amazing stories in that book. I encourage you to get one. If you do not know how to do it, I am happy to help.
I also congratulate the Premier and his team for their re-election on the 1 May election. It was a lengthy wait for certainty of a majority and I wish them well. I always will work constructively with the government to achieve the best possible outcomes for all Tasmanians. I will have more to say about the election itself shortly.
Importantly, I wish also to congratulate you, Mr President, on your re-election to this house and your re-election to the leadership role of president by your peers, a strong endorsement of your previous efforts in that role. I also welcome our new member for Windermere who now sits to my left and I wish him well in his role and I look forward to his inaugural address as soon as tomorrow, which is great. We will be quiet during that, but that ends there.
Also, in welcoming our new member for Windermere, I acknowledge our former member for Windermere who was robbed of the opportunity after 18 years of service to make a valedictory contribution. A dedicated member to this place, leaving on his own terms, making a decision to retire and being denied that opportunity was abysmal. I really felt for him in that. It has been said in this place Ivan Dean was a really hard worker and he was. He worked really hard in this place. He spent more time in the chamber than many other members. He would beaver away through legislation, particularly police offences amendment acts.
Mr Willie - Or he would relate police to other fields that had nothing to do with it.
Ms FORREST - But when he got up to speak on those, you knew he was speaking from some sense of knowledge and authority on that and so we listened and we did sometimes accept his point of view and sometimes the House did not. But he was always well-informed on those matters because of his long service in the police service.
I am not, obviously, a member of his electorate, a constituent of his in that region, but you talk to anyone in that area about how hard he worked for his constituents. And it was one of those things that many members would be aware of and certainly his constituents were aware of. I am sure the current member for Windermere, would have heard about that round the traps. I do acknowledge his contribution and think it is a really sad thing he was not afforded that opportunity to make a valedictory speech, as he would have really wanted.
Third, and equally importantly, of note is the re-election of the member for Mersey - who has left because I got the call first. Although uncontested, which means he avoided some of the stress of an election, it is a testament to the high regard with which he is held in the community of Devonport, Latrobe and surrounds.
Before commenting on the matters raised in the Governor’s address, I will speak on some of the matters raised in the Premier’s Address because I missed the opportunity to speak when parliament was prorogued with the calling of the election so I will speak about both together.
Before doing that specifically, I would like to first note and commend the efforts of the Premier and his government, including so many of the extremely hardworking public servants who worked tirelessly over the last year-and-a-half to get through the most challenging time we have experienced in many many years and probably in our lifetime, that being the COVID 19 pandemic.
I acknowledge again the leadership shown by the Premier and the collaborative approach he took working with the opposition leader, Rebecca White - as she was at the time, the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, myself, and other members as we worked together to address the challenges that evolved and changed on a daily basis as we dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Time passes and you can sometimes forget that really collaborative approach that was taken. I do take the point of other members that working together on things is always a better outcome and we should always strive for that. Establishing the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Action - what is it called? PESRAC. Whatever it stands for - I have forgotten now - Advisory Committee.
Mr Valentine - Advisory Council, yes.
Ms FORREST - That is right, or council, yes, to bring together a range of stakeholders was an important and effective process, although I do have a couple of reservations.
First, I believe there were some sectors not directly represented there. It is a difficult thing to get that balance completely right.
Second, that, more importantly, there is a heightened risk that Tasmanians have become complacent about the challenges ahead, thinking that PESRAC was a root and branch review and that given the Premier has indicated he will implement all 52 recommendations, we will soon be back on track. That is about as far from the reality that we face as anyone could be.
PESRAC really only just tinkers at the edges. They had a task to do, a job to do and they did it, but it was not a full root and branch review that was going to provide the way forward. Bigger picture issues were sidestepped. To be fair, it was never the intention of PESRAC to tackle all the bigger issues. We must not forget this. I will comment a bit more on that later. I will not focus specifically on the PESRAC recommendations now as there will be opportunities to do this at a later time as they are adopted - or not adopted - as the case may be.
First, I will make some comments about the recent election, the bogus justification for calling the election and making election day coincide with the scheduled election for the Legislative Council. I know there are many who do not fully appreciate the significance of this decision and the disruption and the uneven playing field created, as the two elections have very different rules as to how they are run.
The Premier stated he needed to be assured of a stable majority Government. The result following all the distribution of preferences means the result is exactly the same as it was on 26 March. I would argue the Premier had led a stable Government over the most challenging 12 months in recent history. He then claimed he needed certainty as he had lost his majority in the House. In reality he had lost his majority some time ago. Yet the Government had continued to be stable during that time, operating well, albeit with the defeat of some of its legislation in that House. It was legislation that would have faced almost certain defeat in this House, so the outcome was the same, except for the politics perhaps.
We all know Legislative Council elections are held on the first Saturday in May every year for two or three of the 15 divisions. The Premier had no lack of non-conflicting Saturdays to choose from. He chose the day that gave his candidates in Legislative Council elections a distinct advantage. The independence of Tasmania's Legislative Council has not only been maintained, but also highly valued for over 160 years. The important and significant difference between House of Assembly elections and Legislative Council elections, in that Legislative Council candidates have a strict spending limit which rises by $500 a year, is a significant difference and creates a very uneven playing field. This year that limit was $18 000, whereas a member of the House of Assembly election - we know in the past they have spent between $200 000 or $300 000. It is completely non-comparable.
A return must be lodged with the returning officer following the election recording all election-related expenditure. This means television advertising is beyond the reach of almost all candidates in the Legislative Council elections. However, party candidates have the benefit of their party advertising for the House of Assembly election. The same applies to mail-outs and newspaper and on-line advertising by the major parties.
As I wrote a little while ago now, in an opinion piece, there appears to be no mechanism to attribute costs to the vicarious benefit gained through appearances with the leader, the opposition leader or any other sitting member during the campaign period, which is obviously heightened during a lower House election. Additional promotion of and publicity for a party candidate is a clear benefit to their campaign and something not afforded to an independent candidate. This is exacerbated when the Premier, opposition leader or other sitting member is also contesting an election on the same day.
The decision to call a 1 May election means Legislative Council elections have become even more politicised, creating enormous disadvantages for Independent members, whose appeal for the need for sensible and measured review of legislation has been effectively drowned out by the over-hyped need for stable government. To deliberately tilt the playing field against Independent candidates is an appalling overuse of power.
Members will be aware there is a legislative provision to enable the Legislative Council elections to be moved to an alternate Saturday in May if a federal election is called on the first Saturday in May. I believe there is also a mechanism in the Constitution Act to enable that to happen with a conflicting state government election, but that requires advice from the Premier. In this case, the Premier would hardly have recommended that since he made the decision in the first place.
Back to the timing of the election, it may have convenient for the Premier, but as I have spoken about previously, spare a thought for our long-serving Independent member for Windermere, Ivan Dean, who is no longer with us. Mr Dean was not even afforded the opportunity to make a valedictory speech in parliament, despite his years of service and the decision to leave parliament at a time of his choosing as the last sitting week of his term over 16 years did not proceed. This may be seen as a minor thing for some but I believe Mr Dean was let down unnecessarily. In my view, it is vital the independence of the Legislative Council is maintained to truly and effectively act as a House of review. This is not a criticism of the electors who have delivered an unprecedented number of party line members to this place. It is up to those of us who are Independent members to ensure the community is aware of the importance of independent scrutiny.
Despite what the Premier says, our role here is to question the Government’s policy decisions expressed in legislation, undertake committee work to investigate more fully and deeply the policy decisions of government, to ask questions and hopefully get answers, and hold the government of the day to account. To hear the Premier say that is not our job was appalling. I do not know what he thinks our job is: to sit here and find the rubber stamp to join with the Liberal Party members and stamp it?
Ms Webb - It is literally in our handbook that that is our job.
Ms FORREST - It is. Not only in our handbook but any other historical information about the establishment of the Legislative Council will tell you that. I do not know what he was thinking but I did not ring him that day because I might have told him what I really thought. I was very disappointed to have the Premier state that this was not our role. It beggars belief that he would actually think that. If he thinks this House should also be a rubber stamp to government and their decisions, he is wrong. I hope we, as a House, demonstrate that we cannot do that, regardless of our party affiliation or not.
I have watched how difficult it is for a party member to go against the party line. I have seen a member kicked out of a party in this place when he chose to cross the Floor. No turning back, gone. That is it; that is how it works. Apparently, that is what happens in the Labor Party. If you upset them, decide not to go with them, then you are out of the party and you are on your own.
I understand with the Liberal Party it is slightly different in that you would probably never get promoted. The Premier did it once, way back, and he is now Premier, so I guess you never know, never give up hope. We just do not see it happen for fear of the lack of opportunity it gives to those party-aligned members.
I hope the Premier will find, in his sensibleness, to actually apologise to us for that comment he made that our job is not to hold the government of the day to account. He said that was the job of the opposition. We are not the opposition in this place. We are here to review legislation and government policy and for him to say that we are not to do that - that it is not our job - that was a very poor comment from the Premier.
Before commenting on some matters raised in the Premier’s Address, which is still relevant and, in Her Excellency, the Governor’s Address, I make some observations about the Cabinet reshuffle. I was very pleased to see health and mental health and wellbeing are being held by one minister, Mr Rockliff, who now has a very heavy workload but it was good to see them together. We should be taking a holistic approach to most things.
I was also pleased to see Mrs Petrusma given Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management as well as being Minister for Prevention of Family Violence. It is entirely appropriate to have those two portfolios together; they must work in concert. Since her appointment in that area I have been in contact with her and I had a meeting with her this week. In spite of her busyness she made time for this, which I really appreciate. The meeting was about a tool used by the Victorian Police where 29 questions are asked or answered by a victim to police during an exchange with a victim of family violence or domestic abuse.
The ABC ran a very informative story on 17 May this year about this assessment tool and there was a great podcast that was done that I shared with the minister and with the commissioner. I want to read some excerpts from this ABC story and it has also been referred to, this model by Jess Hill in her SBS program See What You Made Me Do, the three-part series that is based on her book of the same name. The ABC article says:
The way police in Victoria gauge risk in family violence hasn't always looked so sharp. The new L17 was only rolled out in July 2019, having being completely redesigned as an actuarial risk assessment tool, the second of its kind in the world. This assessment allows officers to more confidently triage the state’s tens of thousands of family violence incidents, eliminating some of the dangerous guess work from what is becoming and increasingly critical part of policing in Australia. Until it was deployed, police attending call outs was simply making a professional judgement about or whether future family violence was likely. A method that was found to have just a 50/50 odds of success.
You might as well flip a coin. That is how accurate their assessment was over time. Little wonder then it led to catastrophic failures. Its flaws and the officers who made the egregious errors dealing with family matters hauled over the coals at coronial inquest after inquest and later royal commission. I do feel for the police that they did not have the adequate tools in this case:
One of the most glaring problems was the L17, then made up a dozen of risk factors informed by domestic violence research, that officers ticked if they knew them to present. At the end they had to make a call, an educated guess, was future family violence likely or unlikely?
Troy McEwan is an associate professor of clinical and forensic psychology at Swinburn University, who led the development of Victoria’s Police risk assessment tool. The article goes on:
McEwan designed a study to test how accurate that gut feeling was. He said it was essentially as effective as a coin toss.
- it was gathering some nice data, but in terms of its ability to predict which families would come back to the police attention and indicate where police should be focusing resources, trying to prevent harm, it was pretty a crap shoot.
Alarmingly, some of the risk assessment tools currently being used by other police forces are as effective as Victoria’s Police’s old one. The NSW Police’s screening instrument called DVSAT, to work out the level of threat of future harm to victims of domestic violence, so those at greater risk can be prioritised and supported, but an evaluation of BIKSAR in 2018 found it performed very poorly and often little better than chance.
Madam Acting President I am informed that Tasmanian Police do not currently use a similar tool as Victoria. I hope the minister considers this as a matter of urgency. She was very interested to hear about it and has listened to the broadcast and read the article I sent. I know the Commissioner, when I had a discussion with him, was also interested in looking at how they can better do that. I believe there was an incident in Zeehan yesterday; in the media that looks like it may have been related to domestic abuse or family violence. I do not know whether that will be confirmed over time. But although, we have seeing very highly publicised cases particularly in Queensland, with the tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her three children and too many others, it does happen here and it will happen here, unless we have the tools to prevent it.
The article continues:
And so, McEwan began the process of designing and testing an actual instrument developed from a random sample of 24 000 family violence incidents recorded by Victoria Police in the year to June 2014. While cases with standard risk stay with frontline officers and were referred to support services, most medium and all high-risk cases are sent to one of the states 31 family violence investigation units for further assessments, and if they need it, intensive risk management.
Interestingly, when McEwan compared the police division that was using the tool and managing cases accordingly with a neighbouring division that was not, the one that was using the new response were 30% relative reduction in high severity family violence over 9 months. That is the target, she said: reducing severity, reducing the harms.
Looking back at our history, member bias might have been, oh not from that family again, they’re having a blue, it’s just a verbal domestic, I am sick of this, I will not write a report, because they really annoy me, he said. But that is being taken out now.
Claire Bennett, whose team at Women's Health West response family violence referrals from police, says she has noticed officer’s narratives on the new L17s are less victim blaming than they used to be:
We have noticed that due to the new PVSAFVR tool and the training police have had, that they are more routinely separating the parties involved before the assessment is conducted’, she said. This is a critical factor to avoid further coercion and intimidation by the perpetrator. The new response does not replace the need for charging people or holding perpetrators accountable, it sits alongside it. McKeown said,
It is a pernicious myth that all police can do is charge crime. In family violence cases the priority has to be victim safety. Are they safe when they walk out of the police station? In family violence policing the idea that police should focus their resource on prevention as well as prosecution is fairly new and a massive shift for police. In that way the new tool and the wider response model is activated. It is about building a system that can support that shift.
Madam Acting President, it is a lengthy article, and I have not quoted all of it, but it is very informative. It offers a real opportunity to do better in our state in dealing with family violence, particularly the coercive control aspects, which are very insidious. Women often do not know they are victims of it for quite some time. Sometimes the only physical violence that a woman in such a relationship experiences is when she is murdered. It is a bit late then. I commend the whole article to members.
Another matter that crosses over between prevention of family violence and the justice system is the impact family violence has on its victims and the likelihood they will end up in the justice system. Recent research published in The Lancet described an international study that found four out of five women in prison in Scotland have a history of head injury, mostly sustained through domestic violence. Debra Thompson’s book will tell you all about that.
An article published by the Simon Fraser University reported, and I quote:
Researchers using SFU psychology graduate student, Hira Aslam, said the study has important implications for the female prison population more broadly and could help to inform mental health and criminal justice policy development. These findings are incredibly sobering, says Aslam. While we anticipated that the incidence of head injuries among women who were involved in the criminal justice system would be high, these estimates exceeded our expectations. Researchers have found that violent criminal behavior was three times more likely among women who had a history of significant head injury, while women who sustained such injuries, generally had prison sentences that were three times longer. Two thirds were found to have suffered repeated head injuries. Nearly all reported a history of abuse.
The relationship between head trauma and both violent crime and the length of incarceration suggests that there may be an important consideration in the assessment and management of violent offending, as well as in reducing the risk of reoffending, said Aslam. There is a need to consider these vulnerability factors in Canada and elsewhere in developing appropriate policy and interventions in this population.
I do not think Canadians are any different from us. I believe if we look in our prison population, it would be very similar. Acquired brain injury is a feature of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder, an often-unrecognised contributor in our prison population as well. We really must adopt a primary prevention model in these areas to ensure we address both avoidable causes and contributors to criminalisation of victims through no fault of their own.
As I read the Premier’s Address my thoughts wandered back to 2014, when the current Government was swept to power. The Liberals’ plan for a better future was formulated early in 2013, and as I recall, by the time of the March 2014 election it was hopelessly out of date and needed serious updating, not least because of the rapid deterioration in the state’s financial position during the last 12 months of the Labor government. But the Liberals did not bother to update the plan because they were certain to win the forthcoming election regardless. The purpose of the plan was to win an election, not necessarily put the state on an optimum path.
To do that, a more profound analysis of the underlying problems is a necessary pre requisite. To be fair, the task is often difficult in opposition - when the Liberals were in opposition - lacking both information and staff to help formulate a plan. Modern politics defers to media departments to fill the gaps. In the 2013 plan for a better future, the most significant new investment was $76 million over four years to tackle elective surgery waiting lists. It seems like a pittance now, doesn’t it? Anyone with the understanding of the state’s fiscal challenge at the time knew the plan was a ridiculously inadequate offering, given the immensity of the problems facing the state. Remember that is in 2013. This is well before COVID-19. The pattern was repeated in 2018 - before COVID-19 - and again this year.
The plan presented to electors this year - not just the government’s plan but the opposition’s plan as well - an election manifesto is not a plan that will guide the state down this document’s optimum path. But why not, you may ask - because all parties have their heads well and truly buried in the sand on this point.
That became glaringly obvious recently when Treasury released the latest report into fiscal sustainability. I know the member for Elwick spoke about this. Under no scenario will the state post anything other than cash deficits every year for the next 15 years. We all knew this was likely to be the case, but there was a conspicuous silence during the election campaign.
The 2019 Fiscal Sustainability Report painted a bleak picture, and things have got worse since, not least because of COVID-19. But we should not delude ourselves that COVID-19 is the reason for the predicted cash deficits in the future. The die was cast years ago on that.
Madam Acting President, in responding to Her Excellency’s speech and the Premier’s Address, I suggest we need urgent attention to several areas: access to safe, secure housing; timely access to health care both primary and acute; and access to skills and training for the model that attracts and supports the adequate number of trainers, not just trainees.
There are many factors that have negatively impacted on these areas. Whilst COVID-19 and the response to the economic and social impact have resulted in an increase in these challenges in some cases, policy decisions made in the absence of a holistic long-term vision and plan will always create imbalance, inequality, and a disproportionate burden in some areas.
COVID-19 brought the importance of safe, secure housing into sharp relief. It is impossible to stay at home and keep yourself and others safe if you have no home, and that was particularly evident in the north west when we had the hardest lockdown in the state. The instigation of more safe night spaces was a welcome initiative and much needed, but I believe these should be seen as a permanent solution because there are always people who find themselves in an emergency situation or homeless. I believe everyone has the right to safe, secure housing. Without this, children cannot regularly attend schools and adults cannot access other education.
This contributes to high rates of unemployment, poor literacy and numeracy, low health literacy, increased risk of intergenerational poverty and disadvantage, inability to access timely health care, and the list goes on. As a civilised society we can and must do better. I tire of hearing how many dollars are allocated to address this serious problem while at the same time watching the growth of waiting lists and waiting times to access safe, affordable housing.
I find one change in particular regarding the Cabinet reshuffle curious, to say the least. Mr Ferguson is now Minister for State Development, Construction and Housing as well as a few other things. I fear this risks Housing being considered only through an economic lens, without the dual approach encompassing the human and social aspects that housing represents. We need to build more houses and more homes. However, access to safe, secure housing, including public and social housing, is much more than four walls and a roof over your head.
Housing of vulnerable Tasmanians must be considered through a comprehensive lens of access to essential services and community. This will be a matter I will take the opportunity to delve deeply into at a later time but, to me, housing is a human service, not a matter simply of its construction.
Madam Acting President, you talked about the difficulty of getting builders at the moment and they can pretty much charge what they like. Fair enough, that is what everyone does, I suppose, but it does make it difficult. Policy decisions, as well-intentioned as they may be but made without a clear, comprehensive, long-term holistic approach, can result in other problems that add to the challenge. This includes policy to address the significant challenges associated with access to safe, secure housing. For example, programs that have been implemented as part of the COVID-19 response such as the Home Builder Stimulus has in fact added to the challenge of ensuring that we have an adequate, skilled workforce to enable new homes to be built.
For anyone wanting to engage a builder, plumber, electrician, plasterer, painter or joiner at the moment, there is a very long lead time and the prices have increased significantly. This is good for tradies, but not so good for consumers. COVID-19 has also made many building products and supplies very difficult to source, adding to the challenge. You talk to any builder about getting building products whether it be timber or even just the hinges for the doors, it is nearly impossible for the cabinetry fittings and things like that.
As I mentioned a key and ongoing issue related to this challenge is the availability of trainers. I am not sure this is fully understood by the decision makers and minister Courtney will need to be fully aware of it if we are to address this massive challenge. There are not only issues in construction it is also an issue in automotive, hospitality, aged care, et cetera. There just are not the trainers there to provide the training to increase the workforce in these vital areas.
This is not a new problem, this was a pre COVID-19 problem so we need to do better and we need to do it really fast. I will keep an open mind of the plan to change TasTAFE into a Government business, if that is still on the cards which I assume it is. It was in the PESRAC report so I assume it is - the Government has been a bit quiet on it lately. There are so many unanswered questions about that proposal and that really is a matter for another time and I will leave it until then.
As I read through the state of the state address - this is why I am speaking a bit longer because I am covering the issues that were addressed there as well as in the Governor’s reply. With the subsequent election promises, I am pleased to see commitments on a number of other areas I have been seeking support for reform in many years, including investment in mental health, especially in our regions. We need to be particularly aware of the very long lasting, negative mental health impact that COVID-19 will have on so many people, Australians generally, and I fear for Victorians, and the very real challenge they will be facing. I know that the mental health impact on people in Tasmania is still significant and particularly on the north-west coast. If I run into my colleagues from the hospital, those who were in the front line are still very anxious and their mental health is even now very fragile.
This is going to go on for some time. We cannot think it will be gone in a year or two, it will not. There is going to be a long time with a long legacy. For parents of babies born in this period it is going to be an enormous challenge and getting used to that. Many parents who were in lockdown during that period are now getting sick themselves because the parents and the babies were not exposed to the bugs as they did not go to day care or childcare and now are getting everything, the parents included.
The other areas I am pleased to see investment and commitment in are affordable dental care, that is so important for social interactions as well as your general health and welfare. We know that dental care in early pregnancy can reduce the risk of premature birth. A service that was provided in the north-west as part of the review of the services when that happened a few years ago. Support for kinship carers, how long have we lobbied for that, years and years and we could not do without them. Improvements to access to Tasmania’s controlled access to medicinal cannabis. How long have we been asking for that?
We still need these things rolled out, progressed and support for regional events. I have a vested interest in some of these events particularly the young performative. We did all consume the arts for our own health and welfare during COVID-19 and we did it for nothing and to ensure these events can continue. David Walsh has made statements about Dark Mofo and we know Taste of Tasmania is up for grabs. We need to be really cautious we do not lose some of these things because it all seems a bit hard at the moment.
Another area I would like to touch on is that related to local government reform. I note this now sits with Mr Jaensch. It seems we have an awful lot to talk about this perennial problem but very little action. Will Mr Jaensch have the strength of character to actually address this? Time will tell. For what it is worth we should stop talking about amalgamations and mergers. We know this goes nowhere and it is not the right approach anyway. We need to take a new and fresh approach and should have a statewide conversation led by a well-resourced electoral commission to consider and recommend a redistribution of boundaries of local government. At arm's length from government and local government with an independent electoral commission.
I will not mention the war to the member for McIntyre. Of course, such an investigation and consultation would need some guidance from the minister with regard to the areas to be considered and the parameters of these matters. They should not just go off on a foray, it should have some parameters and guidance.
In my view, matters that should be considered include the overall number of councils, the number of elected representatives, any mechanisms that would be necessary to ensure adequate regional representation and council or municipal boundaries with consideration of communities of interest, road linkages and geographical features. These matters should all be considered through such an inquiry process to ensure recommendations are based on evidence, through research and broad and deep community consultation.
I am not saying it is going to be easy, but this gives a model for getting it away from this whole circle of no action that we have seen for years. After new boundaries or municipalities are established, the system of review, say every seven to 10 years, should be conducted, most appropriately through a legislative instrument, as it is for the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly electoral boundaries. Again, this should be undertaken through an independent process at arm's length from local government members. I believe this would be a more acceptable approach to most Tasmanians. I urge the minister and the Government to consider it. Otherwise we are just going to keep talking about it. If you talk to most people out there in public land, they actually want something to happen, they really do.
A parting word on the subject of local government, if I may, it is that time of year when local governments release their budgets for the forthcoming year and what rates will be required to pay the bills. We are starting to see some of that reported in the media of recent days. My observation is that some increases are greater than historical trends. This is not surprising: they are in the same business as state government, trying to deliver a greater level of service with low revenue growth. We are in this together really. There will come a time with local government where shuffling the boundaries of local government will be akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. The elephant in the room, just as it is with the state government, is how to ensure a fiscally sustainable revenue stream which can fund the services which communities need. Councils need a reliable revenue stream, state government does, but we do not like to mention that because that is a dirty word.
There are times when we need to pause and look where we are going. PESRAC did a commendable job, but we should not kid ourselves this is a blueprint for the future; it was never intended to be, in my view. It has identified many concerns worthy of consideration. But when you stand back and look at the final report it is really just a few coats of paint splashed on a rickety old building. Nothing more, nothing less. The PESRAC report has a few specific recommendations about the biggest problems facing the state, the health system and affordable housing. Mental health had a mention.
In the case of housing, the recommendation was that we need a housing strategy. I actually thought we had a housing strategy. It is not just Hobart, the lack of housing. There is an extraordinary increase in my constituent base expressing concerns about housing or access to housing, public and private. Private is not available either. As other members have mentioned, they are selling for an extraordinary amount when they are on the market, not for long.
I am certainly not belittling the efforts of PESRAC in any way. I am just trying to make the point that the PESRAC report should not be seen as a blueprint for the future. As I said, I do not believe it was ever intended to be. We should not suggest that it was. Rather, it was a response to the social and economic impact of COVID-19, and that is what they did. They were tasked with that and that is what they did.
While the report refers to pre-existing challenges and structural problems, we are not told exactly what they are. You would have to know what they are to make sense of that. That is the perennial problem facing us. There is little widespread information and even less discussion and certainly no consensus as to where we actually are. If we do not fully understand where are, it is hard to know where we are going. The Premier’s Address was of no assistance in this regard. To outline a bit of extra spending then admit there is more to do without specifying what this might mean is not a plan. The election campaign did not lift the fog.
Her Excellency, the Governor’s speech will take me a little bit more time to actually fully consider, but I suggest we do not have a lot more clarity from that either. With all due respect to Her Excellency, she does not write that speech just in case you were not aware of that fact. Do we all accept the inevitability of the ongoing cash deficit, no net operating surpluses, I am talking about all government spending. How much extra will the election on top of the state of the state pledges add to the deficit? We will see this when we get to the budget, I guess.
I ask if this is even a problem, if the needs and welfare spending to support our communities adds to the deficit. If it is not a problem, then why not spend more if deficits are not a problem, especially in the areas where we desperately need it. There are many areas, we have all identified them. Maybe there are some who believe, as the Premier apparently does, as he noted on page 1 of his address, that the plan will, and I quote from this speech, '… generate the revenues we need to invest into health, education, housing, and looking after our most vulnerable'. It is a shame his Treasury department did not agree with that when they put up out the Fiscal Sustainability Report. With all the spending promised in the election period, I am not sure how relevant that comment now is. Admittedly, it was made back in March but, there we go.
The Fiscal Sustainability Report reiterated the reality expressed by the 2019 version of the same report that we need revenue sources to grow and that will grow as fast as the predicted growth in spending in areas such as health, which before long will represent 40 per cent of the state budget. The report noted that growing the economy will not grow revenue at the same rate and this is the elephant in the room that has been ignored for years.
It was in the last Fiscal Sustainability Report, the rewritten Fiscal Sustainability Report when they realised the first one was not done right and then this one we have now under a five-yearly rotation. How much longer are we going to pretend? I am sure this is a matter we will explore in more detail in coming months, particularly when we get to the budget and I know the Public Accounts Committee will look at this as well.
I note and commend the efforts that have seen the unemployment rate fall. I know there are still some questions about participation rates and under-employment but it could have been so much worse. We do need to remind ourselves of that, it could have been so much worse but we are not over it yet either. We constantly see the border restrictions in other jurisdictions or with Tasmania to other jurisdictions - Sydney is a hot spot. I am surprised it did not happen yesterday or the day before. So now all the Sydney travellers who were coming for time in Tasmania have been stopped. Talking to tourism and hospitality operators in my electorate, they are just used to it now but it is still really hard. We are a long way from over - that is the point I am making.
The employment rates may have a lot to do with the closing of the borders and the fall in immigration and foreign students but it has certainly brought home to me the downside effects of recent arrivals on wages and unemployment. For the first time in a while we have seen youth unemployment fall and wages rise. It has been a long time since we have seen that. It is too early to tell whether this will occur over time further and, if it does, to what extent it will close the growing gap between those who need the support of government and those who are able to maintain and/or gain employment.
The number of people in our regions of Tasmania who are still in insecure employment, facing housing stress or who have become homeless, have been waiting for months, if not years, longer than recommended for essential surgery, has grown enormously.
That is not just part of COVID-19. We did shut down elective surgery for a period but that was a relatively short period in the big span of things and it has been a long time since that was the case, that we stopped all elective surgeries. These problems were present pre-COVID and they have been exacerbated by COVID, yes, but they are not new.
Following on from the Premier’s comments in his Address and now following the election, will we close the health gap and the housing affordability gap or are the steerage passengers destined to go down with the good ship Titanic? Forgive the overblown metaphor, but that is what will happen if we let inequity run rampant. It is not something I wish to see but I know I am seeing growing need in our communities in the areas of housing and health care. We can and should address these.
The issue of increasing inequality in Tasmania is a matter I will be seeking to have understood better in the Fiftieth Parliament of Tasmania. This also encompasses gender inequality. I have often argued a gender lens should be applied to all policy decisions to ensure neither men or women are disproportionately disadvantaged and gender budgeting should be considered the norm.
In their recent budget Victoria had a gender statement with it. I have spoken to an economist who is preparing one as we speak. It may be done by now for the Queensland budget. We used to lead the world in this in Australia and have fallen well behind, so I sincerely hope we see a gender impact statement accompanying the money bills to be considered in this place. I have spoken to some of the female members of the Government on this. I have not spoken to the Minister for Women on this one yet, but I hope we do not get tacit approval to this sort of thing and then not do it.
To assist in this task of helping us focus on these things I have placed on the Notice Paper a motion to establish a joint House Sessional Committee with four members from each House on gender and equality. This committee, if supported, would examine and report on any bill referred to it by either House in order to examine gender and equality impacts, any matter related to gender and equality referred to it by either House, and any matter related to gender and equality initiated by its own motion. I will speak more about that later. I will do that not next week, but after when we get towards the budget session. It is about examining what is happening in other places. It is about understanding what we can, should and would be able to do here. It is about understanding the challenges we have, understanding where the gaps are. It is not about sending every bill to a committee to have a gender lens run over it and anyone who suggests that I tell at the outset it is not what it is about and you are wrong if you suggest that.
Chapter 8 of the PESRAC Report discusses lessons from COVID-19 and I agree that essentially the lessons that are to be learnt from a disaster management point of view. The lessons from COVID are wider than that. Learnings for me include the fact that for the first time in living memory, unemployed persons received assistance so that they could live above poverty levels. What a wonderful society we lived in for that period.
Ms Webb - In the 1990s the dole was close to that. We have diminished it over the last 25 years.
Ms FORREST - Yes, it has not grown with wages. I accept this a federal government policy and responsibility, but has significant impacts with health and wellbeing of Tasmanians and the economy of Tasmania. It seems apparently, we cannot afford to continue that policy. I wonder if anyone believes we cannot afford that, that we cannot afford to ensure all people could live above the poverty line at least?
We saw free access to childcare, a policy many other successful democracies have had in place for many years. This supports women particularly, but it seems we cannot afford that either, despite the positive social and economic impacts this policy had. Providing accessible childcare enhances economic output. It does not detract it. It is such a misnomer to say that is an economic burden on society. It is an economic benefit to society. Anyone who want to understand that more tell me and I will give you articles to read.
Does anyone here believe, as a nation we cannot afford this, that we cannot afford accessible free childcare? I would be happy to hear their views and discuss with them the cost benefit analysis of accessible childcare for all.
Much of the increased federal government debt is owned by the Reserve Bank of Australia. What this means in practice is we owe this money to ourselves. So, what is the problem? We owe the money to ourselves. It is only us who has to call in. It is all about priorities. People always seem to forget if the government increases public debt then private assets increase. It is the iron law of accounting. More public debt, more private assets. It cannot work any other way. We are collectively better off and if we owe money to ourselves and repayment is not an issue, but some say it debases the currency. That is a nonsense proposition. It has no validity in today’s world.
We abandoned the gold standard years ago. That tied currencies to amount of gold held by central banks. But it will lead to more inflation others will say. Possibly it could, yes, it could, but few are in the least concerned about all the money created by private banks every time they make a new loan, invariably to finance housing and in most cases existing housing - buying a property that is already built - which is quite clearly leading to inflationary house price rises as we have seen.
So why shouldn't the federal government not create more money to spend directly on the people? There are many unemployed resources and a lot of demand. This should be part of a revamped federalism, to distribute more to the states, as they do not have the ability of the federal government to create money through a currency issue.
Inflation can be avoided by pulling back. Once the unemployment rate goes down there are fewer unutilised resources. However, that is a political decision and if you have an election coming, we know what happens. Therefore, it takes control from politicians, from those in power.
It is unlikely to be inflationary, with so many unemployed resources in the community; and increased government spending leads to increased private investments. If an increased debt is owed to ourselves - thus presenting no repayment issues - then why would you not do it? Again, it is about priorities.
I suggest our state and federal governments are happy with the existing way of doing things. They are happy with the way society’s spoils are currently being split - based on an infound pretence that there is a budget constraint in the federal system which limits government spending. Unless you have had your head buried in the sand that is exactly what has got us through COVID-19. If you did not believe it before, you cannot ignore it now. That is exactly what we did. We have seen for ourselves that the response to COVID-19 has been how money is created to support our communities through borrowed funds we owe to ourselves. We need to look above and beyond traditional ways of doing things and traditional ways of thinking.
Lessons from COVID-19 are that we have a much greater ability than we previously imagined, to address some of our increasing trends towards inequality. It will require the abandonment of some old ways. It can lead to a better federal system where the states being much closer to the coal face are better at delivering the extra services that are needed, demanded and can be afforded. That is why I consider the vaccination program should be handed over to the states. Except they have not got enough - and that is what they will not admit. The Victorians said they would buy their own vaccines, but they are not allowed to do so.
Madam Acting President, that is why the Premier’s Address and the election promises - despite the welcome funding commitments - are disappointing. It gives the reader little idea about the state's challenges and it willfully ignores the discussion about any new policy ideas; nor does it provide a plan for the future. We have seen for ourselves the response to COVID 19. We have seen how money is created to support our communities through borrowed funds that we owe to ourselves.
Interestingly, the Premier recently announced a $100 million government loan to INCAT. The title of the media release stated 'Delivering INCAT support to boost the economy and secure jobs'. This is not a loan guarantee which is often used to support businesses gain finance from nervous lenders seeking more comfort. That is the way I read it. It is an actual loan of $100 million. So, given the state of our finances, this will of course need to be borrowed, before being on-lent to INCAT. The loan - as I know it from the Premier's media release of 18 June - states it will secure not only INCAT's current workforce of 500 employees but will also add up to another 120 to 150 new employees to its operation - which is great news for INCAT and for other people who provide services to INCAT and componentry to INCAT.
Mr President, I am not arguing against the loan. What is interesting, is that the Government has no trouble justifying a large loan to support an extra 120 to 150 jobs. I am sure there will be even greater flow on effects if that amount of money was spent on health or housing. It is about priorities. It could be borrowed to give it to INCAT, or to spend on health or housing.
The loan will no doubt be from TASCORP. As we know TASCORP needs to borrow on the open market, usually by issuing bonds or government IOUs. As I have already noted, the RBA is buying state government bonds. Hence, after the loan to INCAT is finally made and all the money shuffling, bond issuing and bond purchasing on the secondary market by the RBA, the ultimate lender may well be the RBA to INCAT - the borrower.
What is fascinating is what a move like this can lead to. We need to understand the whole system. I am looking forward to learning more about this from the Government, especially in the coming weeks and months as we head into the delayed Budget session. I reiterate the question - do we see a clear plan for the future in the election manifesto? Do we see a clear plan for the future in Her Excellency’s speech, prepared by the government? Will we see a clear plan for the future in the August Budget? I sincerely hope that we see much more policy debate, with a clear acknowledgment of the challenges we face and a plan for the future both now as parliament resumes and particularly in the upcoming Budget.
I have guiding principles to my life and work both here in this place and also in my former role as a nurse and midwife. I will fight for everyone and work with anyone for the benefit of the individual and the broader community. I will call out injustice, prejudice and inequality wherever I see it. I commit to working with the government as I have in the past for the benefit of all Tasmanians. I am a realist and a pragmatic optimist who lives in hope that we will see much more than promises to splash a bit of cash around to win an election.
I am eternally hopeful that we will have a meaningful policy debate full of explanation of the challenges ahead, a clear statement of priorities and a plan for the future.
Mr President, I note Her Excellency’s address.