Published: 04 July 2018

Legislative Council Wednesday 13 June 2018

Ms FORREST  (Murchison) - Mr President, we generally see a supplementary appropriation bill each year around this time, in some years for a single purchase such as the purchase of the Tamar Valley Power Station.  This is quite comprehensive.

As the member for McIntyre alluded to, this is quite comprehensive and covers a number of portfolios.  Normally we receive more information about the breakdown.  Not this time.  The member for Derwent will remember we fought with the previous government to obtain details and, finally, we were given a decent breakdown of where the money went.  We do not this time and we should.

I am happy to pose some questions and propose we have a briefing to obtain the information if it cannot be provided during the debate.  It is a significant amount of money   $169 million additional funding before the end of the financial year.

It is not dealing with a one-off purchase of a power station.  We are dealing with a whole range of things, so I will raise the questions that need to be answered. I may test the Floor on whether we should have a briefing to actually obtain this information unless the Leader is confident she can provide it in her reply.

Looking at each individual section of the bill, but focusing on the second reading speech the Leader has provided for us:  under the Education area, she talks about $15 million in additional education-related funding.  Some of this is offset by the Australian Government.  The Department of Education has $14 million in recurrent services such as staff costs.  I assume this relates to additional staff, but then there is also $841 000 in works and services.  This is additional to what was already budgeted for last year for works and services and education.  We are interested to know where that extra money is needed and why.

Mr Valentine - Maybe the kindergartens?

Ms  FORREST  - Well, let us have the information.  We previously forced the other government to give it to us.

Mr Willie - The staffing one could have been low in relief budgets.

Ms  FORREST  - Surely we have the right to know what has been happening.  In the section dealing with regional and community election commitments, it says that this supplementary appropriation bill provides $10 million to enable almost 50 per cent of these commitments to flow to community and sporting groups in the current budget year.  I have created a spreadsheet which has three long pages of the Government's commitments.  When you get a bit of time off, you do these things.  I know which I have and maybe I do not have them all.  It was hard to find them all but I did my best from March through February - there were three pages of commitments and I worked out how much was committed to each financial year.

For this financial year and the next three financial years, there is a lot of red.  Not large amounts, only small sporting types of things and such like.

I ascertained that election commitments seem to be referred to here.  There was no actual allocation for Howrah Men's Shed so I was unable to determine that when I did this spreadsheet, but I am sure it is not several million dollars.  The total of the election promises for this financial year that needs to be paid before the end of the financial year is just short of $6 million.

It says $10 million has been appropriated to cover 50 per cent, so we need more detail.

Look at the Department of Health and Human Services mentioned by the Leader - there was just short of $34 million allocated to improve services and meet increased demand for services across the state with the unprecedented flu outbreak last winter, so the recurrent appropriation for this is effectively $75 million.

There is also $14.3 million for elective surgery and $4 million to Ambulance Tasmania.  This does not add up to the $75 million for recurrent services in health; then we have a works and services supplementary appropriation of $11.463 million, to be precise.  I am not sure what the works and services were.  Was that ambulance infrastructure?  Works and services is not the same as recurrent.  Was it an additional upgrade at the Royal Hobart Hospital?  There was a debacle with the acute mental health unit, which was scrapped at the last minute and turned into something else.  That was a good decision, but it should not have come to that.

We need more information about the recurrent expenditure.  Is it simply a big overspend in this financial year?  It cannot be explained by what the Leader provided in the second reading speech. 

There is almost $1.8 million of extra works and services appropriation for the Department of Justice.  What is that for?  I cannot find it in the works and services area.

There is $360 000 for works and services in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.  That is not a huge amount, but why do we need an extra $360 000 for works and services in DPAC?  This is infrastructure, not people's salaries.

You would assume that the Department of State Growth would have more works and services, yet there is only $625 000.  What is the recurrent services appropriation in State Growth to the extent of more than $12.5 million?

The figures we have been given are not reflected in the second reading speech, and we do not have additional information.

We need to be able explain to our communities why this extra money is needed.  The Government may be able to afford it, but we need to know why.  Is it budget overruns?  Is it related to service delivery like in health with the flu outbreak and sick leave? 

The member for McIntyre mentioned the fruit fly infestation.  That is unfortunately something you cannot predict, but you must invest in it.  There is no criticism of that.  We just need more information.

Mr President, I move -

That the debate stand adjourned for the purposes of a briefing to get that information.

When debating the motion, can the Leader provide the information in her reply?

Resumed from above.

Ms  FORREST  (Murchison) - Mr President, I thank members for their support in adjourning the debate for the purpose of the briefing.  The briefing answered a number of members' questions, but also clarified information.  It is important for us and members of the public to know, if they wish, why we are spending an extra $168 million this year than previously budgeted.

I acknowledge that some expenditure was already identified in the Revised Estimates Report 2017-18 while some relates to additional Australian Government funding.  I would like to put a few things on the record following the briefing.  Will the Leader table the documents we were provided with in the briefing during her reply?  It would be tedious and unnecessary to read all into Hansard, but it is important information.

While it gave a broadbrush overview, the second reading speech is important.  This is not a small amount of money being additionally appropriated for this financial year - it is a large amount of money.

Of particular interest are a number of the items not included in the Revised Estimates Report as new issues.  Election promises fit into this category, of which there are three or four pages of listings in small font just for this year.  Others will occur next year and the year after, and that is a matter for budget scrutiny and other opportunities later.  This provides a breakdown and explanation for that particular line item, which is close to $10 million.

One new aspect is the Fruit Fly Assistance Package.  We can understand why that is necessary.  We hope it will not be necessary in the future, but we always need to remain vigilant because fruit fly infestations can do enormous harm to our fruit industry, which would have huge economic implications for the state.  We need to be sure there is adequate investment in that.  I guess members of Government Administration Committee B will chase that up in Estimates with the minister to ensure ongoing adequate funding for biosecurity in this area.  Fruit fly were found in the member for Mersey's electorate.

I will raise some issues later with the Minister for Education and possibly the minister for disability around students with disabilities.  One line item - non-government state general election grants of $818 million - is not in the Revised Estimates Report.  Those grants are not offset and are not backed by Australian Government funding as a couple of other line items are.  According to the explanation provided in the briefing, this relates to children with a disability and the Early Childhood Intervention Service assessment for economic indicators that determine the level of support some of these children need.  I will be interested to know more about whether the number of children with disability coming into our education system has increased, whether the economic circumstances of more of these families are changing so that they are now falling into a higher ECIS category, or whether something else is going on.  Some schools in my electorate are really struggling to support some of these students, particularly those with severe disability.  The assessment is made when the children are quite young, but as they grow and become young adults, the package remains the same.  I am sure all of us recognise these young people's needs change as they move through the system.  I am not sure what has driven this change in needing another $800 000-plus, but I will follow it up at another opportunity.

The Mersey Community Hospital upgrade was money brought forward from next year's forward Estimates from last year, so I expect to see a $600 000 reduction in the amount allocated for this output group in the Budget because it has already been spent this year.

The comment was made in the briefing, and briefly in the second reading speech, that many of the amounts reflected in the supplementary appropriation bill are also reflected in the Revised Estimates Report.  That is true, but when we are dealing with the supplementary appropriation at a point in time, it is important for us to look at all these things.  You can cross reference them with the Revised Estimates Report, but it is not clearly articulated what some of them are. 

There is a broadbrush approach to some of the commentary around this.  If you look at the breakdown of all of it, say, for the Department of Justice or the Police department, it is not clear from the Revised Estimates Report exactly how much is allocated for what.  You have to add them up and look at the policy and parameter changes and their implications - which I am happy to do, but for anyone in the public who is interested in this, it is not a simple case of picking up the document and understanding it straightaway in terms of the bill before us.

I appreciate the more detailed information provided.  In the past I have requested this information to be provided with the bill package, and that has happened sometimes.  The adviser probably has the message that I think it is beneficial.  It saves us having a briefing.  If we see things we are not sure about, we can initiate questions before we get to this point in the debate.  It is hard when we do not know what we are asking.  Can the Leader work with her advisers to achieve that?  It is usually an annual event.  I support the bill, mainly because there is no other option. 

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