Legislative Council, Tuesday 31 August 2021
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I welcome the opportunity to reply to the budget. It is important we address our minds to the overall plan for the future and our financial position. As I do, I have read right through the budget papers and my comments are focused on the budget, our future and some matters of particular interest to me. There are many I could mention but I will leave those for a later time.
There is no doubt this budget hands out a lot of money to a lot of people. I commend the Government for meeting its election promises. I commend the Government for spending a bit more than last year. I commend the Government for adopting a more coordinated approach to renewables, climate and future industries, but that is about it. Overall, I see this budget as a wasted opportunity.
The Government has been returned for a record third term. There is no Opposition in sight. The Government has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic in an effective manner to date, as we in the PAC have just reported in this Chamber. We have certainly emerged from the pandemic better than some of the dire predictions. The stage was set for a new beginning. Instead, we got a budget based on half-truths - a farrago of handouts bundled together as a plan for the future.
This budget relies on the widespread misunderstanding of financial statements and the deliberate distortion of what they mean, as evidenced by the Leader's concluding comments. The Government has failed to look the people of Tasmania in the eye and tell them the reality of our budgetary position.
There will be no surpluses - and I mean cash surpluses - delivered by this Government now, or at any time in the next 15 years. A surplus occurs when we spend less than we receive. That will not occur for a long time. There is a begrudging acknowledgement that debt is rising and will keep rising for at least the next 15 years, as the 2021 Fiscal Sustainability Report revealed will occur in every year under the four different scenarios that were modelled. However, in the next breath the Government tries to pretend that a return to surplus is just around the corner.
To quote the Premier: 'We have delayed the budget's return to surplus by one year so that we can invest more into this critical service area'.
Mr President, the Premier was referring to health. Weasel words. I remind members, that weasel words are words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading. That is what the Premier was doing when he said: 'I am pleased that next year the budget returns to a cash operating surplus of $368.8 million'. Hearing that, Joe Blow would have concluded that we are back in the black next year. Does anyone disagree that that is what the Premier wanted us to believe? Well, they are weasel words, deliberately meant to mislead; and I will explain why.
The figure of $368.8 million comes from Budget Paper (No. 1), on page 143. This is the general Government's cashflow statement for this year and the next three years of Forward Estimates. Halfway down the page in the column for 2022-23, the figure of $368.8 million appears. It is the net cash operating surplus for that year. Immediately below this figure is the amount which will be spent on infrastructure, contributions into government businesses and other advances. These total $1.211 billion. These are called 'investing outlays'. All these amounts are cash outlays. That is why they appear in the cashflow statement. If one adds the operating surplus of $368.8 million to the investing deficit of $1.211 billion, the overall cash deficit is $843 million. That is an overall cash deficit expected in 2022-23, not a surplus of $368.8 million, as the Premier would have us believe.
Mr President, I am insulted that the Premier continues to treat us like idiots by pretending the surplus is just around the corner. It is not and never will be, not under this Government or any likely successor.
The Premier continued his weasel words in the same sentence in his Budget Speech when he said: 'I am pleased that next year the budget returns to a cash operating surplus of $368.8 million and in 2023-24 we return to a modest operating surplus of $39.4 million, increasing in the 2024-25 year to an operating surplus of $126.8 million'.
Mr President, note the deft change of wording. In 2022-23 he refers to: '…a cash operating surplus'. For 2023-24 and 2024-25, he refers to: '…an operating surplus'. Again, Joe Blow listening to the speech will be entitled to think the Premier was talking about the same measure; it was in the same sentence, after all. Surprise, surprise: in mid-sentence the Premier changed to another page of the Budget Papers - from page 143 to page 139, which is the income statement. To reiterate, the 2022-23 figure was from the cashflow statement on page 143 and the 2023-24 and 2024-25 figures were from the income statement on page 139.
Most people struggle to know the difference between a cash figure and a profit figure and the Premier took advantage of their ignorance by pretending that surpluses will soon be with us once again. Comparing a profit figure with a cashflow figure is like comparing apples and oranges. In 2022-23 we will have a surplus of 20 apples, the year after we will have a surplus of 15 oranges. That is how meaningless those words are. They are especially meaningless when it is realised that both measures - which only relate to operating - fail to properly include all amounts spent on infrastructure and by way of investment into Government businesses; both of which are fundamental components of all state budgets. I know the Leader went on talking about a lot of the infrastructure spend around the state, particularly in her electorate.
As the Premier told us, there are $800 million dollars of planned injections into Government businesses over the next four years plus another $3.8 billion dollars in infrastructure by the Government. These are cash outlays. We cannot ignore them when we are talking about budget outcomes.
I am at a loss to understand why the Premier continues to insult us by pretending we are running surpluses when clearly, we are not. He should not be preying on people's ignorance in this matter. On the matter of equity contributions into Government businesses, some - and I am thinking of TasRail and Tas Irrigation - are sourced from capital grants from the federal government. When they are received they increase operating revenue - money in; but when they are injected into the GBEs they are not considered to be operating outlays and are hence ignored when calculating operating surpluses. That makes measurement of operating surpluses even more ridiculous. Operating surpluses, whether cherry picked from the cash flow statement or the income statement, are not a meaningful measure of a budget outcome.
This is not an esoteric debating matter. If we do not fully understand our current budgetary position, how will we ever identify the best path ahead. I cannot fully understand why the Premier is playing so loose with the truth as to our true position here. It is not as though it is his fault. It is not, nor that of his government. It is a Tasmanian problem. The seeds were sown long ago, but he is making it appear as a problem of his own making by actively covering it up and not being open and frank about it. Maybe he is trying to soften up Tasmanians into thinking there is surplus so he can justify the special deal he is planning for the gaming industry. Rather than clawing back more of the excess profits into government coffers, he is basically only planning to redistribute the spoils from gaming amongst current industry members who effectively helped elected the Government back in 2018.
Perhaps this becomes much harder to justify if the budget is hopelessly in the red; however, that is a matter for another day.
I must admit, with a wry smile, that the Premier said in his Budget Speech 'given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, the budget also provides the flexibility to ensure we can continue to respond to the impacts of the pandemic. To this end a total of $300 million dollars has been included in the Treasurer's Reserve in the 2021 Budget and across the Forward Estimates'. This reminded me of the Liberal's Plan for a Better Future issued in the run up to the 2014 election; specifically, the policy to reduce the Treasurer's Reserve. I quote from that Plan - The Treasurer's Reserve is used to fund unforeseen expenses at the time of developing the Budget. We believe that with strong fiscal management the Treasurer's Reserve can be reduced from $20 million dollars to $10 million dollars. Reducing this reserve will ensure fiscal discipline and avoid the Budget blow outs that Labor and Green have continually produced'.
The Premier seems to think we also suffer from amnesia. If he is appropriating amounts for contingencies is only responsible if you are doing the appropriation it is a complete turnaround, you need to have a long memory sometimes in this place.
There is $150 million dollars to be appropriated this year 2021-22 and then $50 million dollars in each year of the forward estimates into the Treasurer's reserve.
We need to see this budget in context, to my mind the context of any plan which report to secure Tasmania's future must be based on a realistic view of our current position. Not once did the Premier mention the challenges outlined in staff detail in the 2021 fiscal sustainability report. Let me remind you what that report said and it is easily accessible on the Treasury website and referred to in the report in tabled today from PAC. It said changed circumstances over the short term are not the primary drivers of the outcomes over the longer term rather the outcomes over the full projection period continue to be driven by long term expenditure and revenue growth trends.
Even though we survived COVID-19 better than expected, nothing has changed. The fiscal challenges have not gone away. Judging by this Budget, this Government is in denial about our fiscal difficulties. They do not even admit to a problem, let alone attempt to do something about it.
Just in case people have forgotten, the fiscal sustainability report concluded that the analysis undertaken in this previous fiscal sustainability reports has established the importance of the following:
Early action to correct fiscal deterioration will mitigate the severity of the measures required to effectively maintain fiscal sustainability. Given the composition of the state's revenue base, it is not possible to rely entirely on economic growth to maintain fiscal sustainability. Any action to maintain fiscal sustainability must recognise and address major drivers of a deterioration in the budget position and it is likely that effective action to maintain fiscal sustainability will require the successful implementation of a range of measures.
This budget does not even pay lip-service to the problems outlined, yet it shamelessly pretends to be securing our future. None of that is evident. Those of us who are fortunate enough to sit on the PAC received a little more detail about some of the expected future expenses over the next 15 years assumed for each of the four scenarios covered in the report.
I am referring to the expense categories of interest, infrastructure and investments into the government businesses, and members can all see these in the report that was tabled this morning. It is attached as an answer to questions.
This budget's spending on each of these items I have just mentioned for this year 2021 and for each of the three years of the forward Estimates exceed the amounts assumed by the fiscal sustainability models. They exceed the amounts. Just to repeat the point that 'doomsday', as it has been called by some scenarios in the Fiscal Sustainability Report, assumed less outlays on interest, infrastructure and equity contributions into government businesses than are contained in this budget.
That does not look like taking early action. Yet, there it is. There is not one word in the budget about the fiscal challenges ahead. Do not talk about it; maybe it will go away. I would suggest this budget is not a plan for the future. It is a longwinded prayer to the gods to keep showering us with their heavenly bounty and that is what happened this year. The revenue gods have smiled. Revenue has gone up by $1.4 billion compared with what was predicted in the forward Estimates for last year. That is the sum of the parameter changes detailed in the policy and parameters statement in this budget.
Changes from last year's budget are listed as either parameter changes or policy changes. It is a really good read to have a look at the policy and parameters statements to get a good understanding of this. It helps the reader distinguish between good luck and good management.
Policy changes occur as a result of a deliberate government policy decision. The rest of the changes are parameter changes. These mainly occurred due to a change in economic circumstances and are outside of the control of government. The change in circumstances has seen revenue $1.4 billion higher than was predicted in last year's forward Estimates. Most relates to GST. There are also more conveyancing duties due to our booming property market.
The only revenue changes as a result of policy decisions, mainly land tax, has seen a reduction of $61 million in expected revenue. So, how are we going to meet the revenue challenges outlined in the Fiscal Sustainability Report other than by hoping the revenue gods keep smiling on us if we are not prepared to make any other policy changes and decisions?
I do grow a bit weary of hearing the Premier talk about our strong balance sheet. It is just not true. If you have a look at the balance sheet for the total state sector - you need to go right to the back for these - which includes all government businesses as well as government departments and agencies, at the end of the forward Estimates in 2025 our total assets are expected to be $37 billion. However, our liabilities will be $28 billion. Our equity, therefore, will be just under $9 billion or 24 per cent of our assets.
In 2014 when this Government was first elected, the Government's total assets were $26 billion and liabilities were $17 billion. Net assets were just below $9 billion or 35 per cent of our assets. So, that looks like our net asset position has deteriorated in the last seven years. A strong balance sheet, which the Premier often mentions as one of his achievements, would not pass the pub test.
Just ask Saul Eslake if you do not believe me. In his recent budget commentary, he observed that our financial liabilities are, relatively speaking, higher than any other state or territory, apart from the Northern Territory. Financial liabilities need to be serviced and we cannot pretend otherwise. For years we have not felt the full effects of servicing unfunded superannuation. Each year the cash outlays to service the liability, always less than the cost to the budget. Costs are allowed to accrue and the liability increased but the tide has now turned.
For the next 40 years or so the cash outlays will be greater than the cost to the budget. It will be like repaying a loan where the interest has been allowed to accrue over many years. That is exactly what is starting to occur with our debt. With increasing borrowings each year, the interest will be added to the existing debt or, strictly speaking, we will borrow more each year to pay the interest, albeit at very low interest rates at the moment. That is something I will take up next week, their modelling on interest rates. There is some commentary in the Budget Papers about that.
We need to not necessarily be alarmed about the debt. I am not suggesting that we should. However, we need to start thinking about a plan B and that is something the Government has conspicuously failed to do. Again, I do not wish to blame the Government for the current position and, as I said before, it is not their fault in that respect. It is a Tasmanian problem and it has been a long time in the making. My issue with the Government is that it has been involved in a conspiracy to cover up our problems by pretending it is all rosy and talking about surpluses.
There is so much to comment on in this budget in terms of other areas of Government service that I will now turn my mind to a few specific matters. It is pleasing to see some uplift in funding for health. However, I do not think anyone could claim it is not needed nor that it is not long overdue. We continue to see waiting lists that are unacceptable even with the latest figures showing some improvement - 11 007 people still waiting for surgery. That includes 1033 people in category 1, that is urgent cases where these patients should be treated within 30 days.
It would clearly indicate that we have a lot of work to do. The challenge is getting enough qualified health professionals in areas we need them to deal with this problem and that is without a COVID-19 outbreak. I shudder to think what it would mean if that happens before significantly higher numbers of Tasmanians are fully vaccinated. The impact on our ICUs, staff stressed and burned out, access and timely care for emergency care for people other than those with COVID-19 as well as with COVID-19. What concerns me is the Prime Minister's safe plan to reopen if it is intended to be at only 80 per cent of eligible Tasmanians vaccinated.
If you are not sure what that means in reality, I was looking at an article or some commentary in the Guardian newspaper a while ago and I want to read a bit from that. Michelle Dowd is a nurse unit manager of intensive care services at South Western Sydney Local Health District. She is a frontline worker who was giving today's insight. I think it was at the press conference in New South Wales or somewhere. This is what she has said:
If you or your loved one is in intensive care now for any reason you may not be able to have visitors. We know it is really hard at the moment to be separated from your support network. The amount of virus that is circulating in the community just places too much risk for our patients. To our COVID ICU patients, they can't have visitors at all. Every day we are communicating with their families over the phone and by video call to connect them. In the worst cases at the end of life we will connect to a call with their family and hold the patient's hand and provide as much care and support and comfort as we possibly can.
No-one wants to be in this position, do they?
We know this is really hard for the families. This is really hard for us as well. We normally work really closely with our families at the bedside when we look after our intensive care patients but looking after COVID patients is not just emotionally hard for intensive care nurses, it is physically really hard work as well. These patients are some of the sickest we have ever seen.
If you have been watching the figures the number of young people in ICU in New South Wales is frightening. Older people might be the ones who are dying, but these people are young, they are in ICU and in ICU for a long time which means the ICU beds are used up.
Westmead Hospital, even two or three days ago, had a Code Yellow which means an internal disaster and they cannot accept any more patients.
She goes on - (tbc time 12.40)
The Delta variant is so contagious that we have entire family groups in the hospital in some really tragic circumstances. We have had both parents of young children so sick that they need to be ventilated in our Intensive Care Unit, separated from their children.
Sometimes, you do not have extended families to look after these children or the extended family is so sick that we need to make alternative care arrangements.
Can you imagine the stress of this, for the families but also for the healthcare workers?
This virus is literally ripping families apart. Many of our parents with COVID-19 are young, they are normally fit and healthy, they come from a variety of backgrounds, but the one thing they have in common is that they are usually not vaccinated.
I have been vocal about this and I will continue to be because it frightens me as to what could happen here. Our health system is struggling without this.
The Saturday Paper published a very informative article last weekend on this very serious matter by senior reporter Rick Morton. I commend the whole article to members and if you cannot access it, I am happy to print you a copy. He wrote in part -(tbc time 12.41.40)
The health workforce furlough crisis in Victoria and New South Wales alone is now seven times worse than at the national situation on 10 August, according to data contained in a briefing to National Cabinet.
It highlights another issue of vulnerability, although states have substantially increased their supply of ventilators since the first outbreak of COVID-19, they do not have the healthcare staff to operate them and the staff they do have are vulnerable to exposure and the need to quarantine.
Using figures from the same National Cabinet analysis obtained by The Saturday Paper, there are 116 patients in New South Wales Intensive Care Units on Thursday, represent almost 14 per cent of the entire state's currently staffed open 863 ICU beds, including people in ICU for reasons other than COVID-19 complications. The system is at 60 per cent capacity.
I am interested to know what Tasmania's average ICU occupancy has been over the last three years and I have a question I have sent through to the Government related to this and hope to get an answer to this week.
The article goes on -
Victoria has half the number of ICU beds
compared to New South Wales
and half the expansion capacity. This week the state announced it would fly 350 medical staff, mostly doctors and specialist nurses from overseas, to relieve the pressure on a system that has already borne the brunt of the pandemic in Australia.
Since the pandemic began, more than 2 100 exemptions have been issued for approved healthcare workers travelling to Australia.
The Saturday Paper can reveal that although New South Wales Government is physically capable of expanding its intensive care capacity to 2 015 beds and ventilators, a document prepared for National Cabinet shows it has just a fraction of the staff available to run them.
The paper says -
Additional nursing staff resources available for bedside ICU care is just 328. In practice, there are is enough staff to add only about 164 extra ICU beds.
We would face similar challenges here in Tasmania and a matter on which I will be seeking more information about this week and next. The situation is also concerning in Victoria as the article goes on to describe -
Similarly, Victoria has 125 additional staff available for Intensive Care capacity. These numbers are able to be increased, not without significant intervention elsewhere in the hospital system.
National Cabinet has been told the country can expand its Intensive Care beds by 944 places but at best, it has the staff to operate 346 of these.
What is the point of expanding it if you have not got the staff? Ventilators do not run themselves. Further, according to Nepean Hospital intensive care Specialist Dr Nguyen -
What has worried us over the last few weeks is the increasing number of patients who are admitted to intensive care,
They are younger, they are staying in intensive care longer, they are needing care that cannot be provided anywhere else on the wards, there are those on breathing machines and on heart-lung machines.
One quarter of all ICU patients in New South Wales are now aged 40 and under. The vast majority have not been vaccinated, the rest have received a single dose.
The modellers are clear, however, that the assumptions underpinning the project and the vaccine coverage thresholds are uniform and do not yet account for variations within the population, such as for the disadvantaged communities, people with disabilities and others with underlying health conditions.
In any case, the model forecasts a cumulative 1338 intensive care admissions among unvaccinated people in a six-month period if the Delta outbreak is ceded at the 80 per cent vaccination threshold. There will be 673 deaths. Even among vaccinated people, the Doherty team estimates 578 ICU admissions and 306 deaths.
There are differences in COVID-19 that makes its demands on the health system peculiar. For instance, there is early evidence that the Delta strain puts pressure on the vascular system. A health source who cannot be named says, ‘Just one vascular surgeon in New South Wales has performed multiple operations on unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who have had blood clots related to the virus. Some patients have had clots removed several times -
This is with the virus, not the vaccine -
He has operated on people from 30 years and up. Amputation has also been considered in some cases’, the source said.
This is important to know in terms of vaccine hesitancy related not only to the AstraZeneca vaccine, but to vaccine hesitancy generally. For those who are concerned about that, who are hesitant, need to know there is a real risk of blood clots from the virus in addition to any other impacts we have seen publicly about this on the news.
Despite these issues, Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to push for the country to open and for our hospital systems to keep up, saying we cannot hold back and we cannot stay in the cave or ‘under the doona’, as he has been known to say.
I am not sure where he plans to find the necessary health professionals to meet the demand that has clearly been articulated by Doherty and others, or is this just a matter for the states to access their health professionals? If it is a matter for the states, maybe he will not mind if we manage our state borders in the way we see fit. These are matters I will be taking up with the Premier and Minister for Health when they appear before us next week. All Tasmanians have a right to know what our plan is.
We certainly cannot expect a significant number of health professionals to suddenly appear. Although there may be some wanting to leave some of the other states, like Victoria and New South Wales, it is unreasonable for us to fix our problems at the expense of other vulnerable Australians. It is the same as bringing health professionals from overseas. We are taking them from an area that would no doubt have problems with COVID-19, too. Is that a reasonable thing to do? In the global world we live in, we should be looking after our own and doing what we can to reduce our own demand, while building up our own human resources in the state.
With lower rates of pay for these health professions in Tasmania, the proposition may not be as attractive for people from the mainland, but I know health professionals in other states are feeling very stressed, with burnout and exhaustion a very real risk. They may be willing to relocate, but should this be our strategy?
It is clear to all, perhaps with the exception of the anti-vaxxers, that vaccination and high rates of vaccination are crucial to our economic and our health recovery. It is crucial for both. I will continue to be vocal publicly about this, even though it does create some challenges in dealing with those rely on non-evidence-based information, often shared and generated by conspiracy theorists, as I believe it is important to get as much evidence-based information to the general public to continue to counter misinformation.
I note from the performance information in the Budget papers that our vaccination rate for children at five years of age sits consistently at 95 per cent. I also note we no longer have childhood outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough or a range of other infectious disease outbreaks. Clearly, this level of vaccination provides an effective herd immunity.
The Prime Minister's push to open up at 70 or 80 per cent vaccination rates is worrying on so many levels and these are being clearly articulated by many health professionals and experts. Bearing in mind that Tasmania has an older population with a high burden of chronic disease and living in socio-economic disadvantage, we should be concerned with such an approach without much higher levels of vaccination.
I ask, if we are to open up before we get to around 90 plus per cent vaccinated, are we willing to accept that we, or our loved ones, may not be able to access the intensive care bed we need?
Are we willing to accept that access to elective surgery may again be severely constrained and many will have to wait much longer? Are we willing to accept that access to timely cancer treatment may not be able to be provided?
Are we willing to support the very stressed healthcare professionals who make decisions about who should or who should not access intensive care when they are at full capacity?
Just try to put yourself in the shoes of those health professionals who are having to make that decision about who they will treat.
Are you willing to accept that people will not go to hospital to get treatment when they need it for fear of catching COVID-19 if there is a COVID-19 patient in the hospital? No doubt we are seeing that in Victoria and New South Wales at the moment. I ask, are we happy to accept that? I am not.
I urge our Premier and the Government to stand firm on this and whilst we are, as I stated, doing well with our percentage of people vaccinated, we still face the challenge of getting to the levels needed to avoid the circumstance I have just described.
There are many welcome initiatives in this budget related to health and I will drill down further into these next week. However, a key bugbear I have remains the lack of outcomes-focused performance information and the lack of detail about risk mitigation.
In terms of providing positive comment on this, I note Justice in its information provides some commentary in the Budget Papers about its performance and this is a welcome inclusion. Perhaps they could have a chat to some of the other departments about providing a bit more outcomes focus and more description about their performance information.
As has been constantly the case, and I understand to some degree why it is, Health's related performance information remains very output-focused, as do many other areas, not just Health. It does make it impossible to see if the funding, and we have heard how much has been increased, has achieved its aim and is it value for money?
In Health-related expenditure, has it resulted in better health outcomes? Surely, these are important measures and I hope the minister can provide that detail next week.
One of the risks identified with relation to Health is the risk associated with the National Health Reform Agreement and that is detailed on Budget Paper (No. 2), Volume I, page 140.
The risk must be even greater if you have a COVID-19 outbreak and activity increases and the cost of delivery increases above the level the federal government will provide. They will fund the growth in funding, 45 per cent of the official growth but it is capped at 6.5 per cent. I am sure that is going to be a real issue in New South Wales and Victoria in their situation but it could become a problem for us too.
I will move on from health. I want to talk about gender sensitivity and the lack of a gender impact statement in this Budget. I am disappointed again that there is no gender impact statement this year. Even the federal government managed to produce one this year. I ask, why is this? Do we not have the skills in our department or in our Government to do it? If not, what is the Government doing about that?
If you do not have a full understanding of the gendered impact of COVID-19, how can we respond effectively? We know there has been a gendered impact, but if we do not actually monitor it, how can we know that these decisions are good or right for all genders?
If we do not conduct a gender-sensitive audit of all policy decisions and funding decisions, how can we be sure there is not a disproportionate positive or negative impact on one gender?
This comes on the back of the recent release of the latest figures on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) that show Australia's gender pay gap has widened over the last 12 months to 14.2 per cent, an increase of 0.8 per cent and now equates to $261.50 less per week in women's average full-time earnings compared to men. We are going backwards.
As reported in the Women's Agenda on Monday this week, and I quote:
This comes hot on the heels of countless reports highlighting the already heavily gendered impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives of women who are now experiencing the effects of an economic stimulus plan aimed at protecting jobs for the boys. All of this is to say that after a period of economic instability and uncertainty for women, a reverse in the progress that has been made and fought for on the pay gap feels like the last straw.
The article continues:
While it can be easier to think of the gender pay gap as simply the difference between the average full-time earnings of men and women, in reality it represents so much more than that. It is about time that that conversation was front and centre.
So, again, I repeat, where is our gender impact statement in this years' budget?
How are we to really assess whether these new initiatives and some ongoing initiatives are well targeted and how the main event each year - the state budget - addresses this very real problem and inequality?
In Australia, we do not even disaggregate our data related to the gender pay gap to the level of other nations, including the US, where they separately consider impacts on black women, native American women and Latino women. The article describes:
In Australia the gender pay gap experienced by women of colour, women from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, women with disabilities and by First Nations women would undoubtedly be higher than the 14.2 per cent average.
People have been calling out this lack of intersectional data on the pay gap and the fact that it hides the reality for the majority of women and marginalised people in this country for a long time. So, what is the delay in actually collecting and publishing more disaggregated data? Surely this must be our priority if we want to close the gaps in our lifetimes. This does not include the compounding impacts women experience thus falling further behind: the longer it goes on, the greater the impact.
The article further notes that in the capitalist patriarchal and racial colonial system we exist in, having access to money does not just make you wealthy, it makes you powerful. And this equates to the very real consequences in terms of the power or lack thereof, that women have over their own lives. As the saying goes, what does not get measured, does not get managed.
If we are not included in the liberalities of all women in our gender pay gap data then we are excluding them from the solution.
That point in that article, if it does not get measured, it does not get managed, relates to a gender impact statement broadly. If you are not measuring it, you are not managing it, you are not understanding it.
Ms Webb - And you are not caring about it enough.
Ms FORREST - This is right. Maybe the capacity is not there but it needs to be fixed.
So surely the gender impact statement in our annual budget should be the very base level of reporting we should require. It is not too much to ask, surely. I hope I do not have to have the same rant here again next year - or in the meantime - and that we actually see a statement prepared retrospectively in the first instance, to at least let us know where our focus needs to be.
Having said that, it is pleasing to see that there has been some increase in programs in support for women. Some of them are listed in pages 16-17, Budget Paper (No. 2), Volume I. There is a range of measures in place to support women in and into leadership positions and to gain employment in traditionally male dominated areas.
There seems to be quite a crossover with these programs it seems. I hope they are really well-targeted and focused to make sure that we do not end up not actually getting outcomes that we are seeking. These measures are welcome, but I ask - and I do not know if the Leader will be able to answer this now or when she replies to the debate - what data is being collected to measure the success or otherwise of these initiatives? Otherwise again, without a gender impact statement, we have absolutely no idea whether they are effective or not or targeted appropriately.
I also note the importance of a gender impact assessment is not just about the impacts on women. There is a clear need for greater investment in mental health services and programs aimed at suicide prevention.
I note the additional investment in these areas, especially as men are particularly at risk here with men completing suicide more often than women and men accounting for three out of four suicides in Australia from 2015-2019. Rates are arising alarmingly.
I am pretty sure that COVID-19 has not made this statistic any less of a concern. Between 2015-2019, 326 men and 117 women have suicided in Australia. A total of 443 Australians took their own lives over this period. An average of 111 people per year, 82 men each year.
These are people who have tragically taken their own lives and this is a major and serious issue. In the absence of a gender impact assessment and statement, it is difficult to ensure funding is allocated in the most effective manner in the areas of most need.
It is vital funding is provided to services and organisations to meet identified need in all areas. This applies to all policy and funding decisions and a matter I will continue to advocate for including seeking government support for the motion on the notice paper to establish a joint house committee on gender and equalities. I will be bringing that on after the budget session and I certainly hope the Government will support it.
I will move now to housing. You do not have to look too far to see the housing crisis all around us. Housing prices have risen at extraordinary rates.
Sitting suspended from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Ms FORREST - Before the lunchbreak I was starting to talk about housing. I will recommence my comments on that, to give context to what I am about to say.
You do not have to look too far to see the housing crisis all around us. The housing crisis has risen at extraordinary rates. This is not just a problem in our cities; it is problem in our regions. The impact of COVID-19 on Tasmanians and particularly on other Australians, especially from Victoria and New South Wales, has been massive. It is no wonder that many want to relocate here and are willing to pay top dollar for a Tasmanian home. I believe that has been part of the impetus for rising prices, and has had flow on effect to the private rental market with rents outstripping people's incomes, and a highly competitive rental market where many people across Tasmania are missing out. In turn, this is leading to an increase in the number of unaffordable suburbs where workers across all skill groups can find suitable housing, whether to rent or buy.
There is no escaping the reality that a failure to provide adequate housing for all is a failure of governments and of the market. It was difficult to predict. People thought housing prices might drop with the impact of COVID-19, but we have seen the exact opposite.
Predominantly, the reason markets have failed is because governments have established policy settings which encourage price rises. Even without negative gearing and capital gains concessions, the housing market will continue to boom, simply because interest rates are so low. It is a fair bet that returns from housing will be better than from money in the bank particularly for the foreseeable future.
Even before COVID-19 these issues were not new, and many Tasmanians were suffering homelessness or housing stress. I note the government's increased investment in social housing, and I do witness this in parts of my electorate, as the Leader referred to.
It is very welcome; but we need to do more than just play catch-up. We need to get ahead to ensure all Tasmanians have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.
Of course, building much needed social housing provides an economic boost as well as a public good. We are all aware of the inflationary impact such high rates of construction have on the cost of getting a builder, a plumber, an electrician, a joiner, a carpenter etcetera. This is compounded with a short supply of building supplies and fittings. It will be a hard target to meet for the government to build these extra properties, but I commend them for their efforts.
In the media release from Shelter Tasmania, Paddy Chugg, the CEO noted:
This year we have seen an increasing demand for affordable houses
with a waiting list for social housing passing 4000 applications, and 36 people a day being turned away from homelessness services. There is every sign that housing stress and homelessness are continuing to increase across Tasmania. All Tasmanians need a safe and affordable home to prevent homelessness, limit the risk of virus transmission over crowded dwellings and reduce the stress on renting families and homelessness services.
Mr President, I note the funding allocated to develop a long-term housing strategy that is intended to set the 20-year vision for housing in Tasmania. Budget Paper (No. 2), Volume I, pages 42 and 43 notes:
Funding is allocated over two years to develop a long-term Tasmanian
Housing Strategy. The strategy will set a 20-year vision for housing in
Tasmania and will address issues such as future growth, affordability,
accessibility, aging, planning and construction and sustainability.
This strategy will help to ensure that housing can meet the needs of all
Tasmanians, including the most vulnerable, those in the workforce and
people as they age.
It would also consider innovative approaches, including the use of
build-to-rent models and incentives to increase the resilience and
diversity of housing options and opportunities for all Tasmanians.
Developing a Tasmanian Housing Strategy was recommended by the
Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Committee. The
strategy will be developed in consultation with the Tasmanian
community to determine housing wants and needs, and will build on
current policies designed to boost housing supply and put downward
pressure on rents.
That is all very encouraging, and a big task, and I hope the government consults widely on this and does not stick to the same old rhetoric about what the answer to this is. We need to look at different ways of doing things; otherwise, as I believe Einstein said, the definition of stupidity is keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.
In my view, any future strategy must start from what is the primary driver of housing prices - and that is land. Land and housing need to be unbundled and tackled separately.
Land forms such a large part of housing costs. Even in Tasmania, governments release land, lay down all the planning requirements, build a lot of infrastructure, both immediate works like water, sewerage and roads, and also the related community facilities such as schools and other public facilities which together help push up house prices which then accrue privately.
The government has failed to claw back enough of the gains of land increases, which have mainly come about as a result of their decisions. Gains are almost all privatised. That has been the Australian way, the Australian dream.
Mr President, Victoria is starting to claw back some of the windfall gains that result from rezoning. To me, that is a sensible public policy. The whole question as to who benefits from increased values of land needs to be revisited. It is a perennial problem.
By all means, retain a variety of ownerships of dwellings, whether by occupier, for private rental, for rent/buy or for public housing, but we should also consider increasing the amount of public ownership of the underlying land. A range of different models are possible, from using not-for-profit housing providers, like the four entities that now run over 4000 housing properties here in Tasmania, to smaller community-based housing organisations or cooperative land trusts.
You can have models in which homes are privately owned but the costs and benefits of land ownership are shared between a home owner and the community. This is something I hope will be considered as we work together to address this crisis. I hope the Government is open to these sorts of suggestions and ideas. There is a lot of interest in different ways of looking at this and different models.
Mr Valentine - Something has to be done because it spirals.
Ms FORREST - It is a perennial problem, it feeds itself. As promised when the Leader was speaking, I will speak about Montello Primary School. It is a large primary school in an area of high socioeconomic disadvantage. A lot of families really struggle, and getting kids to school is a challenge for some of these families. What they need and deserve is a quality building. What they have is not fit for purpose. I have banged on about this before in this place. It is really sub-standard. It has had minimal work done on it other than a façade upgrade back in the education revolution. What is behind that façade is a disgrace.
The $7.1 million allocated will go nowhere near what this school needs. I welcome funding and it is hard to say I am not happy about it. I am happy about the $7.1 million, which I hope will be a down payment on a new school. The school has land around it. A school could be built on the flat area below, to the north of the current school, where you would have a fit-for-purpose facility.
Currently, you cannot deal with the accessibility issues in this school with only $7.1 million. It is on a steep slope, it has stairs everywhere. When a staff member broke their ankle last year or the year before, they could not access their classroom even when they were fit to return to work. How are you supposed to teach your kids?
Parents with prams cannot access their other kids’ classrooms. It is just not good enough. The windows are held up with Coke cans, such is the age and the decrepit nature of this school. These kids and families deserve much better. I have spoken about this need for a major upgrade and, preferably, a rebuild. If you just spend $7.1 on Montello Primary School, you will not address all the accessibility problems, all the stairs and the state of so many of the classrooms that need major work to make them fit for purpose.
I hope the minister will visit the school and talk to staff there. The parents do not feel particularly empowered, a lot of them, to speak up for themselves because that is the nature of a low socioeconomic area such as this school is in. We need people like myself and others speaking up on behalf of this school community, to get a decent facility. The old school could then be demolished, which is probably the only thing it is fit for, and you could use that area for playgrounds and the like once it has been remediated.
The grade 6 classes are in separate terrapins some distance away from the school. The toilet facilities are disgraceful. I know the $7.1 million was to deal with some of these problems but it is not going to fix some of the fundamental problems that exist in this school.
Mr Willie - It was interesting in the election campaign, when I announced a neglected schools fund, the current Government ran around the state with money for Montello, Cambridge Primary, Lauderdale, Exeter, these schools that have been languishing on the department infrastructure priority list for years. They suddenly found money for it.
Ms FORREST - Yes, but not enough in this case, not enough to do the proper job. Hopefully they can top it up and then reconsider their intention to actually spend $7.1 million on creating a facility that is still not going to be fit for purpose out of the long term. It seems to be a waste of money when you could do a much better job on this.
Talking briefly about kinship carers, I also welcome the additional allocation of funding for informal kinship carers. These people do an amazing job. They provide such important care to members of their family. They are usually grandparents, but not always, caring for grandchildren at a time in their lives when they did not think they would need to be doing the hard work of parenting young children again. Often, they are not well prepared financially to do so. I am pleased to see that is being increased and continued. The care provided by kinship carers saves the state a lot of money as well as providing emotional and psychological support to these children. It should not just be about the money anyway. These are vulnerable kids often with complex needs, often impacted by trauma and other challenges. I hope these families are also supported through programs to assist the students impacted by trauma. I welcome that initiative. There are so many young people in our education system who are impacted by trauma. I hope that the kinship carers, a lot of whom would be caring for children who have been impacted by trauma, are recognised in that.
I would be very keen to know more about that program and the students impacted by trauma, how that intends to roll out. It is not a lot of money for a very significant issue but it is really welcome.
I will close on this topic of justice. It is a very important area and I wish to comment on a few specific matters related to justice, particularly access to justice including timely access, therapeutic jurisprudence and addressing the failings of our current approach. This is one area that I do not participate in scrutinising but is an area of significant interest to me.
Clearly, there is growing demand in this area and I hope to see a promised legislative reform coming forward soon, including the provision for non-fatal strangulation as a standalone offence. I know that there are other areas that the Attorney-General is looking at but that one has been promised. I was pretty sure it was going to be brought in before the end of the year and I hope that is the case. The Leader maybe able to shed some light on that but I will have questions that I will provide to committee B in relation to some of the other questions that I have. I hope I can get answers to them.
Mrs Hiscutt - So do we.
Ms FORREST - One of the points I want to discuss is the Burnie court relocation. As I have spoken about in this place before, the Burnie court is not fit for purpose. It is a substandard facility, it is probably up there with Montello Primary School. With regard to the much-needed and long overdue upgrade to facilities at the Burnie court, I note the funding for the relocation of the court has increased from $15 million to $40 million which is welcomed. Obviously, it is needed but I would be interested to know why there is a need for significant additional funds and what will be achieved.
Mrs Hiscutt - That is a question for Estimates.
Ms FORREST - I can pass it onto Committee B if you do not have that information. It is probably one for Estimates to drill down into that. I have a list of questions to provide to Committee B.
I understand that UTAS is vacating the proposed new site this year and I am interested in the expected timeline for the completion, not just UTAS vacating but the work to turn it into a purpose-built facility for a court.
I would also be interested to know what community engagement and consultation has and will occur? Will the current building, the one the court is currently in, be demolished as part of this process? That may be part of the reason for the uplift in funding. That is why I am interested in knowing what is sitting behind that. I note that the old courthouse, or the current courthouse, contains large amounts of asbestos and the site could be well utilised for other purposes. It could be better off being demolished and used for other purposes. I know the Burnie City Council is interested in utilising that space, incorporating it into their arts and cultural precinct.
The other major area of concern as far as budget scrutiny goes, is to ensure that funding provided the area of corrections and justice is well targeted, effective and as efficient as possible. It is clear in Tasmania that jailing is failing and we have heard that from a recent briefing. It is a good catch cry, jailing is failing.
I appreciate the briefing organised by the Justice Reform Initiative, Just Desserts, and their paper titled, Jailing Is Failing, which makes compelling reading. As noted in the briefing and on their website:
Australia now imprisons more people than at any time since 1900, in
both total number and per capita, at a cost exceeding $3.6 billion
annually or $110 000 per prisoner per year. Our incarceration rate is
well above all Western European countries and Canada, among many
others. Sadly, instead of reducing crime it has only led to higher rates
From a pure budgetary point of view, we need to do better. To put the above into a Tasmanian context, as noted from the paper from the Justice Reform Initiative and related to the Tasmanian Criminal Justice System, in their report it says:
The Tasmanian imprisonment rate is 124 per 100,000 population, a rate
higher than most comparable jurisdictions across Western Europe and
Two-thirds of people in prison in Tasmania have been to prison before.
In addition, 58 per cent of young people in Tasmania return to prison
less than a year after being released.
Rather than the experience of prison helping people to turn their lives
around, it entrenches and deepens disadvantage. Prison does not
support people to build productive lives in our community. And prison
does not make our communities safer.
People in the general community believe prisons make our community safer but, clearly, they do not, when you look at this information. The report goes on:
Overcrowding and lack of resources make it difficult to provide
meaningful education, training and support programs to help people
while they are in prison.
We can only imagine what would happen if we had a COVID-19 outbreak in our prison. We see what is happening in the prison in New South Wales. It is pretty frightening. Ours is so overcrowded and you can only imagine how difficult that would be to manage. New prisoners entering the system go into quarantine, but we have people servicing the prison, guards, officers and all the others who go into the prison. You cannot run a prison without staff. Back to the report:
Most people who go to prison in Tasmania never have the opportunity
to address the drivers of their offending. And, critically, an absence of
housing and support on release means that people leave prison into
situations which place them at high risk of reoffending and returning to
The response to the increase in the prisoner population in Tasmania has
largely been to spend more on a failed criminal justice model, where
prison is the default response. Tasmanian taxpayers already spend
almost $94 million on prisons each year and this will only increase as
the incarceration rate climbs. Other than the ACT, Tasmania has the
highest per capita prison costs in the country, with each prisoner costing
the state $122,143.60 per year.
Remember, the Australian average was $110 000 per year. We are paying $122 143.60 per prisoner each year. The report goes on to say:
The evidence clearly shows that people from disadvantaged or
marginalised groups are far more likely to come into contact with police
and be imprisoned. Many of those entering the prison system are
homeless and jobless, and their prospects worsen when they leave,
making it all the more likely that they will return to prison.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate in Tasmania is currently more than five times the non-Indigenous imprisonment rate. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prison population has increased by 97 per cent since 2010, compared to 7 per cent for non-Indigenous people.
People with a range of different kinds of disadvantage are locked up in Tasmanian prisons. Instead of receiving supports in the community, they are ‘managed’ inside the justice system; 67 per cent of people entering prison in Tasmania have a history of mental health conditions, while 62 per cent reported living with a disability.
Many young Tasmanians in Australia’s juvenile justice system come from backgrounds where they have already often suffered from severe neglect or abuse and/or have been placed in out-of-home care. The children in these centres need family and community support, education and life opportunities. Locking kids up makes the problems of disadvantage and disconnection worse, not better.
Although there is no doubt that crime needs to be taken seriously, if we are serious about reducing crime, we need to look at the social drivers of the justice system contact. Victims of Crime, quite rightly, are disappointed by the existing system of justice, not because it needs to be tougher but because victims' voices are so often not heard properly and it simply does not work to improve community safety.
Experts from across the country are adamant that a new criminal justice model is needed which does not centre on the use of more prisons.
On purely a budget and financial consideration the current approach is not working and it is costing the Tasmanian taxpayer much more than it should but even worse than that is the failure to address the underlying factors that see many Tasmanians enter the justice system. The tough-on-crime approach is failing as it may keep the community safe while a person is incarcerated but only during that period but if they remain at a high risk of reoffending on release, as we know our statistics show, the community safety is not well served at all and in many ways, it becomes a worse outcome.
As with health, we need a much greater focus on prevention and addressing the underlying drivers of criminal behaviour which impacts so many of those in our system. These drivers are not dissimilar to the drivers that result in poor health and educational outcomes. We know what these are: living in poverty; intergenerational disadvantage; mental ill health; homelessness; Indigenous descent; low literacy levels; social isolation; a lack of social support; discrimination related to race, gender or other attributes; drug and alcohol issues; acquired brain injury; the list goes on.
If we are to address effective justice for all Tasmanians we need to focus on prevention and reducing recidivism: both we are failing at and thus, not keeping our community safe. We are spending a lot of money to do this and money without meaningful outcomes.
A new approach is needed and a non-partisan approach is crucial. I, for one, will support such an approach and ensure we get the best outcomes for all Tasmanians.
I urge the Government and the Attorney-General to fully consider the work of this organisation. They are experts in the field and have enormous experience and credibility in this area and I am sure we are debating these issues in coming months and the time ahead and I will add further comment then.
Mr President, I make it really clear that I am willing to work at an absolutely non-partisan way on this matter; it is so important. Again, if we keep doing the same thing and getting the same result, you must be insane.
Mr President, there are many other important initiatives that have been funded in this budget; some were election promises; some were ongoing responses to COVID-19 and recommendations from the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council (PESRAC) and in many ways there are many that I could mention.
This is the benefit of having a significant uplift in expected revenues in the form of much more GST and state revenue, especially from the hot housing market.
As we only get to scrutinise about half of these measures in Estimates I will use Question Time to seek further updates and detail on the progress that many of these initiatives over the coming months and years.
I note there are many other areas worthy of comment and I will use other opportunities for this and I look forward to more thorough scrutiny next week in Estimates.