Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons
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Labor State Conference 2019
1 September 2019
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As a reflection of our recognition of the deep history and culture of this island, I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners, the palawa people of Lutrawita, the land on which we stand today.
We acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, who have survived invasion and dispossession and continue to maintain their identity, culture and Aboriginal rights.
I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Friends and colleagues and delegates.
This weekend marks the 21st anniversary of the election of the Bacon Labor Government.
A Labor Government that did so much to change our state and improve the lives of Tasmanians.
I am sad that we are not joined here today by my friend Scott Bacon who has made the decision to retire from politics.
Scott gave nearly ten years of service as an elected member of Parliament and served as Minister for Finance and Tourism and can be credited with driving the winter tourism strategy that has seen Dark Mofo become an international success.
Scott will always be regarded with great affection by the labour movement and I know Scott will be missed by our caucus and by our Party. His departure will be keenly felt in the Northern Suburbs of Hobart where he was a champion for his constituents.
Scott did exactly what we all strive to do; represent working people.
Our great Labor Party was founded to represent working people.
That is our driving purpose.
To ensure that everyone can have the dignity that comes from a secure, well paid job.
That women can have equal opportunities and equal pay.
That young people can get the skills they need so they are able to get the job they dream of.
That people living with disability have the opportunity to gain paid employment.
That there is a safety net for people who are unable to work, or who are injured in the workplace.
To ensure that wages keep up with the cost of living.
The lesson to be learned from the Federal election, and the state election before that, is that voters want to hear their elected representatives talk about the things that matter to them.
Labor knows it needs to reconnect with traditional voters, particularly in our regions.
I grew up on a farm at Nugent.
I know what makes rural communities tick.
People want to be able to put food on the table.
They want their kids to be able to get a job.
They want safe and reliable roads.
They want an ambulance to come if they have to call one.
And they want to be able to enjoy their own backyard – whether that means going for a fish, camping out in a swag or spotlighting for a few wallabies.
My community is typical of communities right around this state.
Under my leadership, Labor is ensuring that the policies we develop and the issues we speak about are relevant to all Tasmanians.
That is why we are focussing heavily on jobs and the unemployment emergency that has been created by this Liberal Government.
I can think of no better place to speak about the importance of jobs than in Burnie – a city that was built on industry and the hard work of proud union members.
Labor is the greatest supporter of working people.
Only Labor takes the side of the worker.
You will never see a Liberal member near a picket line, unless they are crossing it.
The Liberal Government talks a lot about jobs. But they never talk about working people.
This is a Government that has spent the better part of two years at war with its own workers.
Right now there is a jobs emergency in Tasmania.
I’ve sat with people like Luke, a member of United Voice, and a man who works two jobs just to make ends meet.
Luke works as an education facility attendant cleaning schools five days a week, then he drives to another job to work security.
He sleeps in his car in-between shifts. And even doing all this, he still can’t get enough hours.
All Luke wants is a 40 hour working week. It’s not an unreasonable ask.
The Liberals promised the lowest jobless rate in the nation. Instead, it’s a national disgrace.
The jobless rate is 6.7 per cent – the worst in Australia.
Underemployment, the number of people who want more paid work – like Luke, is 10.4 per cent – the worst in Australia.
The participation rate is 60.3 per cent – the worst in Australia. Which means that people have given up looking for work.
And the results are worse for women.
Female unemployment is 7 per cent.
13.4 per cent of all women in the workforce are underemployed and the participation rate for women is 56.4 per cent.
In the past 12 months since the Liberals were re-elected 5,100 full time jobs have been lost and 2,200 more people are unemployed.
Here in the North West 40 people are losing full time work, every day.
Right now, too many people are being denied the opportunity to gain secure, well paid work.
Will Hodgman and the Liberals just don’t care.
They won’t even admit that the problem exists.
But when it comes to jobs, the Greens are just as bad as the Liberals.
I am tired of The Greens standing in the way of Tasmanian jobs.
There is barely an idea that gets floated in this state that doesn’t attract knee jerk opposition from The Greens.
In the 80s The Greens opposed hydroelectric power, and Bob Brown argued for the construction of a coal-fired power station in the Fingal Valley. I kid you not.
In the 90s The Greens opposed the construction of the Basslink undersea cable, arguing the money would be better spent increasing renewable energy generation.
In the early 2000s, when a new wind farm was proposed for the West Coast – the Greens opposed it.
For a brief period this decade wind energy was back in favour with the Greens.
Now, Bob Brown is back to his hypocritical best – blindly opposing the proposed Robbins Island wind farm, before it has even had a chance to be assessed.
And that’s just on energy.
At the height of the forestry debate the Greens said tourism was the future – now tourism is the enemy.
The Greens opposed bringing AFL football to Tasmania.
They oppose the V8 Supercars.
They oppose medium sized buildings while Tasmanians are sleeping out in the cold.
Sadly, I could go on.
The Greens are holding the State back, and it’s because they only ever provide a voice for the few.
They do not seek consensus. They ridicule and talk down to anyone who doesn’t agree with their view.
They leave people behind. Working people. Our people.
It was a mistake to think that Labor could ever work with The Greens.
We will never make that mistake again.
As I have said repeatedly, at the next election, Labor will govern alone, or not at all.
No other party can be trusted to represent working people.
That responsibility falls on our shoulders.
Between the mismanagement of the Liberals and the outright opposition of the Greens, opportunities are slipping through the state’s fingers.
We can’t let that happen.
Labor is the greatest supporter of renewable energy.
We built the Woolnorth wind farm, including the assembly of turbines right here, supporting jobs in the North West.
The Musselroe wind farm supported the creation of 90 jobs in the construction phase.
And we support the Robbins Island wind farm, provided that is meets all the necessary environmental and planning approvals.
The merits of this project need to be rigorously tested, but simply declaring opposition to the project before it has a chance to be assessed is not the Labor way.
Just down the road from us there is another project that has the potential to unlock millions of dollars’ of investment.
The Government’s own reports have identified the benefits of expanding the Burnie Port to accommodate larger freight vessels.
This project would help to grow our exports, particularly in the minerals sector.
But Will Hodgman’s lack of urgency has seen this opportunity drift.
He has failed to fund the Master Plan to upgrade the Port in the State Budget.
Last week the government released its 10 year infrastructure pipeline. The vital works to accommodate larger freight vessels didn’t even rate a mention.
We want to see immediate action on the port expansion project.
It’s the same lack of urgency that has resulted in delays in the realisation of the Cradle Mountain master plan. A project that could create a least 135 new jobs for the North West.
The Expressions of Interest Process for that project has dragged on for over 18 months.
Developers are telling us that they are running out of patience to invest because of the Government’s mismanagement.
But it is not only new projects Will Hodgman is fumbling.
At Temco in Bell Bay 250 jobs are on the line and the Liberals have barely lifted a finger.
Will Hodgman is so hands off, Labor had to organise a meeting for him with the company’s executives.
If Temco closes its gates it would have a devastating impact across the whole state.
Not only should the Government be working with the company to ensure it has a future in Tasmania, they should be pursuing opportunities to diversify the economy.
At the recent Federal Election, Labor committed to funding a feasibility study into the establishment of a hydrogen plant at Bell Bay.
Generating hydrogen from Tasmanian renewable energy has the potential to become a major export industry that could support the creation of 500 jobs.
Countries such as Japan are investing heavily in hydrogen for power generation and transport and they are looking to countries like Australia to provide them with hydrogen fuel.
Tasmania risks being overtaken by other states if we don’t seize this opportunity now.
Sadly, Will Hodgman is asleep at the wheel.
Labor isn’t just talking about jobs, we are actively putting forward policies that will help get people into work.
The TAFE system has been destroyed by this Liberal Government.
Labor will fix it.
Under the Liberals 2000 apprenticeships have been lost.
The building and construction sector needs thousands of trained workers.
The disability sector requires more than 5500 workers for the successful rollout of the NDIS.
The hospitality and tourism sector is in desperate need of more chefs and kitchen staff.
The horticulture sector relies heavily on backpackers.
The Liberals are quite happy to see these jobs go to people from the mainland.
I am not.
A future Labor Government will offer free TAFE in trades and industries that are crying out for skilled workers.
In aged care.
In disability care.
In building and construction.
And in tourism and hospitality.
These courses will help 5000 Tasmanians into work.
In 2002 the Bacon Labor Government mandated that at least 20 per cent of labour on government building and construction contracts had to be undertaken by apprentices and trainees.
The policy was – and still is – nation leading.
But under this Liberal Government they don’t think it is important enough to give locals a chance at an apprenticeship and they haven’t continued the initiative.
A Labor Government would ensure that the policy is reinstated, with serious penalties for lack of compliance.
This policy will help employ more apprentices and trainees across every region.
We should make the most of government projects for all Tasmanians.
This policy would be applied to the civil construction industry for the first time.
Local Tasmanians deserve a share of the $1.6 billion roads and bridge funding in this Budget.
Local Tasmanians looking for work should get the first chance at an apprenticeship or traineeship.
Under Labor, they will.
The most important responsibility we have to workers is to ensure that they come home safely.
Yesterday this conference endorsed the motion put forward by the Parliamentary Labor Party for a full review of the Acts around workplace health and safety and industrial relations.
I can also announce that Labor will seek to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry into wage theft and insecure work.
Let me be clear – wage theft is theft.
I applaud the work of the unions in this room fighting on behalf of the victims of wage theft.
In recent times we have heard appalling examples of people like George Colambaris using wage theft as a business model.
Wage theft is hurting hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.
The Victorian Labor Government has said it will introduce laws to criminalise serious wage theft.
If the Liberals really want to be tough on crime they should be tough on employers that steal from their workers.
Most employers do the right thing. We need to send a strong message to those who don’t.
Delegates, you know my passion for our hospitals and the health system.
We need to be doing more to ensure that people are happy and healthy so they can work, play and enjoy time with their families.
There can be no doubt that our health system is failing Tasmanians.
Will Hodgman is making $450 million worth of cuts that are only going to make the system worse.
Right now the ambulance system is in crisis.
We are regularly hearing stories of ambulance stations that are unstaffed because there are not enough paramedics to fill shifts – or because ambulances are queued up outside our hospitals.
Stories like Jarrod Woodland who last Monday had to drive his stepson from Wynyard to the North West Regional Hospital after waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance.
Or like the 80 year old Wynyard women who waited for almost an hour with a broken pelvis for an ambulance to arrive from the station 130 metres down the street.
Our ambos do an amazing job, but they are chronically understaffed.
And the Government is planning to cut $5.7 million from Ambulance Tasmania, equivalent to 37 paramedics, because they can’t manage the budget.
They have shut 8 rehab beds at the NWRH this year, even though they promised before the last election that they would keep them open.
It is a similar story of broken promises and failures in mental health.
I am shocked and appalled at the state of our mental health system.
People are dying because they are falling through the cracks.
Quite frankly we need to do more.
Labor will appoint mental health workers in every single state primary and high school.
This is a landmark policy that will ensure Tasmanian students have access to specialist mental health support.
Mental health workers in schools will help to destigmatise mental health and foster more supportive peer support networks.
These efforts will lead to a reduction in bullying, improve understandings of emotions and behaviour regulation and enhance the learning opportunities for children.
We know from talking with teachers and parents that we can do more to help our children and young people develop social and emotional resilience that will help them at school and at home.
We want our children to grow up healthy and strong, mentally and physically.
An investment in them at this early age will help to prevent the development of more acute mental health issues and ease pressure on our health system.
Labor believes that a fairness agenda is a good economic agenda.
Good health care is a good economic agenda.
A world class education is a good economic agenda.
And affordable and safe housing is a good economic agenda.
Because Labor knows when people do well, when they can access essential services and get a job, have health care, get a good education and have a decent and affordable place to live -- then the economy does well too.
My vision is for a Tasmania that is prosperous enough to provide opportunities for all and small enough to ensure that no one gets left behind.
My vision is for a state which is a beacon for fairness.
Labor aspires to lead for all Tasmanians.
But we can’t lead if people are being left behind.
And we can’t say we are listening without hearing what people are saying.
People want us to get back to talking about the issues that are fundamentally important to them.
Can they get a job?
Can they get the healthcare they need, when they need it?
Are we investing in roads and community facilities that makes people’s lives better?
So, in closing delegates, we must ensure that our policy agenda is inclusive and does not leave people behind.
We must never forget that our roots lie at the base of the Tree of Knowledge where nearly 130 years ago our great party was founded by working people, striving to make a better future for themselves and their families.
The Liberals promised the dawning of a golden age.
Instead, they have delivered $450 million in budget cuts.
And they are letting opportunities pass us by.
Tasmania needs a Labor Government.
Working people need a Labor Government.
So keep up the fight because we cannot make Tasmania a better and fairer place unless we do this one thing first.
Friends, we have a job to do - we have to win.
Ambulance Volunteers in Deloraine call on the Hodgman Liberal Government to conduct a review into the potential negative consequences of their decision to make Deloraine a Double Branch station.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said if Will Hodgman had been listening to the community he would know that turning Deloraine into a Double Branch Station would not double the services for the local community.
“In fact, it could see services diminish as the ambulance is used in the city to plug holes in a broken health system,” Ms White said.
“Volunteers at the Deloraine Ambulance Station give their time to help support their local community and they have never been consulted about this operational change.
“Volunteers are worried that they will end up sent to cases across the North of the state which will leave them fatigued and unable to function effectively at their normal occupation. Even worse, it will leave their community without a local ambulance to respond to emergencies.
“I have been told by a number of the volunteers at the Deloraine Ambulance Station that they will resign if the Government fails to listen and fails to protect the community from a loss of coverage.
“Already this year the Deloraine ambulance has been sent to cover jobs in Launceston and Devonport on multiple occasions due to chronic ambulance ramping at the hospital. Each time this happens, the Deloraine community is left without a local ambulance response.
“If the Government was serious about supporting Deloraine, they could make sure there are enough paramedics in the city to meet the demand so that regional crews aren’t constantly called in to plug the holes.
“Volunteers of the Deloraine Ambulance station have today launched a petition to help inform the community about what the change will mean and to demonstrate to the Government that they want their local service protected.
“These volunteers have worked tirelessly, some for over a decade, supporting their local area and Will Hodgman cannot ignore them,” Ms White said.