Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons
The Liberal Government’s pledge to return Tasmania to “normal” in the wake of the COVID pandemic will mean a return to broken promises, cuts, disappointments and a failure to deliver across the critical areas of health, housing and skills and infrastructure delivery.
Delivering the State of the State reply today, Labor Leader Rebecca White said Tasmanians understood they were already at a vast disadvantage before the pandemic under the Gutwein Government which had failed the health and hospital system, done nothing to address the housing and homelessness crisis, failed abysmally to deliver key infrastructure and now had a plan to blow up TAFE which would set back our state’s economic recovery.
“For too long Tasmanians have been conditioned to accept mediocrity - we have been desensitised to having the worst outcomes in health and education in the country,” Ms White said.
“Intergenerational poverty and regional disadvantage have been normalised and put in the policy too-hard basket.
“A regional breakdown of jobs data shows Tasmania’s economic recovery is highly uneven and, outside Hobart, much weaker than the rest of Australia.
“The unemployment rate on the west and north-west coast is 8.3 per cent.
“It’s 7.9 per cent in the south-east. And it’s 7.1 per cent in Launceston and the north-east.
“Whatever the Premier says about jobs coming back, it’s clear regional Tasmania is being left behind.
“Returning to normal means returning to mediocrity.”
In health, the most recent Report on Government Services found 52 per cent of category one patients for surgery wait more than the recommended 30 days – up from 16.1 per cent in 2015.
Almost 3,600 Tasmanians are on the public housing waiting list – up 65 per cent.
The Liberals have failed to deliver a single major infrastructure project that they promised including Hobart’s underground bus mall, the Northern Suburbs Passenger Rail, Project Marinus and Battery of the Nation, the Northern Prison, the Tamar River Bridge, the fifth lane on Hobart’s Southern Outlet, the duplicated Sorell causeways or the duplication of the Charles Street Bridge.
“The Liberals promised to address traffic congestion in our cities, they promised to deliver more affordable housing. they promised to improve the delivery of mental health services, they promised to be more transparent and more accountable – after seven years with Peter Gutwein as Treasurer the Liberal Government has failed on every measure,” Ms White said.
“Only Labor has a fully costed jobs plan that will deliver 35,000 jobs across all regions and sectors of the Tasmanian economy.
“Unlike the Gutwien Government, Labor would not just sit back and hope that jobs return – we will partner with businesses and the public sector to drive innovation and create jobs.
“And at the heart of Labor’s plan – unlike Mr Gutwien’s plan to blow up TAFE – Labor will rebuild TAFE from the ground up, employ more teachers, expand course delivery to the regions and make TAFE free in areas of known skills shortages including building and construction, tourism, hospitality, agriculture and aged and disability care.”
Labor’s Plan for Jobs will
Budget reply 2020
*Check against delivery*
Madam Speaker, Memories are powerful.
I vividly recall the mix of fear, apprehension, frustration and concern in this Chamber in March as a global pandemic approached our little island at the edge of the world.
At first we watched with concern from afar as China imposed what seemed like unbelievably strict lockdowns to contain a strange and deadly virus in Wuhan. The scale of the emergency and construction of massive hospitals almost overnight were almost impossible to comprehend.
Then we saw COVID-19 sweep across Europe, overwhelming hospitals and crippling economies.
We witnessed the consequences of mixed messaging in the United States about the importance of social distancing and staying at home.
We saw the benefits for those countries that acted early and decisively to contain the virus - counted not only in lives saved, but livelihoods protected.
Back in March, none of us knew which of these fates lay in front of us.
From fear and confusion we saw the best of our community and our political system emerge.
With the goodwill of bipartisanship, Tasmania closed its borders, businesses went into hibernation and we were told to stay home to save lives.
We will not forget the hundreds of health workers on the North West Coast that contracted the virus while caring for the sick, or those businesses that were closed during the lockdown.
We will never forget the 13 Tasmanians whose lives were lost to COVID-19. We grieve with the families of those who lost loved ones.
But we also acknowledge that we fared far better than most countries across the world.
Those early decisions undoubtedly saved lives.
Border restrictions brought relief for many, but the impact of lockdowns brought a different fear of the unknown.
For employers, how could they keep their staff when no money was coming in the door?
For workers, what would happen if they lost their job?
But again, from that fear, we saw the best from our political system emerge.
The introduction of JobKeeper saved jobs, it saved businesses and it very likely saved lives.
Similarly the increase in JobSeeker succeeded in lifting thousands of people out of poverty and proved to be an incredibly potent economic stimulus.
Madam Speaker, We should never forget what that period felt like. And we should never forget what was possible.
We need to remember that it is possible for Governments to move quickly. That it is possible to challenge the old ways of doing things.
That it is possible to identify problems and implement creative solutions to make people’s lives better.
We should not relegate these lessons to history in a rush to return everything to the way it was.
In the early stages of this crisis the Premier said no one should be homeless in the middle of a pandemic.
We should strive to ensure that no one is homeless after the pandemic either. It took a global pandemic for this government to reverse its cuts to health.
Our reliance on the advice of previously unsung public health officials also exposed the lie that there is such a thing as “frontline” and “backline” health workers.
Properly funded health care should not be reserved for a pandemic.
We should buy local, holiday at home and support local jobs, not just when the borders are closed, but because it is good for the economy and helps to build a stronger community.
Newstart wasn’t enough to live on before the pandemic, it was not enough to live on during the pandemic, and it won’t be enough to live on after the pandemic.
These policies worked to support our economy and help people, not just because there was a public health emergency, but because they work.
Secure jobs work. Money in people’s pockets works. Access to good quality, well funded public services works.
The lesson from COVID-19 is we all do better when government recognises its responsibility to govern for all.
Madam Speaker, COVID-19 forced us to reflect on the things that are most important in life: health, family, a secure job and our freedom.
And it has challenged us to think about how we can use the upheaval of this catastrophic global event as a positive force for change.
I have said before that we should not rush to return to “normal” after the pandemic.
There is a natural instinct to regain what we had, to retreat to what feels familiar.
But “normal” wasn’t great for far too many Tasmanians before this virus, with one in four people living in poverty.
Since the Liberals came to power in 2014, elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by 49 per cent, outpatient waiting lists by 64 per cent, public housing waiting lists by 55 per cent, and the number of school leavers engaged in work, training and further study has dropped by 31 per cent.
And Tasmania continues to compare poorly to the rest of Australia on indicators of life expectancy, disposable incomes, smoking and obesity rates, Year 12 completion and good health measures.
As the Shadow Treasurer, David O’Byrne, has rightly said: we must commit to improve these statistics because, behind every statistic, is a Tasmanian who deserves better.
If we think a “return to normal” is the best we can aspire to upon recovery, then we are selling ourselves short.
After bushfires we don’t rebuild houses the same as they were.
We seek to understand what made them vulnerable and how to make sure they are more resilient in the future.
That’s exactly how we need to think about our economy.
Tasmania’s biggest economic challenge before COVID-19 was job creation. The pandemic has only compounded the problem.
Over 20,000 Tasmanians lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic.
For a while it looked like those jobs were returning but there are worrying signs that Tasmania’s jobs recovery has stalled.
6100 payroll jobs were lost over a fortnight in mid- October – a decline of 2.0% - and a bigger loss than the national average of 1.6%.
The state’s unemployment rate has now jumped from 6.4% to 7.6%, which is particularly shocking considering even Victoria recorded an unemployment rate of 6.7% after months of lockdowns.
Tasmania’s youth unemployment rate is by far the worst in the country, and underemployment continues to wreak havoc for Tasmanian households.
There’s bad news for those who continue to hold onto a job too, with wages falling 5.4% since March.
And we cannot forget that many Tasmanian businesses are still relying on JobKeeper to keep their heads above water.
The State Liberal Government should be lobbying the Federal Government to extend JobKeeper beyond March.
For as long as there are government imposed restrictions on the ability of businesses to trade, there should be some level of government support.
COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in our economy: an overreliance on certain industries, high rates of casualisation and underemployment.
We need to address these issues in our recovery or we will remain exposed to repeating the mistakes of the past.
Creating jobs and getting more people into secure and stable jobs is Labor’s number one priority.
Our plan builds on the COVID-19 Recovery Package released in June, which formed the basis of our submission to the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council.
A Labor Government will deliver a Jobs Plan that connects education, skills and training, private sector investment, government spending and infrastructure development to achieve a common goal of getting more Tasmanians into work.
Our plan contains four key elements:
Labor’s plan will create and support 35,000 jobs - 10,000 more jobs than announced in the budget. Importantly, it is geared towards creating high quality, secure, full time jobs.
Our plan is fully costed, it includes achievable savings and redirected government spending and, critically, it will work.
Premier Peter Gutwein has failed to put Tasmanian jobs first by missing an opportunity to overhaul the essential workers process.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said changes to the process announced today are acknowledgement by government that the process has not been as robust as it should be, but do not go far enough.
“Peter Gutwein has now brought in the Department of State Growth to add another layer of review in the assessment of applications.
“But there’s still no guarantee that people are not flying in to the state to do jobs that could be done by Tasmanians.
“The Premier has also dismissed calls to test every worker coming into Tasmania to make sure they are COVID free.
The Tasmanian community expects the Government to do everything it can to make sure Tasmanian workers get first opportunity for work, especially after nearly 20,000 people have lost their jobs.
“The Premier of Tasmania should be standing up for Tasmanian jobs, and standing up for public health. That means overseeing a process that means nobody enters the state on a quarantine exemption unless they are genuinely an essential worker and they have a test to prove they aren’t COVID positive.”
In these precarious times, protecting Tasmanians has to come first
From the start of the COVID-19 health crisis, the focus for us all has been on keeping Tasmanians safe.
With an older and more vulnerable population, early action was needed to save lives and prevent the virus from taking hold here. And, even with the introduction of strong border controls, we saw how quickly it can take off, with the outbreak in the state’s North West causing so much pain and hardship.
One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic has been seeing Tasmanians came together and take the precautions needed to get on top of the virus and keep our communities safe, putting our state in an enviable position.
But, as we all watch with growing alarm as the situation interstate worsens, it is clear that there is no room for complacency – we only need to look at Victoria to see how rapidly this virus spreads and how fast conditions can change.
That’s why we need to make our processes as strong as possible – to do all we can to keep COVID-19 out of the state and ensure we don’t see the same thing happening here.
With no active cases in Tasmania, the decision to keep our borders shut to all but essential travellers until at least the end of the month is understandable. But that alone is not enough to protect us from what is happening just across Bass Strait.
As people continue to come into the state every day, protection of public health is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and troublingly we are seeing too many weak links right now.
Over the past few weeks, concerns have been raised with us about numerous issues relating to arrivals into Tasmania and the potential for a second wave here. Weak points have been identified at various stages of the process.
Among the glaring examples, passengers have been transferred from ports and airports on crowded buses, with no provision of personal protective equipment, and the transfer of passengers from buses to hotel quarantine has been badly managed, with the potential for mingling between passengers and members of the public.
Free TAFE courses, more trainees and infrastructure projects will accelerate Tasmania’s recovery
COVID-19 has had the greatest social and economic impact on Tasmania in a generation.
Many businesses have closed, some permanently, more than 20,000 Tasmanians have lost their jobs and, tragically, 13 people have lost their lives.
The pandemic has also amplified inequality in our community. Before the virus, Tasmania had the highest rate of underemployment in the country, and too many people relied on precarious casual employment. Many of these were the first to lose their jobs when COVID-19 hit.
But we have a unique opportunity to emerge from this crisis a better and fairer state, with opportunities for all Tasmanians.
Labor’s COVID-19 Recovery Package, which will form the basis of Labor’s submission to the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, is designed to get Tasmanians back into jobs, help those hardest hit by the pandemic, and create a better, fairer and more resilient economy and society.
If you, like me, are watching what is occurring in America and feeling anxiety build in the pit of your stomach as the growing tension over race spills into the streets, then maybe you’re ready to help shine a spotlight on inequality and racism here at home before more time is lost.
It may be a coincidence that the events in America are occurring during Reconciliation Week here in Australia, but it’s a jarring reminder that we have similar problems with inequality, racism and discrimination that must be addressed.
The stories of racism and prejudice in Australia may not make the mainstream media as frequently as they do in America, but the stories exist. And they are equally as shocking.
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all our lives.
It has caused economic and social upheaval. It has turned life as we knew it on its head.
On behalf of the Labor party I would like to convey our sympathy to those families who have lost loved ones to this insidious virus.
I cannot begin to imagine how awful it must be to be robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye or hold the hand of the person you love as they slip away. This virus is not only taking the lives of people we love but it is taking away our ability to be together as we suffer these heartbreaking moments.
I would also like to recognise and thank all the workers who have continued to support our community throughout this pandemic.
Easter is often a time we share with family and friends doing the things we love best.
This Easter we can’t do any of that. We can’t leave our homes and lots of people can’t go to work to earn a living.
Together, we have to do everything we can to beat this virus.
Please follow the advice of Public Health officials and stay home to protect yourself and protect the community.
These measures aren’t forever; but for right now it’s the best thing we can do to save lives.