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Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

Madam Speaker, 

A year ago we were told by this Minority Liberal Government that the state was on the cusp of a golden age. 

Tasmanians were promised that they would all share the benefits of economic prosperity and good budget management. 

Tasmanians were promised that services would be improved and infrastructure delivered – all while keeping the budget in surplus and out of net debt. 

At that time, the Treasurer’s words rang hollow for the people living in tents at the Hobart show grounds. 

His brash statements were cruel to hear for the patients stuck in hospital emergency departments. 

His comments showed scant regard for the thousands of Tasmanians looking for work. 

The cry of a golden age with spoils to share was empty rhetoric for thousands of teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and park rangers who were told they did not deserve a pay rise that kept up with the cost of living. 

The Treasurer’s words rang hollow then. 

And they certainly ring hollow now. 

Just a year after the Treasurer promised the dawning of a golden age, he has plunged our state into debt and budget cuts due to his financial incompetence. 

Madam Speaker,

We are seeing a tragedy unfolding. 

This minority government has been blessed with the best economic conditions in more than a decade but because of their poor financial management, Tasmanians have nothing to show for it. 

The golden age has been squandered. 

The good times have been wasted. 

Tasmanians look around and all they can see are missed opportunities. 

Missed opportunities to fix the health crisis. 

Missed opportunities to invest in public housing. 

Missed opportunities for job seekers, with the state’s unemployment rate the worst in the Nation. 

Tasmanians see missed opportunities in Burnie where the Government has ignored the master plan for the Burnie Port Expansion that would unlock export potential across the North West. 

Tasmanians see missed opportunities on the West Coast where, despite years of promises, mines remain closed and mineral exploration has dropped off a cliff. 

Tasmanians see missed opportunities in Launceston where raw sewerage is still flowing into the Tamar River after five years of Liberal Government. 

Tasmanians see missed opportunities in Hobart where people are locked out of the property market and commuters are trapped in traffic as a result of poor infrastructure planning. 

We are nearing the halfway mark of this Government’s second term. 

The Liberals have been in power for more than half a decade. 

And even though terms of trade are good and interest rates are low, the Liberals financial incompetence will see the state budget head into net debt for the first time in 15 years. 

This is the Minority Liberal Government’s billion dollar broken promise. 

Future generations of Tasmanians will be forced to pay for Peter Gutwein’s budget mismanagement.

TasCOSS have pointed out that across a range of indicators many Tasmanians are doing worse now under a Liberal Government than they were before Will Hodgman became Premier in 2014. 

More Tasmanians are putting off seeing a doctor due to cost, there are more people waiting for elective surgery and people are waiting much longer to be seen in the Emergency Department, with just 54% seen within 4 hours. 

There are fewer TAFE enrolments and the number of underemployed Tasmanians has increased to 26,800 people. 

There are now over 3,200 people waiting for housing assistance and the length of time it takes for an applicant to be housed is on average 56 weeks – over nine months longer than they would have waited in 2014. 

There are more children in out of home care with more than 1,300 children on care and protection orders. 

The 18 disability service providers that support 90,000 people living with a disability who are not eligible for the NDIS have been ignored in this Budget. 

Madam Speaker, 

This Minority Government is falling well short of expectations. 

The Liberals are even failing to meet their own targets set before the last state election. 

They promised Tasmania would have the healthiest population in the nation by 2025. 

The latest ABS National Health Survey, published in March shows Tasmania has the highest rate of cancer in the country. 

The highest rate of heart, stroke and vascular disease. 

The highest rate of back problems. 

The highest rate of osteoporosis. 

The equal highest rate of asthma. 

Over 70 per cent of Tasmanian adults are overweight or obese – again, the highest rate in the country.

Smoking rates have barely moved since the Liberals came to Government. 

The commitment to make Tasmania the healthiest state in the nation by 2025 will never be met while the Government fails to invest in preventative health. 

It is just another broken promise. 

The Liberals promised that 90% of all elective surgery patients would receive their surgery within clinically recommended timeframes by 2022. 

Yet they have funded 3,048 fewer surgeries next financial year than were delivered this financial year and the actual number of patients seen within the clinically recommended timeframe is just 64%. 

The Liberals promised to build 900 affordable homes by the middle of this year. 

To date they have only delivered 281 and they have no hope at all of reaching their own target. 

The Liberals set a population target of 650,000 by 2050. 

Treasury’s own modelling suggests that target will never be achieved. In fact, deaths in Tasmania are now outpacing births, meaning we are solely reliant on migration to avoid entering population decline. 

The Government promised to bring the unemployment rate down to the national average. Today Tasmania’s unemployment rate is 6.7 per cent compared to 5.1 per cent nationally. The gap between the national average and Tasmania is the widest it has been since the Liberals came to Government. 

Youth unemployment is 14.3 per cent, which is well above the national average. 

3800 full time jobs have been lost since the last election. 

Over the past year approximately 4,500 fewer women are in work, we also know that women on average retire with 50 per cent less superannuation than men. 

Women are more likely to end up in poverty as they age. 

This Government is tired, it’s lazy and, worst of all, it doesn’t have a heart.

Madam speaker, 

The Budget that was handed down last Thursday is a train wreck. 

Nothing could have prepared us for the work of pure budget vandalism delivered by this Treasurer. 

  • $1.1 billion worth of net debt. 
  • $450 million worth of cuts to health, education and other services 
  • Unfunded wage agreements across the public sector. 
  • Raids on government businesses. 
  • Delayed infrastructure projects. 
  • Systematic underfunding of essential services. 

The Treasurer has claimed that the state is going into debt to fund infrastructure. That is a lie. 

Last year the Government promised to deliver a $2.5 billion infrastructure program without going into net debt. 

This year the infrastructure budget has no new initiatives, yet debt levels will balloon to $1.1 billion. 

No matter how you spin it, that does not add up. 

The Treasurer is using infrastructure spending as a smokescreen for his own incompetence. 

The real story is the delay in the delivery of a host of promised infrastructure projects. 

Promised mental health beds have been delayed. 

The Burnie Court upgrade has been pushed back. 

A number of school construction projects have been delayed including, Devonport High, Legana Primary, Penguin School, Sorell School, Cosgrove High, Southern Support School and Taroona High. 

$34 million has been taken out of the budget for the new Northern Prison. 

The Hobart Airport Roundabout, which the Premier promised would be under construction by the end of last year, has been delayed yet again.

This Government has a woeful record of getting infrastructure spending out the door. 

In 2017/18 the Government promised to spend $610 million on infrastructure but only spent $436 million – a shortfall of $174 million. 

How can they claim this is an infrastructure budget when key promises have been delayed? 

The inescapable truth is that Peter Gutwein has blown the budget and is putting recurrent services on the credit card, which is something he promised he would never do. 

The Treasurer has claimed the interest repayments on this debt are “manageable”. 

How utterly out of touch. 

Over four years it will cost $100 million to service the Treasurer’s debt time bomb. Those costs are going to explode because Peter Gutwein has admitted there is no pathway out of net debt. 

That is money that won’t be spent on health, it won’t be spent on housing and it won’t be spent on education. 

Tasmanians will be appalled that the Liberals are now happy to spend $100 million on interest payments, not hospitals. 

Madam Speaker, 

The foundations for this almighty mess were laid long ago. 

Labor warned during the 2018 election campaign that the Liberal Party’s $2.7 billion in election pork barrelling was unaffordable. 

Every year this Treasurer has spent more money than he budgeted but has been saved by increases in GST. 

When the 2018-19 budget was handed down last year my colleague the Shadow Treasurer warned that reckless election spending had been prioritised over investment in essential services. 

His press release stated:

“History will judge Premier Hodgman and Treasurer Peter Gutwein’s 2018-19 State Budget as a house of cards, driving Tasmania perilously close to net debt, while simultaneously failing to deliver for essential services.” 

12 months later the house of cards has come crashing down. 

The surplus is a hoax – propped up by more than half a billion dollars worth of raids on Government businesses in a single year. 

The Treasurer claims that the state is not spending more than it earns. That is a lie. 

The Budget papers show next year alone the cash deficit is $340.6 million. 

The underlying result which removes the distorting effect of Federal Government payments is in deficit by $137.1 million in the coming financial year and will remain in deficit across the forward estimates. 

And even those appalling numbers are reliant on $450 million worth of indiscriminate cuts embedded in this Budget. 

That is not “loose change” as the Treasurer arrogantly describes it. 

That is jobs. 

That is the systematic erosion of the services that Tasmanians rely on every day. 

The best thing Saul Eslake could say about this government’s first term is that they had done a good job of minding the store. 

Well that is no longer true. 

Peter Gutwein has raided the cash register, stripped the shelves and sent the store broke. 

Madam speaker, 

Being in Government is a privilege that allows you to make people’s lives better. 

It should be the aim of every government to strive to make the state a better place and to leave a positive lasting legacy.

But this Minority Liberal Government has done none of that. 

The Minority Liberal Government legacy is the same as that left by every Liberal Government before it: essential services in crisis and net debt that will cripple future generations. 

We have been here before. 

It took Labor eight years to pay back the more than $1.5 billion worth of debt that was left by the Rundle Liberal Government. 

We built the state’s cash reserves to over $1 billion which helped us to withstand the shocks of the global financial crisis. 

Even after losing $1.5 billion in revenue we managed to keep the state out of net debt. 

The state has not been in net debt for 15 years. 

The Liberal Government inherited $200 million worth of cash and investments from Labor in 2014 and they have managed to turn that into $1.1 billion in net debt. 

The Treasurer’s financial incompetence can no longer be glossed over with revenue windfalls from Canberra. He has been exposed. 

And yet the Treasurer says he is proud of this Budget. 

Proud. 

He is proud of a health system so starved of funding and resources that patients are treated in corridors, in arm chairs and given bells to get attention. 

He is proud that his budget does nothing to get young Tasmanians the skills they need to earn a living. 

He is proud that the housing waiting list has a thousand more people on it than when the Liberals took office – and more Tasmanians than ever will be sleeping rough this winter. 

He is proud of bankrupting the state. 

Tasmania deserves better than this. 

Madam Speaker,

Labor takes its responsibility as the alternative government seriously. 

All of the policies that we take to the election will be fully costed and fully funded well in advance of the next election. 

But the Treasurer cannot deflect on others, including the Opposition, to clean up his mess in the meantime. 

There are immediate problems in this Budget that are entirely of the government’s making and they must be addressed by this government. 

Sustainably funding health cannot wait three years. 

Paying public servants wages that keep up with the cost of living cannot wait three years. 

Investing in more housing supply cannot wait three years. 

Supporting more people into work cannot wait three years 

Madam Speaker, 

It is a false economy not to pay your workforce appropriately. 

The budget papers actually name up slow wages growth as a major risk to the economy. 

We know that public servants are already leaving the state because their wages have not kept up with the cost of living. 

Stress claims and sick leave are on the increase. 

Public sector workers are demoralised and feeling disrespected. 

This government has spent almost a year locked in a bitter wages dispute with its workforce and there is no end in sight. 

Even the revised wage agreement with teachers above 2 per cent is not fully funded in this Budget. 

The Government is telling its workforce that if they want a pay rise of more than 2 per cent they will have to find savings over and above the $450 million already embedded in this Budget. It is shameful. 10 

Right now there are over 200 vacancies in the health workforce, there are vacancies in child safety, there are vacancies in corrections, and the Tasmanian Fire Service need 40 new recruits. 

Not only are we losing people, we can’t recruit to fill the current vacancies, let alone increase numbers to meet growing demand. 

The sledgehammer approach taken by this government is not working. 

Labor would sit down with its workforce and negotiate in good faith. 

Madam Speaker, 

While the Liberal Minority Government has been focused on itself, Labor has spent the last year since the election speaking to Tasmanians. 

Our Industry Advisory Councils have proven to be an invaluable engagement tool across key industry sectors. 

Over the past 12 months we have had constructive discussions with employers, industry groups and unions about how we can create jobs and economic opportunity. 

Throughout all of those discussions, there has been one consistent theme: skills and training. 

There are simply not enough skilled workers in Tasmania for the jobs that are available. 

And Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate in the country. 

Because of this Government’s failure to invest in training Tasmanians are missing out and projects are being held back. 

The building and construction sector needs thousands of trained workers. The disability sector requires more than 5500 workers for 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 and the health care sector is the fastest growing in the state. 

Despite this knowledge, the Government has done nothing to give Tasmanians the best chance of getting this work. 11 

It is a disgraceful fact that under the Liberals 2000 apprenticeships have been lost. 

Our state’s TAFE system should be the training engine room of the economy, driving qualifications and employment. 

We want to rebuild TAFE so it has a reputation for the highest quality training outcomes. 

TAFE training has the capacity to be delivered in our regions as well as our cities and should be working seamlessly with industry to identify skills gaps and tailor training to meet the need. 

When Tasmanians hear stories about tradies flying in from the mainland or overseas to work at the Royal Hobart Hospital they ask why they couldn’t get that job. 

They are asking why restaurant owners are forced to employ chefs from overseas when thousands of Tasmanians are looking for work. 

The 2017 Infrastructure Tasmania report into the possible acceleration of TasWater projects declared that the only way to achieve construction of those projects sooner was by bringing in workers from outside Tasmania. 

Under this Government, there are more opportunities for workers flying in from Melbourne or Sydney and Brisbane than for young Tasmanians. 

That’s not the future I want for our state, I want Tasmanians to get the skills they need here so they can get a job in their own state. 

Today I can announce that Labor will make TAFE free for students who choose to undertake training in areas of critical skills shortages. 

In aged care. 

In disability care. 

In building and construction. 

And in tourism and hospitality. 

The pilot program would run for one year and allow two intakes for courses identified in consultation with industry that meet critical skills gaps. 

Under Labor’s policy, up to 5000 students will gain qualifications in key areas that will grow our economy. 12 

This initiative will help up to 5000 Tasmanians into work. 

In addition, Labor will work with the agricultural sector to introduce the Ag Career Kickstarter. 

The Ag Career Kickstarter will provide a subsidised training pathway for workers to gain basic skills that will set them up for a career in agriculture. 

The lack of a strategic approach to skills and training is the single biggest concern Labor hears from industry right across Tasmania. 

Our Industry Advisory Council’s have been a valuable contributor to the development of this policy and Labor will continue to work closely with them and listen to their feedback so we can keep delivering on our plan to create jobs and grow Tasmania’s economy. 

As a state, we also need to be doing our bit to train the next generation of apprentices and trainees. 

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 maximise the return on government projects for all Tasmanians. 

Today I can also announce that 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. 

For the first time we would also seek to mandate the policy across all state projects, including those carried out by Government Businesses. 13 

Local Tasmanians looking for work should get the first chance at an apprenticeship or traineeship. 

Under Labor, they will. 

Madam Speaker, 

Another key theme that has emerged from our engagement with business is the problem of trade waste. 

Trade waste compliance is choking businesses and forcing some to close their doors. 

Labor calls on the Government to adopt the policy Labor took to the election to introduce a $5 million grant program to help small businesses cover the cost of trade waste compliance. 

Small businesses across the state employ more than 100,000 people. The Treasurer cannot continue to ignore this problem when the Chair of TasWater has said: 

“Many of these “mum and dad” operators are in difficult positions as they can neither afford to comply, nor can they sell a non-compliant business.” 

Not all that long ago the Treasurer agreed something desperately needed to be done to address the problem but since becoming a part owner of TasWater he has watched small businesses go down the drain. 

Labor wants small business to thrive in this state and that is why we will work with them to ensure they can keep operating and keep employing people in our regions and in our towns. 

Madam Speaker, 

Everyone knows that there is a health crisis in Tasmania. 

Once again, this Budget systematically underfunds health. 

The funding allocated in the coming year is less than half of one percent more than was actually spent this year. 14 

In real terms that is a cut. 

People are dying in hospital waiting rooms and still this government has not got the message that it needs to fix the funding black hole in health. 

This Budget does not even start to fund additional beds at the new Royal Hobart Hospital until the middle of next year. 

Last year this Parliament called on the Premier to convene health roundtables around the state to draw together health experts, unions and politicians from both houses and all parties to find solutions to the health crisis. 

Those calls have been ignored by the Liberal Government. 

My letters to the Premier offering solutions and asking to meet have been ignored. 

Regrettably, since then the health crisis has only worsened. 

We cannot wait for this government to sleep walk into another year with no plan. 

If the Government won’t take its role seriously, we will do their work for them. 

Labor will convene health roundtables and we will be inviting the Government to attend. Along with all the other key stakeholders that this Parliament agreed should be at the table. 

The Labor party is serious about finding solutions to the health crisis in this state. 

And we will sit down with anyone who is willing to work with us to make sure all ideas are considered. 

Madam Speaker, 

Every day we see stories of the overcrowded emergency departments at our major hospitals and ambulances ramped waiting to offload patients. 

There are many factors placing pressure on our health system but there can be no doubt that more people are now seeking help for mental ill health. 

We need to have services available to support people in hospital but also in the community. 15 

Fundamentally we need to be helping people before they become acutely unwell. 

Earlier this year, Labor took the initiative to release a Mental Health Discussion Paper. 

We received submissions from a broad range of stakeholders. 

The compelling evidence is that mental health support has to start in the early years. 

The Mental Health Council of Tasmania said: 

“It is important that all Tasmanians have access to evidence based, age appropriate, mental health education in each year of schooling from primary through to secondary school. 

“Children who are mentally healthy learn better, benefit from life experiences and have stronger relationships with family members, school staff and peers.” 

The Youth Network of Tasmania wrote: 

“Alarmingly, Tasmania has the second highest youth suicide rate per capita in Australia and suicide is now the leading cause of death in young Tasmanians aged 12-25. 

“2018 Tasmanian Youth Forum participants identified the need for more mental health information and events to be included into the school curriculum to provide them with the tools to identify the signs and symptoms of mental ill health amongst themselves and their peers.” 

Labor is listening. 

Today I can announce that a future Labor Government 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. 16 

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. 

Madam Speaker, 

A critical failure of this government is its failure to invest in housing. 

As a result, we are now deep in the grips of a housing crisis. 

For yet another year we are heading into winter with no emergency response from the government to assist people sleeping in tents, in cars, shipping containers and under bridges. 

The response from this Government has been callous, to the point the Minister for Housing last week recommended a woman facing homelessness with her four children should call a 1800 number. 

The construction of more affordable housing properties should be a priority but the Liberal Government has been slow to adopt Labor ideas for urban renewal in the northern suburbs along the rail corridor and more residential infill close to services. Had they picked these good ideas up earlier, more people would have been in housing this winter. 

This is a government that cares more about headlines than it does about people. 

When it became obvious to everyone that the Liberal Government was not going to meet the target in the affordable housing strategy to build 900 new homes the Government didn’t invest more money. 

They didn’t pull out the stops to ensure that they met their targets. 

They changed the target. 17 

And then they said they were on track to meet their new target. 

Labor is committed to tackling the housing crisis. That is why we have successfully moved to establish a parliamentary inquiry into housing and homelessness. 

Together with the inquiry into home sharing that is soon to report in the Upper House, these committees will provide recommendations to Government for action that will help more people into affordable housing in the medium to long term. 

And we also repeat the calls we made last year for the Government to act swiftly before the onset of winter and house those Tasmanians without shelter. 

We again call on the Government to seek expressions of interest from local government and private dwelling owners to urgently secure tenure of disused buildings and accommodation and repurpose them for Tasmania’s homeless. 

Madam Speaker, 

The glaring gap in this budget is the fact that it ignores our young people. 

There is no vision to improve the lives of future generations. 

The budget doesn’t mention climate change, let alone fund mitigation measures or renewable energy investments. 

There is nothing in this budget that improves the lives of young people right now. Nothing to help them with the cost of further education and training and little support to help them get a job. 

The Liberals have put our future on the credit card and expect young Tasmanians to pay for it 

The policies I announced today are aimed squarely at ensuring young people get opportunities to get a fair go and fully participate in society and our economy. 

Madam Speaker, 18 

A key part of Labor’s economic vision is to put the Tasmanian brand at the heart of everything we do. 

As a state we can set ourselves apart by offering quality products and experiences - whether that is in advanced manufacturing, food and fibre, high value minerals, services or tourism. 

We should share more stories of our rugged bushland, our fresh air, our abundant water, our creative industries, our Aboriginal culture, our enterprising farmers and the things that define us as a place. 

And as a state, our shared pride and understanding of what makes us Tasmanian can be the thing that unites us. 

The Labor party wants our economy to grow and for more Tasmanians to get a job. 

That is why we will align investments in skills and training that underpin the strength of the Tasmanian brand and help more locals get employment in the growth sectors of our economy. 

Conclusion 

Two years ago when I became Leader of the Labor Party I shared a saying from my time growing up on the family farm in Nugent. 

My parents taught me to always feed the animals before you feed yourself. 

That means putting the needs of others before your own. 

I keep coming back to that philosophy, which is at the heart of why I ran for Parliament. 

As politicians, we must never forget that we are servants to the people who elected us. 

My driving purpose is to make life better for people today, and to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. 

My vision is for Tasmania to become a beacon to the rest of the world for fairness. 19 

The train wreck of a budget that was handed down by the Minority Liberal Government last week does not get us closer to being a fairer, more inclusive state. 

The Minority Liberal Government’s budget incompetence drives the state into $1.1 billion in debt, it continues to chronically underfund essential services, it ignores the growing number of people who are unemployed and it fails to invest in our children’s future. 

Tasmanians deserve better than this tired and dysfunctional Minority Liberal Government. 

Labor stands ready to provide the leadership this state needs for a strong economy, more jobs for Tasmanians, more opportunities for our young people and support for those doing it tough. 

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Rebecca White

Authorised by Lindsay White, 276 Masons Road, Nugent, 7172