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Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

Rebecca White
Labor Leader
State of the State Reply
4 March, 2020

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Madam Speaker,

A lot has changed since we last stood in this place.

I want to start by thanking Will Hodgman for his contribution to public life over nearly two decades.

We often differed in matters of politics and policy, but passion for Tasmania is something that we share.

I wish him all the best for the future and whatever comes next. Madam Speaker,

The Tasmanian political landscape has changed, but the task for Labor remains unchanged.

We want to create a better and fairer Tasmania.

While some things are going ok, there are many who have been left behind with one in four Tasmanians living in poverty.

Labor’s focus is on making sure we get the fundamentals right - good quality health and education services, a good job and a roof over people’s heads

Madam Speaker,

Growing up on a farm, I was taught the importance of hard work from an early age.

Like many small businesses across the state, the success of the farm required the whole family to pitch in. Surviving from season to season required us to adapt and diversify.

My first paid job off the farm was working at the Sorell Purity store – now known as Woolworths – when I was in college. That’s where I learnt the importance of good customer service and the temperature of the freezer room. One was a more useful skill than the other.

But working there led to me getting a foot in the door in other jobs and helped me to pay my way through Uni.

Ensuring more Tasmanians can get jobs is one of the most important things we can do to maintain a strong economy and overcome poverty.

Labor is the strongest supporter of working people and we want Tasmanians to have the opportunity to get a good job that helps to build the strength of our community.

The best way to get a foot in the door is to have the chance at an apprenticeship or traineeship and that’s why Labor has announced free TAFE courses in our fastest growing industries to help Tasmanians into secure, well paid jobs.

Our primary focus in 2020 is jobs:

  • Giving people the skills they need to get a job;
  • supporting the industries that provide jobs;
  • attracting new businesses and industry here;
  • providing assistance to small businesses to grow and employ more people; and
  • Protecting workers and improving their conditions. We are backing this commitment with fully costed

And we will be taking this focus to communities in every part of Tasmania.

Over the course of the next six months, Labor will be hosting jobs forums right across the state.

We want to share our positive plans for jobs. And we want to hear from Tasmanians about the barriers to work and how we can support the creation of more jobs and development of pathways into work.

Despite the Liberals boasting on jobs, Tasmania’s unemployment rate is still the third worst in the country. And I remind the Government of the promise they made to the people of Tasmania just two years ago that they would reduce the unemployment rate to the best in the country by 2022.

But it is underemployment where Tasmania is truly failing.

At 11.2 per cent, underemployment is not only the worst in the country – it’s the worst it has ever been in Tasmania, and the worst it’s ever been in any state or territory.

Over 70 per cent of new jobs created since 2014 have been part-time.

Right now there are 46,100 Tasmanians who are either unemployed or need more hours.

These are people like Luke, 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.

But instead he works unsociable hours and multiple jobs and it is impacting his health and his relationship with his family.

This is not what we want for Tasmanians.

We want people to know that we are serious about tackling this problem head on.

The first of Labor’s jobs forums will be held in Burnie next week. I encourage people to come along to engage in the conversation about how we can help more people get a foot in the door to secure jobs.

In the northwest of the state, 1300 jobs have been lost in the past 12 months.

In Launceston and North East Tasmania 600 women have lost their jobs in the past months.

That is particularly concerning when we need to be providing more opportunities for women to enter the workforce, not less.

Financial independence is especially important for women to gain personal independence. It’s one of the most important factors in tackling domestic violence, it is critical to ensure women don’t retire with half the

superannuation of men and it’s necessary to address the growing number of women over 55 who are seeking housing support.

Labor has a policy to introduce gender blind job applications, which is a simple and practical measure to ensure that job applicants are assessed on their merits, without the risk of unconscious bias which research shows results in men more frequently winning jobs over women.

Madam Speaker,

Helping young Tasmanians get secure, full time work is the key to keeping them in the state.

It gives them the security to get a loan for a house or a car and actually put their roots down in the community and have a good quality of life.

But youth unemployment is 12.2 per cent. We can do better.

We have to do better.

If we continue to ignore the trend towards insecure work, our best and brightest are going to continue to leave.

Over the course of the past year, Labor has been talking to all of Tasmania’s major industries through our industry advisory councils about how to grow jobs.

The common thread in every one of those discussions – from tourism to aged care – is a lack of skilled workers.

Something is very wrong when we have an underemployment crisis in this state, at the same time employers are crying out for skilled workers.

Part of the solution is Labor’s policy to provide free TAFE courses in key industries facing skills shortages, including tourism, aged and disability care, agriculture and building and construction.

The Liberal Government has stubbornly refused to adopt this idea while skills shortages and underemployment get worse.

I know this policy will make a difference because I have spoken to young people and people who are looking to retrain who see the cost of training as a key barrier to employment.

Young people like Caitlin, who is a second year apprentice at an engineering workshop in Launceston.

She is one of the all too few young people, and even fewer women, pursuing a career in a highly specialised trade.

I have also spoken to older Tasmanians who see Free TAFE as an incentive to retrain for a new career later in life.

In addition to making TAFE courses more accessible, we are also committed to making training more responsive to the needs of industry.

Our public training provider is only as strong as its relationships with the businesses that it serves. If it is not offering the training that students and employers need, industry will go elsewhere.

That is not an idle threat – it is already happening.

Recent data from the Productivity Commission shows an alarming decline in employer satisfaction in apprenticeships and traineeships from 82 per cent when the Liberals first got into government to 75.4 per cent now.

Confidence in VET has plunged to 68.3 per cent.

And just last week we saw the impact of the Government’s decision to set up a private training provide to compete directly with Drysdale with the General Manager of Drysdale resigning.

The establishment of a private provider, funded by Government, was not what industry wanted, it was not what Drysdale wanted. But strangely it’s what the Government decided to do. Privatisation is in the Liberal’s DNA.

Unlike the Liberal party who are working actively to destroy TAFE, Labor will always be the strongest supporter of the public training provider.

Madam Speaker,

As the largest employer in the State, the Tasmanian Government needs to be doing its bit to support the creation of apprenticeships and traineeships.

Labor will reinstate the requirement apprentices and trainees to be engaged on all government building and construction projects.

We would also extend this policy to the civil construction industry for the first time to ensure that as we build roads and bridges for the future we are also building the workforce for the future

The Liberal Government doesn’t bother measuring how many apprentices are employed on government projects and it’s certainly not making every effort to make sure Tasmanians get a job on these worksites

Rather than helping Tasmanians get a foot in the door, they are happy to fly in skilled workers from interstate to work on major projects.

Meanwhile, on the planes flying out of the state are Tasmanians looking for work.

Madam Speaker,

Tasmania’s underemployment crisis is being fuelled by the unregulated expansion of labour hire practices.

Right across the economy, secure, permanent jobs are being replaced with precarious short-term contracts.

While there are legitimate reasons for employers to access labour hire services, under-regulation of the sector leaves workers vulnerable to insecurity and wage theft.

Stories of wage theft and insecure work are happening under this government’s nose.

This includes Chinese plasterers who were underpaid and exploited by a subcontractor while working on the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Stories like these damage businesses doing the right thing and they undermine the Tasmanian brand.

Today I can announce that Labor will be moving a motion to establish an inquiry into labour hire and insecure work during the next sitting week of Parliament.

We need to understand the full extent of this problem and strategies that can be put in place to address it.

Rogue operators need to be put on notice – worker exploitation will not be tolerated in Tasmania.

Madam Speaker,

While job opportunities are at risk from the complacency of the Liberal Government, they are under outright attack from the Greens.

Never is the hypocrisy of the Greens starker than when they are attacking the industries that support working people.

They claim to care about overcoming poverty and social disadvantage but they seemingly care little for communities and families that rely on the industries they constantly tear down.

Where do they think the timber and other materials come from to build more social and affordable homes?

How do they think families pay to put food on the table without the secure well-paid jobs that come from forestry, mining, manufacturing and aquaculture?

How do they think Governments pay for essential services without the economic contribution of these industries?

Over summer we have seen it again.

The Greens have stood by as protestors have attacked Ta Ann – a business that has bent over backwards to secure approval from environmental groups.

They have opposed the harvesting of small quantities of timber from areas that they previously agreed should be open to forestry operations.

Cassy O’Connor even attacked tourism operators who have been ravaged by the dual impacts of fires and coronavirus, accusing them of having a hand out for government subsidies.

The motive for these attacks is unclear other than to divide communities and damage Tasmania’s reputation in the name of politics.

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.

As I have said before, it was a mistake to think that Labor could ever work with The Greens.

We will never make that mistake again.

At the next election, Labor will govern alone, or not at all.

My message to Tasmanians is that we can balance jobs growth with environmental outcomes.

Tackling climate change will create jobs.

Value adding our natural resources can create jobs.

Labor understands that Tasmania has a huge natural advantage when it comes to renewable energy.

That’s why Labor is the strongest supporter of investment in more renewable energy.

We have been vocal in our calls for Tasmania to be a leader in green hydrogen generation and are pleased the Government has finally woken up to the opportunity.

We note that forestry will play a vital role in replacing carbon intensive products like concrete and steel while also acting as carbon sinks.

Tasmanian mineral resources like zinc, nickel, tin and copper will be increasingly important for transitional technologies like batteries, solar panels and electric cars.

The growth in these sectors will not only help Tasmania play its role in combating climate change, it will also create new jobs.

We can preserve what makes Tasmania special while continuing to provide opportunities for our young people.

And we can do it without the bitterness and the divisiveness of the Greens. Madam Speaker,

Providing job opportunities is key to overcoming social disadvantage. But tackling social disadvantage can also create jobs.

Today I am announcing Housing Works – a landmark plan to provide urgent relief for Tasmania’s homelessness crisis and ease pressure on rental costs.

Housing Works will fast track the construction of 490 additional houses in partnership with community housing providers.

These homes will be delivered in the first three years of a Labor Government.

This policy will create more than 550 new jobs, 75 apprenticeships and inject more than $300 million into the economy.

These 75 apprentices will be some of the first to benefit from Labor’s free TAFE policy that will help them get a foot in the door on a jobsite across Tasmania.

Housing Works will help an estimated 1100 people into new homes at below market rent.

Under Peter Gutwein and the Liberals, too many people are being left behind.

1600 Tasmanians are homeless on any given night and many other families are couch surfing, relying on their friends and families or living in sheds, cars or tents.

The heartbreaking stories from people like Jenny who became homeless when the private rental she had been living in was sold. Jenny is a grandmother on a disability support pension and she spends most nights sleeping in her car.

She shared her fear about not knowing how she was going to cope through the winter and that she spends quite a lot of time in her car crying. She has been on the priority waiting list for social housing for more than a year.

More than 3400 families are waiting for public housing because the Liberals have not met their promises to build affordable housing.

And renting privately is more unaffordable in Tasmania than anywhere else in the country.

Labor’s Housing Works plan is about jobs, it’s about housing, it’s all part of our plan for a better and fairer Tasmania.

We want the community to know that Labor will fight for them and their family and make sure they have the essentials for a good life.

Madam Speaker,

While Labor has spent the summer working on positive policies for Tasmania, the Liberal Party has been tearing itself apart.

Will Hodgman’s departure has created a rift between the unelected Premier Peter Gutwein and the man who still wants the top job, Michael Ferguson.

There is nothing stable about two grown men playing chicken in a self- indulgent, ego-driven leadership contest.

Peter Gutwein may have prevailed but the internal damage has been done and the splits within his party have been exposed for all to see.

The ideological divisions in the Liberal Party between the moderates and the extreme right are not good for Tasmania.

And it has meant the government has taken its eye off the challenges facing Tasmania.

Take health for example.

Way back in September last year, the former Premier, Will Hodgman, promised that the new Royal Hobart Hospital would be open “imminently.”

This Government has a strange definition of imminent.

Six months on, there is still no sign of the hospital being opened, let alone taking patients.

After months of denials, the Liberals made the extraordinary admission last week that the hospital is unfit to take patients.

The project has been plagued with problems, from mould, to asbestos, missed milestones and even dust falling on patients in the intensive care unit. The latest problems are unresolved concerns about lead contamination in the water and the noise of the airconditioning.

Sarah Courtney, the near invisible Health Minister promised that 44 beds would be open and taking patients by February.

It is now March and no one in the Government knows, from the Premier down, when the hospital will be ready to take patients.

The Government has been completely hands off when it comes to delivering this crucial project for Tasmania and they have failed to be honest with Tasmanians about what is going on.

And it’s a similar story in Launceston.

The new Children’s Ward at the Launceston General Hospital was supposed to have been completed in October last year.

In a classic example of Liberal spin, the Government now say the project is “on track” for delivery in April – which they claim is just a “few weeks” later than the original plan.

This odd grasp of the concept of time is perhaps why the Liberals don’t think it is a problem that Tasmanians wait longer for surgery than anywhere else in the country.

Or that people with mental ill health are waiting up to six days in the Emergency Department before they get a bed.

Let’s be clear – the additional funding for the health system announced by the Premier a few weeks ago is just another band aid.

It simply plugs the black hole that Peter Gutwein deliberately created in order to make his budget look better.

It is barely sufficient to meet existing demand, let alone deliver on the

Government’s election promise to open an additional 250 beds at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Improving the health system relies on a fundamental change in the way we deliver services.

We need to be investing in preventative health and programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity in order to keep people healthier for longer.

We need to improve access to primary health services, including working with the Federal Government to boost GP bulk billing rates, which are the worst in the country.

And we need to take the growing problem of mental health seriously. Mental ill health is a growing contributor to pressure on our hospital system.

As a parent, it concerns me that mental ill health is becoming an increasing problem for our kids.

Young people have access to more information than ever before.

They are experiencing anxiety over the impacts of climate change and the consequences of global inaction.

They are exposed to the negative effects of bullying online.

These types of pressures have always existed in some form, but they are amplified and intensified 1000 times over by social media and digital devices that are on 24/7.

I applaud the Liberal Government for adopting a ban on mobile phones in schools. This removes distractions from the classroom and reduces bullying in the playground.

But we need to be doing more.

That is why Labor has announced a policy to put mental health workers in every school.

This will ensure that every child has access to mental health support when they need it. Current arrangements are patchy, with many schools reporting that they don’t have enough resources to meet increasing demand.

We will change that.

Investment in mental health is an investment in the future of our children, and it is a preventative health measure to take pressure off our hospitals and support families and our schools to provide the best start for our young people.

Madam speaker,

Inadequate health funding is just one example of Peter Gutwein’s budget mismanagement.

After six years of pork barrelling, warped spending priorities and tricky accounting, Tasmania is now speeding past $1 billion in debt.

These are debt levels that Tasmania has not experienced in two decades – since the last time a Liberal Government was let loose in the Treasury.

Tasmanians may ask how the Premier has achieved the simultaneous feat of neglecting essential services AND racking up more than a billion in debt?

The answer lies in warped priorities.

While Peter Gutwein promised to cut wasteful spending on consultants, travel, advertising and supplies and consumables, the reality is that these costs have continued to increase.

The overspend on consultancies and travel last year was $13 million.

And just last week we heard of the farcical situation of the Government employing a consultant for nearly $600,000 to tell it how to save money on the Bridgewater Bridge project. A lunacy that was rightly called out by the Editorial in the Mercury as akin to a scene from the comedy Utopia.

Right now, the only thing masking this Premier’s budget incompetence is an unprecedented raid on dividends from Government businesses, including Hydro Tasmania.

Peter Gutwein continues to use GBEs as his personal piggy bank – even after he was told by the Hydro Tasmania board that the dividends he is taking is forcing the business into unsustainable debt.

Today the Premier claimed that Government businesses are there to fund the activities of Government. They’re not. Their primary purpose is to deliver services to the people of Tasmania.

Let’s be clear, the Premier is forcing government businesses to borrow money, in order to prop up his own wasteful spending.

It’s like borrowing money on one credit card to pay off the debt on another credit card.

It is fraudulent accounting on an industrial scale. Madam Speaker,

Peter Gutwein has attempted to justify his record debt disaster by claiming the government is borrowing to build infrastructure.

That claim is a cruel joke.

This government’s record on delivering major infrastructure can only be described as woeful.

I have already mentioned the debacle that is the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Last week we had confirmation that the new Spirits of Tasmania will not be delivered before the next election – and there isn’t even a new contract in place for their completion. The lack of action by the Premier has been staggering.

Everyone knew months ago that the shipyard selected to build the replacement vessels was never going to be able to deliver them as promised. The Premier’s lack of intervention has left exporters, tourism operators and travellers searching for answers.

The Bridgewater Bridge has been sent back to the drawing board after Infrastructure Australia rejected the first business case.

There is no sign of ferries on the Derwent.

The Hobart Airport Roundabout is yet to start construction.

The underground bus mall and bridge over the Tamar River exist only in Michael Ferguson’s warped imagination.

Things are so bad that the head of Infrastructure Tasmania has resigned in embarrassment.

Every year they have been in government, the Liberals have failed to spend almost a quarter of their own budgeted infrastructure funds, which is putting a handbrake on job creation.

The failed leadership aspirant, Michael Ferguson has brought his trademark kiss of death to the Infrastructure portfolio and is failing to deliver outcomes, just the same as happened in health.

Tasmanians need their government to be honest about the true state of the Budget.

If they can’t even admit there is a problem, how can they begin to fix it? Madam Speaker,

Secrecy and a lack of transparency permeates everything this Government does – especially when it comes to election campaigns.

Tasmanians will never have a clear picture of who bankrolled the Liberal Party’s 2018 election campaign.

That’s because Tasmanian elections operate under the weakest donation disclosure laws in the country.

For the better part of a decade the Liberals have stood in the way of donation disclosure reform – first in Opposition and throughout their first term.

The day after the 2018 election Will Hodgman finally promised to strengthen donation laws.

But two years later the unelected Premier – who has long had an aversion to transparency – has walked back on this commitment – arguing he doesn’t want to discourage participation in democracy.

The Premier’s reluctance to clean up political donations stinks. If the Government won’t act, Labor will.

Today I can announce that Labor will be shortly introducing a Private Member’s Bill to introduce state based donation rules.

This will include lowering the disclosure threshold to $1000 and requiring close to real time disclosures to the public about who has made a donation to a political party, as well as caps on expenditure.

This is sensible reform that is in line with measures introduced in other states.

Elections should be determined by which party has the best plan for the state, not by how fat their wallet is.

Peter Gutwein has no reason to oppose these changes, unless he chooses to put his party’s own blatant self-interest before the interest of the public and their right to know.

Madam Speaker

This week marks International Women’s Day.

It also marks nearly two and a half years since the state’s last low-cost surgical termination service closed.

Despite promises made by the Government at the time that they would establish a service locally, women are still flying to the mainland and the confusion remains about what limited services might be available in Tasmania.

Labor supports a woman’s right to choose. And her right to make decisions about her body and her healthcare. We recognise access to affordable terminations is a legal and essential health service that should be provided in the public health system, like all other legal health services are.

And we again remind the Government of their failure to treat women with the respect they deserve and their failure to provide access to basic healthcare.

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women and their achievements but it is also a time to consider how we can better support women to achieve equality and live free from violence.

In the last 12 months the family violence and counselling service in Tasmania received 6,484 referrals. However, the resourcing for this service hasn’t changed from the time they were receiving 1,800 referrals a year.

Demand for family violence and counselling services has tripled and the Government needs to respond with adequate funding to ensure the service can cope.

The family violence and counselling service employees have been calling on the Government to provide an additional $1m in funding annually to make sure they can help some of the state’s most vulnerable women and children in their time of need.

If the Government can find $600,000 for a consultant to tell them how to save money building a bridge, surely they can find the money required to keep women and children safe.

Madam Speaker,

Two years ago the unelected Premier declared the dawning of a golden age.

We are regularly told the economy is the fastest growing in the country. What good is economic growth if the lives of our people are getting worse?

True success can only be measured by how well, or how poorly, members of our community are doing.

It is the job of government to make people’s lives better, not worse. There are now people begging on the streets. We can do better.

We can do better than the traffic that chokes our roads every morning and every evening, preventing people from spending time with their families.

We can do better than hospitals that are the worst performing in the country.

We can do better than educational standards that are among the worst in the developed world.

We have to acknowledge these problems if we are to have any hope of overcoming them.

Madam Speaker,

My vision for Tasmania is to make sure we have a strong economy that works for people.

We will enhance those things that Tasmania is the best in the world at; renewable energy, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and we will support the innovators and entrepreneurs that have used technology, research and that unique Tasmanian creativity to develop solutions to some of the toughest global challenges.

Labor has a focus on delivering secure jobs and lifting wages and conditions because that will improve the health of the economy.

We will make sure that people can get the training they need so they can get a foot in the door and secure a good job here.

We value trades training and the opportunity an apprenticeship or traineeship can give someone.

We believe when people are happy and healthy, with a roof over the head, they can fully participate in society.

Labor is about getting the basics right so that everyone living in Tasmania gets a fair go and can have a better life.

That will be our focus throughout 2020 and beyond. Thank you

 

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