Wednesday 29 May 2013
Hansard of the Legislative Council
FUND APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 2013 (No. 33)
FUND APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 2) 2013 (No. 34)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, enter
the eternal optimist. Budget deficits do not faze me and I am not obsessed with
surpluses. You could argue that a budget surplus is money sitting there that
should be put to work. A predicted deficit of $426 million for a population of
about 500 000 is, by no means, startling. It is better than some other states
and a better state debt per population than most developed countries in the
world. Some economists would argue that it is not a bad time to owe money with
interest rates at an historic low. Some would say it is a good time to borrow
more, provided it is used to stimulate the economy and create jobs, preferably
through infrastructure development.
I take any
promises about a return to surplus with a grain of salt, as we have experienced
over recent years. Whether it is Labor promising a surplus in 2017, or the
opposition promising one a year earlier, there are too many imponderables to
make such promises. If you talk to someone in the street and ask them about a
date for a return to surplus that would suit them, you will find that they have
many other pressing concerns.
contains no new taxes and no increases in present taxes. I contrast that with
Queensland where households and businesses will be hit with tax increases in
next month's budget following a further write-down in revenue. The Newman
government is under pressure to either raise taxes or cut services in
Queensland's 4 June budget. The Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, has
admitted there will be tax increases in next month's budget to make up for
revenue shortfall. I have a quote from the Financial Review. He said:
The budget is
being framed under tough circumstances. We are going to have to look at
increasing taxes to make up for the revenue shortfall to maintain services.
Sunshine State, unlike Tasmania, is planning tax increases. We are seeing drops
in revenue all round. When that happens to an individual, if they are sensible,
they will cut non‑essential spending but they will not sell the car which takes
them to work, they will not cut the food budget so that the family's health is
compromised, leading to additional medical expenses. So it is with governments
- if you cut spending too far you create greater unemployment.
This leads me
to what the Premier says is a key part of her government's future strategy and
we have heard the term 'jobs, people, opportunities'. It is a heading that
features prominently in the budget papers. No one could argue against that
concept. Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate of any state and everything
possible must be done to correct it. The Premier touched on a number of job
initiatives and perhaps the most noteworthy is the reintroduction of a payroll
tax rebate. I have always found it difficult to reconcile companies being taxed
to employ people, with a need to get them to employ more workers.
Ms Forrest - If you read the history of the
introduction of payroll taxes, it was supposed to be a consumption tax that was
right across the board, low rate, broad based. It has been completely decimated
on the way to now, a very narrow base, and the problems we have.
Mr FINCH - It is obviously a very hard one
for governments to give up. Lifting the payroll tax threshold from $1 million
to $1.25 million will help, but why tax jobs at all? It is obvious that if a
Tasmanian does not have a job they spend less on goods and services and thus
the stimulus of their spending is lost to the economy. That is why I am alarmed
by the state opposition's promise to sack 500 public servants, some through
attrition, but to achieve the aims that were set there would need to be people
Valentine - It is
still putting pressure on those who remain in the workforce. That is the
Mr FINCH - Absolutely.
Valentine - They
need to rationalise services more than cut the numbers.
Mr FINCH - And you would have a good
understanding of that circumstance in your previous experience. When Ford
planned to sack not much more than twice that in 2016, it was seen as a
national calamity with calls for urgent retraining and new job placements but
in this strange world there seems little concern for the future of 500
Tasmanian government employees suddenly without an income to spend in our
economy. Sacking people may save a salary's budget but the economy pays in the
developments are being seen as some sort of jobs silver bullet. They will help,
especially in the development phase but you can only dig up minerals once and
they always run out. We must not allow utopian concepts of a mining boom to
distract us from developing permanent and sustainable industries, although I
might point out I am a supporter of the mining industry because I know the
importance of it, particularly for young people, and the opportunities that it
creates. I remember as a young person wanting to travel, not from a well
comforted background, and I had to go out and work to get the money to travel.
That took me to Savage River. The opportunity was there for young Tasmanians to
go up to Port Latta, apply for a job and get into Savage River, and you had a
job to earn the money to go where you wanted to go. That helped me to go on to
the Pilbara where I worked at Dampier, Karratha, Tom Price and various other
locations. The mining industry is an important part of my development, and
still is and can be more so for young Tasmanians if we develop the mining
industry even more.
I thought it
was interesting when we did our tour to the Tarkine recently to have a look at
what had gone before. People who would go into the Tarkine now would look
across at Mount Lindsay and say, 'Wow, how good is this wilderness'. Compare
that with a photo taken in the 1890s or the early 1900s when it was being
mined. It was over a century ago and here was a big photo of how that area was
being mined and developed and the hillside was rampant with people, buildings
and a big working mine. Nature has recovered that and today the mining methods,
the ecological restraints, the environmental restraints that are on mining
companies will see it treated in a more harmonious way, so I am going to be a
supporter of the development of those mines. I am a glass half-full person and
that is what I am working on.
I see some
hope in a number of initiatives mentioned in the budget speech. In irrigation
almost $39 million is to be spent in the next fiscal year on projects such as
the Midlands, Lower South Esk, Kindred, North Motton, the South Esk and Upper
Ringarooma. There has been money spent and there is more on the way for that
irrigation scheme. This fits perfectly with a push to sell more Tasmanian
produce into Asia.
It would be
remiss of me if I did not talk about tourism. It is a vital industry in my
electorate. There is some money in this budget, an additional $1 million for
marketing, and the same amount for remote air access to Tasmania. It is
welcomed but of course not nearly enough. As we have seen in the opposition's
budget, there is $4 million for each of the next four years, which sounds more
the subject of health services does feature strongly in the budget, as it
should, but a notable omission is palliative care, which is becoming a big
issue in the north. Last Friday about 200 people attended a rally in Launceston
to call for funds to establish a hospice, preferably on the site in Howick
Street near the Launceston General Hospital. More than 2 500 people have signed
a petition in support of the establishment of a purpose-built ground-floor
facility in Launceston. It is an issue that has not gone away.
back in the early 1990s interviewing on ABC radio Lach Hardy Wilson, who drove
the establishment of The Manor. We talked about this development of the idea of
the hospice facility that became Philip Oakden House at The Manor. It served a
fantastic purpose in our community and people were very appreciative of that
facility. Unfortunately, further development of that area and facilities has
seen that close down. The people who have an understanding of how important
that role was are still working to find a replacement for Philip Oakden House.
heading 'People in the Budget' are details of the government's recognition of
the importance of preventative health and of course it is high time that this
had greater recognition. It is interesting to see in our report yesterday from
the Auditor-General that they use the word 'preventive' health. I have never
used that word but it plays the same role as 'preventative' so I might try the
two. If I start to stumble over one I will use the other.
health is really an individual's responsibility but we could all do with some
help from the government. We have far too much abuse of health in Tasmania. We
only have to read the Auditor-General's report of yesterday to see our figures
on smoking and obesity and other issues. We have the highest rate of smoking in
the country. If the member for Windermere was here now he would be nodding away
and pleased that I was discussing that particular subject because it is one of
the peccadilloes that he goes on about. We have an increasingly high incidence
of cardiovascular disease. Many of us are overweight. In short, it is well
recognised that our health services are totally unsustainable unless we can
keep more people out of them.
saying here quite a few years ago, when I talked about the ever-increasing
medical costs, that if we keep going the way we are going, when health had
become a third of our budget, it is going to be the entire budget in the
future. In the report from the Auditor-General we saw the escalation of medical
services, just going off the radar.
$1 million for targeted, evidence-based preventive health measures is welcome
but, again, it is a fraction of what is needed. I read in this morning's or
yesterday's Mercury that the Minister for Health is going to accept
those recommendations from the Auditor-General's report, which is a good signal
that it is not being ignored. Is it not obvious that every million dollars
spent keeping people out of the health system saves much more than that amount
in the system.
Mr Gaffney - Maybe we should ask the
Auditor-General to do a few more reports about other things and I will accept
his recommendations as well. It might be the way to go.
Mr FINCH - What are you thinking of?
Mr Gaffney - There were 15 recommendations
accepted, so maybe we could get him to do some others.
Mr FINCH - Just on that subject, I cannot
help but feel so much faith in the way Mike Blake and his team are functioning
as the Auditor-General's office. Right from the get-go when he came here, I was
very impressed with his manner and the way he went about his business. Then, to
go to a briefing such as we had yesterday and to see the way the officers
presented their evidence, conducted themselves unemotionally and gave us their
report directly. The reports they had laid out for us were very well done and
really good grist for the mill.
Mr Gaffney - It is hard to see them doing that
work with decreased numbers too.
Ms Forrest - There have been significant
budget cuts in the office of the Auditor-General.
Mr Gaffney - Yes.
Mr FINCH - I missed the call for notice of
motion today, but I will put it on the notice paper tomorrow that I would like
us to consider and note that report from the Auditor-General because I thought
there were some really good indicators that will be good to get into the system
and the Minister for Health can see that those recommendations need to be
preventive health, I note the reference by the Premier in her speech about
sport. I will quote:
We are also helping
Tasmanians to adopt healthier lifestyles by investing in better sporting and
recreational facilities. Over the next two years, for example, $1 million is
being provided for the trails and bikeways program to encourage healthy, active
lifestyles and better-connected communities.
most important factor in preventive health receives no mention. Healthy
lifestyles start in school, the earlier the better. I believe there should be a
greater emphasis on looking after our own health from early primary school
onwards. Individual preventive health should be a school subject. We put the
pressure back on parents to have an understanding of that; they have never
learnt about it. It is only what they are picking up through the media, through
magazines and through general chat, but a lot miss out on dealing with that
subject as well, so children are developing unhealthy lifestyles right from the
word go. I think there should be more focus in schools on healthy lifestyles.
Mr Gaffney - That is a really good point, but
schools do a lot of that already. Where they are spending the money now is to
reinforce that to the family that that needs to be reinforced in the home.
Families need to support these things happening across primary schools and high
Mr FINCH - While on the subject of schools,
I want to mention the Gonski education reforms. Although the government has not
signed up yet, there is the allocation of $83 million across the budget in
forward estimates to improve educational outcomes. There is no doubt that
Tasmanians are behind much of the rest of the country in education, although it
is obviously the key to our future. Education needs much more support and
resources and hopefully the Gonski initiative will be a start - another start.
I have read,
amongst the numerous reports of the end of Ford automotive production in
Australia, that a big factor in whether Ford workers will be able to find new
jobs, will be their literacy skills. Almost 45 per cent of all Australian
adults are said to be functionally illiterate and will find it increasingly
difficult to find a job. I do not know the rate of functional illiteracy in
Tasmania. It is complicated to define but whatever the rate is, it is too high
and the problem must be urgently addressed.
Ms Forrest - That was a national figure you
Mr FINCH - Yes.
Dr Goodwin - I think ours is higher than that -
51 per cent or something.
Ms Forrest - It is higher. The figure of 48
per cent was one I heard recently but it is higher than the national average.
Mr FINCH - That is terrible. People who have
been in a job like the people at Ford Australia have been there probably all
their working lives so they have been in a comfort zone in respect to the
skills that they have. Now they are being challenged by having to find a new
job. If they do not have those skills that are commensurate with the new
employer's requirements, they are on the scrap heap.
Ms Forrest - In the briefing we had this
morning about the TasTAFE reforms, one of the challenges that was described to
us was with forestry. For people who lost jobs in forestry, basic literacy and
numeracy is the challenge and the problem is in seeking other training
opportunities. Some of the people in that situation probably lack numeracy and
Mr FINCH - A problem that must be urgently
Back to my
eternal optimism, one of the problems facing Tasmania when the budget was
brought down was cited as the high Australian dollar. It was above parity with
the United States then and now it is down to around 95 cents. According to many
economists it is heading towards 85 cents, so that is one problem, the fixed
with declining GST revenue remains and that can only improve as a result of
other economic factors beyond our control. Governments around Australia are all
facing the same problem, declining revenue, and that is basically a federal
issue. There is no doubt that our taxation system must be reformed.
I want to
finally mention a taboo subject.
Ms Forrest - Are you talking about state
Mr FINCH - No, the taboo subject is GST -
federal. Should we examine more closely the increase in the GST