2021 State of the State Reply
MOTION – Premier’s Address
Tuesday 23 March 2021
Mrs PETRUSMA (Franklin) – Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the Premier’s Address. As a very proud member of the Tasmanian Liberal Government, it is an honour and privilege to be back for this, the fourth year of the 49th Parliament of Tasmania.
I congratulate and thank Peter Gutwein on his outstanding leadership. Mr Gutwein and his Cabinet, together with our public service, have been tireless in overseeing the delivery of our plan to secure Tasmania’s future by keeping Tasmania one of the safest places in the world as we rebuild and grow Tasmania’s economy after COVID-19, while creating more jobs and more opportunities for Tasmanians.
A parliamentary career is a demanding one and no one knows this more than the family and friends that surround you. I am very grateful to my number one supporter, my husband Tim, and my four children. I would not be here without their loving encouragement. I am always conscious of the many sacrifices they make on a daily basis to allow me to have a career in public life, albeit a career working for the constituents in the best electorate in Australia, the great electorate of Franklin.
I also gratefully thank the world’s best and most amazing and fantastic electorate office staff, Rochelle and Clare, without whom I could definitely not do this role. The wonderful Franklin members of the Liberal Party who support me and the entire Liberal team are invaluable.
In regards to my role as Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees, I would like to say how much I enjoy the committees I am a member of. Committee work is a very important role and function for members of parliament. I commend the professionalism, positive attitude and commitment that members in both this House and the upper House of the various committees show.
I have deeply appreciated working with the respective committee secretaries. I thank them, our Clerks, and all our wonderful parliamentary staff in the House of Assembly for their professionalism and tireless support for what they do each and every day for all of us in this House.
I congratulate Mr Gutwein on his second Premier’s Address. As the Premier outlined, COVID-19 has been the biggest single health, economic, and societal shock to hit Tasmania in our lifetime. The efforts of Tasmanians have been extraordinary in what has been the most dreadful of circumstances. Many of our businesses were closed, thousands of Tasmanians lost their jobs and Tasmanians lost people they loved.
As the Premier stated, we will not forget the sacrifice that Tasmanians made, the cost borne by individuals, families and communities. Nor will we ever forget that tragically there were 13 lives lost. This is why the Premier established PESRAC last year, to provide advice to the Government on strategies and initiatives to support both the short- to medium- as well as the longer-term recovery from COVID-19.
The final PESRAC Report has now been released and the Government will accept all 52 of the recommendations so that we can grasp new future-focused opportunities across five key priority areas, including jobs and income, health and housing, community, connectivity and engagement, environmental sustainability and public sector capability.
The Government is very committed to delivering all of these 52 recommendations as we want to ensure that all Tasmanians, regardless of their background or where they live or their circumstances, are able to grasp the opportunities that our new growing economy offers, including making our great state an even better place in which to live, work and raise a family.
Regarding Tasmania’s economy, there is no doubt that this Government’s Social and Economic Support Package of $1 billion is working. Employment is back to pre-pandemic levels, we have the second-lowest unemployment rate of all the states and our economy is ranked the number one performing economy in Australia for the fourth quarter in a row, according to CommSec.
We know that there is still much more to be done. For example, Tasmania has a world-class tourism industry, which is essential in supporting and securing local jobs. While we have had an incredibly tough year, the future is bright, which is why the Premier has announced $17.5 million of initiatives to ensure that we have the right attractions and opportunities for visitors and which also enhance our world-class reputation. This includes the launch of our most aggressive winter season campaign ever. Along with the Australian Government’s discounted flights initiative this will set us up for a bumper season.
A strong and resilient tourism industry plays a key role in our plan to secure Tasmania’s future which is why my family and I over summer delighted in supporting our local industries through thoroughly enjoying the pleasure of holidaying at home and supporting the Huon Valley in its recovery.
When you drive south from Hobart you pass through Huonville, Franklin and Geeveston with the opportunity to stop to fill your car with petrol, buy the groceries you need at Woollies and shout the kids an ice-cream or grab a coffee at one of the many fabulous restaurants or take-away outlets on the way. Among all the many activities and attractions we visited, the Tahune Airwalk was especially inspiring, to see firsthand the resilience and community spirit shown by Ken Stronach and his fabulous staff at Tahune Adventures. My family and I were amazed and inspired by all that the team has achieved in restoring Tahune since the horrendous 2019 bushfires ravaged the site, including the magnificent rebuilt walks and views and the great vignettes scattered throughout the walk on forest regeneration and resilience. I particularly congratulate Mr Barnett, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, Tahune Adventures Tasmania and all the contractors for their investment, hard work and efforts in getting this very popular and very important tourism site for the Huon Valley back up and running to full operation.
The Tahune Airwalk is now employing both former and new employees and providing job opportunities to locals in the area with immense flow-on economic effects to the Geeveston community and the wider Huon Valley.
A little further past Dover and Southport lies the wondrous Hastings Caves. If you have not been there I encourage you to do so. The Hastings Caves is a magical underground world. My family and I love the dolomite cave system, an incredible labyrinth of chambers cleverly lit to highlight the ancient subterranean formations, including cathedrals and columns. We also enjoyed the warm and newly resurfaced thermal pool at Hastings. It is 28 degrees and mineral-rich. It is surrounded by gorgeous walking trails. It was wonderful to see so many tourists there on the day. Because the Government has now sealed the road, they can now take their hire cars on the road and enjoy a picnic and barbecue with their families in the forest surrounds.
If you really want to support your fellow Tasmanians, do not just go for the day, stay for a night or two in the far south. My family and I enjoyed superb accommodation in Southport and undertook many beautiful walks, including the short and easy walk to Duck Hole Lake in the South West National Park. This walk is mostly boardwalk and it follows the stream through to regrowth forest along a 19th century sawmill tramway. It is the most delightful tranquil location in which to just sit and listen to the birds and frogs, while enjoying a picnic.
We also visited Cockle Creek, a much-loved destination in Tasmania’s far south and saw firsthand the $800 000 worth of upgrades being undertaken to the Southwest National Park including a new interpretation shelter as well as new and refurbished amenities. It was fantastic to see that the works are being undertaken by a local company which is providing ongoing work for Tasmanians as well as value-adding to our local economy.
Closer to Hobart is the Channel Museum at Margate, a fantastic place for visitors to check out the many, varied and quirky stories of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel region. This award-winning museum is packed with rare and fascinating insights into the cultural, social, artistic and industrial life of the original Aboriginal inhabitants, the early explorers and the various channel industries. It has been wonderful to visit the museum a few times lately because on every visit you learn so much more.
This Government is also continuing to invest in the infrastructure our growing state needs with a record $5 billion infrastructure program to turbocharge our economy, supporting about 25 000 jobs and building the intergenerational infrastructure our state needs to thrive, attract investment and to rebuild a stronger Tasmania.
As a member for Franklin I am particularly excited to see the raft of infrastructure measures to deal with traffic congestion in Hobart, as people from both sides of the river in my electorate need to get into and quite often to travel right through the city to get to work, to drop off kids at school, or to participate in daily activities. I note that construction of the $46 million Tasman Highway Hobart Airport interchange upgrade is now well and truly under way, making this intersection safer, reducing traffic congestion, while also allowing for future increases in traffic. It is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2022.
There is $23.2 million for the duplication of the East Derwent Highway at Geilston Bay which has started this week; $65 million towards the Tasman Bridge upgrades as part of this $130 million federal/state government project; $23 million for intelligent traffic solutions around the greater Hobart area, therefore enabling the road network to be more resilient as well as to accommodate traffic changes arising from unplanned events; $7.5 million for the Channel Highway diversion at Huonville; $500 000 for bus services as part of the Hobart City Deal; and $7 million for the Sandfly intersection upgrade on the Huon Highway.
This Government has also released the Channel Highway Corridor Study, between the Algona Road roundabout and Margate, which has considered how the highway will best meet the community’s needs including future housing growth. This is a plan for not just the short term but for the next 20 years. It identifies challenges as well as a shortlist of prioritised opportunities for future improvement projects to address congestion, safety and public transport concerns. I congratulate the minister for Infrastructure, Michael Ferguson, and his department, as the report was developed with extensive consultation including residents, road users, businesses, community groups and the Kingborough Council, and is taking into account future development proposals as well as projected traffic volumes.
I note that potential projects to be put forward in future budgets as high priorities include significant upgrades at the ‘Fork in the Road’, the Algona Road intersection with the Channel Highway so as to deal with congestion, together with improvements to site-distance at the Howden Road intersection, improvements to pedestrian cycling and public transport facilities as well as a future grade-separated interchange at the existing Algona Road roundabout and a new roundabout to align with the future Huntingfield Stage 2 development.
The Southern Access Project, as a key initiative of the Hobart City Deal, is also on track with a contract awarded to develop a detailed design for a Southern Outlet transit lane to link with bus priority measures in Hobart with concept designs also developed. Preliminary works at the park-and-ride facility at Firthside have commenced and the tender for stage 2 of the park-and-ride facilities at Huntingfield and Firthside are now open. Additional express bus services to support the park and ride facilities will commence mid 2020-21.
Bruny Island residents and visitors are also set to benefit through the $7.5 million being spent on Bruny Island landside infrastructure providing an improved traffic management and far greater amenity for local residents and other road users. Work is also continuing to progress on the Bruny Island ferry terminals at Kettering and Roberts Point so as to improve travel times to and from Bruny Island; to reduce ferry queues and congestion on Ferry Road and the Channel Highway; and to improve more orderly and safer boarding.
Another exciting project is the new $22.5 million TasTAFE Energy Trades and Water Centre of Excellence in Warrane. This will deliver an innovative teaching and learning facility that meets the current and future needs of the plumbing, mechanical services, water, hydrogen electro-technology and polymer processing industries. The latest technologies will be showcased and will also enable TasTAFE to adapt its training offerings to respond to the changing needs of traditional industries and emerging industries. This is another important step in TasTAFE’s evolution.
As the Premier and minister Rockcliff have outlined, one of the strongest themes in the PESRAC report is the critical role of skills in building Tasmania’s recovery, and TasTAFE’s central role in this. We know that our construction sector has a pipeline of work, which is why we are training more Tasmanians as tradies, apprentices and trainees. We have emerging industries with new jobs on the horizon, which is why we must act now to make sure Tasmanians has the best access to industry-endorsed training that is fit‑for‑purpose. This is why this Government supports PESRAC’s recommendation, as we believe it is time to take action and build a bolder TasTAFE with a smart approach to delivering hands-on training to courses that best equip Tasmanians to gain a job.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, no teacher or staff member will be disadvantaged by this move. Instead this action will deliver more teachers and more delivery in our regions, contemporary fit-for-purpose facilities, more training options, better pay for skilled teachers and flexible hours.
Another key recommendation of PESRAC is the creation of Jobs Tasmania Local Networks to strengthen the links to job opportunities and ensure more Tasmanians have the opportunity to live and work in the place they call home. We will work to establish these local networks to link to our existing hubs, however we know Tasmanian businesses need workers now.
This is why we have announced a two-year $20.5 million package to help Tasmanian workers into jobs which includes: $6.5 million over two years for the Tasmanian Employer Bonus to help employers take on long-term jobseekers who need a fair go, with a $6500 bonus for those employers; $3 million to fund an additional 600 training places in certificate 3 in individual support, which is the crucial qualification staff need to work in the Aged Care and Disability Support sectors; $2.2 million for low-cost or free buses by expanding our Area Connect service. This will provide transport to get people to work, training or education where no easier alternative exists and will be expanded to serve 16 local government areas.
There will be $2 million for our Job Ready Fund to help jobseekers with the costs of licensing, Working with Vulnerable People checks, or a toolbox with equipment necessary for a new job. There is also $2.4 million to expand our successful job matching service to place more jobseekers with local employer vacancies, and $1 million to extend TasTAFE’s successful Skill-Up initiative, which provides fee-free training for those hardest hit by COVID-19 in key areas such as Health, ICT, Business, Tourism and Hospitality.
I note that there is $850 000 towards the Youth Navigators Project, which will assist disengaged youth to get extra triage services they need over the next 12 months to navigate further education, training or employment opportunities through one-on-one guided support; $400 000 to establish a workers connect portal, providing Tasmanian businesses and jobseekers with authoritative information about local jobs, programs and the support services that are available; and $200 000 to deliver regional job shows and events to showcase local employment and industry opportunities in partnership with regional job hubs and community groups. These projects will be managed by a new jobs and participation unit, to align with adult learning and vocational training strategies in Skills Tasmania.
This Government believes that every Tasmanian needs a roof over their head, which is why we are committed to helping more Tasmanians into a home by boosting the supply of new homes, supporting home ownership and putting downward pressure on rents. Our home builder program is already a great success with more than 2600 grants received and 1763 applications conditionally approved for new home builds and substantial renovations.
This Government under minister Jaensch is also rolling out the most comprehensive affordable housing strategy attempted in this state. Alongside this we will develop a broader housing policy framework that looks at the full array of housing market issues across the public and private sector to drive solutions in line with PESRACs recommendations. This includes $10 million to support a further 100 low income households into home ownership, through the Home Share program.
To address land supply, we will incentivise landowners to activate land with a $10 million headworks holiday for new residential subdivisions, including up to $5000 per residential lot for power and up to $5000 per residential lot for water and sewerage infrastructure. I note there are around 5000 hectares of privately owned, vacant, residential-zoned land across Tasmania which, if activated, could deliver around 60 000 lots for residential development across the state.
We will also provide further support to Tasmanians to buy their first home and incentivise empty-nesters to downsize with a stamp duty concession threshold to increase from $400 000 to $500 000 to reflect current market conditions. This will mean a saving of up to $9100 for homebuyers. To make it faster and simpler to build in-filled medium-density housing, we will also finalise an apartment code this year to make it easier, faster and simpler for developers and landowners to meet the growing demand for inner-urban apartment living. We are also providing a streamlined no-permit-required approvals pathway for landowners to construct ancillary dwellings such as granny flats or self-contained studios on their existing properties. To help meet demand for rental properties, the first 250 new ancillary dwellings that are made available for long-term rental for more than two years will also receive $10 000.
As well, to ease cost-of-living pressures and put downward pressure on rents, we have also released a suite of measures to modernise land tax arrangements. While land tax in Tasmania is the lowest, together with Western Australia, of all the states as a share of total state revenue, land tax thresholds will be increased to reflect today’s strong property market, with the land value at which land tax becomes payable to double from $25 000 to $50 000. The top threshold will also increase by $50 000 from $350 000 to $400 000, which means that around 70 000 landowners will benefit by up to $613 a year and 4100 additional landowners will pay no land tax at all in the year ahead. The premium penalty rate of interest will also be halved from 8 per cent to 4 per cent and land tax bills over $500 will be able to be paid in three instalments over the year.
On top of our $10 million building project support program announced in the 2020‑21 state budget, to further support stalled shovel-ready projects we will also establish a $30 million building construction support loan scheme to bring forward commercial construction projects that have been paused due to the economic and financing uncertainties created by COVID-19. This will further support jobs and create new or improved buildings or infrastructure. Projects of $3 million or more will be able to apply for low-interest commercial loans through the Office of the Coordinator-General under this job-creating scheme.
In regard to our health system, since coming to government we have grown our Health budget to $9.8 billion, a 70 per cent increase since the last Labor-Greens budget, with 1500 additional FTE staff. While Tasmania now has the second-highest rate of public hospital staff in Australia, we know there is still more to be done. Therefore, as minister Courtney has announced, to help make it even easier for Tasmanians to access medical care closer to home, we will work with the primary health sector with $3 million in additional support and incentives for primary care services, including GPs, to provide after-hours services for their local communities which will complement other state government initiatives including community rapid response and secondary triage.
The aim of this incentive program is to take pressure off Tasmania’s emergency departments and to maximise opportunities for lower-level care to be provided outside of hospitals, providing a better patient experience and freeing up hospital resources for more urgent patients. To ensure greater access to high-quality palliative care services, in the lead-up to the August budget we will also work with peak palliative care and health bodies and the community sector on the best approach for additional and expanded hospice-at-home services and expansion of statewide after-hours palliative care support. This will result in substantial investment to ensure that Tasmanians continue to have improved levels of care.
The Government will also be investing $5 million to provide around 20 000 appointments for public patients across emergency, general care and denture clinics so that more Tasmanians can get the dental care they need.
Tragically, there still continues to be far too many distressing and shocking incidents of family and sexual violence, both interstate and here in Tasmania. It is horrific incidents like these that remind us all that we still have such a long way to go to change the attitudes that lead to such terrible, senseless and unforgiveable acts of violence.
Eliminating family and sexual violence remains a top priority for our Government and we are strongly committed to preventing and responding to family and sexual violence in Tasmania. Together with many in this parliament, I attended the March 4 Justice rally last Monday and I welcome the Premier’s comments in his Address where he said:
In terms of the rallies held yesterday around the country and the hundreds of women who marched and rallied for a more inclusive, safe and fair society here in Tasmania, I see you, I hear you. This Government, this parliament sees you and it hears you, and while action has been taken already, we know there is more to be done and we will not shirk our responsibilities to ensure that everyone is safe, everyone is respected and everyone is supported.
Madam Speaker, this is also why this Government supports PESRAC’s recommendation to proactively seek out and fund additional initiatives that increase community connection, primary prevention and early intervention in areas such as family and community violence. To ensure our supports are ongoing the Premier has already assured our specialist family and sexual violence service providers that their funding will be extended at the increased level of COVID funding until 30 June 2022 so they can maintain their operational capacity to meet demand and continue to support our communities.
The Tasmanian Government is also continuing to support women and children affected by family violence through funding the upgrade and expansion of our women’s shelters, including Jireh House in my electorate of Franklin which, through this increased funding, have expanded their services through the purchase of a new three-bedroom home and the construction of another three-bedroom home, therefore helping more women to access safe and secure accommodation, support services and assistance to help them in their time of most vulnerability.
Young Tasmanians are our next generation and the future of our state, which is why a very important part of our plan is to invest in the education, learning and wellbeing of our young people. Since coming to government, across Tasmania we have extended 56 high schools to years 11 and 12, there are currently 35 new education infrastructure projects in planning, design or construction. We have prioritised boosting staff, with 269 more FTE teachers and 250 FTE teacher assistants. I congratulate minister Rockliff on these outstanding achievements and the fact that from term 3 this year pads and tampons will be freely available in all our government schools to ensure that no female student will miss school because they do not have access to basic requirements such as sanitary products at home.
We also acknowledge that mental health issues in our schools require a holistic multifaceted approach. This is why we have committed $81 million to deliver an extra 80 FTE professional support staff, including school psychologists, social workers, ministers and speech and language pathologists. We have also empowered senior people in our schools to adapt and tailor classroom teaching accordingly to better support students with mental health challenges or who are impacted by trauma. We are also further strengthening supports already in place by upskilling all of our school health nurses, with the latest mental health first aid training commencing later this year.
Additionally, this Government is taking a best-practice approach to building a contemporary integrated model of mental health care so our children and young people can get more holistic support at the right time. That is why, in line with PESRAC’s recommendations, we will also invest an additional $41.2 million over four years to fully fund phases 1 and 2 of the Government’s response to the CAMHS review.
This Government passionately believe that sporting clubs and organisations play an enormously positive role in our communities. The single largest investment in the 2020-21 state budget to boost community sport was our $10 million Improving the Playing Fields grants program that provides support for a range of capital investments by sporting clubs and associations. I have been delighted to visit some of the successful recipients to hear all about how this program will benefit their communities. For example, the Middleton Tennis Club will have a new and upgraded tennis court; the Huon Valley Golf Club will benefit from improved subsoil drainage for their fairways; Geilston Bay Tennis Club will have new lighting for their courts; and Sunshine Tennis Club will benefit with much-needed court and fencing upgrades as well as installation of the Book a Court online reservation system. The Kettering Cricket Club will be able to install a new centre pitch and training nets and the Kingborough District Cricket Club will benefit by installing a new complex scoreboard at the twin ovals.
In regard to climate change, Tasmania has a very proud history as a quiet leader on climate action, with a strong track record of renewable energy and innovation which has not only helped to reduce our emissions but also those of our nation. As the Premier and Minister for Climate Change has stated, the transition to net zero emissions represents an economic, environmental and social opportunity for this state which we are very well placed to grasp. We have already achieved our net zero target by 2050 four years in a row, and our target and Climate Change Act are currently under independent review. We are also developing our next climate action plan to guide our actions over the next five years. It will be informed by the modelling we are already undertaking to understand both the economic and the environmental implications of more ambitious goals.
We also have a target to have the lowest rate of litter in the country by 2023. We will support up to $30 million of investment into waste management and recycling facilities state-wide. We will also introduce legislation for our container refund scheme this year.
PESRAC has also recommended that we develop a sustainability strategy for Tasmania with ambitious goals and actions. The Department of Premier and Cabinet will lead this work in concert with other agencies and will consult widely on the strategy this year.
I congratulate Mr Barnett for taking the lead on the Tasmanian Government’s Renewable Energy Action Plan which has been rated by the World Wildlife Fund as nation-leading. It is a blueprint to leverage our renewable energy resources and to transform Tasmania into a renewable energy powerhouse. It will build on Tasmania’s natural competitive advantages, attract large-scale investment and ensure that new, large-scale renewable energy development and investment happens in the right place at the right time and for the benefit of all Tasmanians.
As the World Wildlife Fund stated yesterday, Tasmania has been named the overall leader on the scorecard largely due to our 100 per cent self-sufficient renewable status, our legislated renewable target and our efforts to punch above our weight to build a renewable hydrogen industry with our $50 million funding program. As Mr Barnett stated yesterday, we know we have more to do. We have our eyes on achieving an even higher level on the World Wildlife Fund scorecard as we continue to further our Tasmanian Renewable Energy Action Plan over the coming years. It is great that Tasmania has been acknowledged as the leader across all state, territory and federal governments when it comes to the actions essential to position Australia as a renewable export superpower.
Finally, I acknowledge and thank the Premier, the Cabinet, the public service, in fact all Tasmanians who worked together to ensure that we kept our state safe over the last 12 months. As a result of all of these efforts, and I acknowledge the efforts of everyone in this Chamber as well, Tasmania has not only managed to conquer a health crisis but it has also turned around its economy, which is again growing strongly and supporting Tasmanian jobs.