Labor Leader Rebecca White’s State of State reply speech

Tasmanian Labor

[Check against delivery]


Madam Speaker,

This summer we have witnessed nature’s full fury, with bushfires raging right across the state.

The sheer scale of the bushfire emergency and the destruction is difficult to comprehend.

When you consider the length of time that bushfires have been burning and the area that has been burned, it is all the more remarkable that more property wasn’t lost and, thankfully, that no one was harmed.

On behalf of all Tasmanians, I want to thank everyone involved in the firefighting effort, including our career fire fighters, volunteers, parks staff and Sustainable Timbers Tasmania workers.

The remarkable resilience in the face of adversity that I witnessed in my own community after the Dunalley bushfires in 2013 was again on display in Geeveston, in Bothwell, in Zeehan, in Maydena and Miena.

Hero is an overused term but there are few words that better describe the actions of those who put themselves in the line of danger to protect their communities.

I heard stories of volunteer fire fighters who left their own homes in danger so that they could allow their neighbours to get some sleep by conducting overnight patrols.

Two weeks ago I joined those affected on the Huon Valley frontline in Geeveston. Theirs are stories of loss – the loss of property and for some the loss of their livelihoods.

For them we know from the experience of Dunalley and other natural disasters that the road to recovery will be long.

The first step is to conduct a full, independent and forensic inquiry to ensure that we learn from this disaster.

It is equally important that we can have confidence that the Government has implemented the recommendations of previous inquiries in full.

Past inquiries in 2013 and 2016 identified practical solutions to problems that made important recommendations.

Those recommendations cannot continue to be ignored by the Hodgman Government.

We must make sure that we are better prepared.

We must give our firies and Parks and Wildlife specialists the tools and resources they need to keep people, homes and businesses safe, and protect World Heritage Areas from further devastation.

The Government must act now, so that Tasmanians can be confident that we will be as prepared as possible for next summer.

The Liberals must also step in to support major employers like the Tahune Airwalk, Ta Ann and Neville Smith Forest Products during the 6 to 12 months that they are expected to be out of action. The Huon cannot afford to lose full time workers and their families from the region.

I encourage all Tasmanians to continue to support the businesses in bushfire affected regions.

Areas like the Huon, the Central Highlands, the Derwent Valley have so much to offer local visitors and tourists alike.

Head down to visit Hastings Caves and Cockle Creek, make a stop in Geeveston at the Old Bank for a coffee and cake, or try some of Australia’s best sushi at Massaaki’s. Head to Mt Field national park, drive to the Great Lake Hotel for a meal or try out the Rail Track Riders at Maydena.

Our regional communities and the people who live and work there need our support as they recover from the fires. It’s a long road, emotionally and financially, for many, and it may take years before the impact dissipates.

Election anniversary

Madam Speaker,

Just a few weeks ago Tasmania marked 12 months since the 2018 state election.

Making it five years of Liberal Government.

But after an election that promised so much, it is worth asking what has been delivered over the past 12 months.

Many of the issues that were front and centre of the election campaign remain unresolved.

Yesterday the Premier stood in this place and read off a list of things he says his government will aim to achieve over this term of government.

Yet another list. Following five years of lists.

Tasmanians don’t want any more lists of so-called reviews, inquiries or planning works they now have no faith or trust will be delivered.

Tasmanians want tangible solutions to the roadblocks they face in accessing the essential services they need for a better quality of life – roadblocks that have in many instances been put in place by the incompetence of this government.

Look at the state of our state:

Tasmania’s health system is still in crisis; in fact it has only gotten worse over the past 12 months.

The Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment is a disaster, with mould, asbestos, wage theft, and Tasmanians missing out on work because the Government failed to put in place training programs to prepare a local workforce

Just over a year after the Hodgman Government hastily organised what it called a Housing Summit, Tasmanians remain in acute housing stress. More than 3200 people are still on the waiting list for public housing.

Tasmanians from all walks of life continue to struggle to put a roof over their family’s heads. It is unacceptable that 1600 Tasmanians on any given night are sleeping rough.

The Government continues to boast about jobs numbers. But there are more than 6600 fewer women working since the election, and Tasmania’s young people are less likely to have a job than any other state. This is nothing to be proud of.

There has been no progress on major water and sewerage projects, including the relocation of the Macquarie Point sewerage treatment plan or cleaning up the Tamar River.

The Liberals have spent a year delaying or crab walking away from major infrastructure commitments including the bridge over the Tamar River, the underground bus mall, a fifth lane on Hobart’s Southern Outlet and the duplication of the Sorell causeway.

The Government is still locked in a pay dispute with nurses, teachers, firefighters, child safety officers and corrections officers, with a wage offer that is less than the increase in the cost of living.

There are no ferries on the Derwent.

There is no sign of progress on the Cradle Mountain cableway.

Budget blown

At the same time as this, the Liberals have blown the budget.

The budget update released quietly in the middle of the bushfire emergency reveals the Liberals have put Tasmania on a fast track to debt with their twisted priorities and irresponsible election pork barrelling.

Tasmania will be in net debt of $343.1 million within three years.

What was forecast to be a $161.9 million surplus has been reduced by 95 per cent to just $7.3 million.

And that is before we even start to tally the cost of the bushfires, which are expected to have a final bill well into the tens of millions.

This is not a Government and a Treasurer that is managing a budget through a tough economic time. The Treasurer has no one to blame for these numbers except his own poor judgement and bad decisions.

The golden age that Peter Gutwein heralded less than a year ago has been squandered.

At a time when the national and global economy is relatively strong and revenue to the State Government has been higher than forecast the Treasurer’s budget mismanagement has been laid bare for all to see.

As the gold paint wears away, the ugly reality of the Liberal Government’s budget management has been exposed.

One of the great lies told by Peter Gutwein is that he inherited net debt from the former Labor Government. He did not. Labor paid off Tasmania’s debt all the way back in 2005 and maintained net cash and investments over the life of that government, despite a global financial crisis smashing its revenue forecasts.

You only have to look at funding for health to understand the extent of the Liberals’ twisted priorities.

Everybody knows there is a health crisis in Tasmania and yet every year the Liberals budget allocates less to health than was spent in the previous year.

The 2018-19 Budget contained $111 million less for health and hospitals than was spent in the previous financial year.

That’s after the Government’s own report showed them there was a $100 million funding black hole in their health budget.

So while the Liberals have now allocated an additional $105 million for health, it is still $6 million less than was spent in 2017-18.

Next year they are forecasting to spend $15 million less.

Remember when you are hearing about millions being cut, or the failure of Will Hodgman, Peter Gutwein and Michael Ferguson to properly budget for our hospitals and health system – it is Tasmanian patients and their families who are suffering.

It is Tasmanian patients and their families who are forced to wait for days in emergency department corridors because the Government does not support them. Waiting for hours ramped in an ambulance, waiting years for elective surgery.

This is a Government that is letting people down.

This is a government that is incapable of admitting its mistakes, let alone learn from them.

Budgets are about choices and the Liberals chose to prioritise unaffordable election spending over funding essential services.

They have ignored sensible policy ideas that would bring additional money into the Budget, like the point of consumption tax on online gambling that Labor proposed at the last election. All other states have now adopted this measure, which is estimated could raise in excess of $10 million every year for Tasmania.

Saul Eslake famously damned the Hodgman Government with faint praise saying they had been minding the store.

Now we know they have been raiding the till.

The Labor team

Madam Speaker,

Being in Opposition is frustrating. It means we are denied the opportunity to give effect to our policies, whether that is fixing the health crisis, building affordable housing or investing in skills to create jobs.

Labor has spent the past year since the election strengthening our connections with the community and holding the government to account.

Last year we conducted 10 electorate tours in just six months.

These tours allowed us to engage with communities in 37 towns and suburbs and we visited 67 businesses and community groups.

Labor is serious about listening to people and ensuring that our policies remain relevant and reflect the priorities of Tasmanians.

Last month I announced a reshuffle of my Shadow Cabinet, which takes advantage of the depth of talent within the Labor team.

After 12 months, new members are now firmly engaged and established in their communities and the time is right to give them portfolio responsibilities.

The reshuffle marked the start of an intensive policy development process over the coming year.

We are reviewing and adding to our policy agenda in collaboration with Labor’s Platform Committees, our Industry Advisory Councils and the wider community.

Because a good government should have a long term vision and a willingness to listen.

Skills and Training

Quite frankly, we are doing the work the government should be doing in listening to industry about the challenges they face and strategies to overcome those challenges.

Already the common theme across all industry sectors is skills and training.

Youth unemployment levels in Tasmania are among the worst in Australia.

So it is no surprise that the Liberal Government would have such a woeful track record when it comes to TAFE.

Who could forget the scandals that occurred over the last few years involving nepotism and mismanagement?

The stories more recently of courses postponed, students in limbo, the lack of teachers and the genuine concern about the capacity of TAFE to deliver for industry.

What’s needed is an injection of confidence in the public training provider.

Confidence for students that the skills they obtain will help them get a job.

Confidence for employers that students will have the skills they need to perform at a high standard.

I want to see more businesses take on apprentices and trainees. I want to see more young people gain the satisfaction of learning skills that get them a job and allow them to access the opportunities that provides.

In order to do that we need to be leading by example.

Quite frankly it is shameful that this Government has failed to uphold their own policy to employ a minimum number of apprentices on major infrastructure projects.

It is appalling that they have turned a blind eye to the exploitation of foreign workers at the Royal Hobart Hospital while they have done nothing to skill up a local workforce.

The Liberals like to pat themselves on the back for their spending on infrastructure but they have done none of the planning and they have none of the policies to ensure that jobs on those projects are filled by Tasmanians.

I will be having a lot more to say about skills and training over the coming year.

The best way to ensure someone can get a job is to give them the skills they need and that industry wants.

Protecting the Tasmanian lifestyle

Madam Speaker,

I have spent the summer reflecting on what it means to be Tasmanian.

Why do we love living here?

And what is it about the Tasmanian way of life that has people flocking to share it with us?

There are many answers to those questions: our beautiful natural environment, our stunning beaches, our laid back lifestyle and our warm and friendly people to name a few.

But the question that drives me in this job, is: what are we doing to protect the things that make us unique? What are we doing to preserve the Tasmanian way of life? And how do we ensure the best future for our children?

When I sit in traffic for an hour to get home from the city I worry that the work life balance we enjoy in Tasmania is being eroded. The time spent waiting in traffic is time that I could be spending with my family.

Mia is at the age when memories are being made every day. Every minute is precious

No doubt the people sitting in the cars around me feel exactly the same way. Every day the Liberals delay action on promised infrastructure upgrades they are robbing Tasmanians of time that could be better spent.

In five years, this government has done nothing to address traffic congestion in our major cities.

They have squandered the benefits of a growing population without investing in the infrastructure to support growth.

And yesterday the Premier announced yet another review looking at how to ease traffic congestion, after five years of nothing.


Madam speaker,

This government is not only robbing people of their time, they are robbing them of their health.

For me, there is nothing more fundamental to having a good life than being healthy.

Health is, and always will be, my number one priority.

And that is why I am so angry this government has made such a mess of the health system.

Every day we hear more stories about how Michael Ferguson is failing patients.

There is no greater example than the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment.

The Government keeps saying that the new hospital will reach practical completion by the middle of this year. But what does that mean?

Tasmanians would be forgiven for thinking it means that the hospital will be open and taking patients within months.

They would be forgiven for thinking that 250 beds will be open and ready to take patients.

They would be forgiven for thinking that the new building will be fully staffed.

They would be forgiven for thinking that capacity constraints in the Emergency Department will be fixed.

They would be forgiven for thinking that the hospital will have sufficient mental health beds.

They would be forgiven for thinking that ambulances will no longer have to queue for hours on end outside the hospital.

Unfortunately none of those things are true.

Once construction is finished the hospital needs to be commissioned. That is a complex process.

Just a few weeks ago the AMA described the task of getting patients from the new helipad to ICU as akin to getting school kids out of a Thai cave.

The great lie of the 2018 election campaign was the fact that the vast bulk of the Liberal Government’s health funding will not flow until after the 2022 election.

The 250 beds at the new Royal Hobart Hospital will not be fully open for another five years.

The Emergency Department that was designed for 45,000 patients will continue to be space constrained in dealing with more than 60,000 patients.

The Government has only provided 32 mental health beds, despite expert advice that we are 10 short.

For as long as there is a shortage of beds there will continue to be ambulances ramped outside the hospital.

In short, the problems at the RHH will continue well beyond this year. They will continue even when K Block is open and taking patients.

Tasmanians could be forgiven for thinking Michael Ferguson is just not interested in providing an adequate public health and hospital system. They can be forgiven for believing the only thing Michael Ferguson wants is his name on a plaque.

And it is not just in the south that he is failing patients. It is statewide.


Madam Speaker,

It is a similar story when it comes to housing. We read the headlines almost weekly about house prices overtaking mainland capital cities and growing at the fastest rate in the country.

That might be good news for those who already own a house. But spare a thought for people in the rental market or younger Tasmanians struggling to raise an $80,000 deposit to buy their first home. Those same people have faced rent increases of 20 per cent and more in the last year in some areas.

The Hodgman Government hasn’t just contributed to this problem, they created it. They blindly deregulated short stay accommodation, which has eaten into the rental market.

And they have failed to invest in new, affordable housing stock. Roger Jaensch promised to build 900 new affordable homes by the middle of this year as part of the Affordable Housing Strategy. He won’t deliver anywhere near that. And don’t be fooled – releasing vacant blocks of land was not part of the promise.

For many years Tasmania’s cheap house prices and lower cost of living was seen as an offset to our comparatively low wages.

That is no longer the case. As house prices sky rocket and household bills spiral out of control, wage growth has been stagnant.


Madam Speaker,

The Hodgman Government’s so-called “negotiations” on public sector wages for its frontline workforce have been atrocious and have lead to a nine-month stalemate. Workers want only what is fair and reasonable from a government that is acting anything but fair and reasonable.

The blame for the current dispute can be laid squarely at the feet of a Liberal Government and Treasurer who have clutched stubbornly for such a long time to a 2 per cent wages policy that has not kept up with the cost of living.

That means teachers, fire fighters, nurses, park rangers, paramedics and allied health workers are all falling behind their mainland colleagues.

The cost of living continues to grow and the Australian Bureau of Statistics measured inflation in Hobart at 3 per cent.

It is little wonder that we cannot recruit workers to these essential jobs when we aren’t offering competitive wages

It is little wonder workers across the public sector are taking industrial action to demonstrate the need for the Government to value the contribution they make every day.

And it is little wonder that people feel like the Tasmanian way of life is slipping out of their grip.

When I talk about preserving the Tasmanian way of life, I am not talking about stopping things or resisting change – we didn’t get where we are today by staying the same.

But we need to appreciate what we have got and make strategic decisions that align with our values.

If we don’t take control of our own future we risk losing what makes us unique.


Madam Speaker,

I have spoken before about the need to support tourism in our state and the iconic attractions that entice so many people here.

I don’t believe that Tasmania has too much tourism but I do think we need to be more strategic about how we manage growth.

The rapid growth of tourism is currently outstripping the ability of the budget to fund necessary infrastructure and services.

Labor wants to see visitors make a greater contribution to protect the things that makes our state unique and special.

To that end, I would encourage the Government to adopt Labor’s election policy to restructure entry fees to our iconic national parks and reserves to ensure the cost matches the true value of the experience.

The proceeds should be reinvested to protect our biosecurity defences and upgrade visitor infrastructure.

As we have seen this summer, another major risk to the lifestyle we all enjoy is climate change.

We cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend climate change does not exist.

We know from expert reports that the warming climate is going to result in fire seasons that are longer and hotter. Along with that will be more frequent dry lightning strikes like those that started many of the fires that have ravaged Tasmania this summer.

But the effects of a warming climate are not limited to fire.

Storm surges and coastal erosion pose a threat to our beaches and beloved waterfront shacks.

Tasmania – of all states – should be at the forefront of responding to global warming as a result of our competitive advantage in renewable energy.

We have the potential to show the way towards a low emissions future by becoming a test bed for new technologies, including electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel.

All this takes vision and a government that is passionate about preserving the Tasmanian way of life.

Instead we have a government that is not preserving our way of life, but exploiting it.

Squandering the good times for their own political gain.

Government dysfunction

Madam Speaker,

Tasmanians were promised stable government.

They were promised open and transparent government.

They can be forgiven for now believing those promises were a con and what they have witnessed over the past year is something more akin to a soap opera – a government that is characterised by internal fighting and led by a weak Premier who is incapable of controlling his government and his Cabinet and incapable of stemming scandal after scandal.

Almost immediately after assuming office last March, Premier Hodgman’s Government began lurching from one scandal to another.

Almost immediately after assuming office it became blatantly obvious that the government had no intention of addressing multiple crises, it had no intention of seriously delivering on its election promises – many of which we now know were just not to be believed – but instead was focused entirely on itself.

The former Primary Industries Minister Sarah Courtney plunged the government into scandal by breaching the Ministerial Code of Conduct for not disclosing soon enough that she was in a personal relationship with the head of her department – and she got away with it by being rewarded with a new Ministry

To date there has still not been a publication of the protocols that will apparently manage the continuing conflict.

The saga over the former Mining Minister Adam Brooks finally came to a conclusion but not before Mr Brooks and Premier Hodgman were dragged kicking and screaming to that conclusion more than two years after serious allegations were first raised.

Mr Brooks was finally revealed to have lied to the Premier, lied to the Parliament and lied to all Tasmanians in his disgraceful email saga – and got away with it, charging taxpayers for his legal bills before finally seeing the light and resigning from Parliament.

The former Police Minister Mr Hidding – who was also Mr Hodgman’s Parliamentary Secretary – very recently resigned from the Parliament in the wake of very serious allegations levelled against him that have now become the focus of a police investigation.

Tasmanians will not forget that Premier Hodgman himself – along with his Health Minister Mr Ferguson became personally and recklessly embroiled in the Angela Williamson sacking scandal, the offensive online trolling from the Premier’s own staff, the refusal to deliver legal health services in the public hospital system and denial of women’s rights.

It defies belief – and is not in any way acceptable – that the Premier’s staff, staff at the highest levels in his office, would engage in an online campaign against a former colleague and seek to silence her from criticising the Government’s failure to provide terminations in this state.

It was an act of cowardice and an act of deliberate vengeance and the disappointing truth is that still today, there is inadequate access to affordable and accessible termination services in our state And this should not be the case.


Madam Speaker,

I see so much potential being squandered by this do-nothing government.

This is not the Golden Age they promised.

Think back over the past 12 months since the election. What did the government actually achieve? What did they actually do to make the lives of Tasmanians better?

Will Hodgman sees his only job is to win an election every four years and then his job is done.

My vision is for a Tasmania that is prosperous enough to provide opportunities for all and small enough that no one gets left behind.

My vision is for a state which is a beacon for fairness.

A true measure of Tasmania’s success needs to include how well, or indeed how badly, its people are doing.

Tasmania deserves a Government and a future where growing inequality is tackled thoughtfully and meaningfully.

A future where underemployment and insecure work is acknowledged and Government, business and community can come together to find solutions.

A future where essential public services are available for everyone.

A future where ideas and innovation are encouraged and celebrated.

A future where our economy can provide enough employment for each person seeking a job and where each person employed is paid appropriately in recognition of their value.

A future where people feel safe in the knowledge that there is someone there to help when they need it.

A future Tasmania where nobody gets left behind.

When people ask what does Labor stand for I tell them all this.

A Labor Government, with this team right here beside me, is determined to deliver a fairness agenda; better access to hospitals and health care; training pathways to employment; investment in infrastructure to support housing and transport; action on climate change and investment in renewable energy and a balanced budget that gives confidence to business and supports sustainable economic development.

We are fired up and ready because we know there is no more important job than looking after our state, our community and our children’s future.

We are going to hold this tired Liberal Government to account every day, because Tasmanians cannot afford another year of failure.

Tasmanians demands and expect better than this, and the Labor party is ready to step up and deliver.

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