Peg Putt, Greens Opposition Leader

Response, Wednesday, 27 September 2006, to the Premier’s State of the State address …
THE annual State of the State address is the opportunity for the Premier, on behalf of his government, to give a strategic overview of where the State is at, where its been and where its going under his administration.

What was extraordinary to the Greens in yesterday’s State of the State address was the apparent inability of this Premier and his government to say the ‘E’ word environment, let alone to think about it as something fundamental that needs to be protected and nurtured in Tasmania.

In fact, this State of the State address culminates a process, which we have been observing, which has gathered apace under the Premiership of Paul Lennon, of a move away from Tasmania’s clean green and clever direction, which has now been comprehensively abandoned. The natural state is no longer the way that this government conceives of Tasmania, nor the focus around which they will organise their economic activity.

We’re stunned that the Premier has abandoned the push to protect and enhance Tasmania’s reputation as the natural state, one that, in fact, of course came from the Greens in the first instance, but is very fundamental to our economic differentiation and our ability to get into markets internationally and to attract visitors to this place

It is also part of our responsibility that we are here to look after all the aspects of this state. Of course we look after the people, we look after the economy, but we must also recognise our stewardship responsibility to look after the place.

There is the fact that the outstanding environment that exists in Tasmania is a jewel that is of great importance to the people but it is under threat, and it is under gathering threat, under this administration, through direct assault and through the gradual erosion of the values.

So the move which was commenced by the Greens, who first coined the term ‘clean and green’ and there was a time when I recall the current minister for primary industry would not utter that phrase in parliament. He used to make jokes about clean and green must mean that the meat has gone off, and he would squirm around and try and talk about clean and pure as well in order not to let the word ‘green’ pass his lips. Well, that extraordinary revulsion for the idea of actually caring for the place you live in rolled away when what we were saying about a clean, green and clever economy began to take hold, when the idea that you value-add to what you do here, with that underpinning of the natural state, the wilderness values, the clean environment and therefore make a place for Tasmania in the markets was embraced. We can not compete in terms of size and scale of production, so we’re looking for some other way to get into markets and where of course on prices we cannot compete on a constantly lowering price scale in the bulk commodities market, particularly if we want to support our producers with a good return for their work and their efforts and to give them the sort of life style to which they’re entitled.

Tony Rundle endorsed clean and green

These things were recognised indeed in a direction statement given by the then Liberal Premier Tony Rundle. He endorsed that a clean and green direction was vital to Tasmania’s economic future but Paul Lennon has comprehensively now abandoned that to go back to a 1950s view of what development is about in Tasmania. We find this to be the most appalling turnaround that could possibly happen and very retrograde for Tasmania, especially given the situation that we find ourselves in as a state, nationally and internationally in relation to environmental calamites that have extraordinary repercussions for our way of life and our economy. In particular of course there is the issue of climate change that we really need to be getting our act together on. This is not some sort of fancy frill around the edges to have a climate change strategy, and what we have to have is a strategy that actually outlines actions that will be taken, serious actions that will be taken expeditiously, to deal with what has become virtually become a runaway train. It is coming down the line very fast and it is going to be too late globally to do something about it.

We might be a small place but that is not an excuse for not showing leadership and its certainly not an excuse for not even mentioning the matter in a State of the State address. We need targets, we need emission targets. We need actions to change forest burning and land clearance impacts. We need actions to protect our biodiversity here in Tasmania. That is also urgent. There are biodiversity erosion impacts that come from climate change and also from a range of other activities and unfortunate things that are occurring here in Tasmania at the moment. In particular, we would have thought that in the State of the State address the Premier would at least have announced an upgrading of funding, focus and effort for the Fox Taskforce, given the major threat not only to Tasmania biodiversity but to Australia’s biodiversity that is posed by foxes. These are now known to be established in Tasmania, which is the refuge for many of the endangered marsupials, some of which are actually extinct on mainland Australia, leaving Tasmania as the Noah’s Ark, which will be relied upon for these species to survive for the benefit of the entire world. That is the importance of our situation in relation to this, and yet this government couldn’t even mention in the State of the State address biodiversity, our responsibility to nature. We do have, as people who are elected in this state to contribute to the governance of Tasmania, a very serious and earnest responsibility to look after all of the living treasures of Tasmania. Yet apparently in the Premier’s mind they don’t exist anywhere near as prominently as football or horse racing, and that is an indictment on his appallingly narrow horizons.

I want to quote something that was said by Martin Luther King that should frame the way in which we approach things like this State of the State address, and our perceptions and our actions in relation to strategic approaches going froward. We ought, and certainly the Greens do have this practice in our party rooms, but I begin to realise that it’s a foreign notion in relation to this labor government, we ought when we make decisions and when we consider any initiatives which will then flow into a speech around our strategic directions, we should be looking from the perspective of our grand children and their grandchildren. We should be focusing on what the actions we propose today will result in terms of the lives of our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and this is what Martin Luther King Jr had to say in a speech not long before his assassination. He said,

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood: it ebbs. WE may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilisations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too Late’. There is an invisible book of life, which faithfully records our vigilance in our neglect. Omar Khayam is right: ‘The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on’.”

That is what we should do

I wish Paul Lennon knew that quote and I wish he acted on it because that is what we would do. That is what we should do. That is an important observation for decision makers and a very important observation in relation to what is alleged to be a speech of overarching strategic initiatives, because the calamities coming down the line in many aspects have been comprehensively ignored, let alone the actions that need to be taken, particularly in the environmental arena by the Premier and his government.

I repeat one more time, that I cannot believe that at this point in our history there is no mention of climate change, there is no mention of the threats to our biodiversity and there is a comprehensive abandonment of the clean, green direction for Tasmania.

So, where are we with this State of the State address?

Well, the assessment of the current situation was one-eyed, to say the least. There were no remarks on the failure of Spirit 3, on the deception of the Tasmanian people coming into the election, not to mention the vilification of the Greens for daring to point out the reality of the situation. No apology, in relation to any of the backflips where we’ve been proved to be right and the government has eventually had to come to that point in their decision making. I don’t suppose that you expect them to big even though I will make some efforts to congratulate them where I feel that it is due. No remarks in relation to Spirit 3. No remarks in relation to the situation of the Hydro. No remarks in relation to the huge debt level built up in Government Business Enterprises.

But again, the continued theme about debt which is manicured to make it seem as if all debt relating in any way to the government has vanished when of course we know it has been carefully sidelined into the GBE’s in order to allow a manicured statement to be made around debt.

What was perhaps even more extraordinary, was the failure of the Premier to mention the current debacle engulfing his Ministry. Where were his remarks on ministerial competency. Why did he not seek to dispel the cloud that is sitting over his front bench and his government. He talked about leadership alright. He mentioned strong leadership on about the second sentence I think it was. Mr Speaker, well, I beg to differ. And when he finished saying his government is about strong leadership, at that point, the Parliament erupted in hysterical laughter.

‘My Government is based on strong leadership’, he says. The Premier does not demonstrate strong leadership, he demonstrates a failure of leadership and every day it is becoming more apparent and remarked upon. Because you see since the March state election not only has he been found to have deceived the Tasmanian people in relation to Spirit 3, the financial situation of the Hydro and his weasel words on debt, but he has been engulfed by the scandal over Bryan Green’s signing of an illegal document with the TCC designed to lock them into an exclusive right to continue builder accreditation for the next 3 years, no matter who the future government was. Hasn’t that been proven not only to have been the most extraordinary negligent act, with this man failing to tell parliament the full story and misleading parliament, also misleading the Premier, along the way. Now we discover that of course the KPMG audit has shown that they were not doing the job well, that it was not a good arrangement, as our member for Bass Mr Booth had been pointing out for years, and been vilified in the process. Yet we have the Premier again making a deal that makes it easy for his Labor mates, gives them the public legal position on paper that all that was wrong was a bit of bad publicity. What he would do if he had a skerrick of good leadership in him, is that he would make the hard decisions and he would make them now.

He has to set and maintain standards for his ministers and yet in this State of the State address there was not a single mention of upgrading or enforcing his code of conduct for government members, as if there was no problem. Give us a break. Well he’s claimed in the parliament this year, that we, on the Opposition sides of the House, ought to commit to that code, but at the same time, all that we can see is that it’s honoured in the breach. And when we ask him how he applies it and why he doesn’t apply particular sections of it he won’t even answer. I reckon anyone could claim that they were enforcing the code as well as Paul Lennon does, because the long and the short of it is that he is weak, when it comes to his own people. He won’t lay down the law. He needs to set and maintain standards for his ministers, he needs to relegate Bryan Green to the back bench permanently. Appoint a new Deputy, get a new Minister into the portfolios. I can’t help the fact that he doesn’t have a great lineup of talent to choose from but that’s his problem. Now, when I go around the state I am hearing a litany of concerns from stakeholders, about the headless departments that don’t actually have a functioning Minister at the moment because of Bryan Green being removed from his position. Paul Lennon thinks he can do it all, I know, but he actually can’t. He really needs to act, there is a drastic failure of leadership.

Economically aggressive Tasmania

Now what else is in the State of the State address? Well I was fascinated by the bit at the front of the address about the economically aggressive Tasmania. Once I recovered my breath from the fact that the clean, green and clever direction has been completely abandoned, we had a statement that ‘my government gives strong leadership’ and then went on to talk about development projects across the state. He chose in particular to name the pulp mill, Lauderdale quay and the DFP. I don’t think the Premier knows the difference between strong leadership and bullying communities. Bullying communities, overriding community views, ignoring what they have to say, overriding business concerns as well, is not strong leadership, it is pure bloody mindedness. What this Premier thinks is strong leadership is his bizarre spending priorities, and his questionable support, come hell or highwater, for developments to which the community objects. And he will go out of his way to ensure that his whimsical priorities and these obnoxious developments go forward no matter what the community thinks and no matter what other priorities are on the horizon. So we get the 15 million dollar football deal, no cost benefit analysis. Criticised from all quarters including the ones he though were going to cheer him around the field, and he can’t tell us where the money’s going to come from. How about it? Its pretty poor isn’t it? And then we’ve got the Elwick $30 million. And every time there’s something wrong with health and human services, you hear about how the Premier cares a lot more about horses.

There are serious issues in hospitals and Health and Human Services, and yet we have these bizarre spending priorities.

So the economically aggressive Tasmania, apart from bullying communities into submission and delivering them projects that they don’t want with profits expatriated out of Tasmania and the environment trashed, seems to consist of exports of raw materials and bulk undifferentiated commodities into volatile international markets with little value adding, and he’s been off pursuing more of it in China, well big whoopee.

Because what we actually need is differentiated, high end, niche production, and I notice that a year or two ago he cited at length Saul Eslake in his State of the State address and Saul Eslake makes some very acute observations in relations to this direction and its necessity for Tasmania, but Saul Eslake’s been dropped from the State of the State address now too, as we revert to Paul Lennon’s 1950s industrial vision.

The RHH – one enormous embarrassing backflip. We give it a big tick of approval, mind you, because it’s Greens’ policy. It’s policy that Lennon’s Labor government made an artform of vilifying. Of course he’s not big enough to apologise, but there you go. We’re going to support this one. We hope that it’s not called royal anymore, and we hope that it mentions Tasmania. Maybe we can have a naming competition for the hospital, once we’ve finished abandoning the natural state in the naming competition for the number plates. Having said that we support the building of the RHH, because this needs to happen and we embrace the change in labor’s policy, the Greens reserve the right to keep on the government’s tail questioning, probing and raising issues around this initiative. I want to put on the record here my hope, probably a vain one, that the government will display maturity in relation to this and not attack us for daring to ask questions, and not to claim and imply that because we question about what is going on, it means that we don’t support the project, because it doesn’t. It is too important, this project, for the health of Tasmanians into the future, for us to leave the government to it. We will work with all interested parties including doctors, patients and their families, on the requirements and we will bring the issues here, we will bring them up in public, because it is our job to keep the government on track on this one.

Affordable housing. We’re pleased that something is finally flowing through out of the public private partner ship. It’s a good step, but its no substitute for investing government funds into publicly owned affordable housing. If I was in charge of the state, if I was in charge of the Treasury coffers, I can assure Tasmanians that 15 mil would have preferentially gone to publicly owned public housing for people who are doing it tough, who are on such tremendously long waiting lists, well before it would have gone to football games.

The stolen generation. The Greens wholeheartedly support this initiative. Legislation that supports compensation will be introduced to parliament by the end of October, we’re told. We intend to support it. Of course we need to look at the legislation and consult with indigenous communities but as long as they tell us that this is what they wanted, we’ll support it. We’ve expressed previous concerns that there wasn’t funding in the budget and we’re therefore reassured that the government is going forward with this. And we also hope that there will be unanimity through the Parliament in relation to this because it is such an important reconciliation initiative, and reconciliation is a most fundamental imperative for us in this place to pursue, for the aboriginal community and ourselves.

A few other points contained in the State of the State address that I would like to remark on. There is the establishment of the Tasmanian skills authority board. The concerns that the Greens express in relation to this are probably similar to those of the previous speaker. Yes, we have been pressing the government for years in relation to skills and skills training, that we understand that this involves the need to retrain many existing older workers and it cannot simply all be gotten from new entrants into the workforce undertaking various forms of skill training and apprenticeships.

Get on with the training

We also are strong on the fact that our managers need better training and need to understand that it is not only important that they afford these opportunities to their employees but they get some help themselves.

But we have to get on with the training and we are worried that the Skills Authority Board doesn’t talk into a talkfest. So I simply put that on the public record. But if it works the way it is meant to then that is a good thing.

Accountability. Now, this government can really do with upgrading itself in relation to accountability. I don’t think there is anybody who would question that. There are some good initiatives here. The Greens have been on the record wanting a Charter of Budget Responsibility which we spoke about during the recent State Election campaign and I find it quite interesting that in announcing the Charter of Budget Responsibility the Premier failed to mention that the one political party, the one recognised political party that failed to produce a fully costed and funded account of their election promises was Lennon Labor. Lennon Labor put it on the other parties in the election to come up with the fully costed and funded initiatives but they didn’t do so themselves and they never produced a fully costed and funded summarised account of all their promises for assessment despite the pressure. So I find it pretty interesting that the Premier comes in here trying to make some kind of virtue of coming up with this idea when he himself comprehensively failed to fulfil this responsibility in the most recent election. But I do need to say some things about the proposal.

This proposal must include that the start of the election Treasury books are opened to all those parties. If we can’t know where spending in the Budget is up to at the time that the election begins then there is no way we can be expected to prepare costed and funded initiatives with the same level of understanding of what money remains available that the government has. In other words, there must be a level playing field.

We also should have the assistance of a Treasury officer to make sure that we’ve got the correct figures in relation to what is available where and how it can be expended and what the implications are. Because the government has that. We can’t be expected to guess it from the Budget papers which the Premier himself is on the record in his speech saying no longer do the job. And for which he was roundly criticised by numbers of luminaries nationally in relation to the last budget papers including again from Saul Eslake in relation to the lack of transparency. So I am putting it very clearly here, we want the Charter of Budget Responsibility but we will only have it in the context of a level playing field, we will not have it as some sort of political cat and mouse game where Lennon Labor government is the cat and we have a couple of mice running around about to be eaten in a totally disadvantageous situation.

So the Premier needs to come clean on what on earth exactly that is about.

As we have also said, the Premier needs to revamp his Ministerial Code of Conduct and what he needs to do even more urgently than that is enforce it. He should read it and enforce it.

We have had policy for many years of separate Consolidated Fund Appropriations that he has outlined, including for the Ombudsman and we give a tick of approval for that as well as to upgrading the Audit Act and giving the Auditor-General additional powers.

Its become quite obvious, especially the way this government manages things, that this is highly necessary.

Well, water and sewage.

I suppose this is the only area in which you can say in any way is connected with the environment. Again there is a need to ensure that results flow through, however we do acknowledge the need for a regional or statewide approach.

Local government cannot fix the problems alone.

We also insist on a modern approach. No more putting sewage into oceans and rivers. Cut our use of water by adopting water efficiency measures.

I sum up by saying that Premier Lennon’s move to ditch Tasmania’s ‘clean, green and clever’ future and to abandon the natural state is absolutely disgraceful. Speech after speech after speech from this man has abandoned the heading of Environment. We only hear about Economy, Society and Culture. He thinks that the environment is some sort of fancy trimming that he calls ‘lifestyle’, which all goes to show his total lack of comprehension. It is a serious problem for Tasmania we’ll do what we can to pull this government up to the mark, and we are going to be advocating for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and for all the living beings which share this beautiful place with us.