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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2054


Mr WHITELEY (Braddon) (11:48): I would like to thank my colleague the member for Bass for putting this important motion before the parliament. Like the member for Bass, I too have mixed feelings about this motion, because, as I reflected in my maiden speech just one week ago, we are a state of makers. We are producers and we do it well: cheese, wine, machinery, vegetables and beef—on these fronts we are second to none. Yet, despite our reputation for excellence and innovation, Tasmania is found wanting on just about every significant economic and social indicator available. As this motion notes, Tasmania has the lowest gross state product per capita of any state—approximately 20 per cent lower than the national average. We have the highest unemployment rate at well over eight per cent, the lowest year 11 and 12 school completion rates, with less than 50 per cent of students in my electorate of Braddon completing school, and the highest number of people who will enter their retirement with little or no money in the bank to help them live out their lives in relative comfort.

The dire economic situation in which Tasmania finds itself is not an aberration of accepted economic theory—it is not the doing of the Tasmanian people themselves, nor is it the result of some unfortunate natural disaster. No, the reality is that Tasmania is languishing at the bottom of the economic and social ladder of this country as a direct result of a disastrous era of Green politics, intervention politics and, in the last four years, a coalition of Labor and the Greens, with two Greens in the cabinet. This has had dire consequences for the confidence afforded to the Tasmanian economy.

It is no coincidence that when Labor linked arms with the Greens on the Treasury benches of both parliaments, the relatively strong economic position of the state began to falter and over the last four years 10,000 people have lost their full-time jobs in Tasmania. Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate of any state, which is somewhat hidden by the ever-growing number of fly-in fly-out workers. I meet more than enough of them on aeroplanes each time I board. There is also a hidden problem of the high underemployment rate, where approximately 14 per cent of participating women and 18 per cent of men struggle to get the number of hours of work in a week to balance the family budget. Where they may have had 26, 28 or 30 hours a week, they are now getting 16, 18 or maybe 20. That is a huge impost on our families. Sadly, we have the relocation of whole families to the mainland in search of employment—and you cannot question their motives.

We have the lowest proportion of private sector employment compared to public sector employment—and that is a real concern of mine. We have the highest dependency ratio percentage of any state or territory. We have the lowest gross state product per capita, 20 per cent below the national average. Private business investment is only 1.3 per cent of Australia's total and well below the national average over the last decade. We have the lowest proportion of adults in Australia who have attained a year 12 qualification and the lowest retention rates to year 12.

We have the highest proportion of population with a low-income card, those receiving an age pension, a disability support pension, Newstart allowance, single-parenting payment, parenting payment partnered or youth allowance. Sadly, we have the highest standardised death rate due to suicide of any state, which breaks my heart. We have the highest proportion of dwellings provided for housing owned by either state or federal governments. We have the second longest—although I think it may now be the longest—elective surgery waiting list in the country and the highest proportion of people without superannuation coverage.

Where does that take us? I recall in the lead-up to the federal election that I and my colleagues with me in the chamber, the member for the Lyons, Mr Hutchinson, and the member for Bass, Mr Nikolic, had several momentous discussions with the alternative Prime Minister. Whilst it would have been easy for us to say, 'Mr Prime Minister, all we need are mountains of cash to hand out in our electorates to win our seats,' that was far from our minds. We have all been around long enough to understand that has been done to death and, despite record levels of funding, educational and health outcomes are still the worst in the nation. This goes to show that it is not always about money, but it is about better policy.

These discussions led us and our Senate colleagues to discuss the need for an economic growth plan for Tasmania. This plan would undertake to highlight some structural deficiencies in the Tasmanian economy. We also highlighted the need for infrastructure. I believe through that process we have ended up with a document which, whilst some may not see it as exciting as a $25 million cheque coming their way, if the Tasmanian people can grasp the reality of the needs confronting us and can be patient enough to see the structural change, we will see a definite improvement.

The Institute of Public Affairs only a year or so ago calculated the proportion of Green bureaucrats employed by state governments across the country. It was very interesting and I will cut to the chase: in Victoria one Green bureaucrat is employed for every 1,746 residents. Have a guess at how many in Tasmania? It is one for every 387 residents. I am sure Mr Wilkie, the Independent member for Denison, will be just as interested in that, given his media alert this morning, which I thank him for, highlighting this debate—and I might take up one issue in that alert. But I am sure even Mr Wilkie would understand that that is an unacceptable situation in a population of 500,000 people. It is noted that we have doubled the number of green bureaucrats since 2007.

Investment in much-needed infrastructure has been forgone in my state in favour of public sector growth with no multiplier or wealth-generating benefits. If you want to see benefits, you give confidence to those who can invest their own money. You get behind them and you put in the structural changes that are required. You put in the policy agendas that are required. You do not just go and increase bureaucratic numbers.

In the face of the ever-increasing Tasmanian bureaucracy, the coalition has not initiated in its growth plan a one-stop shop for environmental approvals—I might have a little bit more to say in the debate on the environmental amendment this afternoon in the chamber. But that has been widely welcomed by businesses.

Small businesses are the real job creators and often are more resilient to economic downturns and have a stronger commitment to maintaining their employment base during difficult times. However, small businesses, to get started and to prosper, need to be released from their tax burdens such as the carbon tax, the provision of modest company tax relief and the cutting of red and green tape.

It does bring me to the media alert of the Independent member for Denison which I said I welcomed. His concluding statement was: 'There must be a fairer deal for Tasmania's 32,000 small businesses, many of which are being crushed by high power and sewerage bills,'—granted, and I agree—'excessive rates, payroll and land taxes and the predatory behaviour of Woolworths and Coles'. I would humbly ask that the member acknowledge that we went to the election to get rid of a massive tax that the Productivity Commission has just proven has cost the economy $6 billion and basically made no difference to carbon emission reductions. So I was a little bewildered that there was no sign in the concluding comments of Mr Wilkie of his support for the repeal of the carbon tax, which I think would be welcome given that we have won a mandate for that—certainly in Tasmania—and it is certainly contributing to the high energy costs of Tasmania, and contributing to the ongoing costs to small business. So I would welcome his support on that.

There are a number of other issues, which time will not allow me to speak about: obviously freight, as I mentioned in my maiden speech, continues to be a recurring theme in any discussion about our future. I know that the member for Lyons, the member for Bass and I are absolutely committed to getting the best outcome on that. We believe that there are solutions to the vagaries of that system. We are also suffering from the loss of a solid international shipping container operator. I welcome the initiative of the state Liberals in the lead-up to the state campaign to put $11 million a year on the table to try and entice a private investor into that market.

As I said last week, we have such great potential but we are being held back, and it is our commitment to ensure we get the structural change that we need.