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Monday, 2 December 2013
Page: 1123

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (10:02): I move:

That this House notes:

(1) with concern that Tasmania has the lowest gross state product per capita in Australia, the nation's highest unemployment rate, the lowest proportion of adults in the nation who have attained a year 12 qualification, one of the lowest retention rates to year 12, the lowest population growth, and the highest proportion of Australians without superannuation coverage;

(2) that Tasmania has enormous potential with productive land, a skilled and willing work force and people with a strong commitment to improve the state's economy by endeavour and hard work; and

(3) that the Federal Coalition's Economic Growth Plan for Tasmania, promised in the election campaign and reiterated in Her Excellency the Governor-General's speech opening the 44th Parliament, will provide the architecture to help tum Tasmania's economy around and encourage long term, sustainable employment.

As I reflected on the Governor-General's speech to open the 44th Parliament, I did so with mixed feelings when Tasmania was mentioned—mixed feelings because, although it was important to highlight Tasmania's dire situation, I was sad at the fact that we are in such a predicament that urgent action is needed. As the motion makes clear, Tasmania lags behind the nation on almost every objective indicator that measures growth in the federation. Our unemployment rate is the highest. Our participation rate is the lowest. The figures are even worse when fly-in fly-out workers are considered.

Since 2010 11,000 full-time jobs have been lost in Tasmania—coincidentally, the year of the last state election and the year Labor and the Greens began their political alliance. We have the lowest proportion of private-sector employment compared with public-sector employment, and that balance must change with the creation of more private-sector jobs. We also have the lowest life expectancy, the longest elective surgery waiting times and the highest proportion of people without superannuation accounts.

Tasmania is desperate for policy coherence between the state and federal governments to respond to these challenges, but that has rarely occurred during the last six years. I recall, for example, my predecessor in this parliament standing up to talk about a new $1 million building at the Ringarooma primary school that he had opened—at precisely the same time that the state Labor government and the Greens education minister within the Labor cabinet were planning to close the Ringarooma primary school. I recall former health minister Nicola Roxon in Launceston announcing new beds for northern Tasmanian hospitals—at precisely the same time that the Launceston General Hospital was closing two wards because the state government had ripped $39 million out of the health budget. These are clear cases of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Despite Labor promises over 15 years at state level and six years at the federal level, major policy problems continue.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Tasmanians resoundingly voted for change on 7 September. The Labor Party now only hold one House of Representatives seat, whereas just three years ago they held all five. As King John said, 'We cannot paint the lily.' Economically and on social measures, Tasmania is in decline. The Greens party tell us that niche industries are the answer—woodcraft, movie making and electric cars. Even the state MHA for Bass talked about a blueberry led recovery for Tasmania's economy. There is nothing wrong with any of those activities, but none of them will provide significant long-term sustainable jobs for Tasmanians. I am yet to meet one young person in Tasmania who aspires to a career as a solar polisher or a wind farm attendant.

There used to be agreement across this chamber that Greens policies are disconnected from economic reality. But with Greens ministers in the Labor cabinet in Hobart we can no longer say that. Labor in Tasmania are captive to the Greens, divided amongst themselves and fixated on trendy social issues rather than on the economy. The Labor-Greens government has strangled industries such as forestry, with approximately half the state locked up, yet every year Australia imports $2 billion in forestry products. And, if you add paper to that equation, we import $4 billion from countries where the environmental practices are nowhere near as sustainable as ours. Yet the Greens clamour for even more preservation. Their definition of 'preservation' is 'no use at all'.

There is of course a world of difference between preservation and conservation, the latter allowing natural resources to be used in a sustainable way. As Bill Gammage wrote, 'Unmanaged forests are dirty forests.' He points out that Aboriginals regenerated the land through fire. The Greens' dogmatic policies to lock up forests vastly increase the fire hazard and, ironically, the potential damage to flora and fauna. Tasmania needs less Greens dogma; it needs a strong, stable majority government with a long-term plan for jobs and growth.

The state Liberals under Will Hodgman have a plan to build a modern economy based on our competitive strengths, to create jobs, fix the budget mess, encourage investment, rebuild essential services and cut the red and green tape. It also means no more deals with the Greens, much less with Greens party members in cabinet. Liberal leader Will Hodgman is the only leader who has made that pledge.

By comparison, Labor Premier Lara Giddings was asked if she would welcome Greens MPs back into the cabinet if she won the election next year. Her reply was unambiguous: 'Absolutely.' Even Labor politicians in Tasmania deplore her approach, with Premier Lara Giddings's own parliamentary secretary calling for her to resign and for Labor never again to enter into a deal with the Greens.

Many good, hardworking Tasmanians who grew up as Labor supporters have shaken their head at Labor's betrayal. Well, the electorate did not forget on 7 September and they will not forget in March, when Lara Giddings finally faces the verdict of the Tasmanian electorate.

I have painted a bleak but accurate picture of the current Tasmanian political and economic scene. The next Tasmanian state election will confront voters with a stark choice: do they want four more years at the bottom of the national economic and social tables—four more years of young Tasmanians literally crying as they pack their belongings onto the ferry at Devonport, simply because they cannot get a local job?

Tasmania needs a business-friendly government committed to reducing red and green tape in both Canberra and Tasmania; the regeneration of value-adding industries, such as forestry, mining and agriculture; and the extraction of greater value from the things that we produce, particularly timber and agricultural commodities. We only retain approximately 25 per cent of the value of primary industry production. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have local markets in Tasmania for our agricultural products where we can value-add and export?

One particular opportunity, about which I have written in the past, is enhancing the DSTO facility at Scottsdale. It is a small but innovative centre, looking at rations and nutrition for our Defence Force, but I believe there are great opportunities to expand its potential. Australia has always been a first responder in terms of providing emergency aid in our region. We are good at this because of the ready cooperation between the ADF and civilian organisations, including aid groups. But one area where we could do more is in providing non-perishable food aid as one of Australia's response options. That is an often immediate need, as we have seen recently in the Philippines. The DSTO facility has the expertise and is located in an area that is renowned for food production, and I believe there is great capacity for a well-targeted expansion of DSTO Scottsdale to respond to this humanitarian need.

The coalition's economic growth plan for Tasmania was announced by the now Prime Minister on 15 August 2013. Elements of that plan include the establishment of a Tasmanian major projects approval agency in Launceston as a one-stop shop; incentives for employers to take on the long-term unemployed; and a joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian economic council. The plan includes a joint Productivity Commission and ACCC review into Tasmania's shipping costs, the competitiveness of our freight industry structure, and improving the equity of the Tasmanian freight and passenger vehicle equalisation schemes. I am prompted to ask rhetorically, why is it that it takes a coalition federal government to recognise the economic barrier of Bass Strait? It is simple: it was the Fraser government that introduced the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. The member for Franklin shakes her head, but that is a fact. It was the Howard government that established the passenger vehicle equalisation scheme, and it has taken the election of the Abbott government to commission this important review.

The regions of Australia contribute so much to our national economy. They always have, and they continue to do so in the 21st century. With a population that has shifted massively to the larger cities over the last 50 years, we tend to forget the contribution our regional based industries—forestry, mining, agriculture and a significant portion of manufacturing—makes to the national account. Well, we on this side of the House will never forget them. I am proud to be part of a government for all of Australia, and I thank the House for this opportunity to highlight Tasmania's needs.