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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1686


Mr NIKOLIC (BassGovernment Whip) (18:12): I am pleased to contribute to debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills, but I am going to take a different path to those opposite, who often use this precious speaking time to recite talking points criticising the government and so on. I am going to use the vast majority of my time to convey some good news about Tasmania.

A year ago I stood in this place with this wonderful opportunity, with the appropriation bill, to talk about good things in my community. A year on, I can say to you that there has been excellent progress in Tasmania. It is welcome progress, because whether it is jobs, health, education or levels of disadvantage, Tasmania has lagged behind the mainland states for far too long.

The longstanding nature of these problems is clearly apparent when you consider the 1997 Nixon report, which was undertaken by Fraser government cabinet minister Peter Nixon. Mr Nixon laid out five key reasons for Tasmania's problems. They related to governance, debt, suboptimal education outcomes, a business environment that was unattractive to investors and planning processes that were far too complex. Mr Nixon also highlighted the critical importance of ensuring that Tasmania's debt burden remained manageable, that costs on business were kept as low as possible, that Tasmania's industry development policy was focused on our state's strategic advantages and that local jobs were created to address outbound migration.

After 16 years of state Labor government in Tasmania, I am pleased that, with the election of the Hodgman Liberal government and the Abbott-led coalition in Canberra, we are finally making inroads into some of those problems that Mr Nixon highlighted, which have held Tasmania back for far too long. We are finally seeing some of those green shoots of recovery. I am pleased to say that Tasmania is finally off the bottom of the national unemployment tables, with unemployment now at a 28-month low. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the trend is moving in the right direction. Construction work is expanding at the fastest annual rate in eight years, with the state recording an improvement of 15.4 per cent on a year ago. Major projects, both public and private, are underway.

We want those green shoots of recovery to continue. I want Tasmania to be known for the strength of our economy and our ability to provide for our needs into the future rather than being considered Australia's environmental conscience with more than half of the state permanently locked up in parks and reserves. We have to be an economy and not just a national park.

I will give you an example of just how we are delivering on that aspiration. Recently my two amigos from Tasmania—the members for Lyons and Braddon—and I welcomed the Prime Minister to northern Tasmania where he announced a major government investment in five irrigation projects. It involved $60 million in federal funding, $30 million from the state Liberal government and about $30 million from people investing in these schemes from the private sector. It was wonderful news for our community because these irrigation schemes will be an enabler of Tasmania's future prosperity. It is vital because when it comes to farming or converting marginal land into something more productive there has to be a reliable magic ingredient—and that ingredient, of course, is water. These schemes will provide 95 per cent water certainty. They will provide the impetus for expansion and diversification of Tasmania's agricultural production. This investment reinforces the government's commitment to infrastructure as a foundation for future growth. These projects will help our community thrive and generate jobs.

How will they do that, you ask? They will allow us to grow more. They will allow us to leverage our advantage, which is clean, green, fresh produce. They will allow us to sell into those growing middle-class markets from India to Asia. Here is Australia perfectly positioned, in what people often refer to as the Asian century, astride the Pacific and Indian oceans. That middle class is currently around 500 million and is projected to grow to 1.7 billion in the next 15 years or so. These projects will enable us to leverage into that trifecta of free trade agreements that Minister Robb negotiated in 2014.

One of the other important thing that this irrigation scheme investment does is demonstrate that we are ending the dam phobia perpetuated by the Greens party and their fellow travellers which has so badly affected our water policy for too many decades. These new irrigation schemes early in their implementation will generate over 150 direct full-time jobs on top of the 7,000 new jobs that have been created since the election of the Hodgman Liberal government in Hobart. So when I say to you that we are making progress with the economic revival of Tasmania it is with some confidence.

In the next couple of minutes I will highlight some of the things that the coalition is doing in this area. I mentioned in some of my recent speeches that Prime Minister Abbott came to Tasmania on 15 of August 2013 and launched the economic recovery plan for my state of Tasmania. It was with some sadness that I heard the then Governor-General when she opened this 44th Parliament singling out one state that needed that help more than most, and that was my state of Tasmania. Since those speeches and since the Prime Minister launched that economic recovery plan, the Major Projects Approval Agency has been established in my home city of Launceston. Since its launch, the agency has been actively supporting projects, with a total investment value of over $700 million.

In Tasmania today, we are encouraging people off welfare and into work, including through the Tasmanian Jobs Program, which commenced on 1 January 2014. It offers an incentive payment of $3,250, GST inclusive, to employers who provide full-time, ongoing work to job seekers who have been unemployed for long periods. I can also report that the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council has been established, with the Prime Minister and Treasurer as members. The council has met on three occasions since the 2013 election.

I can also tell you that the 2014-15 budget provided $24 million over three years to establish a world-class centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research. The funding is being delivered by the University of Tasmania. The government is also progressing the acquisition of a new icebreaker and provided $9.4 million in the 2014-15 budget to maintain Australia's presence in Antarctica.

There has been $38 million allocated to extend Hobart airport. Development approvals are expected to be sought this year, and the airport's master plan is due to be submitted to the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development in the last quarter of this year. $400m in funding is being provided over the next decade to upgrade the Midland Highway. Goodness me, isn't that long overdue? Projects are being developed with the Tasmanian government, with seven works projects approved by the Commonwealth so far and six projects under construction and expected to be completed by mid-2015.

We have completed the promised Productivity Commission review into Tasmania's shipping and freight. The government is consulting with the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council and other stakeholders on this report. In that area, I hope that we do something in the near term about fixing the coastal shipping regulations which Labor brought in in 2012. They were a sop to the Maritime Union of Australia. As we have seen, they have driven up the cost of shipping for Bell Bay Aluminium in my electorate of Bass by 63 per cent. So in terms of making shipping more attractive, to get those international ships coming to Tasmania, I hope that that is one of the things that we deal with in the near future. I have certainly been making representations to ministers in that regard.

We have committed to completing five-yearly reviews and extending the regional forestry agreements to provide resource security and a stable investment environment for the sector, starting with the Tasmanian regional forestry agreement. We have established a fruit and vegetable industry task force, and the Minister for Agriculture released the task force's industry growth plan on 1 October last year.

Over $100 million has been delivered to the University of Tasmania for research funding, including $13 million for the Sense-T project. This project centres on better information to consumers about food products, and has the potential to boost information, technology and communications in Tasmania. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can probably sense my excitement about some of the projects that we are rolling out in Tassie because they will make a real difference, particularly in areas that need it most. The north-east of Tasmania is at the top of the list.

In addition to the five irrigation schemes that I mentioned before, one of which will be in the Scottsdale region, we announced $34 million for north-east freight roads last December. With an additional $8.5 million on top of that from the Hodgman government, we will be widening Bridport Main Road right across to the East Tamar Highway. Between now and mid-2016 work will be undertaken on Emily Street, Edward Street and Waterhouse Road to facilitate the increasing number of heavy vehicles accessing Bridport Main Road in this area. It is only one component of our important $1 billion record investment in world-class infrastructure across Tasmania to help create new jobs and grow the state's economy.

Last August, I joined my friend and state health minister, Michael Ferguson, in announcing $23 million to improve access to elective surgery in Tasmania for patients who have been waiting longer than clinically recommended waiting times.

Work is also about to commence on the $6 million, federally-funded North Bank redevelopment to transform what is currently an unsightly industrial mess into something that is more beautiful and family friendly on the wonderful Tamar River.

Recently I hosted our outstanding environment minister, Greg Hunt, in Launceston, to inspect progress after one year of our $3 million, three-year program for a healthier Tamar River. We are doing that by tackling sediment problems, reducing nutrient run-off, undertaking riverbank stabilisation and improving wastewater management. One of my constituents accompanies me every time I go to look at the Tamar River. She is sitting in the gallery today—Christine Nikolic, the love of my life, Tasmanian princess, from the kingdom of Riverside. It is wonderful to see her in the gallery. She is someone who grew up in Launceston and has seen the difference that we have made to the Tamar River.

Just the other day we were down at Seaport. Last year on 21 June there was the lowest tide of the year. Normally you would find mud at Seaport, an unsightly, stinking mess that puts off tourists. Today, as a result of the investment of this government, there is 3½ metres of water above the mud at Seaport. That is something the Tamar River has not seen for a very long time. I am proud that we have partnered with the Launceston Flood Authority. I am proud that Karl Krause, who has come up with a magic way of moving that silt, costing about $1.18 per cubic metre, means we are making a difference to this wonderful river in the centre of our city.

A few weeks ago I opened the $2½ million Blue Derby mountain bike trails in Derby in my electorate. The next two Australian championships are going to be held at those trails. This is Olympic standard mountain biking terrain. We anticipate 10,000 to 15,000 by 2017 will be using these mountain bike trails. If you want to see what a difference world-class mountain biking trails can make, look up Fruita in Colorado in the United States, which has transformed that region into the mountain biking capital of the world. I want Derby to have that sort of reputation as well.

We want Northern Tasmania to be much more of an entry point for our state. People, when they think of Tasmania, often think about Hobart, Salamanca and MONA, and Port Arthur. I want them to start thinking about landing in Launceston and thinking of Launceston as a hub, be it for mountain biking adventures, enjoying the best food and drink that you can in Tasmania, or going to play a game of golf at Barnbougle, which is the 11th best golf course in the world. We are looking to give people more reasons to use Northern Tasmania as an entry point for our state.

With Mayor Albert van Zetten, a couple of weeks ago I inspected Invermay Park where Ricky Ponting first made his mark as a young cricketer. We are redeveloping Invermay Park to make sure that it is useable for more weeks of the year. We are fixing the drainage problems and putting up some lighting. I think that is going to be magnificent for the multiple users of that facility.

There is $900,000 to upgrade Flinders Island Airport. I could go on and on. I have literally another hour's worth of things I could talk to you about, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I want to make to you is that the investments of the Liberal government are making a real difference in my community, which needs this investment more than any other state. I am pleased to be a member of the Abbott coalition government that is delivering for my state of Tasmania.