I'LL BE VOTING LABOR IN THE 2018 TASMANIAN ELECTION, Senate Adjournment Speech - Monday, 5 February 2018
I rise tonight to share with the Senate the exciting opportunity Tasmanians will have at the upcoming state election in voting for a Bec White Labor government. The Tasmanian state election has finally been called. On 3 March Tasmanians will vote on a distinct choice for the future of Tasmania. We are now faced with distinct policy differences between the major parties which will affect all Tasmanians for decades to come. One of the clearest choices will be on whether Tasmania continues to have poker machines in its pubs and clubs. It is increasingly clear that pokies, electronic gaming machines, are a blight upon Tasmania. In pubs and clubs last financial year, Tasmanians lost $110 million to pokies. In the suburb of Glenorchy in Hobart's northern suburbs, more than $20 million was lost, with almost $4.5 million coming from just one pub, the Elwick Hotel.
Problem gambling has harmful impacts on people's health, their families and their jobs. Over and over we hear stories not just of people who have destroyed their own lives but of people whose addiction has cruelled the lives of others, of their families—with people losing shared savings and the family home, borrowing money from family and friends that can never be paid back, even stealing from workplaces. Everyone is hurt by pokies addiction. Yet the Tasmanian Liberals have promised to commit Tasmania to retaining pokies in pubs and clubs until at least 2043. Labor's leader, Bec White, on the other hand, has listened to the concerns of the community across Tasmania by committing a majority Labor government to phasing out pokies from pubs and clubs by 2022.
Labor's policy strikes the right balance between limiting the harm of pokies while allowing adults the freedom to play them at Tasmania's existing casinos. Of course, Tasmanian Labor has recognised that pubs and clubs are not doing anything wrong by installing poker machines and so is providing a package of up to $55 million to support pubs and clubs to transition out of pokies. The combination of the phase-out of pokies with financial support for pubs and clubs will mean that the addiction to pokies can be overcome for both consumers and those businesses that feel they rely on them for their revenue. Having said that, there are a number of pubs and clubs in Tasmania that have never had pokies and don't know why other pubs are making all the fuss. They continue to exist and run a successful business just fine. But what is so disappointing is to see the Tasmanian Liberals ignoring the wishes of the majority of the Tasmanian community who want to see these pokies out of our pubs and clubs.
That said, through ineptitude and disinterest Liberal governments in Hobart and Canberra over the past four years have created far more misery for Tasmanians with the appalling health crisis that is overwhelming our island home. Fixing Tasmania's health crisis has to be a key priority for whoever is elected on 3 March. Tasmanians have been left reeling from the Turnbull government's cuts to Medicare and hospitals, while the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment has been plagued by delays and mismanagement by the Tasmanian Liberal government. The Productivity Commission's Report on government services, on health, showed that Tasmania's ambulance response times, emergency department waiting times and triple 0 response times have all worsened under the Hodgman Liberal government. All too often we've seen ambulances ramped at the hospital entrance, not able to deliver their patients and not able to go out into the community to do their job.
Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Liberal senators in this place have remained completely silent. Tasmanian Labor knows that a good health system needs to be the No. 1 priority of government. That's why Bec White is committing $560 million to get this system right. This plan will address the immediate health crisis by reducing emergency waiting times, hiring health professionals to clear the beds left in corridors, and ensuring that services such as radiology and medical imaging run on evenings and on weekends. That will allow people to move more smoothly through the hospital and, of course, free up much-needed beds.
Labor will also invest much more in the lifeblood of Tasmania's health system: its people. There will be more doctors for hospitals across the state, more GPs in regional areas, more psychiatric emergency nurses for emergency departments, more nurses, more paramedics and more support staff. Labor will also invest in medical health services, a crucial health area that continues to be neglected by the Hodgman Liberal government. Labor will increase mental health beds for the Royal Hobart Hospital and also provide mental health accommodation in communities. This injection in health isn't just about getting frontline staff. Providing community support for people that need it must be crucial for an effective health system. And that includes effective and accessible support services, such as the breast cancer support services that have been championed by Denison Labor candidate Ella Haddad and supported by the Labor team.
So this is a choice that Tasmanians will face. While the Liberals have cut health and failed Tasmanians, Labor will invest across the board, end the crisis and ensure that Tasmanians have the access to the health services and support that all Tasmanians deserve.
But perhaps the biggest risk to our future is stalking Tasmania in the federal government's proposals to make changes to the GST. A fortnight ago the Tasmanian Treasury released the Revised estimates report 2017-18, which lists the government's proposed changes to the GST formula as a major risk to the Tasmanian state budget. The report says:
"… Tasmania's share of the GST could fall by $77 million under one scenario … or $168 million under another."
The report continues:
"Over the Forward Estimates to 2020-21, the reduction in GST revenue is $170 million equalising to the second strongest State, and $639 million equalising to the average."
No-one knows the Turnbull government's preferred scenario for changing the GST formula or what impact that scenario will have on Tasmania's budget, and the Hodgman Liberal government is obviously too scared to stand up to this Turnbull government and find out.
When the GST was brought in, it set up a system of allocation that was fair and was designed to ensure that all Australians get the same decent access to services that we should expect wherever we live in Australia. If the Liberals undo Howard's legacy and take money off Tasmania, then they entrench inequality and division. Tasmanians need a Premier and a Tasmanian government that will fight for Tasmanians regardless of who is in power federally.
This is the choice that Tasmanians will face on 3 March. On the one hand, we have heavy forces of big business intent on taking all they can from Tasmanian communities with the Liberals locked in step behind them. On the other hand, we have Bec White's Labor, committed to restoring the health system and to fighting for the rights of Tasmanians. I hope that all Tasmanians think carefully about the future that we want for our beautiful island state. There is only one party that offers a bright future for Tasmania, and that will be in a Bec White Labor government.