Will Hodgman

Premier of Tasmania

2019 Tasmanian State of the State Address

Will Hodgman - Premier

19 March, 2019

For a full copy of our Agenda 2019 - please visit here:  http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/447939/Second_Year_Agenda_-_Web_Final.pdf

Madam Speaker, it is an exciting time to be in Tasmania.  Our state is growing like never before.  For only the fifth time in a quarter of a century, Tasmania's economic growth for the last financial year was higher than the nation's, and per capita we are growing at our fastest rate in a decade, nearly double the national average.

In many key indicators, Tasmania is ranked number one, and it is not just in the economic indicators. Tasmania has captured the attention of the world with an envied reputation for our unrivalled natural environment, our premium-grade products, and excellence in education, science and research.  We are now more culturally confident than ever before, with a thriving arts sector, captivating events and festivals.

Our population is growing, and last year interstate migration reached its highest level in nearly 15 years, with a net inflow of 2382 people from interstate, as more people choose to live in our great state.  More people are wanting to visit here too, with international tourism growing at the fastest rate of any Australian state.  The world also wants more of our produce and services, as our exports have grown at a faster rate than any Australian state.

This is Tasmania's time to shine.  But with such strong growth, inevitably comes challenges.  My Government will grasp the challenges, as we do the opportunities, as we plan for strategic growth so more Tasmanians, across every region, can share in our state's prosperity.

One of the most powerful opportunities before us now comes from the strength of our economy. Without it we simply could not invest more into health, education and the essential services Tasmanians need, or take action to keep cost of living pressures down, which we have done, or to build the infrastructure our growing state needs, which we are doing.  It is only with a strong economy that our local businesses will remain confident, continue to invest and give more Tasmanians the opportunity of a job.

A strong economy is the key to more Tasmanians enjoying a better quality of life.  Our plan has always been to build a strong economy, and it is working.  It doesn't just happen by good luck.  We opened the state for business from day one.  We have created a more attractive business environment, and improved business conditions, which are ranked the most positive in the country, as is local business support for our policies.

We have the highest business success rate in the country and the highest rate of business investment in new capital - in buildings, machinery and equipment - as they gear up, confident of further growth.

This Government has taken action to reduce business costs.  We have lowered payroll tax, so Tasmania now has the most competitive payroll tax regime in the country for small to medium enterprises with payrolls up to $4 million.

We have capped power prices to protect our small businesses from the volatility in the national electricity grid and from the massive price hikes that have stung mainland states.

More Tasmanian business are winning tenders for more Tasmanian government work.  We have backed our competitive strengths.

Our agriculture, seafood and food sectors are booming.  Our irrigation investments are delivering a pipeline to prosperity for our farmers. We are committed to a sustainable industry growth plan for our world-class salmon industry.  We are on track to double the value of our forest industry, and we are lifting the prospects for our mining sector, with new exploration incentives.

We are continuing to strongly back our tourism industry to ensure that our visitors stay longer, see more of our state, and spend more while they are here, supporting local businesses and jobs right across our state.

We have pump-primed our building and construction sector, with a layer of incentives for people to buy or build a home, creating many new jobs in this sector, and adding much-needed supply to our housing market.

In fact, respected economists have reported that for the first time in 27 years economic growth in Tasmania is now based broadly across all industry sectors.  Importantly, we are investing more into vital social infrastructure - into schools, hospitals, housing, roads and rail - to improve the liveability and the productivity of our state.

We have developed the state's first 10-year infrastructure pipeline, which maps $13.9 billion of infrastructure investments for government and the non-government sector. We have secured strong support from the federal Coalition Government for nation-leading and state-building projects, including the extension of the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme for our exporters; funding for our new irrigation schemes; to progress the Battery of the Nation project; and funding for the Midland Highway Action Plan and the Freight Rail Revitalisation program.

Also we are the only state in the country to have snared not one but two City Deals.  Combined with the Devonport Living Cities Project, it amounts to a forward investment schedule approaching $2 billion to transform our cities right across the state.  These deals will deliver a $576 million Bridgewater bridge; a true Hobart international airport to support our tourism and export sectors; cement our status as Australia's gateway to the Antarctic; and pump more into the hearts of Launceston and Burnie in partnership with the University of Tasmania to build new education campuses in these cities.

Our state is growing, and with it comes immense opportunity.  It is my Government's vision, and our mission, to grasp those opportunities with both hands.  But with growth comes challenges, and we will take them on too.  One of our biggest challenges for 2019 and beyond is ensuring this growth is shared across the state, delivering a better quality of life for all Tasmanians, regardless of where you live.  We must find ways to ensure all Tasmanians are feeling the benefits of a strong economy, and that no-one is left behind.

We need to keep our regions strong and our regional communities growing.  We must continue to break down the barriers to the greatest enabler of social inclusion - education, training and the opportunity of a good job.

Our plan for 2019 - across the whole of government, and by working with those outside of government - is to ensure Tasmanians are skilled up for the jobs of the future and they have the first opportunity to fill those jobs.  This is why my Government is pursuing an agenda for strategic growth and developing policies and programs to achieve these objectives.

We will work in partnership with local communities, local industry and local government to find innovative local solutions to increase inclusion and participation in our growing economy.  It will capture long-term demand projections, spatial mapping, demographic profiling and economic modelling to forecast jobs and social opportunity at a local government level.

We will work closely with key stakeholders including industry, local government, the TCCI, TasCOSS, and the University of Tasmania to deliver a strategy that will, as TasCOSS has aptly described, unlock the potential in our regional communities.  This is strategic growth.

Our Jobs Action Plan partnership with the TCCI and TasCOSS that identifies barriers to participation and how to remove them through improved access to public transport, is an exciting example of this approach.  Today I am pleased to announce we will invest an additional $300 000 into another valued partnership with the Cradle Coast Authority to deliver a raft of strategic local economic projects to retain population share in the region, improve educational outcomes and unemployment rates, and leverage the strengths on the coast to create local investment and more jobs.  This is a plan for local, strategic growth on the north-west coast.

As I have always said, no government has all the answers, so our vision is to work more closely with the all sectors of our communities to ensure more Tasmanians are participating in our strong economy and living a better life.

Madam Speaker, always central to our plan is to manage the state's finances - our budget - well, and we have.  This Government remains committed to strong, disciplined financial management, spending less than we earn, keeping the budget in surplus and achieving our fiscal strategy targets, all the while keeping our economy strong and investing in areas that matter to Tasmanians.

This year we will once again balance the budget, which will remain in surplus across the forward Estimates while at the same time responding to the needs of Tasmanians, for instance by investing more into health and human services, protecting our children and supporting our justice system, as well as delivering on the commitments we took to the 2018 election, which we certainly think is important.

On public sector wages, we have now indicated our willingness to revise the Government's policy, where we can agree appropriate offsets to pay for increased wage offers.  I again invite union leaders to work with us to reach an agreement that is fair and. most importantly. affordable, so we can get on with delivering the services Tasmanians need and deserve, but the outcome must be affordable and sustainable, as we will not go into debt to fund wage increases.

My Government values our public sector workforce.  We are making significant commitments to recruit more staff into essential public services and we will also provide improved conditions and entitlements for our state servants.  Notably, this week we are tabling nation-leading legislation to provide a presumptive provision for State Service workers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

We are the first government in Australia to have taken this action.  It definitively acknowledges the incredibly difficult situations that many of our emergency responders, in particular, face in the line of work and the impact it can have on their health.  This ground-breaking reform will have a profound impact for our frontline workers who put their lives at risk to protect us, and importantly it will de-stigmatise mental health issues in our community.

As I have acknowledged, with a growing economy comes challenges.  One of those is increased congestion on our roads.  In greater Hobart we are progressing a range of initiatives to reduce congestion - more traffic lanes on major highways and priority for public transport; improved passenger interchanges; improved traffic management systems; and new public transport options, notably a River Derwent ferry service.  We are now planning for the landside infrastructure for a Bellerive to Sullivan's Cove ferry, delivering a seven day a week service, supported by investments in park-and-ride facilities, linkages with bus services, cycleways and walking paths. The new City Deal we secured will also deliver the Kingston bus interchange, and the activation of the northern suburbs transport corridor.

There is no simple, single solution to reducing traffic congestion, so we must consider all sensible options.  That is why we are bringing forward $1 million in this year's Budget to allow investigations to commence on alternative traffic routes through Hobart. This work will consider all possible options, whether they be bypass roads, tunnels or a mix of both.

These are long-term intergenerational infrastructure projects which recognise that in the future Hobart's existing traffic network in the CBD will reach its practical limits.  The signs of this are already being felt by Hobart commuters.  That is why we will be starting the early work now to ensure we are in a position to find the best possible solution, consult with the community and all stakeholders, and be ready to make a start as soon as practical.

We are also right now delivering a massive investment in state roads right across the state.  The Bass Highway is our most important route through the north and to the north-west, so continued works to maintain and upgrade this road network are crucial.  We have delivered important junction upgrades on the highway at Wynyard to make this crash hot-spot safer, and our next focus is on the highway west of Wynyard, with a commitment of $100 million which is the largest investment ever along this section of road.  It will provide for more safe overtaking opportunities between Wynyard and Marrawah, and the planning for these projects is underway.

We are five years into the 10-year, $500 million Midland Highway upgrade project, with 13 projects now completed totalling well in excess of $130 million.  Work is now well advanced on the largest single project, the $92.3 million Perth Link Roads project, which will sustain hundreds of local jobs and provide a massive economic boost to northern Tasmania. This important project will deliver the final link in a dual carriageway along the Midland Highway from Launceston to the south of Perth.

We continue to improve our road infrastructure to cater for the increasing number of tourists visiting our beautiful state.  Improving our roads to make them safer and more efficient for all those who travel on them is important. It is a priority for this Government and vital to our strategic growth.

The Government has undertaken a massive program to building the infrastructure our growing state needs - not only our roads, but also into rail, schools, hospitals, housing and renewable energy.  This investment is critical for delivering essential services, while creating jobs and leveraging private sector investment.  We have developed the state's first infrastructure pipeline, laying out the state's priorities for the next 10 years.  We are working alongside industry to ensure this massive rollout can be delivered by a Tasmanian workforce with the skills needed for the job.

This year we will also release the state's first-ever 30-year infrastructure strategy which will look beyond the horizon to predict what our state could look like based on current and expected future trends.  This is planning for strategic growth.

Another of the issues that comes with a surging economy is more demand for housing, and housing affordability. Again, there is no single, simple solution.  This is why my Government has acted swiftly to extend the First Home Builder Boost, provide stamp duty relief for first home purchasers and pensioners downsizing, remove red tape to make it easier and quicker to build homes; and rezone surplus government-owned land to enable more homes to be built faster.

Each day in Tasmania we provide subsidised social housing for around 12 000 households and each month, on average, over 200 additional households are assisted into the private rental market through the Private Rental Assistance Program.  Our first Affordable Housing Action Plan is delivering new homes and support for even more households in need.  Soon we will be releasing our second Affordable Housing Action Plan, with $125 million in additional funding committed.  That, combined with our first Action Plan, will bring this Government's total investment in affordable housing to almost $200 million over eight years, an unprecedented level of investment in response to this major challenge.

The Greater Hobart City Deal we secured also delivered another $30 million investment into affordable housing. I can inform the House that our second Action Plan will provide an additional 1500 new affordable homes and assist around 2000 householders, increasing the number of new affordable homes to 2400 over eight years.

Action Plan 2 will also focus on better outcomes for young people.  Young people at risk of homelessness is a horrifying thought and a particularly complex problem, so our new Action Plan will include a number of important initiatives to help support our young people in need of housing.  It will include building a new purpose-built youth foyer on the north-west coast at Burnie.  At a cost of around $10 million, it will provide around 25 units for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and give them the prospect of a much brighter future.  A youth foyer is a safe environment which will give young people experiencing homelessness not only supported accommodation but also a pathway to education and the opportunity to participate with a job in our growing economy.

My Government is tackling the housing challenge head-on.  To further speed up the supply of houses we will make it easier to build apartments and townhouses.  This will provide greater choice for Tasmanians looking for an urban lifestyle whilst still retaining the character of existing neighbourhoods.  We will, for the first time, develop new planning rules that focus on medium-rise developments and gentle in-fill projects that provide attractive options for people looking to live close to work and enjoy more of what city living has to offer.  This can be achieved through good urban planning and design that addresses the need for more affordable housing whilst protecting and adding to the Tasmanian way of life.

The health care of Tasmanians has always been a top priority for the Government I lead.  Since we were elected in 2014, we have opened more than 130 additional beds in our health system across the state.  There are more than 800 additional full-time equivalent staff in our health system compared to when we came to government five years ago. Over the next five years we will recruit the staff we need to allow us to open almost 300 new hospital beds and offer a range of new services to provide better care for all Tasmanians.

An important new service we have delivered is Tasmania's first integrated aeromedical helicopter service connected to all our major hospitals to provide faster response times to get seriously ill patients treated sooner.

One of the major challenges we have undertaken as a government was to rescue to Royal Hobart Hospital. Immediately following last year's election, we established a clinical planning task force to provide expert clinical advice on health planning in Tasmania, chaired by Professor Tony Lawler, Tasmania's Chief Medical Officer.  A key priority for the task force has been to develop a new Royal Hobart Hospital masterplan to update and replace the 2011 plan.

That plan, which is being released today, provides both a long-term vision to guide future development of the Royal Hobart Hospital at the city site and the repatriation site over the next 30 years, and also to address more immediate demand pressures.  The Government accepts all the recommendations made by the task force and I will now table the report of the task force.

The first stage of the masterplan is the current Royal Hobart Hospital Redevelopment, K Block, which is approaching completion.  The Government will now get on with delivery of stage 2 of the new masterplan.  This includes a range of improvements across the Royal to be delivered over the next three years, including:

*   an immediate improvement to lift infrastructure with a new dedicated patient lift to connect the ED, medical imaging and J Block;

*   an expansion of the emergency department to meet growing patient demand;

*   a comprehensive refurbishment of A Block which will provide contemporary space for additional beds;

*   expansion of the ICU in its current location, providing space for another 10 beds on the same floor by 2024, and retaining close physical linkage to medical imaging; and

*   a refit of the soon to be vacated J Block to meet additional demand and provide for new clinical uses.

It is estimated that these works will cost approximately $91 million.  An amount of $28 million is already included in the budget and the remaining funding will be included in the 2019-20 Budget across the forward Estimates.

While the master plan spans a 30-year horizon, following the stage 2 works we have committed to, stage 3 will be the redevelopment of the Repatriation Hospital as a dedicated sub-acute and mental health campus of the Royal Hobart Hospital, with the demolition and rebuilding of the Statton building following further clinical and community consultation.  This provides the opportunity to build a best-practice dedicated mental health facility with more privacy and outdoor space.

This plan complements significant investments in our statewide health system.  The Clinical Planning Taskforce is leading the development of a master plan for the LGH, which will help inform the $87 million upgrade there. We will also progress assessment of the $100 million proposed private hospital in the LGH health precinct.  Having secured the future of the Mersey Community Hospital campus of the North West Regional Hospital, we have commenced a $35 million redevelopment alongside improvements to facilities and services at the North West Regional Hospital such as new training facilities and improved antenatal care facilities.  We are also delivering a range of upgrades to rural hospitals and ambulance stations across the state.  Our track record is to prioritise Health.  We will continue to do more as we face growing demand to ensure Tasmanians receive the care they need.  It is only possible because we have managed the state’s Budget well.

The education of Tasmanians is also a priority for this Government.  We want all Tasmanians to live their best life and that starts with a great education.  Every student, no matter where they live or their financial circumstances, should have easy access to high-quality education from the early years through to senior secondary education.  Under this Government, Tasmania will become the first state in the nation to offer free preschool with wraparound care for vulnerable three-year-olds.  The Minister for Education announced 11 sites around the state that will pilot our Working Together for 3 Year Olds initiative to give an equitable start for all children and prepare them for a bright future.  It will deliver state government funded places for children in early learning centres to provide holistic support for families, carers and service partners, with new approaches to best engage and support children with high needs.  We will roll out this opportunity to all eligible three-year-olds from 2020.

At the other end of the school journey, in years 11 and 12, we are delivering another major reform to our education system that is changing lives.  The latest data shows that more students are staying at school and the attainment rate for the Tasmanian Certificate of Education has improved by nearly 10 per cent since we came to Government.  Forty-three schools have extended to years 11 and 12 and we are on track for all high schools to extend by 2022.  This is giving young Tasmanians the skills they need to participate in a modern economy, wherever they live, to reach their potential and determine their own futures.

The education of young Tasmanians is the most significant and strategic investment we can make in the growth of our state.  We are also undertaking major investment into our school buildings across the state to improve the learning environment.  We are taking action to prevent the harmful impacts of cyber-bullying, which pervades our classrooms, homes, and communities and often with devastatingly damaging impact.  Combatting bullying requires a whole-of-government and a whole-of-community response.

We are delivering on that, including by partnering with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, to: involve 121 schools in the eSmart Schools program - develop of the Department of Education Bullying Stops Here! Website, which provides comprehensive resources to teachers and principals; and enact the Child and Student Wellbeing Strategy and a new Mental Wellbeing Action Plan.  The Attorney-General is bringing legislation to this parliament to deal with the most serious cases of bullying, where a criminal response is warranted.

Tasmania is now the energised state.  Renewable energy is one of our greatest advantages.  When other states are struggling with double-digit price increases and blackouts, Tasmania has a ready supply of low-cost, reliable, clean energy.  We have kept power prices down and Tasmania today has the lowest regulated prices of any Australian jurisdiction for business customers.  Our regulated residential standing offer electricity prices are among the lowest in the country.  Through our Tasmanian First Energy Policy we also have energy security. We are on track to be 100 per cent self-sufficient in clean energy by 2022.

We have played a critical role in helping Victorians keep the lights on over a summer when more than 200,000 of their homes and businesses had their power cut or limited as their electricity supply buckled under extreme heat.  We have the ability to supply mainland Australia with our low-cost, reliable, clean energy.  This represents an enormous opportunity for our state, but we are currently constrained by the limited size of our single Bass Strait interconnector.  Together with the Australian Government, we are investing up to $86 million to progress the plans for a second interconnector and pumped hydro storage, which will unlock massive renewable energy development in Tasmania.  Combined, these generational initiatives will deliver on Tasmania’s potential to be the Battery of the Nation, boosting our economy with thousands of jobs and billions in investment in regional areas as we deliver our low-cost, reliable and clean energy to mainland Australia. It will also put downward pressure on power prices and improve energy security.  It is, without doubt, one of the most powerful opportunities our state has and we are grabbing it with both hands.

Tasmania’s brand is another of our state’s greatest assets and we are taking strong action to better promote and protect it.  Our new Brand Tasmania, to be chaired by esteemed industry leader, Nick Haddow, is a national first.  It is the first place-branding authority in Australia and one of few in the world.  We are leading the way to ensure Tasmania continues to stand out from the pack.  It complements another important reform we have undertaken in delivering Tasmania’s first trade strategy.  Our beautiful island has what the world wants. Last year, our exports were the highest on record and grew at the fastest rate of any state.  Our strategy will build trade in key sectors, showcase what we offer in priority markets, enhance trade logistics and market access and build the export capabilities of Tasmanian businesses.

As we have been number one with exports, so too have we been with inbound business.  Tasmania has had the highest rate of growth in international tourists of any state.  Our plan is to welcome more tourists here and for them to stay longer, see more of the state and spend more while they are here and it is working.  New data released confirms our visitors spent a record $2.46 billion in Tasmania last year, a 43.5 per cent increase from when we first came to Government.  The number of nights stayed is up and, increasingly, the nights spent out of Hobart and in all our regions.

We have more flights to our state and more passengers on our Spirits.  Hotel room construction in Tasmania is now outstripping Sydney's. My Government will continue to strongly support our visitor economy because it supports business and jobs across the state.  We do it as well as anyone else.  Our yield and dispersal strategy is our plan for strategic growth, aimed to ensure our regions see more of the benefits of a booming visitor economy.  We will be targeting new visitor segments - travellers more likely to travel further and spend more.  We will be encouraging visitors to travel further around the state by growing the number of flights to Launceston and improving visitation through Burnie and Devonport airports.  We are trialling flights between Hobart and Strahan and looking at ways to grow cruise visits to regional ports and develop onshore activities that take cruise passengers further afield.

We have launched the Western Wilds drive journey to encourage more people to explore between the Derwent Valley and the north-west.  Following the recent bushfires, we are prioritising a southern drive journey and are now developing a route and concept theme.  We are also committed to developing two new drive journeys in the north and north-west to build on the success of the Great Eastern Drive.  Our new Event Attraction Fund is already successfully securing events around the state.  We will soon be implementing a Reimagining Our Regions project in north-west Tasmania to identify opportunities for tourism development, infrastructure and investment in areas where visitor numbers are low.  Renewing the visitor experience on offer in these areas will boost visitors and underpin local investment and new jobs.  We are designing new marketing strategies to promote special interest experiences, like our world-class golf, fishing, walking, mountain-biking and wine tasting, which will also encourage regional dispersal.

The Three Capes Track, together with the Overland Track, have helped put Tasmania on the trekking map and we will develop our next iconic multi-day, hut-based walk.  We are delivering on our commitment to elevate Cradle Mountain to a world-class destination and sustainable eco-tourism experience.  This year, the proponent for the spectacular new gateway precinct will be selected, and stage 1 of the new $30 million visitor centre will be completed early next year.

Tasmania has an unrivalled and spectacular natural environment, which people from all over the world, as well as many Tasmanians, want to experience and which we all deeply respect and want to preserve.  We are able to do so while allowing for sensible, sustainable tourism experiences in our wilderness areas.  We have done so for many years at Cradle Mountain, on the Overland Track, the Three Capes Track, Freycinet Lodge or at Pumphouse Point, which are world-class experiences provided by world-class Tasmanian tourism people who are as passionate as anyone about protecting and showcasing our environment.  They keep our tourism industry as one of the best in the world, which supports many other local businesses and jobs across our state.

When, on coming to Government, we implemented our innovative policy to seek and rigorously assess proposals for appropriate tourism enterprises in our national parks, reserves and Crown land that involve or benefit local communities, it was to find best practice environmental tourism ideas that are compatible with the natural and cultural values of these areas.  We stand by that policy and that process that has delivered; successful mountain biking, walking, and eco‑accommodation such as at the Blue Derby Pods Ride, the Narawntapu Adventures Precinct, the Moulting Lagoon Eco Tours, Maydena Mountain Bike Park and the Freycinet Lodge expansion.  All of them are sensitive and appropriate to their locations and the surrounding environment.

Today, I reaffirm my Government’s strong commitment to our EOI process.  We understand not everybody agrees with every project but we should not allow opposition to any one particular project to lead to assaults on the very idea of nature-based tourism in Tasmania.  Tasmania’s world-class parks and reserves are protected by state and Commonwealth legislation, which together provide some of the strongest protections in the world.  The EOI puts a new level of transparency on what existed as well as opening up these new opportunities for all Tasmanians.  The latest project to gain approval under the EOI process is the Mt Roland Cableway and Adventure Precinct, a 13-cabin gondola system providing direct access to the summit of Mt Roland and an all-mountain circumnavigation descent to be designed, constructed and managed by Tasmania’s internationally renowned and world-leading Dirt Art company.  This is yet another tourism experience that fits perfectly with nature-based tourism, stimulating regional economies, encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more, creating jobs and providing new and new and exciting ways for visitors to engage with our incredible environment.

All proposals put through the EOI process undergo a rigorous assessment and, if recommended to proceed, are required to go through the requisite Commonwealth, state and local council planning and approval processes.

Last year our national parks attracted more than 1.3 million visitors and support more than 200 nature-based tourism operators.  They are a cornerstone of our tourism sector and a unique and treasured environmental asset of our state.  That is why we have committed the biggest ever investment into our national parks to keep them protected for generations to come and ensure the visitor experience meets expectations of visitors and locals.

In 2018 my Government committed an additional $31 million into our national parks and reserves. That included $6.6 million to boost rangers and frontline staff, $8 million for asset maintenance in Parks, and funding to fix key infrastructure on the Overland Track, Maria Island, Bruny Island, Freycinet National Park and at the Tasman National Park Gateway.

Madam Speaker, I conclude by acknowledging the fantastic job Tasmanians have done in responding to the current fire season.  In terms of fire area, these were the largest fires in Tasmania since 1967.  The incredible efforts to fight these fires is well demonstrated by the ability to protect of life, property and wilderness values in the face of very difficult and trying circumstances.  Over the two months, we had a combined total of 3000 firefighters actively fighting fires on the ground.  Tasmania has also been supported by an impressive contingent of fire agency personnel and aircraft from interstate and New Zealand.

There is no doubt that the Government's nation-leading $55 million targeted fuel reduction program has significantly reduced the fire risk across our state.  We have also invested $4 million to improve bushfire management in wilderness areas, including innovative sprinkler systems that helped protect sensitive high value and iconic natural value assets.

This has been a challenging time for many residents of the Huon Valley, Central Highlands, the west coast and the Derwent Valley.  That is why the Government established the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce led by Michael Stevens, which will continue to support fire-affected communities.  We have provided support to affected individuals and businesses, with the support of the federal government under the joint disaster recovery funding arrangements, with over 9000 financial assistance grants being paid to date at an estimated cost of $6.9 million.

We are also encouraging tourists and locals to visit these regions and support local businesses, including through a new Love Autumn in the South campaign.  It is backed by a $150 000 investment to hold a special 10 Days on the Island event in the Huon Valley during the festival in March.

The fire threat is not totally gone, so we will continue to ensure our communities are safe.  There are always lessons to be learned after major fire events, and the best way for that to occur is through a robust, independent review, with input from experts.  I can today announce that this will be undertaken by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council, the peak body responsible for representing fire, emergency services and land management agencies.

The review will be led by Western Australian Mal Cronstedt AFSM, who has more than 40 years of experience in fire and emergency services, and will examine the causes, chronology and response of the 2018-19 bushfires in Tasmania with terms of reference to inquire into timeliness, impact and effectiveness of strategies, programs, resourcing and agencies.  The Cronstedt review will provide a means for members of the public and other interested parties to make submissions.  The terms of reference for the review will be released later this month, along with details of the consultation process, with the final review expected to be delivered to government by July this year.

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Parliament and all Tasmanians, I formally thank our firefighting agencies - the Tasmania Fire Service, the Parks and Wildlife Service, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, our other emergency services, and all our volunteers - for their extraordinary and tireless efforts.  I also thank those firefighters who joined us from interstate and New Zealand. The Government will host community functions in affected areas in the coming weeks to thank those involved in the response, and all Tasmanians are invited to attend those events.

This majority Liberal Government has a strong and clear plan that we are delivering for Tasmanians, and it is delivering results.  Today I have outlined just some of the things we are doing to deliver on our promise to grow the economy, invest more into schools, hospitals, the essential services Tasmanians needs and the infrastructure our growing state needs, and to protect the Tasmanian way of life.

I take the opportunity to table our work plan for the year ahead, our agenda for 2019.  It is our commitment to the people of Tasmania that we will continue to invest record amounts into health, education, the essential service that Tasmanians need and deserve.  There are always challenges in politics, but our focus is on the people of Tasmania, not ourselves.  Our focus is on delivering the plan we have promised, and our focus is firmly is on seizing the enormous opportunities that are now before our state.