Will Hodgman

Premier of Tasmania

Tasmanian Liberal State Council 2016 Address

Sunday 6 November 2016

Will Hodgman - Premier

Launceston

Thank you very much for that lovely warm welcome on this beautiful morning. 

For the State President, Geoff Page, and the State Director, Sam McQuestin, to Federal President Richard Alston, to our Senate team, the team, our partners in Canberra, delivering great results for our state, and to the Tasmanian Liberal team, to my colleagues, thank you very much for your ongoing loyalty and support.

We’re delivering what we promised and that is a strong, stable, unified Government for Tasmania.

Can I thank our visiting federal MPs who’ve come down and added to our State Council, and also our business partners who play such an important role in keeping us not only in contact with the business community, but in supporting our party, to members of the State Executive, and especially the members of the great Liberal Party of Australia.

I want to start by first thanking you, our members, for the very important role that you play in supporting our organisation and those of us who represent you in our Parliaments. I understand it’s not always an easy job.  You’ve got to defend Government policies and occasionally decisions that may not be so popular.  You’ve got to attend meetings, you’ve got to put up with long political speeches.  You do all this for free, generously giving your time to our party and to support our endeavours.  So, before I deliver my own, long political speech, I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you very much, wonderful members of our party, the lifeblood of the Liberal Party. 

And that includes also our freshly re-elected and great Party President, Geoff Page. Congratulations to you, to the Executive, and also to Sam McQuestin and his team, and I want to thank you both and those who support you for running an organisation that is the envy of other divisions around the country.

This State Council is really important. It brings us together, it reminds us of all that unites us, of our Liberal beliefs and our common objectives, and the strength of our great party.  And we take the opportunity to think how we might make our party, our great party, even greater.

Again, this year we’re also reminded of the responsibility and the privilege of governing and the fragility of political life, and I want to again thank the following for their significant contribution to our party and to our state: to Richard Colbeck, to Andrew Nikolic, to Eric Hutchinson and to Brett Whiteley. 

While Richard was around a little longer, in a relatively short time, collectively you all delivered so much for Tasmania, often working very closely and collaboratively with your State Government, and for which you can all take great pride for what you did to improve our state, so thank you to you all.

But the federal election experience did remind us of the fragile and transient nature of politics, and as Richard Alston, our Federal President said yesterday, the often unfair nature of politics.  So we have to use what time we have well to make that difference.

And the federal election also reminded us of what’s important to Tasmanians, the things that we need to keep focusing on. The healthcare of Tasmanians, the education of Tasmanians, jobs for Tasmanians.

It has been a challenging year for our party as well, but I’m very confident that it’ll make us stronger, and it’s certainly sharpened our focus and firmed our resolve.

And this year, as we’ve seen and just heard, has been a particularly challenging year for our state.  More than 300 bushfires that tore across the state in one of the longest and worst fire seasons in recent years with a record 15 total fire ban days.  It’s estimated to have cost the state well over $50 million, but thankfully, given the scale and the scope of our fires, not a single life or property was lost. 

We did endure one of the most significant and difficult energy security challenges in our state’s history, the result of that lethal combination of the lowest spring rainfall and the hottest summer in our state’s history and the first ever extended outage of the Basslink cable. Our Government responded with a plan, a very clear and deliberate plan, and it was successful in maintaining energy security, avoiding power rationing and protecting jobs and the economy, as well as keeping power prices as low as possible. The alternative plan, as you’ve heard, was to turn the lights off for Tasmanian homes and then businesses. We averted that. 

Then, if all that wasn’t enough, catastrophic flooding in June of this year, which did, tragically, take the lives of Tasmanians.  It was declared a national natural disaster, devastating homes and businesses, properties, livestock, right across 19 Local Government municipalities.  And the total bill.., of course the tragic loss of three lives is immeasurable, but the total cost, the bill for repairing this damage is estimated at $180 million. 

These natural disasters have a signification impact on the state’s finances. And they are unprecedented and shocking challenges which affect community confidence.  They test our people and its Government.  And a true test of your Government is how we respond to challenges like these.  We did so with a steady hand, with a responsible and measured approach, and we got through it together.  As Jeremy said, Government emergency services, volunteers, community and private sector organisations.  And we will learn from these challenges, how we responded and what we can do better into the future to make sure that our state is better equipped to deal with these challenges.

But as well as managing these crises, we’ve also got on with the job of delivering our plan, the plan that we developed back in Opposition, that we’re implementing in Government, the road map for our Government, the plan to deliver a brighter future for Tasmania, to maintain the growth in our economy, to support more jobs for Tasmanians, to get the budget back on track and to deliver the set of standards and services that Tasmanians need and deserve.  And it’s a plan that’s delivering results.

You only have to look at how Tasmania compares now to what it did look like before the election.  The state budget is back in surplus, back in the black for the first time in six years.  We inherited a budget from Labor and the Greens that had $1.1 billion of deficits, a net debt projected to reach $400 million. We’ve taken the budget from that back into surplus, three years ahead of what we planned, and we’ve erased the debt.

Over the last year our economy has grown at its fastest rate in six years.  Labor and the Greens took our state’s economy into recession.  Now, our retail trade is the strongest growth of any state in the country. Private capital investment is up 11%.  It fell 30% under Labor and the Greens. Construction work, up 9.5%. Under Labor and the Greens it went down.  Our forest sector, one of the great victims of the Labor-Green Government, is growing again.  State final demand rose this year.  Under Labor and the Greens the economy went backwards.  Seven consecutive quarters it went backwards under Labor and the Greens. The number of tourists arriving in our state has soared, and they’re spending more than ever before.  Our population is growing at its fastest rate in four years.  Our exports continue to grow.  In total up 13% over the last 12 months.  Into China our exports have increased a staggering 79%, into the US 78%.

This economic growth that’s so important to our state because it sustains and offers more job opportunities for Tasmanians, which is our great priority, and our unemployment rate has come down since the election. It now stands at 6.7%, that’s down .8% from what it was at the election, and during the Labor-Green Government the unemployment rate was over 8%.

And it’s great to hear that Tasmanians businesses are now feeling more confident and more optimistic about their future and the future of our state, and this is despite those extraordinary challenges we’ve faced and some vey difficult times.  But it’s confidence that was sapped from Tasmania businesses under a Labor-Green Minority Government.  But it’s now returned and its reached new heights.  The latest business survey, the Sensis survey just recently released, reports that, and I quote: “business confidence ranked amongst the highest in the country, it’s lifted significantly, that opinions of the Tasmanian Government and its policies are more favourable and are seen to be aimed at supporting small business, making us the second-most pop…, the second-most popular State Government in the country.” 

Okay, there’s a little more we need to do, but it’s certainly a reminder of how far we have come, because under Labor and the Greens business confidence was at its lowest levels.

We have come a long way.  We’ve turned things around, and we’re heading in the right direction.  Tasmanians do have reason to be more confident about our future.

And I want to make a couple of very important points, a few in fact. 

Firstly, we don’t and we won’t take anything for granted, nor will we be complacent. Not at all.  We are entirely focussed on ensuring that we get on with the job.  There’s more to be done, and we remain focussed on doing it.

Secondly, and very importantly, as Liberals we recognise that it is business and that it’s enterprise that is the true driver of economic growth and jobs.  Not Governments, but Governments are there to support business, and that’s what we’ll do.

Thirdly, we acknowledge that there is a Coalition Government in Canberra, a Coalition Government that we are working very closely with, and we’re delivering what is in fact a shared plan for economic growth, for more job opportunities, for education and training, investing in infrastructure. So, we do acknowledge and thank and recognise the very important role that the Commonwealth has in supporting our shared objectives.

We also recognise the fact that for many Tasmanians, they may not be feeling as optimistic about our state’s future, and we want to change that. We recognise that there is a need to address the gap between our fast-growing economy and those who feel that it’s not working as well as it could for them.  ‘Cause we don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

We recognise that there are people that are worried about healthcare, even though our waiting lists are down.  They still want to know that they can access healthcare sooner, and they deserve to.

We understand that Tasmanians want to feel safer in our communities, even though we have more police in those communities, that they’re concerned about law and order, they’re concerned about drugs in our community.

We understand for many Tasmanians there’s a lot more we have to do.

Fourthly, the fourth point I want to make, a very important one, is that none of this has happened just by chance or by accident, nor has it been easy.  Getting a budget back into the black has meant some difficult decisions we’ve had to make, many not popular.  We’ve made savings, but without them the budget would still be heading into deficits. We’ve kept Government spending at just 1.7%. Compare that to what it was under Labor and the Greens, it was nearly 5% over the last eight years of that Government.  We’ve reduced Government spending to just 1.7%.

We do have a policy to cap public sector wages at 2% a year for three years.  Now, this will provide real wage increase in real terms, nearly twice the rate of inflation, but it’s capped at a rate that is affordable and that sits within a budget that is balanced and now back in surplus.

So, getting the budget back on track and turning our economy around hasn’t been easy, and it certainly hasn’t happened by accident.  It’s all been achieved by delivering our plan to live within our means, to support growth in our economy, to back Tasmanian business and to increase revenues to Government, revenues which have increased off the back of a growing economy and not with us having to introduce any new tax. Not one.  In fact, we’ve reduced a few, we’ve lightened the cost of living and doing business here, but no new taxes. And it just goes to show that you can repair a budget without increasing taxes.

And along the way we’ve dealt with a whole other set of challenges, fiscal challenges.  The fiscal variety that included a massive drop in GST revenues to our state, and also the threat of a change to the GST carve-up, argued for by other Governments.  Labor ones and also Liberal ones, I have to confess, but which put at risk our fair share of the GST. That was a threat that we fought off.  We stood up for Tasmania’s interests, and we won, proving that we will put Tasmania first, no matter what or who is in the way.

So, the fact is, you can see things are very different now to what it was like under Labor and the Greens.  We are a very different Government to the Labor-Green version, a very different type of Government.  Indeed, some might say perhaps not your normal Liberal Government.  But we, as a Government, a Liberal Government, are investing more into our schools and into our hospitals and into supporting vulnerable Tasmanians.  Yes, we place a very high priority on economic growth, on more jobs, on fiscal responsibility, but we are truly a Government with a heart.

We understand that the dividend of all this fiscal responsibility is that we can better invest into the core services of a State Government, into health, education and supporting Tasmanians in need.  So, we are in fact putting more teachers into our schools, more nurses into our hospitals, more police into our communities to keep them safe. Under Labor and the Greens they were cutting those jobs, trying to close schools, closing hospital beds and cutting police numbers. So, we are dispelling the myth that our opponents have a monopoly on these things. We are a Liberal Government that is focussed on them and we’re determined to improve things and to deliver better results.

And we’ll also do things differently to get those results, because for us what matters is what works.

In health, on coming into Government, we immediately invested an additional $76 million into our health system and to address what were then the longest elective surgery waiting lists in the country.  When you combine that with an additional $25 million investment from the Federal Government, we’ve also engaged the private sector of our health system to help us bring hospital waiting lists down.  We want people to get treated sooner.  So, with the Federal Government and the additional support we’ve provided, we have engaged the private sector of our health system to assist us in our effort.  And now elective surgery waiting lists in Tasmania are the shortest they have ever been. Now, while our opponents scream, ah yeah, privatising health, the Liberals are privatising health, we’re focused on getting on with the job of bringing those hospital waiting lists down, and we’re delivering.  They are the shortest that they have ever been.

We’ve been able to employ a hundred new nurses.  We’ve opened more than 70 additional hospital beds.  But, of course, the health budget is, and will be, an ongoing challenge for any Government, and will continue to be so into the future, as our population ages and as health costs continue to escalate.

So we also have to fix a system that was broken.  That’s why we’re making important, very difficult changes, and we need to redesign the health system, so that it’s more unified and efficient.  For example, refocussing the Mersey Community Hospital, a difficult decision, but to make it a dedicated elective surgery centre will ensure that it has an important and viable part in our health system.  It’ll in turn free up beds for patients in our other hospitals.  This is a very difficult but necessary change.  It’s something that former Governments talked about for years, but never had the guts to do, even though it’s necessary.  It’s taken a Liberal Government to implement this, and it will improve the health system for all Tasmanians.

So, we are doing things differently.

In education, while Labor and the Greens will of course have you believe they are the biggest supporters of public education, consider this, our education and training budget now eclipses $6 billion over the Forward Estimates of the budget.  This is a record level of funding.  It covers what they call “the full Gonski”.  We’re delivering that.  It means we’re investing more in the quality of our teachers, improving support for them and staff in our schools, new literacy and numeracy teachers, maths, science specialists and school nurses.

It’s a Liberal Government that’s now making consecutive record level investments in education and training.  But, of course, as Liberals we recognise the fact as well that if it were just about money, we might have fixed the problem by now.  But we haven’t because, like the health system, the education system has failed, and it’s failing Tasmanians.  So, we are fixing it, and we are doing things differently.  We’re fixing a system that was broken and undertaking the most significant transformation of our education system in half a century. 

We’re changing the age at which students can start school and when they finish, so Tasmanians can’t walk out of school with as much as two years less education than their interstate counterparts, as has happened.  We’re changing a system where too many of our students left school at the end of Year 10.  Way too early.  So, we’re extending our high schools to provide Years 11 and 12.

And since bringing in this policy, the results show that it’s working and our results are improving.  There has been a 57% increase in the first 12 schools that have extended through to Years 11 and 12.  We’re closing the gap in national retention rates.  Our apparent retention rates, the Years 11 to 12, has improved significantly.  It’s now up around 74%, up from a low 67% under the previous Government. 

The most recent NAPLAN results show that Tasmanians students are improving.  They’re closer to the national average and, importantly, we’ve seen the greatest improvement in areas where we’ve put our additional literacy and numeracy specialists.  So, our plan is working. It’s delivering better results for Tasmanians.  We’re lifting our education performance.  We’re doing things differently, because if we understand that if you keep doing things the same way, you’ll keep getting the same results.  And they simply weren’t good enough.  So, we’re determined to improve the performance of our education system.

Now, I’ve got a note, and unfortunately our revolutionary changes to the education system, which are necessary, have been fiercely opposed by our political opponents. In fact, they’ve said that they’ll roll them back.  Though, I must also point out, not every Labor politician is mindlessly opposing what we’re doing.  In fact, some Labor luminaries no less, including former MPs Michael Polley and Julian Amos, have strongly supported our policy. That proves we are doing things just a little bit differently.  Now, I know, it may startle you that people like Michael Polley and Julian Amos think we’re doing the right thing.  It might make you wonder whether we are but, of course, the important thing is, they are former MPs, they are not wanting to get re-elected. They’re putting the state’s interests ahead of their political interests.  And that’s what we’re doing, making changes that are challenging, that are confronting, that are of concern to some people in our community, but which are absolutely necessary to improve the education results of our state and to give every Tasmanian student their best shot in life.

A centrepiece of our agenda is also to provide more support for vulnerable Tasmanians, for Tasmanians in need.  We have a nation-leading family violence action plan.  We are implementing the National Disability Scheme in Tasmania.  We’re redesigning our child protection system. 

We’re delivering an affordable housing plan which will deliver around 900 new homes for Tasmanians who need a roof over their heads.  And we’re doing that through a policy that’s bold and that’s innovative and a plan that engages the non-government sector.  We’re transferring the titles of properties to them to help them help us deliver those homes for Tasmanian in need.  And our opponents are once again predictably freaking about a Liberal Party privatisation agenda. But it’s not our agenda at all. Our agenda is about providing more homes to vulnerable Tasmanians, not about some ideological argument, but about providing more homes.

So, our state, as you can see, is very different now, compared to what things were like when we first came to Government.  Yes, we’re a very different Government to our predecessors and, perhaps, as I say, some might think we’re quite different from other Liberal Governments. 

And I tell you why.  We’re a Government that’s focussed on results, what matters is what works.  Yes, we are pragmatic, we always stand true to what we believe in, smaller Government, the power of enterprise, greater freedoms for people, but we are not bound by any ideological straightjacket.  What’s most important to us is what we deliver for the people of Tasmania. 

We are a Liberal Government that’s focused on health and education and supporting Tasmanians in need.  No monopoly for Labor on these things.  And we’ll find new ways to deal with old problems.  And we’ll also take action when we need to. We will, dare I say it, on occasions be interventionist when necessary. 

For example, to kick-start an economy that had stalled under Labor and the Greens, we took immediate remedial action coming into Government.  We abolished headworks charges on new developments. This has underpinned a massive increase of 83% in new applications, and it’s brought forward investments in our state.

We partnered with the Federal Government in combination with Tasmanian business to deliver a $25 million Tasmanians jobs and investment fund, supporting the creation of around 800 jobs.

We implemented a pro-Tasmanian Buy Local policy which has resulted in a 25% increase on the value of contacts awarded to Tasmanian businesses, 93% to the total value of contracts going to Tasmanian businesses.  Some might say more a National Party policy than a Liberal Party policy, but it’s delivering results and supporting Tasmanian business.

As is our First Home Builders Boost, increasing that to stimulate more growth in the home building construction sector. 

Again, some political purists would say these are not classically Liberal policies, but they have delivered positive results for our community, for our economy, for Tasmanians, and we now have record levels of business confidence, because business knows they have a Government that will back them and give them the confidence to invest more.

As I say, on occasions we have been interventionist.  And we won’t stand back when there is a need or an opportunity for us to support business to create more jobs or even to protect them. 

We provided the support necessary to kick-start and revive the Myer Hobart redevelopment, to breathe new life into our capital city.  We outbid other states when there was a very real threat that Qantas might take their call centre and hundreds of Tasmanian jobs with it. We outbid and outfought other states to keep it here and keep those jobs with it.

Yes, some might argue it’s not what Liberal Governments do, but they’ve created and saved Tasmanian jobs and that’s what my Government’s all about.

To the North and the North West. We recently launched a package of policies, including an innovative plan to partner with Local Governments, a $60 million contribution to stimulate greater business activity in those regions and to tackle the two-speed economy.  Arguably not necessarily the approach an ideological pure Liberal Party might take, but it is one that a focussed Government wanting results and delivering for Tasmanians would do, because what matters is what works.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, in closing, Tasmania is now very much a different place than when we came into Government.  We have turned things around.  We’re certainly heading in the right direction.

Yes, the Liberal Party is different.  Yes, we’ve learned from the federal election.  It has sharpened our focus and it’s firmed us in our resolve. 

We are a modern Liberal Party whose Prime Minister has called on us to broaden our base, whose Premier has said that we should do more to increase the participation of women in our party and in our Parliament.  We do so because we want our great party to become even greater and to better reflect and to better represent the community that has elected us and entrusted us with the responsibility and the privilege of being Tasmania’s Majority Liberal Government.

Thank you.