Will Hodgman

Premier of Tasmania

State of the State address 2015

Today I want to talk to Tasmanians about the future; and it's a future they can look forward to with optimism and confidence.

Tasmania is open for business, our economy is growing, and the eyes of the world are on us.

We are ranked as one of the most desirable places in the world to visit, and our fine produce is highly sought after across the globe.

My team is united, focussed, and working hard every day to deliver our long term plan we outlined to Tasmanians at last year's election.

Our economy is growing; we are on track to fix the budget; and we have commenced the task of rebuilding essential services.

Madam Speaker,

While it's early days, and there is a lot to be done, Tasmania is heading in the right direction.

This coming year will be about maintaining the momentum, continuing to deliver our long term plan, because we are moving beyond fixing a Budget mess – we are building something better.

Our first year

Madam Speaker

A year ago Tasmanians voted for change; they wanted a new direction.

The economy had flat-lined, investment and business confidence was at record lows, and unemployment at a decade-high.

The budget was a mess, with $1.1 billion in forecast accumulated deficits and net debt heading towards $400 million.

Tasmanians placed their trust in us, and our plan.

Madam Speaker,

Our first priority was to kick-start the economy; to attract investment; to create more jobs and to restore confidence.

We acted swiftly and removed headworks charges, which have deterred development and investment.

We changed procurement policy and have implemented a 'buy local' campaign to help Tasmanian businesses get a fairer share of government work.

We extended payroll tax relief to help create new jobs.

We protected jobs under threat, by beating off other states to secure Qantas' call centre operations in Tasmania, showing that not only are we open for business, but we mean business when it comes to Tasmanian jobs.

We started the process of reforming the planning system to make it simpler, cheaper, faster and fairer and to facilitate development across the state.

We refocussed the TT-Line onto increasing passenger numbers, and cleared the way for the private sector to help address the freight shipping challenge.

We have re-opened our forest industry for future growth, and have passed the strongest workplace laws in the country to better protect businesses and their employees.

We have established a new Department of State Growth and appointed the Coordinator General to drive economic growth and secure investment for the State.

We are cutting red and green tape to encourage investment, and first stage of our reforms to establish a single statewide planning system have passed through Parliament.

We are investing in critical infrastructure for the future in partnership with the Federal Government, including major irrigation projects to transform agriculture.

And six major safety upgrades have commenced on the Midland Highway, and work on the Bredalbane-Perth duplication will commence later this year.

We are rebuilding essential services, and are rescuing the Royal Hobart Hospital and we have commenced our program to transform Tasmania's health and education systems.

We have delivered on our commitment to support community sector organisations in their vital role of providing services for Tasmanians in need, with additional budget funding, and have provided for $300 million in concession payments, including covering funding cut by the Federal Government, but which helps vulnerable Tasmanians with cost of living expenses.

There are more police in our communities, making them safer.

And we have passed laws to protect our police officers, as they protect us.

While it's early days, and there's a lot to be done, there are very positive signs for the future.

The economy

Madam Speaker,

Our economy is growing.

Since the election, nearly 7000 jobs have been created.

Employment levels are now the highest since December 2008.

Our unemployment rate has fallen to 6.6 percent, from 7.4 per cent this time a year ago.

The unemployment rate in the North West is the lowest it's been in two and a half years and the rate in the North and North East dropping over half a per cent in the last 12 months.

Our target is to reduce the unemployment rate to at least the national average.

We now have the narrowest gap between the State and National unemployment rate since October 2011.

Our labour force participation rate has risen since the election to 61.5 percent, the highest in three years, meaning that more people are returning to the workforce, more hopeful about the opportunity of getting a job.

Gross State Product is increasing again, construction and building activity is booming, and retail trade had its strongest year.

All of this hasn't happened by accident. There is no doubt policy decisions we have made have had an impact on this.

Abolishing headworks charges has played a pivotal role in the doubling of development and building assessments in its first six months of operation.

Under our 'local benefits test' policy, in the first eight months there have been over 203 contracts awarded to Tasmanian businesses compared with 131 in the eight months prior.

There is a positive outlook for the economy, with businesses reporting a growth in business confidence that is the highest in the nation.

And support from Tasmanian businesses for the government has also gone from the worst in the country to the second best in the nation.

The Budget

And, Madam Speaker, we are fixing the Budget.

And while it's early days, and there is a long way to go, the good news is we are heading in the right direction.

The Revised Estimates Report we recently released shows that the budget is on track. 

We are on track to deliver what we said we would in the 2014-15 financial year, and we remain on track to deliver a surplus within six years.

The Government is on track to deliver a net operating balance that is just $14 million off the balance forecast in the budget, and over the forward estimates, an improvement of $23.3 million.

In the context of a $5 billion budget, this year's variance is less than half a per cent and the smallest Revised Estimates Report variance in nearly ten years.

Last year's variance under the former government, for example, saw the deficit blow out by $109 million in just six months.

Since the budget, the Government has made just two additional spending decisions totalling $3.1 million - for the West Coast assistance package and to host the Chinese President's visit and hold the TasInvest summit -   in both cases, essential government support.

In contrast, last year under the former government there were 33 additional spending made decisions, costing $49.8 million. The year before, an additional 13 spending decisions totalled $35.8 million.

And between the 2010-11 budget and the Revised Estimates Report, the then Government made 15 additional spending decisions totalling a staggering $364 million in new, unbudgeted spending.

Unlike the former government, we are a Government that will exercise budget discipline, and constrain spending, so that the budget is brought under control.

We have also updated the Tasmanian people on our progress in making our Budget savings.

We have been up front with Tasmanians about the need to reduce the public service, to ensure we have a government we can afford.

We have already announced that it will be reduced by 821 FTEs this year.  

We have now reported that as of the end of January this year, the public sector had already been reduced by 668 FTEs, meaning we are well on track to reach our target by the end of June.

It's important to note that while the public sector workforce has declined by 668 FTEs during this financial year, around 7,000 jobs have been created in the broader economy since the election in March 2014.

It is important to note that no one has been sacked and there have been no forced redundancies.

We have reduced the size of the public sector through voluntary redundancies and vacancy control while also reducing the cost of the public sector through the Workforce Renewal Incentive Program.

Around 1,500 public servants put their hands up to voluntarily leave the public service.  

And this has allowed us to be very strategic in reducing the size of the public sector and wherever possible, we have done everything we can to protect frontline services while making the necessary savings.

The costs associated with this program are one-off and will mean that we make structural salary budget savings for future years.

Our long-term Plan is all about ensuring future generations can continue to access the public services they deserve and that the Government can afford.

While there is clearly a long way to go, this just shows what can be achieved by a disciplined Government with a long-term Plan, and the right team to deliver it.

Madam Speaker

In last year's Budget we laid out the measures in our plan to get fix the Budget mess.

We are doing what we said we would, and as we head toward our second Budget, I want to assure Tasmanians that there will be no additional savings measures contained in it.

We will, however, continue to apply a disciplined approach to managing the budget with only modest and responsible spending commitments.

We will not undo all the progress of the past 12 months.

What past governments have not been prepared to do, we must, and we will.  We will stay the course and rebuild the state's finances.

And the reason why this is so important to rebuild the Budget is so that we can better invest in essential the essential services Tasmanians need now, and into the future.

The future

Madam Speaker,

But as I have said before, our job is not just to fix the mess we inherited; it's bigger than that. Our job is to build something better. 

And that is our vision, and our plan, for a brighter future.

We took our Plan to the election, for Tasmanians to see before they voted.

In it we outlined what we would do in the first 100 days of government.

We were willing to be transparent, but also accountable for our policy commitments.

We are more than happy to be judged on our record, and we are continuing this practice, today releasing the Government's second year Plan.

Our plan for the next 365 days outlines our policy objectives for the coming year and when we plan to deliver them.

Again, this shows that we are a Government that is committed to transparency, certainty, and accountability.

Madam Speaker,

Our plan for the next 365 days outlines policy objectives across government, including;

  • finalising an agreement with Swire Shipping to restore an international shipping service to support our agricultural and manufacturing sectors;
  • launching the refurbished the Spirits of Tasmania with an expanded sailing schedule to increase tourist numbers as part of our goal to welcome one and a half million visitors to the state by 2020;
  • a new strategy for affordable housing, and reform of out of home care to support the vulnerable in our community;
  • a new Energy Strategy to secure genuinely sustainable and competitive power prices for business and households;
  • introducing legislation to put a victim of crime representative on the parole board; releasing our population strategy, with the vision of the Tasmanian population reaching 650,000 by the year 2050;
  • inviting expressions of interest for development on Macquarie Point; delivering a single state-wide planning scheme and cutting red tape to sustain the growth in the construction sector;

Madam Speaker, our plan for the next 365 days contains over 80 policy objectives, and this is just a sample.

Open for business

Madam Speaker,

The people of Tasmania did vote for change, for a new direction, and my government is determined to create, and chase, new opportunities for our state.

We are progressing the assessment of proposals for sensitive and appropriate tourism offerings in our National Parks and the World Heritage Area, following recommendations from an expert Assessment Panel.

My Government is committed to showcasing, protecting and celebrating our unique natural and cultural heritage assets, while growing our tourism industry and creating new jobs.

We also want to give more Tasmanians and visitors the opportunity to experience our unique, world class wilderness areas.

Proposals are subject to rigorous assessment, and it is important to note that for the proposals proceeding to the next stage of consideration, this does not amount to a final approval for a proposal.

Each proposal will be required to obtain all other necessary approvals as required under the standard State and Federal planning and approval processes.

But the exciting proposals that have come forward from this 'game changing' policy demonstrate that we can use our national parks and World Heritage Area to attract investment and create jobs, without compromising their magnificent natural values.

My Government has a goal to transform Tasmania into the environmental tourism capital of the world to help reach a target of 1.5 million visitors a year by 2020, to grow this great industry which is now booming.

Tasmania is at the top of the world's must-see list.

Last year we welcomed a record 1.06 million tourists to the state, up six per cent on the previous year, with these visitors staying longer and spending more.

Over the summer a number of world class events have only enhanced our reputation and appeal, with the extraordinary success of the Taste of Tasmania and Festivale, the Sydney to Hobart, the Falls and MONA FOMA festivals, tennis internationals played across the state, and an exceptional Wooden Boat Festival to name just a few.

This month, world-class cricket action arrives with three ICC Cricket World Cup games being held at Blundstone Arena.

The biggest sporting event in the world this year, the ICC cricket World Cup arrives soon, and will again ensure the eyes of the world are focussed on Tasmania.

AFL football is already back, and soon we will welcome back the V8 Supercars, after last year securing a long-term deal for this popular event in Tasmania, and which brings great economic benefit, especially to the north of the state.

It's great to see that each region has experienced growth in tourist numbers, and my Government will continue to support this job-creating industry, and which projects our great state to the rest of the world, by investing additional funding for marketing.

Access to and from our island state is vital, and we are working on innovative partnerships with airlines to increase flights, and explore new routes.

Taking Tasmania to the world

Madam Speaker,

Perhaps our most famous visitors from last year were the President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping and Madam Peng Liyuan.

This not only gave Tasmania a chance to demonstrate how well we can roll out the welcome mat but also everything we have to offer.

This visit occurred in the afterglow of Tourism Australia's grand finale at MONA - 'Invite the World to Dinner'  - which brought around 80 of the world's most influential food and wine personalities to our State, and which was followed by a global audience of more than 400 million.

It showcased everything our state is renowned for - fresh produce, pristine surrounds and the world's friendliest people.

And tens of millions of eyes were focused on Tasmania during the visit by the President Xi and Madam Peng.

The media exposure for our state was unparalleled, including a 10-minute bulletin on Chinese news which was watched by an estimated 600 million people.

Though the success of the event, and generating enduring goodwill, is perhaps not yet fully realised.

But around this historic event, our state entered 10 separate agreements with China to strengthen our economic and cultural relations with what is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and now our largest trading partner.

My Government deliberately and strategically held Tasinvest 2014, to coincide with this historic event, showcasing more than $2 billion of investment opportunities in our state to potential investors from across the world.

And already we have seen positive and real outcomes.

There has been a spike in interest in our products, and in prices and volumes of our produce sold to China.   One of our salmon producers has sent a large shipment of their product to China for the very first time. Tourist visitation from China is reported to be hitting a record high off the back of the visit.

We are determined to maximise the opportunities from this historic connection, many of which may take some time to fully realise. But we will waste no time in pursuing these opportunities.

We have established a register of investment opportunities that is being pursued. The Coordinator General is working to shepherd investment opportunities through to fruition.  

Later this month, the inaugural Australia China Business Week 2015 will be held in Hobart. More than 200 delegates are expected to attend, with presentations from a number of high-profile speakers.

And at the same time I will be leading a trade and investment mission to China, to build on the diplomatic and business ties generated by last year's visit. 

The Government is also committed to improving our engagement with key trading partners such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Whilst it may attract criticism from some quarters, my Government will be engaged in a more 'outward looking' approach to international engagement, and an active participation in trade missions as an essential investment in our State's future prosperity.

And in this regard, we warmly welcome the Federal Government's investment in extending the capacity at Hobart International Airport, by extending the runway.

This $38 million commitment will strengthen our position as the nation's gateway to the Antarctic; will permit direct international flights to increase the number of tourists visiting our state; and increase trade options for our exporters, especially those exporting high value agricultural products to Asian markets.

Because not only do we need to invite the world to Tasmania, we also need to take Tasmania to the world - and that includes our world class products.

It is our vision to grow the farm gate value of Tasmania's agricultural industries to $10 billion a year by 2050.

We have worked co-operatively with Federal Government to deliver $90 million of public funding to build tranche two of our irrigation network across our state, together with their private sector involvement of around $27 million.

Irrigation development in Tasmania represents a genuine partnership with our farmers that will secure reliable water to our primary industries and help unlock huge opportunities in sectors including dairy, wine, fruit, vegetables, poppies and new seed crops.

The water from these projects is transforming not just our landscape, but also our agricultural sector's capacity to grow, invest and create jobs.

Rebuilding essential services – education, health and public safety

Madam Speaker,

While we work on our plan to grow our economy, to open up new opportunities, and to create new jobs, central to our plan is a commitment to rebuilding essential services in health, education and public safety.

Tasmania is a fantastic place to live; it's one of the safest states in Australia, and it's important that we keep it that way.

Already, since the election, we've increased the number of police to make our communities safer.

And with additional recruit courses we are on track to deliver the extra 108 police over four years, as we promised.

Health

In health, this coming year will bring important change.

Difficult change, but necessary change.

In our first budget we delivered a record investment in health. 

It is clear, however, that without reform of the system itself we cannot expect to achieve improved health outcomes in the long term.

The fact is, the health system is not working, and in its current form cannot work.

And it is well established that on many key indicators our population is less healthy and more exposed to chronic disease than populations elsewhere around Australia.

We cannot allow this to continue unchallenged either.

We are developing a strategic plan for preventative health in Tasmania, with a bold and ambitious vision of Tasmania having the healthiest population in Australia by 2025.

Delivering improvements in preventative health will work in conjunction with our reforms of clinical services to take pressure off hospitals and deliver better health outcomes for Tasmanians.

We have already undertaken some major initiatives in health, and have invested an additional $76 million into elective surgery to tackle our waiting lists head-on.

We are rescuing the Royal Hobart Hospital, after not only inheriting a mess estimated at $70 million over budget, but a rebuild deemed simply not safe for patients.

That's why we took the prudent, sensible step to put the project on hold for six months while the Rescue Taskforce determined how to save it.

As a result, we've been able not only to save the Royal redevelopment, but also, without adding to the projected $70 million budget blowout, added a helipad, improved mental health facilities, designed a safe decanting model and a new hyperbaric chamber.

It'll be a safer, it will be a better redevelopment. A redeveloped hospital that Tasmania can afford.

Madam Speaker,

In July this year three Tasmanian Health Organisations will be merged into one Tasmanian Health service, based in Launceston, creating more coordinated health care right across the state.

The Minister for Health will soon release for public consultation the exposure draft of the White Paper which outlines the proposed changes under our One State, One Health System, Better Outcomes Plan.

I want to be very clear, this Plan is not about saving money, and we won't be closing any hospitals. Nor is it about taking away services from people.

It is, literally, about saving lives.

It's about improving health outcomes, with the resources we have.

We know that there will be many people who are understandably concerned about what these changes might mean, and the process will involve honest and confronting discussions.

And yes, it will involve difficult decisions.

But they are decisions we have to make if we want to improve health outcomes for Tasmanians.

My Government's commitment is to absolute openness and transparency in this process.

My plea, to all Tasmanians, is approach this issue with an open mind.

Education

And Madam Speaker, in the most important area of education.

Our vision is a Tasmania that is at or above the national average in every NAPLAN measurement, and where we meet national benchmarks in reading, writing, maths and science.

A vision where we give our greatest asset, our young people, their best shot in life to achieve their potential.

A better education usually means better health, and positive outcomes in family life and community participation. And a much better chance of getting a good job.                                

And it's a vision of a Tasmania that is more economically productive and prosperous as a result.

But currently, Tasmania is around 10 per cent less productive than the rest of the country. Many Tasmanian students are leaving school too early, or without the qualifications they need to get a good job. 

The proportion of students who go on to complete year 12 is 68.4% in Tasmania compared to 74.8% nationally.

We have the lowest retention rate in the country.

Only 47% of Tasmanian students actually complete year 12 and achieve a Tasmanian Certificate of Education. The national target is 90%.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce predicts that 25% of people without at least a Certificate 3 qualification will never have a job. 

Worse still, only about 36 per cent of year 10 students in 2012 went on to complete their TCE in 2014.

This has to change.

That's why our Plan to extend high schools to year 11 and 12 is so important.

This plan isn't about moving existing students from the College system to High Schools, it's about getting even more students into the post year 10 education system.

Students who otherwise would end their schooling at year 10.

It's not about closing colleges; it's about capturing those students who can't or won't attend a college, for various reasons, such as travel.

And the early evidence is our Plan to extend high schools to years 11 and 12 is already having a very real and positive impact on the lives of young Tasmanians.

In the first six schools which have extended this year, preliminary figures show that enrolments in years 11 and 12 are up by 30 percent.

While it's early days, it is very encouraging.

At Scottsdale High School, enrolments are up 45 per cent - yet at the same time there has been no decrease in enrolments at the two Colleges in Launceston which Scottsdale students traditionally attend.

This means, as a result of our Plan, there are now students doing year 11 and 12 who would otherwise not be.

We will continue to roll out this important reform.

Expressions of interest were called for last year, and shortly, the Minister for Education will announce the second round of schools scheduled for extension in 2016.

Our bold plan for education and a strong commitment to create a job-ready generation includes extending schools to Years 11 and 12, and introducing more literacy and numeracy specialist teachers in schools, and a focus on early learning – all with a record budget investment in education.

We have commenced a review of the Education Act, involving extensive community consultation, to ensure we have modern delivery models to reflect contemporary educational practices and make sure it meets the needs of our students into the future.

We want every Tasmanian student to reach their full potential and have the ability to seize every opportunity in the future.

And recently the Government entered into an exciting new partnership with the University of Tasmania in establishing the Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment.

The Underwood Centre will consider the causes, implications and solutions for the challenges we face in education.

It will investigate the best ways to keep children in school longer, methods to improve the way children learn and teachers are trained, reasons for the existing impediments to education aspiration and attainment, and offer rigorous evidence based advice to inform public policy.

In this year, the 125thanniversary of the University of Tasmania, my Government looks forward to enhancing our partnership further, working collaboratively in areas of common interest, for example promoting Tasmania as an ideal place for international students to study.

The future of the Federation

Madam Speaker,

As we proceed to consider the future of our Federation  I can assure Tasmanians that my Government will approach this debate with a positive outlook,  and I will be championing Tasmania's interests in the process.

But under no circumstances will my Government agree to anything which sees our share of the GST reduce.

And in each area under review – Federal Financial Relations, Health, Education and Housing and Homelessness, my Government is actively engaging directly with the Commonwealth to advance Tasmania's interests.

And we have adopted a "no worse off" threshold as the basis for our engagement in the process.

Tasmanians can be assured that their Government is actively working to protect their interests, and to get the best possible deal from Canberra.

Aboriginal affairs

Madam Speaker,

As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs I have committed to 're-setting' our relationship with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

I am committed to ongoing consultation with the community, to listen, and to work together to set a new direction, and to further progress reconciliation.

We will also take a leadership role on issues on the national agenda, including for example the campaign to amend the Commonwealth Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of this land.

And we will consider the merits of a similar amendment to the Tasmanian Constitution Act.

I will not pre-empt the outcomes of these discussions, and the Government has no pre-determined expectations, but I am committed to discussing a range of issues including land hand-backs, indigenous tourism opportunities, joint land management and constitutional recognition.

The Government has recently released a draft of the updated Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan, which is out for an extended period of consultation.

The plan is to achieve balanced outcomes that are genuinely respectful of cultural and natural values, while at the same time recognising that the TWWHA is an area to be used, celebrated and shared with the world.

A new feature of the draft plan is an increased recognition of the cultural heritage and a greater emphasis on cooperation with Tasmanian Aboriginal people in the management of the TWWHA in order to properly recognise, preserve and celebrate its globally significant cultural heritage, including dual naming, exploring indigenous tourism opportunities, and the possibility of increased management responsibility.

This is a bold new approach which represents a rare opportunity for fresh engagement with the Aboriginal community in relation to cultural heritage.

I personally look forward to engaging with the community on these opportunities.

Optimism and hope for the future

Madam Speaker,

Our State is now headed in the right direction, and our job this year is to build on the momentum. Our first year record demonstrates what a strong, stable majority Ggovernment can achieve.

As I said on election night, there are no silver bullets and we won't be perfect, but we will always work hard, listen, and govern in the best interests of the Tasmanian people.

And we are prepared to be held to account and judged on outcomes.

There is still  more to be done, but we have the Plan and the team to build a better Tasmania.

My message to Tasmanians is we are headed in the right direction.