Tasmania is changing for the better.
We have confidence. The economy is growing. Businesses are expanding and investors are buying in.
We are in demand. Our produce is a ‘must have’, and as a destination we are a ‘must see’.
We are changing how the nation and the world see us. Yes, we are unique, but that’s a good thing. It’s what makes us different, and hard to compete with.
Our people, place and produce are our strengths. And while we have certainly come a long way, there is still much more to do to realise our true potential.
As a strong, stable, majority Liberal Government we are united in our determination to achieve it.
Being an island creates advantages, but as the events of recent months have shown, it creates vulnerabilities too.
Tasmania is facing a set of unprecedented challenges right now.
For the first time in a decade of operation, there is an extended outage of the Basslink cable.
Nineteen-hundred lighting strikes in a single day sparked 100 wildfires across the state, and many are still burning.
We’ve had the lowest spring rainfall since record books have been kept, and the hottest summer.
A freak-storm broke the Spirit II’s moorings, taking it out of action and off Bass Strait for a number of days.
These events aren’t of anyone’s making, but we are being tested by what nature can throw at us.
The true test of any Government is how it responds to a challenge.
As a Government we have responded with a steady hand, and a measured, responsible approach.
This is something Tasmanians have come to depend upon and expect from us.
Of course, no response to the unexpected can ever be perfect, and there will be lessons to be learned.
We will learn from them; and we will act to make sure our state is better equipped to deal with such challenges into the future.
We need, as best we can, to future-proof Tasmania.
But before we look forward, it’s important to briefly look back over the past year.
In the face of the unprecedented and extraordinary, Tasmanians have proven resilient and resourceful.
We’ve also shown compassion; opening our hearts and our doors to those fleeing the unimaginable from the other side of the world.
Our island has been recognised as the greatest destination in the country, and one of the world’s hot spots; and travellers are coming here in record numbers.
Under our long-term Plan for a Brighter Future, Tasmania’s economy is now growing at its fastest rate in six years and business confidence ranks among the highest in the nation.
Three thousand, six hundred more jobs created since the election; our unemployment rate has dropped, and last year fell to equal with the national rate.
Tasmanians are reaching into their pockets with confidence. Retail trade has hit record levels of almost half a billion a month turnover and total building approvals are up by more than 40 per cent.
The world craves our fresh, premium produce and quality products; with extraordinary growth in exports – including a $160 million increase in the value of exports to China.
Investors have trust in a majority government. New ventures, construction and development are going ahead.
Our initiatives targeted at stimulating the economy are delivering results; our headworks charges holiday, for instance, has nearly doubled the number of building and plumbing plans per month, and brought forward new developments.
Our state-wide planning scheme is on track for delivery a year ahead of schedule. We have submitted it to the independent Planning Commission, and it will be open for public consultation next week.
Working with local government, we are now modelling amalgamation and resource sharing options in the South, and are about to put pen to paper for resource sharing options in the North and North-West.
As a strong, united Liberal Government we’ve been able to quickly adapt to changes of our own.
Following the retirement of Paul Harriss, after decades of public service, we have been able to draw on a great depth of talent within our own ranks.
Adam Brooks is a champion for Braddon and will apply that same commitment to his portfolios, and guide our important mining industry through current market challenges; and strongly support the continued growth in our building and construction sector.
My Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, will continue the work already underway to re-build forestry, with experience and commitment to an industry that this Government strongly believes in, and supports.
And my Parliamentary Secretary, Guy Barnett, now has responsibility for the Government’s strong support of our important small business sector – the engine room of the Tasmanian economy.
Today, I want to tell Tasmanians about the features of our Plan for the State.
Importantly, as a result of our stable government and good financial management - including some difficult decisions we made - the budget is heading back into surplus next financial year, three years ahead of schedule.
The benefit of this strong financial management, and our growing economy, is we can now better invest into the core, essential services of Government, as we have always planned.
This year will be all about sharpening our focus on the things that affect you most; health, education, skills and protecting our most vulnerable.
And we must make sure future generations of Tasmanians are better placed to deal with challenges like those we are facing right now; in energy and water security, budget sustainability and freight.
Our long-term Plan has always had at its centre a focus on budget stability.
One of the most important things we can do as a Government is ensure budget sustainability, because getting the budget back on track means we can better invest in essential services, as well as weather unexpected financial challenges into the future.
Under our Plan, year one was about stemming the bleeding in our economy and our budget.
Year two was about consolidating the gains and building the momentum.
Year three, this year, is about investing the dividends of those gains into the core, essential services, and future-proofing our State.
I can’t stress enough that it is only because we’ve made the difficult decision to get the budget back on track that we are now able to invest those dividends, and have the means to respond to the unexpected.
When we came to Government, we inherited cumulative budget deficits of $1.1 billion, net debt projected to reach $400 million and 1,000 embedded job cuts in the budget.
Now, the contrast couldn’t be greater.
As the Treasurer revealed last month in the mid-year update, we’re on track for a surplus next financial year, three years ahead of schedule.
And instead of net debt reaching $400 million, we’re projecting positive cash and investments of about $410 million.
To do this, we’ve been disciplined, keeping spending growth to 1.7 per cent compared to 4.8 per cent under the last eight years of the former Government.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, and I accept that for some it’s been unpopular.
But it’s what was right and necessary, because if we hadn’t reined in spending, we wouldn’t be able to afford to invest more in essential services into the future, as we are doing now.
And it’s critical to remember that without the savings measures we implemented, the Budget would still be in deficit until 2020.
During the past year, we fought and defeated an unprecedented attack on our share of the GST. For the first time in more than 30 years, the Federal Government was giving serious consideration to rejecting the independent recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission and changing the way the GST is distributed.
If that had happened, not only would we have lost around $100 million in GST this year, the very fabric of our Federation would have been irreparably compromised. We won that battle, and Tasmania is much better for it.
This highlights that risks to our Budget, not of our own making, is one of the key reasons why we must continue to properly manage our expenditure wisely, and to future proof our Budget against future risks.
It is our strong budget management that has also ensured that we have the means to fight one of the worst fire seasons in recent years.
It’s of course a necessary cost, but it is one that no Government would want to bear every year, so it’s important we mitigate the risk.
But first, I would like to formally put on the record the Government’s gratitude to all the professional and volunteer firefighters, and the contribution of all our agencies and communities who have contributed to the effort.
I’d particularly like to acknowledge Acting Fire Chief, Gavin Freeman; Police Commissioner Darren Hine; and Minister for Emergency Management Rene Hidding.
It is quite extraordinary that given the scale and scope of these fires, not a single life or property was lost, and only about 1.3 per cent of our total Wilderness World Heritage Area was affected.
This is despite more than 300 fires, more than 120,000 hectares burned and a record 15 total fire ban days, five more than any previous year.
Instead of criticism, our emergency services deserve our praise and support; their response was immediate and without precedent, with more resources available than any time in our state’s history.
So far, the effort has involved more than 5,600 Tasmanian volunteer and career firefighters, 1,000 from interstate or overseas, and as many as 40 aircraft assisting each day during the peak.
While it’s too early to understand the full magnitude of the cost, it will likely exceed $25 million.
We can never expect to fire-proof our state, given wildfires are a natural part of the Australian environment, but we can work to mitigate the risks.
Our fuel-reduction program, with an investment of $28.5 million, is the most substantial effort ever seen in this state to better prepare us against the threat of bushfires, with more than 160 burns completed across more than 31,000 hectares.
Now it is time to further explore ways to strengthen the protection of our precious wilderness areas. This work will involve two separate new initiatives.
The first; as is appropriate after every major fire event, the Tasmanian Fire Service has initiated an independent inquiry conducted by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council.
It will be overseen by Stuart Ellis who’s known for his work on the Canberra bushfires, Victoria’s Black Saturday and the Christchurch earthquake.
This is an incisive and instructive examination into the management of the fires, including the protection of our sensitive and important wilderness areas.
The second initiative is forward looking work that will focus on whether we can better protect our Wilderness World Heritage Area in a rapidly changing climate.
We will commence a new research initiative, with funding of $250,000, to examine the impact of climate change on our wilderness areas, and strengthen our fire-fighting techniques specific to protecting our wilderness areas.
This will of course include a focus on prevention; improving our predictive modelling, fuel reduction and fire retardant use.
This work will be led by an independent chair, eminent researcher Dr Tony Press, and a Steering Committee including representatives from each of our key agencies will oversee it.
We will work with the Commonwealth on this project, given our shared responsibility for the management of the World Heritage Area.
Our state is also facing very challenging circumstances with regard to energy supply, as the Minister for Energy detailed yesterday.
We are dealing with unprecedented circumstances.
To put the current situation in context, the recent spring rainfall was not just the lowest rainfall ever recorded for that period; it was less than half the previous record low.
Our water storages would be eight per cent higher today if we had experienced conditions similar to even the previous driest spring on record, in 2006.
All of this on top of the unprecedented Basslink outage.
Despite these exceptional circumstances, the advice we continue to receive confirms that the situation is manageable. Yes, it will be challenging, but we have a plan to get us through this, as the Minister outlined yesterday.
This certainly reminds us of the vulnerability we face as an island state.
Yesterday the Minister also outlined the process we have to deal with the potential of an even longer Basslink outage, and to try to mitigate against a similar energy shock in the future.
It is very important that we take a measured approach to this, informed by expert advice. Actions we take now could impose significant costs to future generations, and we need to make sure we get that right.
We need to make sure that what we plan for is a solution for the future, not just a knee-jerk reaction based on the current exceptional circumstances.
That’s why we will be very carefully examining Tasmania’s future energy needs in a changing world, which will of course include examining the need for more on-island renewable energy through the Tasmanian Energy Security Taskforce.
Just as we must work to future-proof our energy security, the same must be done for water security.
Our farmers have a deserved reputation for producing some of the most premium and safe produce in the world. But they’re at the whim of the weather.
After the driest spring on record many farmers are suffering drought. And our oyster farmers are in the grip of a virus outbreak.
We’ve taken immediate action to support both, and to work with them to provide a long-term recovery plan.
For those on the land, many have already invested in irrigation. This dry season they’re working harder for their returns, and that comes at a greater expense.
Just as the drought in 2007 was a catalyst for expanding irrigation, this latest drought reminds us that there’s still more to do.
We are progressing the five Tranche Two irrigation schemes secured with $60 million in Federal funding together with our State Government commitment of $30 million, and a co-contribution by our farmers. The first scheme is now under construction in the Southern Highlands.
We also have our eyes firmly fixed on what’s next, and the potential for Tranche Three.
Mid-year, Tasmanian Irrigation will report back on our Future Irrigation Project, which will determine new opportunities for interconnectivity between existing schemes, renewable energy opportunities and identify potential future schemes.
We’ve seen what irrigation can achieve and we want more farmers, their families and rural communities to be able to tap into its potential and to prosper.
Of course, the future prosperity of our primary producers depends on access to national and international markets through a reliable and efficient freight service.
Tasmanians create some of the greatest produce and products that the world wants and demands. That demand is growing on the back of recent Free Trade Agreements and our strengthening friendship with China.
The most recent export figures show we are bucking the national trend with an upward swing in the value of exports. Seafood grew by 68 per cent, meat by 47 per cent and fruit and vegetables by 43 per cent.
And this has been a season not without its challenges, particularly when the Spirit II was damaged.
These extraordinary events serve as another reminder of the vulnerabilities of being an island state, and how crucial it is to ensure we have the capacity to meet demand, now and into the future.
As a Government we have already taken action to provide greater freight capacity.
We have worked with TT-Line to increase day sailings, which are up by 80 per cent compared to two-years ago.
We’re working with industry and business to map future demand and supply, and create a blueprint for all transport options; land, air and sea through the Integrated Freight Strategy.
And, we’ve created a market where operators have confidence to invest.
The result; SeaRoad’s new vessel is under construction and will be on the Bass Strait run by the end of this year, immediately increasing container capacity by 15 per cent.
But we have an ambitious plan to grow the farm-gate value of Agriculture ten-fold to $10 billion by 2050, so there is still need for even greater capacity.
As a Liberal Government we do look to the private sector to deliver services in a competitive market environment. To date, it has served our freight requirements well.
But I want to be clear that if the private sector can’t deliver we will ensure there’s capacity available to meet demand.
The future prosperity of our State depends on efficient and reliable trade links, especially across Bass Strait.
Our global reputation has never been stronger, and we will continue our campaign to proudly take Tasmania to the world. We are no longer waiting to be discovered!
We have joined forces with Tourism Australia in its $40 million campaign to attract even more international travellers by showcasing our spectacular aquatic and coastal attractions.
We will invest more in our precious brand, to capitalise on its true potential.
We are strengthening our international links through our new Access 2020 plan
to ensure that the growth in visitation, including now record levels of international visitors, continues; and to provide enhanced air freight options for Tasmanian exporters to get their products to expanding overseas markets.
We will again showcase all that Tasmania has to offer at Australia Week in China, and will hold the first “Tasmania Week in Fujian” to continue to build on our valuable 30-year relationship with our sister-state Fujian.
We realise the need to diversify our exports and open new opportunities too, so we will lead a trade and investment mission to India later this year.
Now to the more immediate future, and our promise to invest in the core services of Government.
Last year, in my State of the State address I released our 365 Day Plan for the year ahead, to drive the implementation of our long-term Plan for a Brighter Future.
This also allowed the public to hold us to account on delivering what we promised.
I am pleased to say that of the 88 policy objectives we set out in that plan - 98 per cent - have been delivered, and the two outstanding will be completed soon.
These policies have had a positive impact; fixing the budget, rescuing the Royal and refurbishing the Spirits. They have all changed Tasmania for the better.
Today, I am releasing our plan for the year ahead, our AGENDA 2016.
AGENDA 2016 lays out our practical work-plan for the year; the step-by-step delivery of our long-term Plan for a Brighter Future. As I have said from the outset, we are more than prepared to be held to account for what we promise, and to be judged on results.
Jobs are our number one priority, and this year we’ll be focussing on better matching the skills of Tasmanians with areas of growth; building and construction, hospitality and tourism, and agriculture. And ensuring small business can reach its potential too.
Each year the Government invests around $100 million into the skills training sector.
We assist one in 10 working Tasmanians to upskill by subsidising their vocational education, that’s more than 28,000 Tasmanians.
But our training and skills sector is a system that can be more effective.
I want to be very clear – we will not be handing our training system to the Federal Government, nor will we be dismantling or weakening TasTAFE.
We are focussing on further strengthening it. We want it to be the best in the nation, a system that is effective and competitive, delivers real skills for real jobs and invests in skills and training that drive growth.
This work is underway through our Investing in Skills for Growth policy. This year we’re going to continue to build on this.
We will continue to work with key industries to map their projected areas of growth, to ensure they are never hamstrung; turning down work or delaying investment because they can’t find skilled workers.
An example of how effective this work has been is our partnership with the disability services sector. The roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme will create enormous demand in the sector; a projected 2,500 new jobs to support growth beyond 2020.
To help the industry achieve this target we have funded a workforce development plan, and subsidised more than $12 million worth of training in the disability and age services sector. Already this has resulted in 2,600 training places.
There’s further work we will be doing with this sector, but this is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved when industry and training providers work together.
This year we will also build on a tried-and-tested initiative to provide real help to small business to unlock their potential; to grow and create jobs.
Small businesses are the engine room of our economy, yet they are often unable to take on apprentices and trainees because of the cost, time and commitment.
Coupled with funding assistance, we will work together with small business and Group Training Organisations to make it easier for small business to take-on an apprentice or trainee.
This will enable more apprentices and trainees to successfully complete their education and makes it easier for small businesses to access the skilled workers they need to grow and expand.
Our plan has at its heart a commitment to invest in the essential services that Tasmanians need and deserve.
In health, despite additional surgeries being provided, the hospital waiting lists we inherited are still too long and we need to do more to help people to be healthier and to stay out of hospital.
Since coming to Government we have taken targeted actions to improve results, including providing an additional $76 million for elective surgery and rescuing the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, a critical component of our health system.
This year, to date we have completed eight per cent more elective surgeries than the same time last year. Importantly this has had a focus on those who have been waiting the longest and our children.
Further improvements are occurring, with the opening of more theatres and through partnering with the private sector.
I am very pleased to report that the very important One Health System changes are being progressively implemented. This is all about using our existing hospital resources more effectively to get better outcomes for Tasmanians.
In May we will open the forecourt building at the Royal Hobart Hospital, allowing for the safe dismantling of B-Block to make way for the new 10 storey in-patient precinct.
Importantly, not only is this project rescued, it is on time and on budget.
In July, the Mersey Hospital will commence operation as a dedicated 23-hour elective surgery facility. This will streamline the elective surgery process and free-up more hospital beds across the state for urgent cases.
In May, for the first time many cancer patients in the North West won’t have to travel for hours for radiotherapy, instead they’ll be treated close to home with family and friends within reach, at the North West Cancer Centre.
This year, we will also be ambitious in our approach to preventative health. Given that our population is among the least healthy in the nation now, the only target that is appropriate is our bold target of having the healthiest population by 2025.
To achieve this we need more than just a target, we need specific actions to get us there.
Our recently released Healthy Tasmania Five Year Strategic Plan focusses on two main areas we can target: obesity and smoking, both of which are more common here than the rest of Australia.
We are considering initial feedback on a proposal to raise the legal smoking age as part of continued work towards a final strategic plan. The fact is, smoking is killing Tasmanians and we must consider ways to prevent Tasmanians getting addicted to tobacco during their most vulnerable years.
The draft plan also proposes a wide range of evidence-based initiatives which are designed to bring government and the community together to tackle our massive health challenges.
We are also considering including additional preventative health measures from the whole of Government perspective.
The Minister will release the final Healthy Tasmania Plan by mid-year.
Our young people are our greatest asset, and improving educational outcomes is critically important for their future prosperity and the prosperity of our state.
In the last budget, we invested a record $1.44 billion into education.
As a result, there’s $21 million in additional Gonski funding, including $11 million for more teachers for students with the greatest need.
Our $17.75 million Learning in Families Together initiative is being delivered in 80 schools, assisting 8,500 students with the greatest need.
There are new maths and science specialists at our primary and high schools, we have 25 new literacy and numeracy specialists in classrooms across the state too, and 10 new school nurses, with another five to come by the end of this year.
But improving education is about a lot more than money and staff numbers. If it were that simple, Tasmania’s record would be better than it is.
It’s about targeted investment, structural change, and prioritising students with the greatest need, and that’s what we’re doing.
Our first major step was our initiative to extend high schools to Years 11 and 12. In its first year this resulted in a 38 per cent increase in enrolments in the six schools that extended.
This year, six more high schools are extending and many of the students I’ve met say they wouldn’t be in school if it wasn’t for this opportunity.
Next year, we’re accelerating the roll-out to another 18 schools, including urban high schools. The increase reflects a more than doubling of participating schools from 12 to 30 and exceeds our commitment to extend 21 regional high schools by 2018.
Importantly, this is driven by the demand of school communities who want this opportunity afforded to their teenagers.
I want to again reassure that this isn’t about replacing colleges; they will always have a strong role in education in Tasmania, and are already partnering with those schools that want to extend. It’s about getting more Tasmanians to continue education after Year 10, who otherwise wouldn’t.
This year, most importantly, we will look to make lasting structural change.
Over the past year and a half we’ve been reviewing the Education Act and consulting with the community.
It’s an outdated legislative framework that’s worked for 20 years but now fails to take into account contemporary research and even the necessity of the internet and computers.
I can announce today, that as a result of the review, the Government intends to legislate to change the compulsory school starting and leaving ages.
As it stands, Tasmania has the oldest minimum school starting age, and the result of this is that our students can legally leave school earlier than others around the country.
Tasmanians can walk out of school with as much as two years less education than their interstate counterparts.
We can’t expect to be better by doing less. This has to change.
Under our proposed changes, the minimum school starting age for Prep would be reduced by six months to the age of four years and six months, for children born in 2016 and beyond.
Similarly, for students commencing high school in 2016, the leaving requirement would be raised to the completion of year 12 or a Certificate Three, or when a student turns 18 years of age.
In practical terms, both changes will take effect in 2020. This is an important lead in time that will give parents and students fair-warning and time to prepare for this change.
This is the most significant structural change in education in two-decades.
Now, we’ll consult on these proposed changes with the intent to introduce enabling legislation in the spring session of Parliament.
There will be a number of other improvements to the Act too, which the Minister will detail next week when he releases the draft legislation.
This year we will be redesigning the child protection system.
It’s not just those responsible for children who are failing; children are also being let down by the system that’s in place to protect them. And it’s failing to support families who are in crisis and in need of help too.
For years there have been reports, reviews, inquiries and some incremental changes, but the system has remained complex and disjointed. Put simply, it’s broken.
If we do nothing to change the system, it faces total self-destruction and collapse - regardless of the level of resources that’s added to it.
The Government has worked over the past six months with the Child Protection Redesign Team, and Professor Maria Harries, to fix the system.
And I’m pleased to say that the Minister for Human Services will release both the Harries report, and detail the Government’s response tomorrow, in a Ministerial Statement.
To better protect children and keep them safe, the greatest things we can do is support families.
Of course the Government cannot do this alone; supporting families and protecting children is everyone’s responsibility. What we can and will do is help families break-free from generations of disadvantage and poverty by improving education, strengthening the economy and creating jobs.
And, we can fix the child protection system. The redesign will include a raft of initiatives, and major structural changes that will fundamentally change the way we support families at risk and the way we apply protective intervention.
It will include providing a single, state-wide access point for everyone, removing existing duplication and inefficiencies.
This will be a One Door entry point where a concern is triaged and referred to the appropriate help, resulting in a faster and more effective initial response.
We will also create a team model that draws together experts, who are collectively responsible for a group of children. Child protection workers, children and families will then have a network of support.
Before I conclude, I would like to give an update on two significant changes that are particularly important to me.
This year I took a very important step in my commitment to reset our relationship with Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
During my conversations with the community there was one very distinct theme that emerged very quickly and often; the issue of Aboriginal eligibility.
A policy written in 2006, while written with good intent, resulted in entrenched inequality, disadvantage and division.
The policy is inconsistent with the Commonwealth’s eligibility test, meaning Aboriginal Tasmanians can be recognised as eligible in the eyes of Australia but not by the Tasmanian Government.
It’s clear that changing this is simply the right thing to do.
I am pleased to announce that on July 1 Tasmania’s approach to determine Aboriginal eligibility will change.
My department is already well advanced on work to ensure we can transition from the current model to a process that more closely aligns with that used by the Commonwealth Government.
This is long overdue recognition for Tasmanian Aboriginals from the place they call home.
Work is also progressing on other key initiatives, including constitutional recognition, with a view to consult on a possible amendment in the second quarter of this year.
The Department of Education is engaged in introducing a focus on Tasmanian Aboriginals in the history and culture component of the Australian Curriculum, taught in all schools.
And, the Minister for Environment and Parks has been tasked with identifying possible locations and models for joint land management arrangements between the Parks and Wildlife Service and the Aboriginal community.
We are also addressing family violence.
Last year we announced what has been described as a nation-leading $26 million package to respond to the social-ill of family violence.
Tasmanians can be assured this Government is committed to bringing family violence from behind closed doors, holding perpetrators to account and focussing on prevention and early intervention.
As we expected, there has been a significant increase in reported incidents of family violence and arguments this financial year.
What this tells us is there are a growing number of brave victims who have taken the very difficult step of standing up and speaking out.
This is a sign that the message is getting out; family violence is totally and utterly unacceptable and there is help.
Already as part of the strategy we have five new dedicated police officers; we have three new social workers and psychologists working with children in our schools and have provided additional funding to community legal services for advice and outreach services.
Importantly, our centrepiece, the Safe Families Coordination Unit is now established and recruitment of operational staff with experience in justice, education and health has been finalised.
It is here where victims will find wrap-around services to help them break free and begin living a safe life. And, it is here where government agencies will unite to hold perpetrators to account and collect the best available evidence to aid prosecution.
There is still plenty more to be done, but importantly this work is on schedule and I commend all the hard work of those behind the scenes who are instrumental in making this happen.
Over the last two years we have come a long way, but as I said, there’s still a lot more to do.
We will continue to deliver on our long-term Plan, and be the strong and united Government Tasmanians can depend upon to lead with a capable and steady hand.
We will be focussed on results, and what matters is what works. We will be prepared to try out good ideas no matter who suggests them.
My commitment to the people of Tasmania is that your Government will continue to work hard to capitalise on the potential of our great island, and deliver an even brighter future.