Speeches to Parliament

Kristie Johnston – Budget Reply Speech 2023

Thank you Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker, a steady stream of constituents come to me desperate for relief from crisis: the housing crisis, the health crisis, the cost of living crisis. Many are in poor health both mentally and physically.

People for whom the system works against, not for.

People who are confused and intimidated by modern society, internet forms, impenetrable bureaucracy, hoops to jump through … just the daily grind to survive in a society where they feel invisible and abandoned.

And I don’t use that word, crisis, lightly, Mr Speaker. There are thousands of Tasmanians right now in crisis, and I can’t see in this budget where helping these people is given the consideration it needs.

In the Treasurer’s Speech, he states that we must “consider every expense, live within our means and avoid adding to the inflation burden felt by Tasmanian households”.  This sentiment is hard to reconcile when his Premier, effectively at the AFL’s command, signs a blank cheque which will potentially cripple the state’s economy for years to come.

Mr Speaker, the Macquarie Point AFL Stadium has cast its shadow over this budget. I’ll return to that later in my contribution, but first let’s put this budget into context.

You don’t have to look far past the glossy brochures and the glib government rhetoric to see that this budget does very little for homeless, vulnerable and socially isolated Tasmanians. Those who live week-to-week and often don’t know if there’s a bed for them or a meal at the end of the day.

Mr Speaker, this budget gives token gestures to the most vulnerable sections of our community, and is little comfort to those who need help the most. There’s nothing to get excited about if you are trapped in the private rental market, on the housing or hospital waiting list, trying to find a GP or dentist, or need additional support for your children at school.

The challenge of properly funding community services over the long-term remains. Community service organisations play a crucial role keeping the us safe, supporting people through hardship, and ultimately helping communities thrive.

I accept that budgets are about priorities. There is no magic pudding, so the government should put its money – our money – where it can do the most good for the most people.

I don’t see this budget doing that.

And to rub salt into the community’s wounds, there are a number of budget allocations that are simply recycled commitments from the 2022 budget and budgets before that.

As I have highlighted, this budget is of little help to the real Tasmanians I see in my Electorate Office who struggle each and every day just to survive.  These people are being left behind because of this Government’s skewed priorities.

They deserve better.

People such as the young mum escaping domestic violence who is sleeping on a couch with her children because all of Hobart’s women’s shelters are full.

The elderly man who was left on a stretcher for 60 hours in the Royal Hobart Hospital’s Emergency with a shattered shoulder because a bed just wasn’t available.

The little boy with ADHD who desperately wants to learn, fit in and be the best he can at school, but there is a 4-5 year wait for a paediatrician at the Royal Hobart Hospital and private practices aren’t accepting new patients.

The disability pensioner who is going without essential medication and treatment because she can’t find a GP who will bulk-bill.

NGOs such as the Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, City Mission, Loaves and Fishers and many others are stretched beyond their limits. They have more and more people seeking help who are crumbling under cost of living pressures. These organisations tell me that their emergency food reserves are exhausted, blankets and clothing stocks are running low and workers and volunteers are at their wits end.

There’s not enough in the budget for these groups.

Mr Speaker, just this week we’ve witnessed the extraordinary public admission from the Community Services Minister conceding that funding for key community organisations in Tasmania, in his words, “isn’t adequate”.

It’s difficult not to agree with Dr Charlie Burton from TasCOSS who said that this budget had failed to recognise the critical value of the essential services that the community services sector provides.

Mr Speaker, this budget is big on promises but it is scant on detail.

Given this Government’s track record of failing to deliver on infrastructure, the snail’s pace that they implement reform or new initiatives, and the recycling of old budget announcements, you have to wonder if many of their budget promises will ever see the light of day.

Mr Speaker, today I have laid out the context in which this budget sits. One of meanness, lost opportunity and skewed priorities.

It’s didn’t have to be so, but the Government has found itself painted into a financial corner. One that sees it strangled and conflicted over maintaining and improving the lives of every-day Tasmanians.

Like a beast that must be kept fed, the odious, unloved and unwanted AFL stadium at Macquarie Point sucks the financial life out of the community services sector and the public service.

And will continue to do so for decades.

Make no mistake, Mr Speaker, it is these sectors that are paying for the AFL’s flight of fancy.

The community sector, as I have outlined, is in despair. It needs a 9.5 per cent funding boost just to catch up on 20 years of neglect from successive Labor and Liberal governments over which time annual indexation for the sector has been stuck between 0 and 3 per cent, while inflation has run at over 3.5 per cent.

As we have seen, they’ve been left smelling the oily rag again.

Now, Mr Speaker, let’s turn to the public service.

There’s nothing subtle about this budget. Deliberately vague but not subtle.

This government will spend $230 million over the next four years on the Macquarie Point development.

And where’s that money coming from? Well, that’s handy, there’s $300 million being gouged from the public sector in the form of a $300 million efficiency dividend.

How convenient, Mr Speaker.

Now let’s not be cute about this. That $300 million carved from government departments isn’t going to come from cutting back on paper clips and photocopying.

The Treasurer’s assertion that the savings could be made through back-end efficiencies and technology is just fanciful, put in his budget to soften the blow.

He’s in fantasy land. He just will not admit that front line services are in the gun.

A reduction of that magnitude can only come from cutting jobs. And jobs mean nurses, doctors, police, teachers. And that means cuts to services for ordinary Tasmanians.

It’s as simple as that, Mr Speaker. The Tasmanian people will be paying for this stadium folly with fewer services that they need to stay healthy, safe and educated.

Not just this year or the next, but for years in the form of a blow-out in state debt which is forecast to rise from $3.5 billion next year to almost $5.6 billion in 2026/27.

We will need to find $883 million over the next four years just to pay interest on debt.

As I said, not particularly subtle.

I despair, Mr Speaker. If this level of borrowing and debt was on infrastructure for the community good, then I might have been supportive.

But it’s a football stadium. We already have three AFL stadiums in the state, and I can tell you we don’t need another.

My constituents are telling me loud and clear, they don’t want it either.

The Treasure and his Premier seem to have a tin ear, tone deaf to community anger over this proposal.

Mr Speaker, you would have seen the ABC Utopia sketch doing the rounds of social media which parodies Tasmania getting a stadium it doesn’t need. Life finally has come to imitate art, Mr Speaker. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t a billion dollars of our money being thrown against the wall.

Mr Speaker, we have a rapid transit service that will truncate three kilometres from Macquarie Point, $600 thousand a year paying wages for a Macquarie Point management that now has nothing to do, Cornelian Bay being fingered by the AFL gods for a training facility and planning approval process no one – not even the Premier – seems to understand.

Mr Speaker, I will wrap up now. Budgets, as the cliché goes, are about priorities.

But it is true.

We can choose wisely where we spend our money, or we can be foolhardy and reckless.

This Government has got its priorities wrong, seriously wrong.

I have highlighted here today the plight of many ordinary Tasmanians as they struggle with escalating cost of living, particularly in housing. As a result of this budget, these Tasmanians will have to face a community services sector that cannot meet demand and public sector short on employees to deliver essential services such as health and education.

The financial equation is simple: they are being squeezed of hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for this wretched football stadium.

That will be the legacy of this budget,

Thank you Mr Speaker.

Leave a Reply