STATEMENTS BY SENATORS;Tasmania – 23 Nov 2016

Despite the government barely scraping in at the last federal election, there is no doubt that the result in Tasmania was a disaster for the Liberal Party. They returned only four senators, and we saw the departure of the self-styled ‘Three Amigos’ from the House of Representatives. In fact, the Liberal Party now have no House of Representative members in Tasmania. Four and a half months later, it appears that Mr Turnbull either has not learnt his lesson or has simply given up on Tasmania for good.

Since the election, time and time again, Mr Turnbull has been leaving Tasmania off the map—which might account for why he has only been to Tasmania about four or five times since the election of the Abbott Turnbull government. Most of those visits have been to the north and north-west of the state; he does not really seem to know anything about the southern part of Tasmania at all. So, as I said, time and time again Mr Turnbull has been leaving Tasmania off the map. It started with the announcement of his ministry, where not a single Tasmanian was included. Senator Abetz was clearly unhappy with the decision, and he said that the Prime Minister needed to explain why Tasmanians were overlooked for ministerial positions. Senator Abetz told ABC Radio in Hobart:

If he didn’t want to look at me then clearly Senator David Bushby … is a future ministerial talent and the Prime Minister needs to explain why he was overlooked …

The failure to include even one Tasmanian in a ministry of 40 speaks volumes about Mr Turnbull’s commitment to Tasmania.

Then, in September, when Mr Turnbull announced the government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, Tasmania was left off the schedule of meetings to discuss how the $50 million program would be spent. Hobart was eventually included, after a very hastily arranged backflip. This followed a similar incident a month prior, where Tasmania was excluded from consultations over the introduction of the government’s botched backpacker tax, despite being one of the states worst affected by their bungling of the issue. Fortunately, this decision was also reversed after lobbying by the industry, and the department scheduled a face-to-face meeting in Hobart.

As if the Turnbull government abandoning Tasmania is not bad enough, we have a state Liberal government that is so weak that it will not stand up to the federal Liberal government. When Mr Turnbull’s government decided to close the Antarctic scientific research station on Macquarie Island, Premier Will Hodgman was not even notified. Red-faced—very red-faced, I think—Mr Hodgman was forced to admit in parliament that he did nothing to stop the closure of the centre, because nobody in the federal government had warned him about it. In a further snub to Mr Hodgman, his demands to the Turnbull government on health and education, issued several months ago, continue to go unaddressed. The Turnbull Liberal government has ripped $60 million out of Tasmanian schools, $125 million from the University of Tasmania and $1.2 billion from Tasmania’s hospitals.

One of the many victims of the Liberals’ cuts to health is the Better Access to Palliative Care program, which faces a dire future without further funding. Those who have been following my speeches in this place will well know that I have been advocating for Palliative Care Tasmania for some months now. They are facing the prospect of closing their doors by Christmas. It does not look like there is going to be any joy. Once again, the Turnbull government just could not care about what is happening in that respect. Tasmania has been hit particularly hard by cuts to the Rural Health Outreach Fund, which has had devastating consequences for health outcomes in regional communities. So have the savage cuts to the Youth Connections program, a program which has helped 1,400 young people in northern Tasmania get back on the path to finishing school.

The Liberals’ record on serving Tasmania stands in stark contrast to that of Labor in government. Labor delivered the Brighton Bypass, the Brighton Transport Hub and the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, and made massive investments in our rail freight network and irrigation schemes. It was Labor that commenced the National Broadband Network rollout in Tasmania ahead of the rest of the country and, had Labor won the last election, the north-west coast of Tasmania would have received a full fibre NBN, not the Liberals’ second-rate copper network. It was Labor who first committed to the University of Tasmania’s $150 million expansion of its Launceston and Burnie campuses, with the Liberals belatedly playing catch-up.

Perhaps Mr Turnbull and his Liberals would sit up and take notice if they had a Tasmanian in the federal cabinet, fighting for Tasmania’s interests—but, of course, to do that, they would actually need to get some more members. If we had a Premier and a state government in Tasmania with some backbone, ready and willing to take the fight up to Canberra in any meaningful way, that might help us too. Unfortunately, Premier Hodgman does not have the spine to stand up to his federal counterparts, and Mr Turnbull and his Liberals continue to leave Tassie off the map.