Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006


Tasmania: Election

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the recent outstanding results for the Labor Party in the Tasmanian state election. On Saturday, 18 March, Tasmanians voted to return Labor leader Paul Lennon as Premier and to continue to prosper into the future under a majority Labor government. The Tasmanian people went to the polls amid speculation about the future of the state and the effect that this election would have on that future. But, for the third consecutive time, the voices of the Tasmanian people rang out loud and clear with the same message: Labor.

It is the first time Premier Lennon has been returned to government as Premier, having taken over from the late Jim Bacon in tragic circumstances during the last term. The clear victory by Labor means the party will govern for a historic third term and the people of Tasmania can be assured of a strong government that will look forward to the future.

On polling day and in the campaign that preceded it, the issue of the Howard government’s unfair industrial relations changes was a major one for many Tasmanian voters. Tasmanians, like the rest of the country, stand to be severely disadvantaged by the attack on the rights of Australian workers that unions and the average Joe have been fighting for since Federation. The Australian Labor Party was founded on those very values that the Prime Minister and his arrogant government believe they can take away with the swoop of a pen.

Tasmanians, like their South Australian counterparts, knew that they had to take a stand against these un-Australian laws and sought the protection of a Labor government that they could trust. Even state MHA and former leader of the Tasmanian opposition Sue Napier said in a newspaper interview following the election that the federal government’s IR changes had become a factor in the voters’ decisions on polling day. The backward IR laws were the final nail in the coffin for an already weak Tasmanian Liberal Party. When it comes time for the Australian people to choose who they want to run this country, the Prime Minister will also rue the day he ignored the voice of the people and stripped them of their basic rights as workers. Premier Paul Lennon’s message was the same as that being declared by the Australian Labor Party nationwide: our workers’ rights are not negotiable; we will not bargain with our lifestyle.

The Tasmanian people have chosen to continue supporting a Labor government that has created 32,000 jobs since 1999 in an ever-improving economy; a government that has cleared $1.6 billion in debt inherited from the last Liberal government; and a government with a progressive vision for the future. I wish to extend my personal congratulations to Premier Lennon and the Tasmanian Labor government on an outstanding result. They ran a hard and honest campaign and displayed honour and integrity.

Unfortunately, the leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Peg Putt, cannot be afforded the same compliment of honour and integrity. While the then opposition leader, Rene Hidding, was gracious in defeat and acknowledged that Premier Paul Lennon was a worthy opponent throughout the campaign, the leader of the Greens delivered a speech that smacked of sour grapes. She seemingly managed to blame every person but herself for her party’s inability to secure the six seats that they had hoped for to gain the balance of power over a minority government. Indeed, gracious in defeat Peg Putt was not. Ms Putt effectively managed to insult the intelligence of Tasmanians by suggesting that they had been manipulated by what she deemed to be an anti-Greens campaign. However, the fact of the matter is that Tasmanian voters are not dumb, no matter what Ms Putt would have us believe. Tasmanians voted on the issues that mattered to them. They voted on the issues that will affect their everyday lives and they knew that the only way to ensure that their livelihoods were safe was to return a majority Labor government.

Federal Labor believes that the Tasmanian people, much like the South Australians, who also unequivocally re-elected Labor, the Rann government, were looking for stability and a government they could trust. I believe we will see the same situation emerge around the country as other state elections are run and won by Labor governments. Voters are craving a government that they can trust at a time when the Howard government has tried to pull the rug from under them. The election result in Tasmania is a clear indication that Tasmanians consider the economy and its continued prosperity to be of great importance, and the majority of voters do not believe the rhetoric that Tasmanian forests are under grave threat. Tasmania has a sustainable forest industry; that is a fact. Other parts of the world, like Indonesia and South America, are where you will find forestry industries that are unsustainable. The forest industry is responsible for thousands of jobs state wide and makes up a sizeable part of the rapidly growing Tasmanian economy. Tasmanian workers wanted reassurance from their government that the industry is going to continue and thrive.

Much has been said about the plans to build a $1.5 billion pulp mill at Bell Bay in northern Tasmania. The Greens can make all the noise they like, but the vote for a majority Labor government was also a clear endorsement by the Tasmanian people of a pulp mill. Before the election, Gunns Ltd Chairman John Gay made it clear that the fate of the pulp mill rested on the outcome of the state election. It is clear that Tasmanian voters took that into account when going to the polls, and the majority voted in favour of development. The Tasmanian government will work to ensure that Tasmanians gain the maximum possible economic and employment benefits should the mill go ahead. The benefits such a development will bring to the state cannot be underestimated.

A Monash University study predicted that a mill on a slightly smaller scale than the one planned for Bell Bay would lift the state’s economy by $600 million a year and create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs. In its construction phase, the study predicts that 8,000 jobs will be created, with half of that number building the mill itself. People seem to associate the development of a pulp mill in Tasmania with the misconception that it will also mean the destruction of more forests.

To date, the waste from Tasmania’s sawlog operations or pulpwood has been reduced to woodchips that have had to be exported to be turned into pulp and then, in turn, to paper. But, if the state has its own pulp mill, that will enable this process to be completed on Tassie soil. The lesser timber from the state’s sustainably managed native forests and purpose-grown pulpwood plantations will be used to make Tasmanian pulp and Tasmanian paper. As for the concern about environmental impacts from the effluent produced by the mill, the CSIRO’s consultancy firm Ensis has found there is very little difference between the environmental impact of treated effluent from the pulp mill using pine or eucalypt.

All this will occur while creating more jobs for Tasmanian workers and boosting the economy. And, by returning Paul Lennon and the Labor government, the Tasmanian people have shown that they support this development and they support the Tasmanian economy. The Tasmanian people have shown that they know that Labor stands for good government, that Labor stands for a focused government and that only Labor can deliver the services that people want and expect from state governments.

The Australian Labor Party is sure that this confidence in Labor will extend to the federal party at the next election. Already Australians are beginning to feel the effect of the Howard government’s unfair industrial relations changes, its contempt for the health system, and its ignorance of the problems facing those in aged care, child care, education and immigration; the list goes on and on. Tasmanians and South Australians have already shown that they know and trust Labor to stand up for them and their interests, as have other states.

The Australian public will remember the hurt that has been felt at the hands of this arrogant Howard government and it will react. Until Australian voters have that opportunity, I am confident that the Tasmanian Labor government and its counterparts around the country will continue to do the best for the people. In Tasmania, Labor has not only managed to clean up the mess that the last Liberal government left the state in but built a thriving and prosperous economy. After the next federal election, Labor will be ready to clean up the mess that the Howard government has instigated for the Australian people.