Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Matters of Public Interest

Tasmania: Economy

1:34 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to make a contribution on a matter of public interest in respect of my home state of Tasmania and the dire economic situation that that state is in, principally because of the reckless economic management of the current Tasmanian government, dominated by the influence of Green policy and the devastating effect that that is having on the economy of my home state. We have seen very recently the statistics around the economy of Tasmania, which effectively ranks at the bottom of almost every economic indicator. Earlier in the day, Senator Birmingham painted a very graphic picture of the situation of the state of South Australia, which again unfortunately is under the poor economic management of a Labor government at the moment, but Tasmania, under the combined influence of Labor and the Greens, unfortunately is at the bottom of the pile. That situation needs to be rectified and it needs to be changed.

Just in the last week or so, we have seen, as is often the case with Labor governments, the poor management of the economy and the state budget impacting on Tasmania. When the budget was released last year, there was a projected deficit of $267 million, which is a significant budget deficit in the Tasmanian context. When the economic forecast was updated last week or the week before, for the election which is to be held in 10 days time, that budget deficit had grown by more than $100 million. It sounds a bit familiar. It sounds like what happened here in Canberra over recent years, where a budget surplus was promised and a budget deficit was delivered, or a budget deficit was promised but a bigger budget deficit was actually delivered. In fact, in six years there was not a budget surplus delivered, as many of us predicted during our contributions in this place. The economy actually declined in Tasmania by 0.75 per cent in the last year 2012-13. The Labor Premier, quite heroically, is now predicting two per cent growth in the next financial year. That might occur, but it could be predicated on only one thing—that is, a change of government with the removal of the combined influence of the Labor Party and the Greens from the Tasmanian economy. It is well established that Labor are not good economic managers, and the statistics continue to demonstrate that.

We see that Tasmania has got the lowest GDP per head in our country. It declined by 0.75 per cent in 2012-13, coming off meagre growth of 1.6 per cent in 2011-12. Tasmania has the lowest life expectancy in the country, except for the Northern Territory. It has the lowest educational attainments in the country and it has the highest unemployment. The new government has an aspiration to bring Tasmania's unemployment rate down to the national average. At least a new Liberal government under the leadership of Will Hodgman may have a chance of doing that.

In Tasmania we have seen over recent years Labor and the Greens combining to pay businesses to close down. How on earth are you going to get economic growth in a circumstance where you are actually paying businesses to shut up shop, where you are winding back on industries and businesses in the state? How is that going to promote economic growth? It will not. It cannot.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Will economic growth support the NBN?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, if you think the NBN is the one thing that is going to turn the economy around, you are in a dreamland. I know that is where you spend a lot of time.

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Colbeck, resume your seat. I remind senators on my left and on my right that interjections are disorderly under standing order 197.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I am at liberty to acknowledge an interjection and I am more than happy to do so because the good senator on the other side, through you, shows her ignorance of the Tasmanian economy. Her defence of the hopeless government in Tasmania at this point in time is indefensible, as is her defence of some of the economic policies that have been put in place. The completely and utterly destructive forest deal that exists in Tasmania was voted on quite comprehensively by the people at the Tasmanian election last September. To the detriment of the Labor Party and some longstanding members of parliament, who had been considered strong supporters of the forest industry, seats were lost because of the devastating deal that was promoted by the Greens and Labor in Tasmania and the Greens and Labor in Canberra. If that deal is allowed to continue, by 2030 it will see the death of the forest industry. How do we know that? We need to look only at the forest wood supply projections produced by that process, published by Labor and the Greens in Tasmania, that show that the native wood supply in Tasmania will decline from about 137,000-150,000 cubic metres per annum now to less than 40,000 cubic metres by 2030. That is not enough to sustain the existing small sawmilling industry in Tasmania.

That is the fundamental reason the coalition opposes the Tasmanian forest agreement. It does not, as members on the other side like to tell us, provide for a sustainable forest industry in the future. It actually signs the death warrant of the forest industry in Tasmania by 2030. It just takes a while to take effect. It puts a future government in another 10 or so years in the position of having to bail out or compensate the rest of the industry for the fact that they have no resource. That is an absurd proposition.

We have magnificent resources in Tasmania. We have magnificent forests. We have 44 per cent of the state protected in reserves. We have a magnificent, outstanding wilderness World Heritage area that has been added to by this fraudulent process. Those areas should never have been added. It is all down to Labor and Green ideology. We know that the Greens want to destroy the native forest industry in Australia, let alone in Tasmania. Senator Milne said this morning on the ABC that there is no future for the native forest industry. She is wrong.

In the Great Hall of this place last night 600 people mobbed the Prime Minister after his demonstration of support for the forest industry because at last they have a Prime Minister who is standing up for them and putting forward policies that will provide the industry here in Australia with a long-term future. Plenty of those people are using native forest timbers, as they should. It is a valuable resource and it provides magnificent products. Look around this building at the magnificent Australian timbers that adorn this place. If Senator Milne had her way, none of this would exist. Yet every piece of timber in this place is a carbon store. Forty per cent of each piece of timber is a carbon store. As we use these timbers in our homes, buildings and structures around the country we are adding to the carbon store.

We also know that a forest that is managed sustainably with appropriate rotation will actually store more carbon than one that is left static. A static forest creates a carbon store but a mature static forest is actually a net carbon emitter. It is a growing forest that actively takes up carbon. Work by the CSIRO, by some of Australia's best forest scientists, has shown quite clearly that if you manage a forest over time, if you take into account the carbon stored in timber products such as we have been talking about—particularly when you take into account substitution from petrochemical derived products—you can increase your carbon storage by up to double what you can achieve by leaving the forest static. It really surprises me that those on the other side do not get this. It is as though they are joining the forest science deniers in the Greens who do not want to understand this, who purposely put inhibitors into the policies that have been implemented over the last three or four years in order to stop us storing carbon in our natural landscapes through trees and forest processes. It really just does not make sense.

It is about time some common sense was put back into the forest debate in Australia. That is what the Prime Minister did last night and that is what people in Tasmania are looking for. They do not want to see tens of millions of dollars—hundreds of millions of dollars—spent in the Tasmanian economy to close down good, viable, environmentally sustainable businesses. That is Greens and Labor ideology. They do not want to see that. They said that to us at the last federal election. That is why Eric Hutchinson got a 13.7 per cent swing to defeat Dick Adams. That is why Brett Whiteley got a 10-plus per cent swing to defeat Sid Sidebottom.

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I remind you to use members' correct titles.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. That is why Mr Andrew Nikolic also got a 10-plus per cent swing to defeat the previous member in Bass, Geoff Lyons. The Tasmanian people spoke very loudly. Mr Hutchinson got a 27 per cent swing in Triabunna. Triabunna is a very strong timber community that has been devastated by the Tasmanian forests agreement, an agreement that the coalition did not support from day 1 and one that the Tasmanian Liberals do not support. There is an opportunity to have an industry based on a sustainable resource that can go for 100 years and beyond. That is what I call a sustainable industry, not one that will fail and die by 2030 because of the lack of resource, which is what the Labor Party and the Greens are proposing for Tasmania.

Tasmanian people have an opportunity to send a very clear message. The job is only half done. We need to turn around these terrible statistics. We need to turn around the lowest wages in the country, the highest unemployment in the country. We need to have an economy that is growing, rather than having a 0.7 per cent reduction, as it did in 2012-13, so that it can create revenue and so that we do not end up with a $376 million deficit that blows out by $100 million in a little over six months. We need to turn around the Tasmanian economy. The Labor Party in conjunction with the Greens have proven that they cannot do that. They are prepared to spend taxpayers' money to close business and industry down. They are turning what is a natural asset, not only for Tasmania but for the community and for industry, into a liability. I saw an example of that yesterday. In New South Wales a Labor government locked up some forest and then spent $3,750 for environmental thinning—effectively the same practices that were occurring before. Had they allowed the similar management process to exist, that forest, with exactly the same impact and effect, could have provided $5,000 per hectare, a dividend of $1,250 to the community that could have been used, perhaps, to look after other areas that need it. This is the way that the Labor Party work. They turn an asset into a liability. Of course, having to spend money to look after that particular piece of forest means that other services are not provided. That is the sort of thing that is going on in Tasmania, where communities have been devastated by Tasmanian forests agreement and by the general management of the Labor Party and the Greens.

I look forward to Saturday week, when the Tasmanian people will have the opportunity to have their say and to turf the Labor Party and the Greens out and put Will Hodgman and his team in. We know that the coalition, the Liberals, are strong economic managers and we will not have a situation where the Tasmanian economy will go backwards as it is now under Labor-Greens stewardship.