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Thank you Chair, I rise today to give my contribution and reflections on the Estimates for former [Primary Industries and Water] Minister Mr Barnett.
I believe that it is important to start on a positive note, and I put on record my acknowledgement and my respect for the team at Biosecurity. I know it has been a particularly tough time in a number of the Estimates sessions over the last week.
Concerns were raised for their welfare and the pressure of the work that they have undertaken. I know everybody who is working really hard to protect the interests of Tasmania right now deserves our respect and our support because it has been a very tough time.
I accept that members on the other side of the House talk about the importance of our lead industries, and their contribution. My concern, however, relates to passive support versus active support. Particularly in agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture, we know that many tensions exist within the industries and sectors - between large agriculture and small agriculture; between recreational and commercial fisheries; between aquaculture operators and the community seeking social license.
It is all very well and good to respond to questions or to raise support in this place or in the community; however, support is not action. Where we are finding challenges right now, we need to step up. I suggest we need to step up together, across both sides of the House and in the community, to ensure that important and significant industries in Tasmania are not at risk.
Mr Street spoke earlier about the salmon industry. There is no doubt that the salmon industry in Tasmania is significant and important. There is no doubt that it is world-class. However, members of the industry and people across this House recognise that there is always work to be done, and improvements that need to happen. There is no doubt that it will play an important part in the Tasmanian economy for decades to come. Making a statement that says, 'We support the industry' is different from acting to protect the industry.
I urge the Minister to stand with the Premier to invite action and support from this side of the House to bring the industry to his attention. The risk of losing social license risks the potential and the benefit of that investment to Tasmania. More needs to be done. Passive support is not enough. Genuine action is required here to protect what is important to Tasmania. When things are difficult we cannot just put our head in the sand and not worry. There are many complex issues within this ministerial portfolio.
One that may be seen to be small but, for the members of the community that it impacts is large, is the complex tension between, say, recreational and commercial fisheries.
There was a question raised in Estimates last week about a complex set of endorsements that we know have a number of people seeking clarity from the Minister and his department around the ability for intergenerational fisheries to continue.
The response we were provided, particularly regarding an endorsement that operates at the head of the Tamar River, is that work is going on to review that; and the review will seek to ensure that if fisheries are seen to be sustainable - and there are protections for both the commercial and the recreational fisheries - that an outcome will be provided. The clock is ticking, the work is said to be undertaken and there are expectations in the community of a conclusion in the next couple of months.
In addition to those tensions, there are also tensions between me and the Minister over what has been raised on the other side of the House as very important, which is irrigation. If this place seeks to support these important industries and deliver the infrastructure necessary to meet the big aims of the industry and the minister in his leadership, then support needs to be given at all times to all people.
I want to touch on irrigation first in terms of the tranche 3 projects, and reflect on past conversations. I am new in this place and the Minister has sought, perhaps, to suggest that because I am new, I may not understand good governance or good process exactly. I can assure this place that governance and process has been something not only important to me for many years, but something I have a good grasp of.
I want to read into the Hansard some statements taken from Estimates last week regarding the Minister's attempt to present to the community as real action what was, in fact, fleeting activity in an election campaign period seeking to demonstrate work that really was not going on. There has been increased demand in terms of the tranche 3 irrigation projects, which is fantastic and should be met, which will require further investment.
But it is well known that as schemes are developed, and I quote, 'they start at a concept stage and then go through a well-understood and well-trodden path to develop a business case' because, as it was said at Estimates last week, 'money just doesn't come out of thin air, it needs to be based on a business case'. I understand that and the Minister would understand that.
Good governance requires hardwork. It requires quality work and quality business cases, based on real data and information - that when you are going to seek money to invest in essential infrastructure in Tasmania, you have done the work before you make light-hearted or light-touch approaches in order to just promote that through an election campaign.
I quote: 'You don't just write a letter and expect $100 million; a business case needs to be put together.' The minister suggested, when we brought it to his attention, that we would be embarrassed. Although the Minister might say we are misunderstanding the process here and should be embarrassed because of that, if the Minister is not embarrassed by his efforts to flag the need for a further $100 million, he might share the letter he wrote to the then Deputy Prime Minister and the reply provided, which indicated to the Minister that: 'Additional funding requests for a project will not be considered until further details on demand, scope, benefit and cost are available'.
See, Minister? You cannot just write a letter on the 26 March, the day an election is called, then work with your colleagues to ensure that a response does not come back until the 6 May, only days after the election has concluded, to ask for important funds. I trust you will do the work to ensure that you can secure it, so that further demand is provided for. That is what our important sector deserves.
In the last few minutes I have, I will speak about another irrigation matter, not one of the Tasmanian irrigation projects, but irrigation 'surety' is a word I hear a lot. I hear a lot about certainty and about confidence, but surety for the irrigators who draw from Meadowbank Dam. In Estimates last week, the Minister was fully aware from pressure from this community in understanding the importance of this community, their access to water over a period that Hydro were doing maintenance on the Meadowbank Dam, that time is of the essence.
The opportunity to do works in 2022 has already passed because these irrigators that need to retool and restructure themselves, and move their pumps significantly in some circumstances, will not be able to get that work done now before February 2022.
If work is not done and the negotiations are not concluded, we are also putting at risk any ability to deliver in 2023. Last week it was suggested that a conversation would happen on Friday or earlier this week. Not everyone works around the clock and not everyone works super hard, but I understand that close to midnight last night, a message was sent to one of the irrigators to say that follow-up will occur.
Minister, it is essential that you, through your department and in negotiations with Hydro and the irrigators, confirm access to water before any future maintenance occurs, and that those irrigators who, on behalf of our Tasmanian community, produce tens of millions of dollars' worth of value in the various works they provide, are given that surety and certainty that nothing will happen that will impact their ability to draw on the water.
They need to continue to operate the things they have invested in for tens of years. When we talk about big irrigation projects or small irrigation projects, when we talk about surety and certainty, they deserve a response if not today, this week to ensure that they know what they can be assured of for their production into the future.
September 15, 2021 - 12:46pm
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