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Budget reply speech 2014
Consideration of Tabled Papers
Resumed from 17 June on the following motion moved by Hon Helen Morton (Minister for Mental Health) —
That pursuant to standing order 69(1), the Legislative Council take note of tabled papers 1449A–E (2014–15 budget papers) laid upon the table of the house on Thursday, 8 May 2014.
HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [5.44 pm]: I move that the budget papers be noted and I make the following comments about that.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I might point out that the member does not need to move anything; the member is simply contributing to the debate. You can simply make your contribution.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I was just looking at the orders of the day to see the exact wording required, so I appreciate that. When the budget papers were originally tabled on 8 May, I made some initial comments as they first hit the table. I was reflecting on those comments recently because we have had estimates hearings since then, which are an opportunity to look at the budget in detail. We have also seen the reactions from different groups that have a particular interest in how state funding is distributed. I can say that my original comments have changed a bit. There is much more detail on the budget now and I feel much more across the issue and much more capable of responding to the government’s choices in how it is spending money over the next wee period. When I looked carefully at the budget again to prepare my comments, I looked to see the degree to which the decisions that were made in the budget were evidence based—that is, they were made from evidence out in the public domain or that the departments had—and that they were not shooting-from-the-hip decisions but careful and wise choices about how our taxpayer money could be spent. Initially, when I reviewed this budget, my comments were something along the lines that the honourable Premier might want to stop throwing money at his pet projects and look after the disadvantaged. Looking carefully at it, there are some pet projects in this budget but there are also some concerning deep structural issues and we need to tease out their importance. Unfortunately, the general public is really interested in those nuggety high-profile issues, which may reflect a personality in the cabinet but do not reflect the true work of the public service and how it is determining how our money is apportioned across the many competing needs. So, I looked at evidence-based decisions, and from my perspective as a member of Parliament I was looking for compassionate actions for those who are experiencing disadvantage.
A common theme in my reflections on the budget since my election in 2009 is to try to look at, in those days, how we are apportioning the benefits of the boom and, now, how we are coping with what some are saying is the aftermath of the boom. It is important for me as a member of Parliament that compassionate action for those experiencing disadvantage guides the government in its decision making. Finally, I looked to see, as a Green member of Parliament and as a member of the community who is committed to positive change for future generations, whether there was a demonstrated responsibility to our grandchildren and to their descendants. It is very important to me that the decisions we make today benefit future generations and do not disadvantage them. It is interesting because in Australia—obviously members know I was not born in this country although I have subsequently made it my dearly loved home—it is important to recognise that that notion of intergenerational equity is hard-coded into Aboriginal culture. The key thing they always share with us about their culture is honouring the ancestors and the elders. Every time we meet and we honour Aboriginal elders, it reminds us that that is the culture of this place and that for generations they have acted in the best interests of the long-term continuance of the people in Australia. That is how I reviewed this budget.
Hon Robin Chapple has already given some very important reflections about one particular issue that the Greens hold dear, which is fracking and how that impacts on the environment. In my assessment of the budget, I will look at quite a few different subjects, on maybe four or five key points. I will not be talking in-depth, although we all have pet issues, so I might talk in-depth about Beeliar wetlands, for example. In most cases, I will cover a couple of key points that I want to bring to light today. Yesterday Madam Deputy President may have seen that I gave notice of a motion about TAFE. Today in the Senate a similar motion was passed to save TAFE. All over Australia today, which is National TAFE Day, Greens have been moving motions and debating motions; in the Senate a motion was passed, and in the New South Wales Parliament we tabled a bill. All those motions are geared towards supporting people within the TAFE sector who are crying out to stop cuts in the TAFE system. I know that on a future day’s sitting we will have a good opportunity to debate that motion in detail and to reflect on today. We will have a bit of time to reflect. I will not go into detail about that, but I want to bring to the minister’s attention the fact that today is National TAFE Day and that government funding for TAFEs across Australia has been cut 19 per cent over the past 20 years. Support for people accessing TAFE training in response to retrenchment or unemployment is being cut, as is funding for students with disabilities. A critical skills shortage is a looming threat to our economy. It is important that we get our vocational training sector up and running in an effective and sustainable way. Looking at WA’s budget this year, although TAFE fees were capped for students, they are expected to rise again in January 2015, 2016 and 2017. I believe petitions have been tabled in both houses. Petitioners have called for a reversal of the unfair and inequitable increases to TAFE fees and charges. In due time we will examine whether those claims by petitioners can be upheld.
Finally, I draw attention to the fact that since 2008, 191 courses have been discontinued across all 11 TAFEs in WA. That is 191 courses! There has been a significant shift towards private providers and towards introducing competition in this area. That is one statistic. There are other statistics such as how many staff are in the TAFE system. Today I asked how many TAFEs there are outside the metropolitan area. In due course we will look at that intently. I guess the positive news today is that the Senate has agreed to try to save the TAFE system. This very same issue will be debated in other Parliaments.
I move on to housing. Housing has been a key issue for me, particularly since my experience as a housing policy officer at the Western Australian Council of Social Service. I had a chance, over about the four years I was there, to really look in detail at housing’s association with poverty. I looked at affordable housing in this year’s budget. For the Greens, housing is the number one priority to get people out of poverty. It underlies all living standard issues. WA has been struggling with terrible unaffordability in housing. In other years it has been much starker. During the mining boom there were rising numbers of people earning really high wages compared with other people who were not catching that wave. The property values went haywire. It is important to look at how that affects people today. There has been an acknowledged market failure to deliver affordable properties for people on lower incomes. There is no new major expenditure, initiatives or strategy in this budget to address this market failure. There is an increase in public housing rents. There is no funding in the forward estimates for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. We discussed that in the estimates hearings. It is a fact that there is currently no funding in the forward estimates. We are not addressing homelessness. Because we are not doing that, it is pushing increased social welfare and health costs to other areas of the budget. I will touch on those areas as well.
The announced stamp duty concession changes are a revenue-raising measure. They are not part of a comprehensive strategy to increase housing supply. It is a complex matter. That is why it has not been fixed yet. It was not fixed in the first year that we determined it was a problem because it is complex. It requires an integration of policy approaches. I encourage all members, including the Deputy President, if they are interested, to look at the policy work that was done in the lead-up to the Senate campaign. It may have been 18 months ago. It is published as “Transforming Perth”. Greens Senator Ludlam and I worked with the Australian Urban Design Research Centre and the Property Council of Australia to develop quite an interesting report on how we could address some of the systemic failures of our city in delivering affordable housing. I invite members to glance at that report. To his great credit, Senator Ludlam achieved a planning award for his work on “Transforming Perth”. I commend it to members. It explains the complexity in using the experts and how they actually work. Using their expertise, it actually explains how we could deliver a more sustainable Perth with some affordable housing.
Looking at this budget, we see that the state government has just given up on reducing waiting times for social housing. The overall waiting times vary from location to location, as we have seen. In 2012–13 the overall waiting time was 132 weeks. In 2013–14 it slipped to 138 weeks—the aim was 130 weeks. The government aimed to do better, but in fact it got much worse. The projection for next year, 2014–15, is sadly 139 weeks. It seems as though we have given up altogether trying to reduce this waiting list time which, as we know, only further entrenches families into poverty and disadvantage. Please, let us see some action on this. More and more families are being pulled into terrible conditions when they really should not be, in a state as well off economically as Western Australia is. My question to the minister is: for how long will the government let this waiting list slip? We know it is tough, but let us set a goal to start addressing it and moving it back. We need a more creative and committed approach to shift people off the public housing waiting list into affordable housing and into public housing where necessary. It is not easy.
As we saw, there were severe cuts in the federal budget. The item in our state budget for the National Affordable Housing Agreement drops from $3.564 million in 2014–15 to $73 000 in 2015–16. That is just heartbreaking. The National Affordable Housing Agreement was successful in an analysis across the country in housing many thousands of families. It too was successful in Western Australia. To see that drop from that huge amount to $73 000 in the forward estimates is a clanger. It is a very bad sign. The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness disappears. It was $2.8 million in 2014–15 and there is nothing in the forward estimates. We know that because it is still to be negotiated with the commonwealth. The commonwealth is still trying to figure out what is going on. If the commonwealth lets us down, we need to find places in our own state budget to provide services to the homeless. I also looked in the budget to see what new or additional investment there might be in prevention and early intervention programs to support those individuals and families at risk of homelessness or in crisis.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I wish to continue my remarks on housing. Before the break I lamented the fact that very little funding is available now that the commonwealth has decided to tighten its belt, and this particularly affects homelessness services. The WA budget paper acknowledges—
Homelessness and other support services are affected by the constrained public and private rental market with increased demand for crisis accommodation and tenancy support services.
In the estimates hearings last week I asked: why is the state government not willing to commit funds to homelessness in the forward estimates? Did the Minister for Housing review the federal government’s assessment of the public and private rental markets before it cut homelessness services? I probably do not need to remind members that the recent commonwealth cuts have affected those who are most vulnerable. We are talking about cuts to the welfare system; less funding being available for homelessness; and, potentially, less funding being available for the National Affordable Housing Agreement. There are quite a lot of small cuts and rises in the cost of living due to increases in transport and electricity, water and other utility costs. The list has gone on and on. It is quite scary to think about how that will impact those on a limited or low income. I question whether we will have an increased number of homeless people seeking homelessness services. That is why it is important that this state prepares for the potential impacts of the structural changes to the commonwealth and state funding models.
We want an update on the transfer of additional public housing to community housing. In last year’s budget we got an idea of how much public housing stock would be transferred to community housing stock. It would benefit us to know that, because community housing has been quite successful in delivering that service at an affordable rate for people who need it. I am one of those who really appreciate the social housing innovation of community housing, but I still see the fundamental need for the state to provide some public housing for the people who need it the most. We need look no further than women who are fleeing situations of family and domestic violence or men who have lost their job in a restructure of a company. If the stock market changes and there are no longer enough funds in that stock market to support someone in their role in that company, that person may lose their job. If we were to lose our jobs, we could barely survive for two or three pays because we are committed to repaying mortgages and rents and, potentially, car repayments or other debts. Very few of us could sustain that kind of impact to our income. We need this safety net of homelessness services and we also need public housing that is available when people need it.
One of the problems with our system has always been that we have not provided enough transitional housing so that someone with a stable and healthy income can move out of public housing and into affordable private housing. We have been learning so much about that transitional approach, but we have not been able to implement good public policy to make that transition easier so that people can move from public housing to private housing. Some of the most exciting programs that have been piloted here in Western Australia have not been funded sustainably into the future. For example, there is a pilot program in which ex-prisoners are temporarily given public housing when they leave prison so that they can get up on their feet and establish themselves in a new job and new career. They have been able to do that successfully and then transition into the community as contributors to the community. That program, which is called Re-entry Link, should be funded sustainably as prisoners transition from being out of society, in prison, and back into society and contributing. Programs such as this receive ad hoc funding. Even though they are proven to be successful, they do not get that long-term sustainable funding. In many of these cases it is not rocket science. We do not have to go back to the drawing board to try to figure out what to do. We need to make a commitment to solve that problem so that we are no longer helping people in crisis, which, as we know, is the expensive and pointy end of social services; we are assisting them in their transition to being self-sustaining members of the community. I have focused mostly on housing in this regard, but I have also pointed to the problems of the rising cost of living and the other structural changes that will affect people who are already disadvantaged by being in a vulnerable group, being unemployed or having a disability. It is important to recognise that the state government has a responsibility to take a compassionate approach to people when they are doing it tough. I have not seen that in this budget as much as I would like to see. That is why as an elected member I have taken this opportunity to bring it to the attention of this government in responding to the budget.
Very important infrastructure for our city is public transport. About 18 months ago we had what some have dubbed “the congestion election”. The Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia was prominent in a campaign to encourage political parties to commit to a solution for Perth’s increasing traffic congestion. One year on, anyone who gets the RAC Horizons magazine would have seen that the RAC has given this state government a fail in living up to its promises to address the congestion problems that were identified by not only the RAC but also the business community in this state. One year on, the RAC has said that the state government has failed to deliver. So we look at this budget and we see that, yes, indeed it is confirmed the light rail promise —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Liz Behjat): Order! Sorry, member on your feet. Members on both sides of the chamber, I am hearing audible conversations that I do not actually want to hear when I am trying to listen to the member who is delivering her contribution to this debate.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I was saying that the government’s light rail project has well and truly run off the tracks; it does not even figure in this year’s budget. It has deferred the MAX light rail project for three years. This was the “congestion election” and that project was the golden egg that many would have seen was the winning card played by the candidates in the election. Yet here we see that perhaps there was never any intention to deliver adequate infrastructure for alternative transport in our urban environment. The revised time frame when we look at this budget sees a call for tenders in early 2018. In 2018! Honestly, it is so frustrating because we finally got the need for a light rail project onto the political agenda and got the key major parties to put forward innovative solutions for it. In fact, the Labor Party put forward an excellent suggestion for a heavy rail network. So for once we had an election on this matter, but promises now seem to be broken. We have often heard members in this debate speak about the government’s broken promises, but it is well and truly the absolute truth.
Construction is supposed to commence in 2019, with MAX’s first services running by 2022. It is just heartbreaking that that is so far out, but it is good that the light rail project is even a line item mentioned in the budget because for many years it was never mentioned. But, really, honestly, I know that Western Australians have now seen this broken promise as a key factor in their loss of faith in government and in candidates who go to an election and say, “Please vote for me, I promise to do this.” This project had the most integrity thrown behind it. We had the transport minister and the Premier all barracking for it with a straight face saying that they will definitely deliver it. It is just heartbreaking to see the loss of confidence in the state government given its failure to deliver this project for not only us, as I said, but also, long into the future, our children and their grandchildren. Putting this project off will impact the development of our city in a way that will be very difficult to recover from. I note that only 22 kilometres of light rail will be delivered; it is a showpiece that will not really address congestion. The new transport minister is now saying that we all have to live with it, but it is very frustrating when we see other cities around the world embracing change and developing innovative transport systems. In fact, I will soon be in Portland, which has one of the most innovative and sustainable integrated transport systems, and in today’s day and age, it does not have a huge congestion problem, even though the population is high. Every time we open the paper and there is a new story about the Chinese or Japanese fast-rail system or the fact that America is now dedicating billions of dollars to revitalise its railway system, it just breaks my heart to think that WA is still complaining about doing anything at all with rail, whether it is putting grain on rail or developing what could be a really excellent piece of infrastructure for our city that would take us into the future to cope with the population growth that we will well and truly face.
The Greens have long been committed to creating this sustainable light rail system. We have been promoting a metro-wide light rail system for years. We have not been alone in that, but it has been one of our key policies that we have embraced. The WA budget last year assumed the realisation of the May 2013 federal Labor commitment for $500 million for rail in Perth. I guess this points to the fact that when we count on money that is coming out of another’s pocket, sometimes it can really throw us astray. But is it not interesting that I must commend Hon Colin Barnett’s government for not budgeting this year or in any of the forward years to build that monstrosity of Roe 8? It had the courage and the fortitude to leave it out of the budget, but then it appears that we are being driven into this ulterior transport plan by the federal government, which has bribed us by throwing us money to build that road. We had a great plan; $500 million would be given to us by the commonwealth government to build the light rail system. Instead of that, the commonwealth government is dictating to us that we should build another road, when everybody who understands transport planning knows that roads are not the answer. An answer to our congestion problem and an answer to building and developing our city for higher population density is developing alternatives such as light rail; not throwing more money on an old road, called Roe 8 in this case.
I do not know whether members are aware that the Royal Australian Planning Institute published a book called Expectations of a Better World: Planning Australian Communities. I must have picked this book up from the institute. The book is about how Western Australia developed and about the planning industry, and I want to quote from this book because it is highly relevant to how planning occurs. A lot of people point to Roe 8 and say, “We have to build Roe 8 because it’s been in the plan since time immemorial.” In 1955, the Stephenson–Hepburn plan laid down the basic framework for our city; namely, where we would have industry, where we would have our residential land and where we would have our transport corridors. I want to read from this historical book because I did attend a planning history conference and these people pored over the details. It is a very short quote, but I want to tell members a little about Alistair Hepburn and how he arrived and developed this plan. Gordon Stephenson states—
By the time Alistair Hepburn arrived I had some idea of what lay ahead and with whom we should work.” It was a period of concentrated activity. “The year-and-a half, 1953 and 1954, was spent in preparation of the plan. Almost within the first week, Gordon in his inimitable way had drawn out the bones of the plan. We did this one Sunday afternoon I remember. And it didn’t basically change from that time,” said Hepburn of this period.
So that golden plan that people who, in their viscera, defend and stand up to say, “But we cannot change it; we have to build this road; it’s there; it’s so important”, need to know that it was actually on a Sunday afternoon when two guys from elsewhere, who travelled the world planning cities, came in and said, “Oh, this would be a good place to put a road.” They had no appreciation for the wetlands and no understanding of what putting an industrial section in Kwinana would do to the prevailing winds and the airshed and how it would cause tremendous air quality issues in Midland up against the scarp. They had no idea of the science and the geology of this area when they laid out that plan. What we now know is that Roe 8 is in completely the wrong place; it is a place that should never be traversed by a freeway. Even our current transport minister, and maybe the four transport ministers before him, have been carefully looking at where to relocate the port of Fremantle, recognising the limitations it has in that high-density residential area, and considered shifting it further south. Further south there is more room to move around a lot of freight and have some marshalling yards and a distribution centre, and it is where we can reasonably manage the challenge of moving freight in Western Australia. Roe 8 has absolutely no place in that new freight plan for Western Australia, which relies on a southern port that is not Fremantle port. We look again to the budget and what do we see? We see that that $500 million that would take traffic off the road and reduce the need to build any more new roads has gone; it is not there, and there is this pie-in-the-sky plan for it to be delivered someday, some way in 2022. In fact, we had a $2 billion plan, then we had no plan and now we have a scaled-back cheaper version. WA voters have a right to expect light rail. After the current government promised it in the March election, it took nine months for it to abandon this pivotal cornerstone of its election platform. In 2011, a 20-year, $4.1 billion vision for Perth’s public transport system, which was to include light rail and rapid transit buses, was released by the then minister, Hon Troy Buswell. Even that plan had 40 kilometres of light rail in it. There was a fight, we got this outcome and then it just unravelled before our very eyes. It is not good enough for the people of Western Australia to have to suffer this kind of erosion of what was excellent public policy, hard won by campaigners who eventually got even the RAC on side.
I have touched on the lack of good public transport planning in the current budget and I have touched on the need for port and freight planning. Time and again in this chamber we ask: Where is the public transport plan for Perth? Where is the Moving People Network Plan? I can see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport almost comatose with boredom because he has heard it so many times. Where is it? Has it been tabled? Where is it at? When will we see it?
Hon Stephen Dawson: It doesn’t make him make any quicker though, does it?
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is a shame he is not the minister, because maybe he would get it just to keep us from asking about it repeatedly!
Has the freight and intermodal network plan been presented to the minister for approval? Anybody who came to the transport estimates hearings—we have not had the Department of Transport yet; we had Main Roads—heard time and again from the representatives that they do not really know much about this plan that the federal government has funded to put in $1.6 billion of freight infrastructure from Muchea to Fremantle port. They do not really know about that plan; in fact, we asked questions that actually illuminated them. We asked about the fact that there would be no lights along High Street or Stirling Highway and what the situation was there. They answered that they could not really tell us because they did not know exactly what the plans were. I had a look at the Senate estimates hearings and Senator Ludlam was on the committee, as was Senator Sue Lines, I believe, and they were grilling the federal department about details of this. The federal department said that the state department had to be asked because it came up with the plan. Sure enough, a week later we were in state estimates and the department had nothing to say. Where does this idea come from and where is that person, because we need them to give us more details about this $1.6 billion plan that will forever change the face of the South Metropolitan Region and even the East Metropolitan Region?
Madam Acting President (Hon Liz Behjat) will have heard me talk many times about the Beeliar wetlands. In fact, yesterday an article was published in the Australian version of The Guardian, which is a national online news site. The article, which I wrote along with some help from my very capable staff, discusses the fight to save the Beeliar wetlands and describes some of the unique features of that area. If members want to see those unique features, there is an opportunity to have a walk along the route of that road. I know Hon Phil Edman sometimes asks me exactly where the road is going, because over time it has been in different places. We know exactly where the road in the plan that came before the public environmental review is, as there are several maps of it and there is also the map released by the federal government when it decided to throw $1.6 billion at it. I quote the article in The Guardian —
Today we can visit Beeliar wetlands and experience a taste of the stunning Western Australian wetlands that once extended along the Swan coastal plain. A rich tapestry of flora and fauna have made these wetlands their home but now face an uncertain future: successive governments have catastrophically failed to protect the native habitat which have earned Perth’s status as a biodiversity hotspot.
Less than 20% of these wetlands remain today.
I think that figure is stunningly lower —
If we do not act now to conserve and protect these precious places, there will be nothing left for future generations.
A long standing threat to these wetlands is dangerously close to becoming a reality.
The article goes on to refer to the plan that the community is currently fighting. As I said, it is important to acknowledge that the state government did not proceed down this path, and a promise was made that in this term of government Roe 8 would not be built, although we would be forgiven for looking at that promise with a bit of shaky faith, yet a new federal government has come in and it is now becoming a potential reality. I have to quote Senator Scott Ludlam, who said, “See you on the barricades” at the end of his questioning of the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
I want to talk about something else that I have worked on in conjunction with Senator Ludlam, which is the Perth bike network plan. It was a great thing to see that the previous government was pursuing that bike network. In the budget this year it makes up 1.23 per cent of the total transport budget. Again, we had big multimillion dollar promises and they have now been whittled down to very small amounts. In fact, the amount drops radically, because next year it goes from $16 million to $6 million. We think a way to fund that bike plan is to lock in three per cent of the state transport budget to go into it. I tried to get the number of how many billions of dollars are being spent on roads, but if we were just to take a fraction of that and invest it into the bike network, we would see tremendous results. A study about end-of-trip facilities for bike riders was promised last year and I do not know that we have heard about how that study went. That is a key barrier to commuting by bike—there needs to be a place to park and freshen up after a commuter has come into the city or to their workplace by bike. We did not see any detail on the improved bicycle facilities or the end-of-trip facilities. We still have high hopes that the Perth bike network plan can be resurrected, but for now, it is fading into the distance as a once-hoped-for measure.
I have talked about housing and transport, and I would like to talk about the environment and health, but I first want to touch on planning. A couple of days ago—I think Friday—the minister and the Premier announced a new initiative, the Coastal Towns and Settlements Cabinet Subcommittee, which is going to investigate the development and revitalisation of priority coastal settlements and examine future coastal sites, particularly on the south coast of Western Australia. It will start by examining Coral Bay and the Abrolhos Islands as potential sites. The subcommittee is looking at building up the coastal settlements, but, almost on the same day, NASA announced that our predictions for sea level rise are tracking at the high end of projected sea level rise; it puts sea level rise by 2030 at 10 feet, which is around 3.5 metres. That is much higher than what we are planning for, and I am shocked that our Premier is actually starting a high-level cabinet subcommittee—these are the guys with the budgets—to look at development on our coast when, indeed, we urgently need a coastal vulnerability assessment so that we know, when these high-tracking coastal sea level rises occur, which coastal areas are going to be safe to build settlements. If we are going to talk about developing the Abrolhos Islands, we might also talk about building a seawall around the whole thing, which will cost more money than any Western Australian is going to want to invest in the Abrolhos, and it will probably ruin the marine ecosystem there.
Hon Ken Baston: Under you it’s going to be underwater anyway.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is not under me! It is 99.9 per cent of scientists who know what they are talking about saying that sea levels will rise, and it is our duty to prepare for that. Every single nation on the planet that has a coast is thinking about that. In fact, if we were to ask the Mayor of New York City, he would tell us about the coastal mitigation plan for New York State; he would tell us what its emergency response is. He would tell us about the value of public infrastructure at risk if we suffer the climate change impacts that are being predicted.
Hon Nigel Hallett interjected.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I thought we were getting Doppler. Our Premier is the Minister for Science, so go figure. I am concerned that our planning authorities are going to be sleeping on the job as the seas rise and take our homes and businesses along the coast. As members know, I have put forward a bill to establish coastal vulnerability plans and really sensible approaches to developing our cities so that our kids can enjoy the coast long into the future, and will not have to pay the huge debts that will have been incurred to deal with emergency situations because we did not plan ahead of time.
That is enough said about that part of planning; we also need to spend more of our efforts in greening our cities, because this is a way that we can lessen the impact of climate change. Even in Melbourne last summer, climate change created extreme heat conditions because we have failed to factor green infrastructure into our cities. It is a simple thing for us to stop clearing in the urban environment and to plant trees and bring the temperature down. There are many eminent scientists and bureaucrats in Australia who are now pushing for that. Singapore has actually done that already; it has already bought land to create green belts. It honestly sometimes feels as though almost everyone else on the planet gets this, but we are falling behind. However, I know that Western Australians are innovative and creative, and they love the bush, so I know that if there were integrated planning policies, we would be able to green our city and it would not be onerous; it would be enjoyable. In fact, it is already happening privately anyway, because people are getting it and they are doing something about it. They know that their house is cooler if they have a tree shading it. It is going to happen anyway, but it could happen in a much faster and more socially responsible way if we were to actually factor it into our planning policies.
Hon Nigel Hallett: Hon Lynn MacLaren, why don’t you take the initiative and start finding some technology to predict the climate instead of talking about the past?
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I do not need to. No-one is having that debate any longer, Hon Nigel Hallett; no-one else is debating it. People are getting on with planning for it. I am not going to waste my time; I am going to plan for it.
Hon Nigel Hallett interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Liz Behjat): Order! Hon Lynn MacLaren has the call.
Several members interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: Order, members! Do not let the debate sink to the depths that I think it might do.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I would now like to talk about an issue that is very dear to my heart, and that is preventive health. The federal budget actually axed the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health, and that is a loss of $367.9 million over four years, for things such as mammograms. I had a look at the state budget for preventive health, and we are probably tracking about the same as we were last year, but the way to knock down our big health budget is to invest in preventive health so that we are not expending huge amounts for crisis medical attention further down the road. I note that over the coming months I will be advocating for preventive health expenditure. I must acknowledge that you, Madam Acting President, have a deep commitment to that issue also, so it is good to have you in the chair at this time!
Another issue that is perhaps not so easy, but is another of those integrated policies, is the improvement of our air quality. This is where transport planning actually makes a big difference. I note that the Council of Australian Governments has identified air quality as a priority issue of national significance, and has agreed that there is a need to develop and implement a national plan for clean air. This is one of the reasons the Greens advocate moving from road to rail. Building more roads for trucks, which are invariably diesel at this time, will actually worsen our air quality. When we have more truck movements in and out of the port of Fremantle, we create more health issues for the people living there. People know this; the Fremantle Road to Rail campaign is very switched on, and lots of families are joining it because they can see the impact on their daily lives of increased diesel emissions near their homes.
In my view, the state government has dropped the ball on road to rail, something that was advocated by a former minister—I think Hon Alannah MacTiernan, who now sits in another place. The goal of moving freight onto rail has really slipped away. In 2012–13, the actual was 13.8 per cent—that is, shifting containers to and from the port. We want container movements to increase on rail and decrease by truck. In 2013–14, the budget estimate was 16 per cent but the actual was still only 13.9 per cent. The 2014–15 target is still low, at 14.5 per cent. If Hon Simon O’Brien were not away on urgent parliamentary business, he would be able to explain why it is tracking that way; I believe it is a 14 per cent increase, but what we want is the total mode share to go up to 30 per cent, so that 30 per cent of all movements are actually on rail. It is very sad to see that slipping, but more and more people will be advocating for rail and other alternatives to smelly diesel trucks. The statistics released when the construction of the Roe Highway stage 8 extension was being talked about included a figure of 65 000 trucks a day! That is a lot of diesel into the air. By the way, I will be flying into Los Angeles soon, which has a levy on trucks moving into the area. When I first moved to this country, the air in Australia was infinitely clearer and cleaner than the air in California; but now, ironically, the air in California is cleaner than it is here. There are many, many millions of people living in California with a high standard of living, yet they still manage to keep their air clean. That is a challenge that we in Western Australia need to rise to.
Diesel exhaust has been determined by the World Health Organization to be both a group 1 carcinogen and also has higher levels of the small and ultrafine particulate matter that is implicated in causing heart and vascular disease. Such health impacts are not accounted for in decision-making, so one simple thing to do would be to have a health impact study associated with planning decisions for things such as Roe 8, moving the port or building a waste-to-energy incinerator. Health impact assessments should be carried out when such big decisions are made. That is something I have called for, and I will not dwell on it.
In finishing my comments on health, we learned recently that St John of God Health Care would build the Midland Public Hospital. That has been known for a while. An amount of $1.49 billion is going into building this public hospital, and recently it became newsworthy that the contract essentially demanded that any separate clinic that will carry out services that are omitted from the St John of God contract will be isolated. There is probably going to be a fence and it will be obvious if anybody goes for a vasectomy or pregnancy termination or wants contraception or any in vitro fertilisation. All such procedures will be done in a separate clinic to the Midland Public Hospital. It is outrageous in this day and age that those services are isolated. Those services should be offered within a public hospital so that people are not ostracised when they go there and so that it does not become a target. It is a very sensitive time of life for someone consulting doctors for those sorts of services and they should be offered in a public hospital. It is outrageous that this government has gone down the path of offering separate services for those procedures. I hope that we can make the best of a bad situation in that regard, but I think that that subject is going to unravel as the days go on, as will the subject of the drum line program.
I am pleased to see that the new Minister for Fisheries is in the chamber because he is, of course, now overseeing the program of drum lines for sharks. In November 2013, in response to a fatal shark attack on a surfer, the state government announced that it would install baited drum line hooks off Perth and along the state’s south west coastline with the intention of hunting and killing large sharks. The announcement was made after a 15-month period in which no fatal shark attack had occurred in Western Australian waters, while over a dozen people had drowned off our coast. Against strong community opposition and doubts whether the strategy would do anything to reduce attacks, the drum lines were implemented on the Australia Day long weekend in late January 2014. Although the policy was described as targeting large “dangerous” sharks over three metres in length, including great white, tiger and bull sharks, it swiftly became clear that many undersized sharks were being caught, including non-targeted species such as the grey sharks that have been caught. If the undersized captured sharks did not die on the drum lines, they were shot or, in numerous documented cases, released in a condition in which survival was unlikely. In fact, we have recently learned that they anticipated about a 100 per cent mortality of all those sharks. In the beginning, information was being released that said that they were “released alive”. With no evidence that this plan makes people safer, and growing evidence that the sharks impaled on the hooks or released in poor condition may in fact be attracting bigger predators, the Greens have fought in Parliament at a state and federal level to end the catch-and-kill strategy, an expensive, ineffective policy grounded in fear rather than fact.
Hon Jim Chown: Why is it working in Queensland?
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I will explain that in detail, Hon Jim Chown.
At a state level, I have challenged the lack of science and due process in the policy’s development through questions in Parliament, and I have spoken at protests to collectively more than 10 000 people and with other anti-cull organisers, including the Sea Shepherd, Western Australians for Shark Conservation and Animal Amnesty. That group of people is expanding, thanks to the public environmental review, to include many scientists in our community and many international welfare advocates. The policy is not supported by sound science, even though the Premier, who is the Minister for Science, is one of the key leaders in that policy. Efforts are continuing to end the shark cull through conditioned political pressure and community opposition, as well as appeals to environmental agencies. We even had a legal challenge. This is a $2 million waste of money. Yes, we do want to feel safe in our oceans, but we are not going to get there by drum lining. I think that more than any other policy, this policy has opened the eyes of thousands of Western Australians to the lack of evidence-based approaches that this governments is taking.
Hon Jim Chown: Why is it working in Queensland?
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is working in Queensland because they are catching bull sharks, which are territorial. I am talking about great white sharks, which are migratory. That is the short answer, Hon Jim Chown.
Hon Jim Chown: So there has been one death in probably 30 years and before that there were 27 before drum lines were introduced, so you are saying that drum lines do not work.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Hon Jim Chown, there is a —
Hon Jim Chown: You have not responded to my question.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I have responded, and Hon Jim Chown has talked right through it because, unfortunately, there is a high level of stubbornness associated with this, instead of listening to the scientists who tell us that this is not the way to go, instead of looking at the facts that tiger sharks are being killed and instead of dealing with the fact that it is a waste of money. If the government is trying to address public safety, there are other things that can be done. That is what is so frustrating for thousands of Western Australians, because they can see that, they love the ocean and there has never before been any policy that is so blatantly wrong. That is why thousands of people have protested—and they will continue to do it.
Hon Ken Baston: They didn’t get in the water with their friends when they protested.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Minister, that is not helpful. That only proves the case that a flippant and half-thought-out approach to this is being taken, and Western Australians deserve better.
Hon Jim Chown: Seriously.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: It is a waste of money, it is not evidence-based policy and it is continuing down the road of not factoring in the impacts, in this case, on wildlife that are acknowledged to be threatened.
Hon Rick Mazza: What about the threat to human life?
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Yes, what about the threat to human life? Let us see some action on that.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Liz Behjat): Order! It is my turn to speak. Members should address matters through the Chair and should not point to each other across the chamber and address each other directly. I note on the list that several of those members who are interjecting have not yet made a contribution to this debate and that if they want the call to do so, they can do that at the appropriate time. At the moment, the call is with Hon Lynn MacLaren.
Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Thank you, Madam Acting President. I appreciate that. It is important to get these facts out there, and it is hoped that people listen to them. Yesterday’s Western Suburbs Weekly included an article that quoted University of Queensland principal research fellow Jennifer Ovenden. I will quote the first two paragraphs. I am sure that members who are interested will go online and read the rest of it. It states —
A State Government computer-generated claim of 3400 to 5400 great white sharks in WA has been criticised by scientists whose peer-reviewed study using genetics estimates there are just 693 of the protected species.
“I think it’s very unprofessional and inappropriate because they are making inferences from inappropriate data sources using computer models,” University of Queensland principal research fellow Jennifer Ovenden said.
She conducted a two-year study with four others from the university’s molecular fisheries laboratory; 350 female great white sharks were identified. The Queensland government’s public environmental review states that 25 great white sharks and 1 000 tiger sharks could be killed over three years. If it is true and there are only 693 of the protected species, killing 10 per cent of the 350 breeding females each year would affect the population. The government should bear that in mind next time it thinks it is a wise idea to lay the drum lines.
I also want to speak out for the voiceless numbats in our forests. We know that about 1 000 are left. That is the last number we had. That number has probably declined since we heard that. Maybe Hon Donna Faragher or Hon Sally Talbot might know what the latest number is as they both debated this issue a couple of years ago and mentioned that number of 1 000. The numbats are endangered; they are at considerable risk of extinction on our watch. They are an emblem of Western Australia, and the government has no data on the area of forest that is available for harvest that provides habitat so it does not even know what we are losing. We want evidence-based policies and also to be respectful of international protection for endangered species.
I want to finish my remarks by talking about animal welfare. This came up during estimates hearings. It was interesting that the Department of Agriculture and Food did not have any line item in its budget for animal welfare. We discussed the fact that a $500 000 grant is given to the RSPCA every year. With that grant, the RSPCA investigated 2 787 cruelty complaints, it rescued 191 animals, it instigated 24 prosecutions, it fostered 164 dogs, horses and kittens, it administered 5 028 routine vet treatments, and 4 334 students attended community education sessions. On average, 282 animals are in its shelters every day of the year. In contrast, the Department of Agriculture and Food inspectorates—I asked for the specific number of FTEs who are employed there—had one successful prosecution and there are three more pending. What is it doing? There is a memorandum of understanding that says that the Department of Agriculture and Food looks at livestock and commercial animals, and the RSPCA gets to deal with companion animals. What is happening? The department does not seem to be policing them. Millions of sheep and cattle get exported overseas and are transported throughout our state every year and there is only one prosecution! There is a problem with our animal welfare system. There is a lack of inspectors. There is a lack of commitment to enforcement.
I conclude by saying that across this city, from the ailing Guildford Hotel to the excavated Esplanade, from the congestion-choked freeway commuters to the port city residents battling worsening air quality from more diesel trucking, from the expanded hospital precinct at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, presently disconnected from the light rail plans, to the high population growth areas of the sustainable city of Cockburn, which is looking at being axed by the local government minister, from the young families near Fremantle who face the loss of a high school campus and reduced options for high school education to the families of the 457 visa holders who are faced with finding $4 000 a year to access public schools for their children, from the homeless and jobless young people without refuge to the increasing number of sufferers of family and domestic violence and homicide, I am going to use this opportunity to let the government know that its constituents believe this government lacks accountability and for many there is a loss of faith in the future.
Debate adjourned, on motion by Hon Helen Morton (Minister for Mental Health).