Lara’s Newsletter

Parliament Week Wrap Up

Dear all,

I am delighted to share with you my update from the Parliamentary week of September 5-7, 2023.
It gives you the opportunity to hear about the main issues directly from me, and not through any selective or biased filter. Some of the issues may or may not have been reported by the media.

Minister for Energy and Renewables, the Hon. Guy Barnett, MP, was referred to the Privileges and Conduct Committee: 

One of the main events occurred on September 7, 2023. This was the day the House of Assembly voted to refer the Minister for Energy and Renewables, the Hon. Guy Barnett, to the Privileges and Conduct Committee for not complying with an Order of the House, which was moved on the August 16. The motion ordered the Minister to outline the latest cost estimates for Marinus Link, Battery of the Nation, and the Northwest Transmission Developments to the House before 6pm August 16, 2023.

On the July 12, 2023, the Treasurer and the Minister for Energy and Renewables sent a letter to the Prime Minister, the Hon, Anthony Albanese, MP, and Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon. Chris Bowen, MP, advising that significant cost increases occurred in all three projects and, I quote: “there was a concern the Government couldn’t manage this within the Tasmanian fiscal capacity.” The letter specified the cost blowout. However, when the information was released to Parliament, the amount was redacted. Unfortunately, the Minister did not return by 6pm with the information as requested. Instead, Minister Barnett produced a letter from the Chairman of Marinus Link stating that disclosure of the information would prejudice the live procurement process. He offered to bring back a ministerial statement on the September 5, 2023.

The House did not agree with the premise that the disclosure of that information would prejudice the live procurement process. There are several instances in the past when various building projects were under a live procurement process; and where information regarding cost estimates were disclosed publicly.

On the September 5, 2023, Minister Barnett read a 16-pages ministerial statement, which identified that the Marinus Link cost blowout was $5.5 billion. This represented an increase of $1.7 billion over the original estimate of $3.8 billion; but it was not very clear in relation to the other two projects. Subsequently, the Minister issued a letter on September 6, 2023, summarising the estimated costs for the three projects as follows:

  • Marinus Link – $5.5 billion
  • Battery of the Nation – between $851 million and $1.05 billion
  • NW Transmission Development – $832 million

The House considered all the facts from August 16, including the Minister’s reasoning for not producing the information as ordered by the House, and concluded on September 7, 2023 that the Minister did not comply with an Order of the House and voted to refer the Minister to the Privileges and Conduct Committee for his failure. Various MPs made a number of arguments, which are summarised below:

  1. It appears that journalists already knew about the $5.5 billion at the time of the August 16 motion;
  2. Even if the disclosure of costs blowout for Marinus Link had the potential to prejudice the live procurement process, as the Minister stated, the Battery of the Nation and the Northwest Transmission Development were not under live procurement. Therefore, it was reasonable to expect disclosure of this information; and
  3. The House did not ask for confidential documents to be tabled, the House only wanted to understand the cost blowout which were redacted from the letter dated July 12, 2023.

There are some facts that are important to note: The State renegotiated with the Federal Government in July/August of 2023 to minimise the burden of costs for Tasmania. This has now been reduced from an expected $5.5 billion to $3.3 billion. The other two projects remain at the same cost levels as identified above.
TasNetworks commissioned a report, which indicates very clearly how the benefits of Marinus Link and associated projects are distributed: 38% goes to New South Wales, 28% to Victoria, 20% to Queensland, 8% to South Australia, and just 6% to Tasmania. However, the cost to Tasmania is 17%. Under this plan, Tasmanians are effectively subsidising energy supply to mainland state to the tune of 11%. In June 2023, during Budget Estimates, the Minister was asked repeatedly about the adverse price impact on the Tasmanian consumers however, there was no clear answer, nothing to give us confidence.
The State Government has talked about Marinus Link for ten years. It has incurred to date around $196.5 million to date. In addition, the Tasmanian Government has not given a firm commitment that Tasmanian energy prices will not increase as a consequence of Marinus Link. The three projects will continue to be under significant scrutiny by the Parliament.

Some of the issues I have sought answers for:

Development Assessment Panels (DAP):

On August 6, 2023, I asked the Premier the following question:
Premier, on the 15th of July you came to the rescue of Minister Street and announced, quote:

“There will be no forced amalgamations. Communities and councils will decide their own future.”

However, three days later, you hosed down the Councils hope of deciding their own future by announcing, out of the blue, with no consultation, that:

“the government would introduce new legislation to allow for some planning decisions to be made by independent expert Development Assessment Panels (DAP). The Rockliff Liberal Government will take the politics out of planning decisions.”
In response to your announcement, LGAT President, Break O’Day Council Mayor Mick Tucker, said “it is extremely disappointing that the Premier has made this announcement today with no prior consultation with our sector.”
My address to the Premier, follows:
Premier you have said that “Draft legislation will be out for consultation later this year, and it is anticipated it will be introduced to Parliament at the start of 2024.”
Premier, when are you going to start consulting with stakeholders? Are you going to wait until Christmas to release the consultation paper?
The Premier provided an answer which did not confirm very much and, as a result, the uncertainty over creating a parallel level of bureaucracy continues. It would have been much simpler for the government to utilise its last few years in power to introduce proper planning reforms as they have promised many times in the past. Instead, the solution is more Band-Aid politics and ad-hoc announcements.

Pets in rental properties:

Since being sworn in on March 8, 2022, I have been asked many times about the Government’s plans to reform the Tasmanian Residential Tenancy Act; to make it easier for people with pets to access rental properties.
It is a difficult and emotional question; but there is no doubt that with Tasmania being the last state in Australia not to have introduced some reform in this space, the time will come when either this government or the next, will be looking at introducing change. The question is: when is the right time for reform and what this will look like?

Last week, I asked the Attorney General about the Government’s intention to introduce such reform. Below is an extract from her answer:
“Mr Speaker, I thank Mrs Alexander for her question. We recognise how important pets are for people and to understand that some tenants rely on the comfort, interaction and companionship of their animals, particularly for their mental health and wellbeing. With the owner’s approval, Tasmanian tenants can currently have their pets in residential properties and many do. We welcome that. I also acknowledge the balance argument that we need to afford landowners in terms of their properties. Some have had some awful experiences. I have had landlords contact me with those experiences, so I am mindful of trying to have a balanced situation. I am very sympathetic. Anybody who owns a pet is sympathetic to what they provide to us in their own way of love and support.
I am giving this careful consideration. I have made public comments to that effect, particularly in the media. I favour a pet bond – an amount paid to cover a situation where there might be damage caused to a property by a pet. I acknowledge that an additional fee like that can be problematic for some people. All these issues are being considered in the context of any amendment that might be required to the Residential Tenancy Act, as well as a number of other issues I have committed to looking at under that particular act.
In short, I am looking at it. I can give the House the undertaking that I am taking this issue seriously, that pets are important to people and that I will give this active consideration with a view to providing some reform to the Residential Tenancy Act, if required.”

Women Networking Session

It was an absolute pleasure to attend the Women Networking Session organised by the Multicultural Council of Tasmania, at Parliament House on Wednesday the 6th of September.
I would like to thank the Council for inviting me to be part of the panel discussing Women in Politics.

(pictured with me: Aimen Jafri, Senior Vice Chair and Dr Chaltu)

‘Flying by the seat of their pants’

‘Flying by the seat of their pants’ is an exhibition officially opened at Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. The exhibition has been jointly produced by the Tasmanian Aviation Historical Society and the Furneaux Museum.
It is marking the 90th anniversary of the first flights by Miss Flinders and Miss Currie and tells the story of the aviators, the aircraft, the triumphs and tragedies, from the very first flight in 1919 up to the outbreak of WW2 in 1939.
A great exhibition and a wonderful way to keep our history alive.

Museum at Inveresk 

2 September – 19 November 2023

Free entry

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