Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings At The National Press Club

Tasmania’s Labor Premier, Lara Giddings, has addressed the National Press Club in Canberra.

Giddings spoke at length about the state of Tasmania’s economy. She defended her state’s share of the proceeds of the Goods and Services Tax, praised the National Broadband Network and talked of Tasmania’s place in the Asian Century.

Gidding

  • Listen to Giddings’s speech (30m)
  • Listen to Giddings respond to questions (27m)

Transcript of speech to the National Press Club by Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings.

INTRODUCTION

Thank you to the National Press Club for inviting me to speak to you today.

If you were in Tasmania this summer you would have seen some of the world’s biggest cruise ships tied up in one of the most beautiful harbours on the planet.

You would have seen thousands of tourists and locals queuing to get into one of the world’s best museums at MONA.

You would have found out for yourself why travellers on the website TripAdvisor selected Hobart as one of the world’s ’10 destinations on the Rise’.

You could also have discovered why Lonely Planet said:

“Now is the best time to discover what’s going on down there before the rest of the world catches on.”

You could have visited the Bay of Fires, which a couple of years ago was rated by Lonely Planet as the world’s Hottest Travel Destination.

You could have seen golfers from across the globe playing on two of the world’s top 100 golf courses at Barnbougle.

You could have found out why Gourmet Traveller said of the State’s wine industry:

“Tasmania is well on the way to recognition as not only one of Australia’s premier wine districts but one of the world’s most exciting.”

You could have explored the world class tourist attractions of Cradle Mountain and Freycinet, and the stunning natural beauty of the World Heritage listed South West wilderness.

You could have attended some of the exciting festivals that attract artists, authors, musicians, performers and enthusiasts from across the globe.

Increasingly, the rest of the world is coming to associate Tasmania with outstanding quality, world-class produce, fascinating history and heritage, a rich arts and cultural scene, and unique natural beauty.

We have a fantastic lifestyle.

We are a tolerant and progressive community, although that has not always been the case.

Little more than a decade ago Tasmania had the most repressive laws on homosexuality in Australia.

But in recent years we have led the country in recognising same-sex relationships and we are leading the debate on marriage equality.

We were among the first Governments to apologise to victims of past forced adoption policies, and this year we will debate legislation to allow terminally ill patients to access Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Despite all of the changes, across Australia many of the old perceptions and negative stereotypes of Tasmania still persist.

Many of them are politically motivated.

You’ve all heard the claims – Tasmania is backward, a mendicant State, the Greece of Australia, closed for business.

And invariably our political opponents blame minority government.

Today I want to tell you about what’s really going on – and about the changes that are happening in the island State.

I want to tell you about a State that is focussed on new and emerging opportunities, both nationally and internationally.

And I want to tell you how the State that was first to take action to address the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and falling GST revenue is now well placed to be the first to emerge from the shadow of the GFC.

Too often Tasmania is used as either the national whipping boy or a soft target for strategies designed to win the votes of environmentally-conscious voters in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.

While we are accused of ‘locking up’ potential sources of economic activity, it should be remembered that most of the major conservation decisions in recent history have been made in the context of Federal Election campaigns.

We came close to seeing it happen again with the threat of a blanket National Heritage listing for the Tarkine, but thankfully this time we have a Federal Government that listened to our concerns.

I fully support Tony Burke’s decision, which my Deputy Premier and I lobbied hard for, to avoid a listing that would restrict current and future mining.

As a result, our door remains ‘open for business’ from the mining industry.

Current mining and exploration operations on Tasmania’s West Coast have identified in-ground resources worth more than $11 billion in current values.

When we talk about growing the mining industry we aren’t talking about the old approach that stripped the hills around Queenstown and polluted rivers – we’re looking at a cutting edge industry using best practice techniques consistent with our clean, green brand.

Mining currently represents more than half of Tasmania’s total international exports and we have record levels of mineral exploration and mining investment.

But we have a fraction of the mineral wealth and opportunities enjoyed by other States.

Queensland and WA rely on the mining industry.

Victoria and NSW can fall back on major commerce.

But it is the smaller States which have to work harder and smarter to get ahead.

Let’s not forget that Tasmania is a State of 500 000 people, the same size as a suburb of Sydney or Melbourne.

Our economic and social challenges are significant – a decentralised and ageing population, with a higher than average proportion of people on low incomes and with poorer educational achievements.

There’s no doubt the Tasmanian economy is going through tough times right now, and industries like forestry and manufacturing are under pressure from market changes and the high Australian dollar.

We need to create jobs.

We need to improve our educational outcomes.

We need to achieve a sustainable future for our forest industry through FSC accreditation and an end to the 30 year conflict in our forests.

In fact, forestry reflects the broader transformation we are seeing in Tasmania.

The high dollar and market changes mean we can’t keep going the way we were.

We’re trying to help the industry to adapt in tough times while meeting the demands of an increasingly environmentally conscious marketplace.

Along with industry and environmental stakeholders and the Australian Government, we’ve made the tough decisions needed to help the industry achieve a sustainable future.

The challenge now is for the Upper House to allow this transition to occur by passing the legislation that’s currently before them.

Scratch the surface and you can see that Tasmania is an island of change.

My Government does not shy away from the challenges we face and we are taking strong action to tackle them.

As a result of the tough budget decisions we made earlier than other States, Tasmania is forecast to be the only State in the country that is both net debt free and in surplus by 2014/15.

Our economy is still growing and the pace of growth is expected to pick up in the coming months.

I believe Tasmania has an incredibly exciting future.

Let me tell you why – and what my Government is doing to make it happen.

TRANSFORMING TASMANIA’S ECONOMY

While parts of Australia continue to surf on the wave of the mining boom, we are quietly transforming Tasmania’s economy to create jobs for the future.

We’ve known for decades that we were too reliant on manufacturing and the export of traditional commodity primary products, which left us vulnerable to the high Australian dollar and collapsing markets after the GFC.

The transformation that my Government is supporting and investing in will help to build an economy that is more resilient, more diverse and more modern.

We’re building an economy based on high-quality produce, products and services.

We’re gearing up for the growing economic dominance of Asia.

We’re moving to make the most of the opportunities offered by our natural advantages in areas such as water and renewable energy.

Tasmania in the Asian Century

The Tasmanian Government, like the Commonwealth and every State government, is looking to Asia as a source of prosperity and job creation in the 21st century.

We are positioning ourselves to take advantage of the next great wave of Asian demand.

As countries like China and India develop there will be exponential growth in the number of people with money to spend on what would previously be regarded as unaffordable luxuries – imported food, wine, overseas travel, and international study.

The Asian middle class alone is predicted to grow from 500 million today to 3 billion over the next 20 years.

This is the future market for high quality Tasmanian products and services.

To make sure we seize the opportunity, Tasmania is the only State to commission its own Asian White Paper, leveraging off the work being done for the Australian Government by Ken Henry.

This work is already producing some interesting results.

For example, Asia will have the world’s largest high-income class population within the next 20-40 years and will be the world’s largest market for luxury goods within 10 years.

It’s estimated that world food production will need to increase by 70 per cent by 2050, with growing demand for the high-quality produce in which Tasmania specialises, such as seafood, premium cheese, cherries and wine.

On the downside, Tasmania currently has the lowest number of Asian-born or Asian-language speaking residents in the country.

And of all Australian States we are the furthest from achieving our trade potential.

So we need to become more ‘Asia focussed’ and boost our trade effort.

That’s what we were aiming to do last year when I led a Tasmanian trade mission to China, Hong Kong and Vietnam that is already delivering results.

We may not have had a delegation to match the army of 600 people that Ted Baillieu took to China.

But small is beautiful, and we achieved results in our own quiet way.

Our talks with Chinese quarantine officials led to the first batch of Tasmanian cherries being exported to Beijing last month, building on the market we already have in Japan.

Our meetings with Chinese Antarctic officials led directly to a visit to Hobart by the Chinese ice breaker Xue Long, building on expected visits from Korean and Japanese Antarctic vessels and consolidating Hobart’s status as Australia’s Antarctic gateway city.

We signed an agreement for China’s Guohua Energy Investment Corporation to buy a 75% stake in the $400 million Musselroe wind farm project in Northern Tasmania.

And we met education officials to discuss the University of Tasmania’s goal to double its intake of international students by 2018.

We also saw first-hand how top-quality Tasmanian produce is already making an impact in China.

Like the $60 cans of Tasmanian powdered milk for babies and $25 jars of Tasmanian honey that I saw on the shelves of a Shanghai Supermarket – and which the owner said were among his best sellers.

One of China’s top ten chefs, Wong Wing Chee, started his career at Chopsticks Restaurant, a suburban restaurant and takeaway south of Hobart.

He’s now an enthusiastic promoter of Tasmanian produce and wine in his own restaurants and in the Chinese media.

Another devotee of all things Tasmanian is internationally renowned Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda, who’s helped raise our profile in Japan and Singapore.

But through our trade delegation and our Asian White Paper process we are also learning how much more we need to do, for example, to:

– increase our presence in key markets;

– better cater for tourists from places such as China; and

– improve our cultural literacy in areas such as Asian languages.

We are prepared to do those hard yards because we recognise that our economic future depends on investment and improved productivity that we cannot fund on our own.

For the same reason, and in contrast to the debate on the mainland about foreign investment in places like Cubbie Station, Tasmania’s door is wide open to Asian investment.

Just as we welcomed Japanese investment during the 1970s and 80s which helped to boost our super fine merino wool industry, today we welcome Chinese investment in our dairy and renewable energy industries.

That’s a message I delivered loud and clear in the capital of Chinese commerce, Shanghai, during our trade mission last year.

But ensuring we take advantage of the Asian Century is just one of the ways in which we are diversifying the Tasmanian economy.

Water, irrigation and agriculture

Tasmania’s most significant natural resource advantage is fresh water.

We have just one per cent of Australia’s landmass but nearly 14 per cent of its water, and our average annual water run-off is almost twice that of the Murray Darling Basin.

We are seeking to make the most of that advantage by almost doubling the amount of irrigated land through a $400 million investment in major irrigation schemes, driving investment and growth in food and agriculture.

Tasmania’s agricultural sector is highly diversified, underpinned by excellent growing conditions, affordable land, relative freedom from disease and pests, and strong research and development capability.

As a result, our produce is recognised around the world for premium quality and a clean, green brand.

As well as some of the world’s best fruit and vegetables, dairy products and meat, Tasmania also exports truffles to France, wasabi to Japan and tulips to the Netherlands.

Tony Abbott doesn’t need to try to make the Northern Territory the food bowl of Australia – Tasmania is already just about there.

There is now a growing consensus that high-value agriculture will be the next industry to benefit significantly from Asian-led growth.

When that happens, Tasmania will be ready to seize the opportunity.

The plans and investments already in place aim to double dairy production, double the aquaculture industry, and quadruple wine production over the next decade.

In fact, Tasmania is the only part of Australia where dairy is experiencing consistent growth.

Over the past decade milk production increased by 22 per cent in Tasmania, while production Australia-wide declined by 14 per cent.

Much of this growth is driven by demand for powdered milk in China, with large investment projects worth more than $400 million underway or in the pipeline to meet the need.

Nowhere was the transformation of the Tasmanian economy more evident to me than when I visited a former Gunns timber mill site in the North West of the State, which has been reborn as a powdered milk plant servicing the huge increase in dairy production.

Tasmania is also Australia’s finest cool-climate wine producing region, already recognised for award-winning Pinot Noir, sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Last year we hosted the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, which showcased the State’s massive potential to national and international delegates.

In its wake, the UK’s Independent Newspaper remarked that “Tasmania is rapidly becoming Australia’s ‘Little Champagne’.”

And Europe’s most influential wine publication, The Drinks Business, ranked Tasmania as second only to China as the best place in the world for investment in the wine industry.

Over the past 50 years aquaculture has been the fastest growing animal food-production sector world-wide, and the industry is likely to become increasingly important as output from wild fisheries stabilises or declines.

In response, Tasmania’s aquaculture industry is gearing up for rising demand for farmed products such as salmon, and we are also the only Australian state that can export live oysters to Japan.

Renewable Energy

Another important driver of change in Tasmania is renewable energy.

Tasmania has been at the forefront of science and research into climate change and I believe we can also play a key role in decarbonising the Australian economy through our world class renewable energy resource and expertise.

Already 86 per cent of Tasmania’s installed generation capacity is renewable and we produce around 50 per cent of Australia’s clean, renewable electricity.

But we are not resting on our laurels.

We have a great opportunity to help Australia reach its renewable energy targets and secure our economy for the future.

One way we could do that is through the proposed $2 billion Taswind Project on King Island, which would be the biggest wind farm in the southern hemisphere.

Stage 1 of this project could generate enough energy to meet 6% of Australia’s 20% renewable energy target.

It would generate enough energy to power 240,000 homes, linking into the national electricity market through the Victorian grid.

It would also be another step towards a second Basslink to Tasmania that would unlock even more renewable energy developments.

NBN

But perhaps the most exciting development – and the least understood – is the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

The NBN has the potential to transform Tasmania.

By 2015 all Tasmanian homes and businesses will have access to superfast broadband capacity, six years before the full rollout is achieved across the rest of Australia.

That makes Tasmania a great place to invest for companies wishing to take advantage of opportunities in the digital economy.

Thanks to the NBN, the State with one of the best lifestyles in the world will also be one of the best connected, overcoming the relative geographic isolation that we’ve always faced.

One of my Government’s main priorities is to ensure we take advantage of the opportunity that the NBN offers to attract new businesses and service industries to Tasmania.

We are already making progress.

Take, for example, the exciting $42 million Sensing Tasmania project, a world-first, large-scale sensor network, which has attracted investment from global giant IBM.

Or take the expansion of the M2 Telecommunications Group’s contact and support centre in Hobart to secure 280 jobs.

And then there are the 20 new digital hubs, enterprises, and local government programs launched across Tasmania just this week by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, which will help the entry of thousands of individuals, businesses and councils into the digital economy.

GST THREAT

I’ve spoken about the great future that current changes are creating for Tasmania.

But there is a dark cloud hanging over that future with the possibility that a Tony Abbott-led government might be elected in September.

This is the man who’s threatening to:

– stop the NBN;

– undermine renewable energy by scrapping the price on carbon; and

– change GST distribution to make it, in his words, “fairer”.

Let’s be absolutely clear about this.

With a fixed pool of GST funds available, any change will be at the expense of Tasmania.

We stand to lose up to $700 million each and every year – some 15 per cent of the State Budget.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett cries poor despite rolling in the massive royalties of the mining boom.

But it’s often forgotten that as recently as 2007, Western Australia was in the same position as Tasmania – a net beneficiary of GST, propped up by NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Yes, Tasmania receives a greater share of the GST.

I do not shy away from that.

Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation reflects the Australian way of fairness and equity.

It’s a feature of our Federation and our country that we should value, not throw away.

The reality is that our smaller, older and more decentralised population makes it more expensive to deliver essential services like health and education.

Today I extend an invitation to all State leaders to visit Tasmania and see our great State for themselves.

I would relish the opportunity to welcome Colin Barnett to Tasmania and to arrange for him to tour Tasmanian companies that are providing valuable goods and services which are vital to the mining boom in WA.

Companies like:

– Caterpillar Underground Mining in Burnie;

– Offshore Unlimited, which services gas projects off the WA coast; and

– engineering companies like Haywards which is building equipment for a number of new mining projects.

Then there’s the argument that Tasmania deserves less GST revenue because it’s a mendicant State, and that it’s being held back by minority government.

Every political party campaigns to win majority government and I’m no different.

But the reality is we’re in a minority situation and Labor and the Greens have worked hard over the last three years to provide stable, responsible government during tough economic circumstances.

We’ve made tough decisions to get the Budget under control while also delivering:

– crucial energy and planning reforms;

– a huge increase in irrigation; and

– new infrastructure like the Musselroe Wind Farm, the Three Capes walking track, and statewide road and rail upgrades;

If you want to see instability, look at the ministerial turnover in Campbell Newman’s majority government in Queensland, or the industrial turmoil and criticism surrounding the Liberal majority government in Victoria.

The reality is that not one single credible economist blames Tasmania’s current economic situation on mendicant Tasmanians or minority government.

Listen to Saul Eslake, when he says:

“The deterioration in Tasmania’s economy over the past 12-18 months is largely due to factors beyond the control of the State Government.”

Listen to Deloitte/Access Economics when it said in January that:

“The most obvious negative among the key drivers of Tasmania’s economy remains the Australian Dollar.”

Listen to CommSec’s Craig James when he says:

“To the credit of the Tasmanian Government they don’t sweep this under the carpet. They know that there’s challenges ahead… They’re not playing politics, they’re trying to find solutions… It’s hard for Tasmania, particularly with the Aussie dollar.”

Having listened to those comments it would be easy to shrug your shoulders and say it’s all too hard.

But I won’t.

I firmly believe we can and will overcome the challenges we currently face.

We have done so before and we can again.

As recently as 2009, before the dollar took off, Tasmania had the country’s lowest unemployment rate and, according to CommSec, the “best performing economy in Australia”.

Our small size is both a blessing and a curse, making us more vulnerable in the bad times but also quicker to bounce back when the good times return.

The factors holding back the Tasmanian economy are transient and will pass.

As the late Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon used to say, the convergence of technology and climate change, that’s making many parts of the world less liveable, will work to Tasmania’s advantage.

As Premier, my focus is on laying the foundations and creating the opportunities that will ensure Tasmania reaches its full potential in the rapidly changing world we live in.

Tasmania has a growing, enviable international reputation.

I believe we need to harness that reputation, build on it, and set ourselves up to be a place where people want to live, work and play.

CONCLUSION

I believe Tasmania has a great future.

We have fantastic opportunities to make the State one of the most dynamic and exciting small economies in the world, to match our great lifestyle.

I am determined to keep making the decisions today that will help Tasmania to realise its potential.

As the travel guide Lonely Planet pointed out, the rest of the world is already catching on to what is going on in our small State.

The question is, what will it take for some people start changing their perceptions of the island to their south?

As I said at the start of my speech, if you come to Tasmania right now you’ll see a State that is focussed on new and emerging opportunities in Asia, and a State which stands ready to emerge from the shadow of the GFC better, stronger and faster than others which were slower to act.

And finally, if you weren’t in Tasmania over summer to experience the things that I spoke about earlier, don’t despair.

You can still come and experience the 10 Days on the Island arts festival in March or our new Hobart Baroque festival in April.
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You can come and join in the new Dark MoFo winter festival in June, and see the Tall Ships in September.

In fact, you can visit all of our attractions and experience Tasmania’s warm hospitality anytime you like, and we’ll welcome you with open arms.

Thank you.

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