Thank you, Mr Federal President. To you and to Members of the Federal Executive, to Parliamentary colleagues and to delegates of the Federal Council of our great party, can I just say that there has never been a more exciting time to be a Tasmanian.
So much innovation, so much enterprise, so much progress. Tasmania is a great state, indeed, but can I tell you, can I tell you, it is a very different place now than what it was when we came to Government just three and a half years ago.
Our unemployment rate is now down to 5.9 percent. Under the former Labor-Green Minority Government it was up over 8.
There are 8,400 more Tasmanians now in work than there were at the time of the election. There were 10,000 jobs lost under the Labor-Green Minority Government.
Tasmania’s economy is now strong. State Final Demand has grown in every quarter since we were elected and is currently above the national average. Under Labor and the Greens it went backwards for seven consecutive quarters and the state’s economy slumped into recession.
Retail trade has boomed for 30 months of successive growth. Our population is now growing at its fastest rate in five years. Tourism is up 12½ percent since the election, with the highest growth rate of international visitors to Tasmania of any state. And for the third year in a row we have won more awards at the National Tourism Awards than any other state.
Confidence levels amongst Tasmanian businesses and indeed their support for our Government’s policies rank amongst the highest in the nation. Under Labor and the Greens it was at rock bottom.
And when we came to Government, we inherited a budget from the Labor-Green Government that contained $1 billion in deficits, no return to surplus in sight and net debt approaching $400 million. We have taken the budget back into surplus, the first for seven years. We’re debt-free, and this is the best financial result in Tasmania in a decade.
So, things are very different now, very different now. But it hasn't happened by accident.
On coming to Government just three and a half years ago, we implemented some tough but necessary savings measures. We’ve reined in spending. Spending growth under our Government has been kept to around the rate of inflation. Yet under the former Government, Labor and the Greens, it averaged at five percent, and in some years it was more than eight percent.
We are a Government that lives within its means and takes the responsibility of managing our finances very seriously. And we have not raised a tax to do it. Not one.
But there is a lot more to be done. This is truly, as they say, not job done, it’s job just begun, because we recognise that even though our unemployment rate is down, people are concerned about job security, about their healthcare, even though our elective surgery waiting lists are down to the lowest level ever recorded in Tasmania. And even though we’ve put more police into our communities, Tasmanians want to feel safer.
And we understand that Tasmanians want to be sure that their kids are getting a good education, so we are investing record amounts into our schools, into employing more teachers and support staff and making sure that Tasmanian kids get the very best education they can. So, we’re also changing a system that has failed our students, where our kids have started school later and often leave earlier because our high schools have finished at Year 10. This is a uniquely Tasmanian arrangement, but it's meant that many of our students, our kids, have left school with as much as two years less education than their counterparts in other states. So it’s hardly surprising that our results have not been good enough.
So under my Government, our students now have to complete Year 12 or an equivalent qualification, or to get a job. And we are funding a record investment into education to extend our high schools, so that they can provide Years 11 and 12 right across the state. And in just a few years it’s achieving significant results. Enrolments in these schools have increased by nearly 60%, and the retention rate for students completing Year 12 is now near the national average, where it should be.
The Labor Party and unions are opposing this change, and they’re putting vested interests ahead of students. But it is a firm focus of my Government’s policy agenda to give Tasmanian kids their best shot in life through the opportunity of a good education that they deserve.
And that’s what Liberals believe in, and we will work very closely in partnership with the Federal Government under Gonski 2.O, which we do welcome, because it’s fair, it’s transparent and sector blind and it truly is needs-based funding that puts our students first.
We’re also investing a record amount into a health system that was broken to provide Tasmanians with the healthcare they need.
We have made some tough decisions to develop a more efficient hospital system.
And we have taken responsibility for a hospital that was under threat of closure under a former Labor State Government, was rescued by the Howard Federal Government, but this week was the centre of a very good deal secured with the Commonwealth where we now take it back and it has a secure place in the new health system we are building. And we acknowledge the significant role of the Turnbull Government in supporting our efforts.
And we’re of course now better able to make this positive change, because we’ve got our budget back in balance and because our economy is strong.
Though, like all Liberal Governments, we recognise that it’s businesses, it’s individuals, not Government, who are the true creators of economic prosperity and jobs. So we’re a Government that backs business and backs enterprise. We have cut red and green tape.
We have streamlined building and planning regulations. We’ve introduced a new Tasmanian Planning Scheme. We are the only state in the country to have a single planning scheme, state-wide.
We initiated a bold EOI process, challenging the private sector to imagine new sustainable tourism ventures in our precious wilderness areas, to enhance Tasmania’s reputation as a global eco-tourism hotspot and to stay ahead of the pack.
We’re embracing the opportunities offered by the sharing economy. Last year we were the first state to legalise ride-sharing. And this year we’ve moved to keep ahead of the game and deliver a policy that will provide more customer choice, meet the rapidly increasing demand in our tourism industry and provide certainty for property owners who are part of the sharing economy. And when we launched it, Airbnb said it was ‘a model for the world’.
And in renewable energy, where Tasmania has truly a great competitive advantage, Tasmania is the nation’s renewable energy state. And recently, the Prime Minister and I announced plans to boost our renewable energy output and to progress additional investment opportunities, including pumped hydro storage to provide stability into the national electricity market and to underpin additional wind investment in Tasmania.
We’re currently investigating the case for a second interconnector across Bass Strait, and we’ve just announced a new agreement to develop a wind farm and increase wind generation in Tasmania by nearly 50%. We are the nation’s renewable energy state. Our vision is for Tasmania to become the renewable energy battery of the nation, and we’re partnering with the Turnbull Government to achieve this vision.
So, can I say in closing, it is a very exciting time indeed to be a Tasmanian. Tasmania is in much greater shape now than it was just three and a half years ago.
We are pulling our weight, and we are punching above it, and we are entitled to our fair share as an equal state in the Federation.
It’s a great honour to be the State’s 45th Premier, and to be a Liberal Premier, now one of just two in our country! When I came to this job only three and a half years ago, there were five of us. This is a reminder of the very fragile nature of our line of work and also the rare privilege and opportunity that comes with governing.
And this Federal Council is a reminder of the values that unite us, the fundamental belief that liberalism is the political philosophy best able to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century. So, it’s our duty, all of us, to ensure the future election of Liberal and Coalition Governments across our nation.
And if you want a demonstration of how the responsibility of Government is best placed with the Liberal Party, then look at Tasmania.