DWAN First, thanks for coming along tonight where the Honourable Will Hodgman makes a first appearance, a very welcome appearance at the Sydney Institute. He is well known. So, I’ll introduce him briefly. The Member for Franklin in Tasmania since 2002. Before that a barrister. Premier since 2014 and won the recent election in Tasmania. So, Mr Hodgman’s claim to fame, among many claims to fame, is that, I think, he’s the.., only the second Liberal Leader to lead the party into a second period of majority Government, ‘cause under the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania that’s not an easy task for a Liberal Leader. But he achieved it, and Premier since 2014 and won the last election. And tonight, Mr Hodgman, the Honourable Will Hodgman’s going to speak for us on Tasmania, the turnaround state, how Australia’s smallest state has turned around and now has the fastest-growing economy in the country. Mr Hodgman, you’re very welcome. (applause)HODGMAN Thank you. Evening, everyone.
Recently, I had to tell the Prime Minister to get his facts straight, because Tasmania is not the turnaround state, as he often describes us. We’ve in fact long since turned the corner and are powering ahead at quite a pace, and I’m delighted to be here with the Sydney Institute this evening to tell you all about how we’ve done it. So, a great thank you to Gerard Dwan and to the Institute for your interest in our island state and also the important function that the Institute plays in discussing the affairs of our Federation. And in no small part, the feat of our smallest state having a big spring in its step is something that I’m delighted to talk with you about this evening.
But first, I have to take you back to around 2014, and back then Tasmania had stalled. It was said in national newspapers that we were a mendicant basket case, in more trouble than Greece, ranked dead last in the economic rankings. And to make matters worse, by early 2014, I’d been the Leader of the Opposition for eight years. That’s quite an apprenticeship. It might have been shorter, having won the election before in 2010, where at least we won more of the popular vote, but Hare-Clark delivered a dead heat with 10 Liberal, 10 Labor and five Greens. There was a constitutional deadlock.
We, the Liberal Party, were unwilling to form a Minority Government for two important reasons. Firstly, Minority Governments had been bad for Tasmania, and I’d promised repeatedly that whatever happened, I would do no deals with any party, the Greens or any other party, to form Government. And that was the second important reason, doing what we promised. Doing what we promised Tasmanians was very important. Labor had made the same promise, but they broke it. We kept it, and so began the term of the 47th Parliament and the Labor-Green Coalition Government, and another four years in Opposition for me and my team.
I’ve always said that was a big call, and perhaps at some personal cost, but it’s one I’d make again, because, as I say, Minority Governments have been bad for Tasmania.
And during the term of this particular one, 10,000 jobs were lost in our state, the budget was wrecked, our population declined as people sought opportunities elsewhere, business confidence levels were the lowest in the country and a survey of those businesses that were left found that two thirds of them thought the Government’s policies were actually working against them, and a Deloitte Access Economics report concluded Tasmania is in trouble.
It was during those years in Opposition that my team and I worked very hard alongside business and industry and the community sector to build a strong team with a strong policy platform for change that we’d take to the people of Tasmania in the election of 2014. And it is important to note that our team was strong.
We’d also made a promise and sworn to stick together, to determinately avoid the familiar fate of political parties, turning one each other, worrying more about themselves and not on the people that really matter, the Tasmanians who elected them. So, we swore that that would not be us and that we’d shelve any political ambitions or factional battles and ignore the commentary of our political opponents or the media wanting for some internal political turmoil at never happened.
We proved to Tasmanians that we could be trusted to focus on the things that mattered to them, as we could run ourselves, we could run the state. And by March 2014 we were ready, and at that 2014 election we secured the trust of the Tasmanian public. And it was a result unparalleled in its scale for our state, the largest majority for any Government since the 25-Member Parliament was established back in 1998, the first time that any party had gained four seats out of five in a single electorate, in Braddon, in this Parliamentary system. We received 51.2% of the primary vote, which was more than the previous landslides in New South Wales and Queensland. And it was quite a day.
But early, too early, on the morning of Sunday 16th March, the day after the election, I, with my Deputy and the state’s new Treasurer got straight down to work. I wanted to demonstrate that we were hitting the ground running on Day One, delivering the plan that we’d prepared in Opposition and to declare that Tasmania was officially open for business.
We had been through some tough times as a state, but it was a new dawn and the days of uncertainty and instability under a Minority Government were behind us. And it was always our first priority to stimulate the economy and to restore confidence, because we, my Government and my political party, firmly believe in the power of business and enterprise to deliver the brighter future that we’d promised Tasmanians. It is the way to build a more prosperous community and a state
So, for instance, we immediately abolished developer charges, which had deterred investment, and also attracted new investment and developers to our state.
We stared a process of reforming our planning system to make it simpler and faster to facilitate more development across the state and to deliver a single statewide planning scheme. At that time, there were 29 of them in Tasmania, confusing, complicating and impeding development.
We extended payroll tax relief on our way to delivering the most competitive payroll tax regime in the country during our first term in office to encourage businesses to take on more staff.
We changed the rules to favour Tasmanian businesses competing for Government work, standing beside our business to give them confidence and create more jobs, and we actively fought hard to save and keep jobs in Tasmania.
Qantas was then consolidating its call centres across the country, putting at risk hundreds of jobs in the Hobart Call Centre. Seven years earlier, the Myer store in Hobart had burned down and not been rebuilt, leaving a huge hole in the heart of the CBD that for years symbolised lack of progress and even hope. So I got on the phone, as a brand new Premier, to Alan Joyce and to Bernie Brooks and asked what do we need to do to keep you here. We won the bid for Qantas to establish their call centre in Hobart and helped start the building of a big brand new Myer store that is now part of a much more vibrant CBD in the state with the strongest retail trade in the country. And this helped restore confidence for people to see progress and to turn around what had seemed intractable previously.
Amongst a number of other important changes we made, without doubt the most important of them all was to commence what will be long-term generational reform and to lift what were for far too long the worst education results in the country. Because, believe it or not, in 2014 in Tasmania, all our Tasmanian high schools did not offer Years 11 and 12 for Tasmanian students, the only state in the country with a fractured system where so many Tasmanian students were failed and who simply dropped out of their education at Year 10, thinking that their schooling had finished, without making the change to attend one of our colleges.
And, combined with a later starting age for our youngest students, which we’re also remedying, and a premature exit, I was told then that many Tasmanian students were leaving schools with almost as much as two years less education than their counterparts in other states. Is it little wonder Tasmania’s education system was lagging the rest of the country.
So, from Day One we also commenced this long-term plan to improve the prospects of young Tasmanians and the productivity of our state by extending all our high schools to offer Years 11 and 12, and since then we’ve increased access to education for young Tasmanians from disadvantaged communities. It will be a long process to turn this around, but I’m extremely proud of the fact that in our time in Government, our school retention rates and our Certificate of Education attainment levels have increased by 10%.
I mean, I think of the young Tasmanians that make up that 10% and the many more who benefit from our policy change in the years to come. I’ve no doubt it will be the most profound contributor to our turnaround.
We started reforming a disjointed health system, building a new Royal Hobart Hospital, our state’s primary hospital, that had been talked about for a decade and nothing had happened.
We launched what is still a bold, and not without some controversy, policy to invite ideas from private investors and developers and tourism operators to expand the range of exciting and unique experiences that we have on offer in our wilderness areas. Our World Heritage Area and National Parks, one of Tasmania’s greatest and most precious assets, but to establish Tasmania as a truly world-class ecotourism destination where now 40% of tourists to our state come to visit our amazing wilderness areas.
And as Minister for Tourism from Day One, my Government has backed this sector like none other to transform our visitor economy to be the best in the country, supporting more jobs per capita of any state in the country.
Tourism, our events, our festivals, the arts have indeed been a huge part of Tasmania’s renaissance, and I can’t pay sufficient enough tribute to the excellent Tasmanian businesses that are the force behind the surge in Tasmania being the nation’s premiere destination. And Tasmania and its tourism industry supports 17% of our workforce, more than any other state.
We are a Government that strongly supports this important part of our economy, and it has fuelled our economic resurgence. Also building confidence, and Tasmanians who now see with pride that our place is somewhere where more people want to be. And we’ve also done all we can, and we’ll continue, as is our mission, to ensure that we continue to provide the best business environment, so that our businesses can continue to prosper.
Fixing the budget was the other essential and still is a non-negotiable for my Government to make sure that our budget is in good shape. We deferred delivering or first budget, so that we could make it our own and not simply adopt one from the former Government just voted out of office.
It also allowed us to understand the true extent of the budget risks we faced as a new Government, and it was a mess. We inherited deficits of $1.1 billion, the previous Government spending way beyond what the state could afford, and we had to stop the bleeding. That meant making some decisions that were politically unpopular, reducing public service numbers, ceasing some Government programs.
We, of course, were also determined to deliver all we promised in the election campaign, but be a Government that lived within its means, not spending more than we earned and, I would suggest, another critical essential character trait of a good Liberal Government, certainly one of mine.
And this year, despite inheriting those successive budget deficits, we’ve delivered budget surpluses for four years in a row, and we’ll continue to do so over the Forward Estimates, and this in itself supports a more confident business community. But, more importantly, our ability to invest in the services that Tasmanians need, and there’s still a lot more work to be done in that regard, but also the infrastructure that our growing state needs require a budget in good shape.
So, today, as we’re approaching the halfway mark of that second term in Government, Tasmania is without doubt in good shape. We have one of, if not the best, performing economies of any state in the country, across any measure, although Gladys, I know, would argue with me on that.
But I’d like you to consider this: Tasmania's state final demand, the fastest rate of growth of any state. It’s the first time that’s happened in over 15 years.
We’ve tripled the rate of growth in New South Wales, and that’s the first time we’ve done that in a quarter of a century.
Gross state product has risen on a per capita basis the fastest rate in the country, private investment the fastest growth rate in the country at 7%, retail trade the highest growth rate in the country.
Housing approvals and finance are up. We’re the only state in the country where that’s occurred.
The fastest growing rate of building work completed, while all the other states have in fact declined.
Engineering construction’s up, the strongest rate in the country.
Tourists are up, importantly spending more than ever before.
Our farmers are ranked the most confident in the country.
Our population has been growing at its highest rate in 30 years.
And, most importantly, there’s more work for Tasmanian with business confidence levels the highest now in the country and business conditions ranked the best. There are now 1,600 more businesses operating in our state than when we first took office back in 2014. And they’re investing, and they’re employing more. There are 15,000 more Tasmanians employed than when we came into Government.
So, our economy’s stronger, Tasmania’s a much more confident place to be, especially for our businesses, and our challenge as a Government’s to keep it that way and to make sure we do continue to provide the best environment in the country, because it’s that which has driven the turnaround of our state, it’s that which drives the economic success I’ve outlined. It’s not done by business, it’s done by our business community. It is them who we must thank for Tasmania’s turnaround.
But it’s not just economically where Tasmania’s excelling. It’s also socially, culturally and environmentally.
Tasmania’s been awarded the world’s best museum, hotels, bushwalks, bike rides, festivals, farmers of the year, whiskeys, wines, honeys and cheeses. Each year we win more tourism awards at the national level than any other state. Tasmania is now more culturally confident and much more self-assured, as you can probably see.
We’re the first state in the country and one of few in the world to establish a statutory place-based branding authority, making the most of our important brand and reflecting it to the rest of the world to ensure that we continue to stand out and compete strongly in the marketplace. And we are protecting uniquely Tasmanian brand values and attributes that enhance all that Tasmania now is.
We have chosen to be the only state that is GMO-free, further enhancing our brand and giving a great marketing advantage to our exporters who use that to access premium markets across the world.
We’re leading the nation in renewable energy generation. We’re on track to be 100% renewable self-sufficient by 2022. That in itself is a remarkable brand attribute that supports our businesses and their products. We were in fact the first state to reach zero net emissions in 2016. We are one of the lowest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet. We’ve got the cleanest air in the world. We’ve got what are ranked amongst the best renewable energy zones in the country. We’ve got abundant waterways and hydro storages that are propelling nation-building infrastructure that will establish Tasmania as the renewable energy powerhouse of the country and give the rest of the nation what it wants, good, cheap, clean energy.
And not only will we be able to do that, we’ll also have a most valuable commodity for Tasmania to export into that unstable national market that desperately wants what we’ve got, and it’s estimated that that project which we’re working very closely with the Morrison Government to deliver, will inject about $6.5 billion into Tasmania’s economy and create around 2,400 jobs.
All of this can only be done by working together with our Coalition Government, and that’s another reason for our state’s turnaround, working cooperatively with our national Government to deliver major projects and to work in unison, as people would expect us to do.
So, while our state’s economy remains strong and in many respects is bucking a national trend, we do need to take action to ensure that we mitigate against any slowdowns. So, there will be savings, are savings measures in our budget to ensure we live within our means.
That’s why we are aggressively pursuing a major infrastructure, intergenerational infrastructure investment across our state, $3.6 billion, which in Tasmanian terms is the largest of its type ever and, in fact, in my term, or our term of Government, we’ve increased our investment in infrastructure not only to support our state and the growing demands that its infrastructure needs, but in turn to create more jobs.
In so doing, it is estimated that our infrastructure program in this year’s budget will create 10,000 more jobs in our state. So, it’s designed to continue the momentum to stimulate our economy and to create more jobs.
All of this can only be done with a strong economy and a good budget, and it’s the means by which we do it in a growing state.
There are now more Tasmanians than ever before, because in another record pace, our population has been growing at its highest rate in 30 years, four times higher than the year we took office. In fact, back under the former Government, nearly 3,000 Tasmanians left the state, looking for opportunities elsewhere.
We had the oldest population, the second growth population rates, you know, in the country, and 19,000 more people have since then chosen to make Tasmania their home, with more reasons to stay than to leave. And I’m especially proud of that. It’s always been our mission and our vision to be a Tasmania of more opportunity, where every child can grow up safe, with a good education and more reasons to stay than to leave, a bright future in their home state.
So, I’m very proud to talk to you about Tasmania. We’ve made some good progress. I always remind myself and our team that there’s a lot more to do. There are more things we need to do to make sure that all Tasmanians are enjoying, sharing the benefits of a strong economy. We’re some way off that.
We’re always a Government too that recognises that the best way to achieve success and prosperity is by working with the non-government sector. We’re always actively and innovatively looking at ways to do that.
We take none of this for granted. There’s always more to do, but our success, as I say, is attributable more to those outside of Government who are propelling this rate of growth which is unprecedented.
We’re a Government that doesn’t pick winners, but we certainly back them, and now are more strategically investing in those competitive strengths where Tasmania stands alone and there’s a higher value, a premium, on what we do.
Tourism, agriculture, aquaculture, our connections with Antarctica and the Southern Oceans. Tasmania is a research hub for excellence in that, and energy. In advanced manufacturing, our
brand is so important to us, as I’ve said, and providing good, stable Government for Tasmanians is also important.
It’s one thing that we are able to do, provide that stability that’s so often sought after in the political environment and not that common these days, is something that my team and I have committed to from Day One, and we’re quite happy to be described as solid, stable, dependable, even boring. But that’s our preference, if it means we can give Tasmanians the confidence that we back them and their businesses to be the very best that they can.
So, thank you or the opportunity to speak a little about my most favourite subject (laughter) and I enjoy the opportunity to do so, but will also enjoy taking questions.
Thank you. (applause)