APPROPRIATION (2019-2020) BILL 2019.
Tuesday, 28 May 2019.
Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (14:43):
The Premier claims this budget ‘strikes the right balance’, and the Treasurer claims his budget is ‘fair’. Laughably, the budget has been slapped with cheap slogan wrap claiming it delivers for all Victorians. Well, Victorians will work out the truth; they will not be fooled by this government’s ridiculous spin. And my electorate has already worked out that it has been ignored again.
I say to this Parliament and to Victoria: this is a budget that has no puff. And this is a budget of envy—a budget that strikes at the heart of Australia’s egalitarian nature. This is a budget moulded in Bill Shorten’s image and values—values rejected by the Australian community only two weeks ago at the federal election. Make no mistake: the federal election was a turning point for our nation. Australians delivered a profound message. This budget shows that the state government has ignored that message. Few elections have so clearly tested the essence of our two major parties. At the federal election Labor stood on a policy platform true to their socialist roots. Their policy agenda, like this budget, was envy based.
By contrast, the federal Liberal Party was returned on an egalitarian policy agenda, on a belief that hard work should be rewarded, a belief that when you have a go, you will get a go. Australians rightly rejected Labor’s approach, and yet this state government has released a budget that has cooked in that failed ideology. This budget proves that the state government is cut from the same cloth as its federal comrades.
Victorians deserve governments that are fiscally responsible, who manage their money fairly and well, because governments should apportion funds based on need and take seriously their responsibility to keep the economy strong as well as ensuring that a strong economy delivers community benefit. Governments can do that through the policy levers they control. Done right, those levers will stimulate growth. Done wrong, those levers will undermine it. This budget shows the government intends to pull the wrong policy levers. This government’s policy approach is simplistic and lazy: spend more, borrow more, tax more. Victoria is the highest taxed state in Australia. Since it was elected, the government has introduced or increased taxes 20 times. This budget alone increases tax revenue by a further $832 million. Taxes are now up by 36 per cent. This has returned an additional $24.4 billion. Debt has increased by $35 billion—from $20billion to $54.9 billion. The increase in debt is equivalent to $14,000 for every Victorian household. Land taxes are up by 109 per cent. Payroll taxes are up by 27 per cent. Public sector wages have blown out by 42 per cent. And yet, laughably, the government claim to be prudent financial managers. Bizarrely, the Treasurer appeared to contend in question time today that it would be economically irresponsible not to increase taxes.
Ms Addison interjected.
The SPEAKER: The member for Wendouree!
Treasurer, prudent financial managers do not overspend. Nor is it particularly clever to fill the overspending gap with borrowings and increased taxes, especially when that budgetary tactic lacks a defined strategic approach.
This week the New Zealand government will release their budget. That government has announced structural budgetary reform. Though I am not advocating on behalf of the detail of that reform, the New Zealand government has flagged a number of systematic changes that are worth recognising. Last week the New Zealand finance minister stated his belief that there are two weaknesses in the budget process: firstly, that governments do not take a whole-of-government approach to developing policy and, secondly, that budgetary decisions are arbitrary. To counter that, the New Zealand budget will set five priorities and any new spending measure must advocate one of those policy criteria. The approach is aimed at forcing government agencies to work together.
Yet again this budget is built on windfall gains through privatisation, increased GST revenue and increased property tax revenue. The property taxes add insult to injury to the existing structural unfairness. Despite a slowing property market, this year’s land tax bills arrived based on property evaluations made in early 2018. It is fundamentally unfair that property taxes, which hold up the budget, are based on above current market values. Another unprincipled element of the budget is the vacant residential land tax. As I have previously raised, one of the most short-sighted effects of the tax is that it does not account for diplomats and defence workers who travel overseas to represent our state or our country. Why should this government expect Australian families representing our country to choose between selling their family homes or incurring a heavy tax punishment for their service? Having found that the previous property tax measures are not enough to fill their ever-increasing spending shortfall, this budget has increased further punitive class-motivated measures aimed at, as the Treasurer says, those who can ‘afford to pay’. That type of language exposes the cheapness of the Treasurer’s politics.
These new measures have been introduced at a time when the Victorian executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Cressida Wall, has warned that, ‘The state government would be foolish to further attack the property industry’. The chief executive officer of Real Estate Institute Victoria said ‘The reliance on property taxes is of great concern’ and also that the government ‘can’t keep dipping into the same revenue pot’. Whilst stomping on the property industry, the Treasury yesterday claimed that he could see ‘green shoots’ in the property sector. Well, Treasurer, we all know through this budget that you are pouring Roundup on those green shoots.
What is also so offensive about the new measures is that they breach Australia’s egalitarian ethos; they are discriminatory. So too is the government’s dental policy for school children. Now before I make my comments about the dental policy, I would like to give the member for Albert Park, who has shown an odd and ongoing fixation with me, an opportunity to pick up his HB pencil and prepare for his next fanciful and frankly simple parliamentary contribution. I come from a family of dentists. My father was president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association and my grandfather was president of the World Dental Federation. In fact my grandfather pioneered the introduction of fluoride in Victoria in 1977. Fluoridation arguably led to the greatest reduction in dental decay in this state. My family has made a significant contribution to public dental health and their contribution recognised the importance of broad-based policy implementation.
By contrast, the government’s dental policy is discriminatory. The government has effectively said that children’s oral health is less important to children who attend Catholic or independent schools. One-third of children attend a Catholic or independent school; in fact roughly 45 per cent of senior schoolchildren who have their adult teeth attend a Catholic or independent school. In many regional parts of this state the majority of kids go to a Catholic school. Why does this government believe those children are less worthy? All members on both sides of the chamber should stand up for the almost 450,000 children ignored by this policy. It is not just me that has seen the flaws in this policy. The president of the peak dental body, Dr Kevin Morris, said yesterday:
This money could be better spent providing treatment to children and adults in existing clinics in both the public and private sector
Willingly ignoring parts of our community is a hallmark of this government—a government that has repeatedly turned its back on my own community—and I turn to those issues. My community knows that our local services and infrastructure are out of date. On my election I committed to being a voice for the forgotten needs of my community, a voice speaking on behalf of the quiet people in my community. Even though taxpayers’ funds should be invested based on need, we know this government has made investments based on political advantage. I recently heard a marginal member on the other side of the chamber exclaim that for him and his electorate budget day is like Christmas. Well, of course it is, because this government uses the budget to pork-barrel shamelessly. In fact a school leadership figure in that electorate recently joked with me that the local schools are trying to think of creative ways to take up the money they do not desperately need because the government continues to offer them blank cheques.
Yet the neediest causes in my community have been willingly ignored. On 15 April 83-year-old Hampton grandmother Gloria Holmes took her dog for a walk. It was her regular walk, a walk that her neighbours had seen her walk many times before. Tragically, as Gloria crossed over the rail line in Hampton, she was struck by a train. The most devastating aspect of the tragedy is that my community has called for safety improvements at that rail crossing where she was struck for years. In fact in April 2017 Public Transport Victoria stated that the crossing:
… has been identified as a higher risk crossing, and is therefore one of the nine high risk pedestrian crossings planned to be upgraded during 2017/2018.
Despite that promise, the crossing was not updated. When the agitated community contacted Public Transport Victoria demanding to know why the works had been delayed, they stated, two weeks before the last state election, that:
A sudden change in the risk profile of certain level crossings in Victoria required that other crossings be prioritised.
A sudden change in the risk profile weeks before an election? Since then a departmental source has advised that the then minister’s office was involved in the decision to deprioritise safety improvements at the Hampton crossing. Let me say that again: I was advised that the minister’s office was involved in deprioritising that crossing.
Sadly there are also other safety concerns that have been ignored in my community. For example, the Elwood community needs a proper pedestrian crossing on Glen Huntly Road to service two schools and a kindergarten. The crossing will help keep Elwood children safe. VicRoads crash data reportedly shows that in the last five years there have been 17 incidents along the Glen Huntly Road in the strip near Elwood Primary School. Eight of those incidents have resulted in an injury. Rather than invest in this much-needed infrastructure, the government is committed to installing a speed sign up the road—a speed sign, that’s right—and in the wrong spot. In Brighton there are similar safety concerns at the Dendy Village shopping strip on Hampton Street. Sadly there was a death at that site too: 92-year old grandfather Captain Hector Pirie was tragically killed while crossing the road at the village on his motorised scooter.
My community’s safety infrastructure needs have fallen on the deaf ears of this government, and so too are the needs of my local schools. As members, we know that schools are the hubs of our local area. They service local children, families and the wider community. They are often the creative performing arts and sporting hubs. My local schools are exceptional but some of their infrastructure needs are dire. In one primary school the grade 2 classroom roof is being held up by planks of wood that have been bolted into the ceiling and the roof of another main building leaks each winter. During the last leak one of the classrooms was flooded and was not safe for use. I have been advised that the department will not commit to replacing the faulty roof and may develop a five-year plan to consider it—a five-year plan! So we wait every winter for that repair. In the same building there is a crack so great in one of the walls that you can stand and watch the trees swaying in the breeze on the outside of the building. At another primary school when you walk into one of their demountables you do not see positive learning posters on the walls; you see warning signs around the classrooms urgently reminding you and the children not to disturb the asbestos. In a building of that same school the floor is collapsing with termite damage and the window frames are rotting. None of these urgent needs have been addressed in this budget.
My community are future thinkers, as too are the leadership figures in my local schools. With projected growth in parts of my community, a number of schools have developed proposals to cater for the future needs of children and the community. Brighton Beach Primary School has a plan to convert a central room into a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics teaching space. Elwood College has a vision to rebuild their existing theatre and gymnasium as a sports, recreation and arts hub. Hampton Primary School, which has doubled in size over the last decade, has developed a plan to build a multipurpose netball facility that can serve as a sporting hub, a school meeting place and a community facility. Brighton Secondary College has a vision to build a performing arts centre, which would service the school and the broader Bayside community, and Gardenvale Primary School has prioritised installing a covered meeting space so the school can actually assemble together, as well as creating a new, modern and accessible arts space.
But it is not only the more expansive plans that have been ignored in this budget; it is the simple ones too. A number of schools, including Brighton Secondary College, Brighton Beach Primary School and Hampton Primary School, have requested a flag pole to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags at their schools. As they are on busy main roads, they have asked to do that proudly. As two young students recently wrote to me, ‘We wanted to include the Torres Strait Islander flag at our school to show that we are inclusive of all Australians and their cultures’. These two young girls then asked me who they should write to, to get a flagpole. Well, I have written to the minister and have been denied a flagpole at that school and all of the other schools that I have mentioned. Sadly, the government denied those children that simple request.
This budget has failed at delivering for all Victorians. It is a budget that spends, a budget that borrows and a budget that taxes. It is a budget that has simply forgotten that my community exists, except when targeting it with punitive and discriminatory taxes, and most importantly it is a budget of envy.