When preparing my contribution on this year’s budget I looked back on my contribution from last year and, unsurprisingly, I could almost read it word for word and it would still be relevant. This is a traditional Labor budget. It focuses on the city. It looks after Labor’s mates. It treats the taxpayer like a bottomless pit of cash to boost its revenues, and it increases state debts. Last year I spoke about the budget failing to take any real advantage of the enormous opportunity regional Victoria offers, particularly my electorate of South-West Coast, where there is opportunity for growth — opportunity to bolster the state’s economy through increased productivity, not through increased taxes.
Well, the 2018–19 budget has done the same. It has squandered the extraordinary opportunity, because Labor is relying on unsustainable population growth in Melbourne and has absolutely no plan for decentralisation or for regional growth. The Great South Coast region is the most productive in the state — the Australian Bureau of Statistics data proves it. We punch well above our weight in terms of agricultural production, yet the government has failed to support anything to help that grow. In fact, the Great South Coast Food and Fibre Council is still waiting for money allocated to them in the last budget, and when the committee questions it they are given all sorts of excuses. But the reality is, this is typical of the
process, bureaucracy and failure of this government to just deliver.
On decentralisation, we know that if we want people to move to the regions, we need to provide them with good schools, good health care, good recreational facilities and efficient transport links for road and rail in particular. We also need to provide industry with opportunities to grow. Instead we see increased taxes that will not only discourage people from setting up businesses in the South-West Coast, but will discourage them from setting up in Victoria. Over four years Premier Andrews and Labor have added 12 new taxes and increased charges — new taxes like the vacant home tax, annual property valuations, the Uber and taxi tax, the city access tax and the increased royalties on brown coal, to name a few — 12 new taxes, 12 broken promises, even though he said he would not increase or deliver any new taxes. That was a lie. Then of course there are the proposed increases to the fire services property levy that we will see from next year — of course, after the election — to pay for the sweetheart deals made with the United Firefighters Union, whatever that may entail, but we can be assured it will be exorbitant because the unions are involved.
Those on that side will now cry they cut payroll tax for regional businesses, but it is a paltry amount and a paltry attempt. There is so much more that could be done. Rather than a reward system, they are offering businesses no reward. They are not offering carrots to move to the region. Premier Andrews has made Victoria the most taxed state in Australia — a punishment system. There is not one dollar in the budget for the Warrnambool Base Hospital refurbishment — not one single dollar to upgrade the emergency department or to expand the operating theatres. The week before the budget was handed down health data showed that patients at Warrnambool wait the longest for elective surgery. The emergency department, built in the 1990s, was designed to handle 15 000 patients per year, but last year there were more than 25 000 presentations to the department.
How can we expect to continue to attract the wonderful health professionals that we actually do have in our part of the world if we do not have the facilities to be able to facilitate their needs? I know two general surgeons that are about to retire in Warrnambool in the next couple of years. I do not understand how we think we can attract general surgeons, which are very needed, to facilities where they probably will not be able to be guaranteed theatre time. It is not going to work. We have got the job done, the master plan is done, the feasibility study is done and we are ready to build. It is time for this government to do it. My community is bitterly disappointed there was no funding to get the hospital upgraded. The Labor government has had four years to get on with this job and match the Liberal Party’s commitment to do what needs to be done, to do the job of governing.
Instead they put their mate in the upper house, Mr Purcell in the other place, in charge of a committee and gave him $7.5 million to get the project ready for inclusion in the state budget. In other words, they delayed. Labor have neglected to fund this project, but Mr Purcell in the other place shares the blame for this neglect. He was the chair of the committee; he was the man charged with securing funding. He failed, and it is the people of South-West Coast that will continue to wait for treatment. Mr Purcell’s excuse is that the planning is not complete. How does he explain Ballarat Base Hospital receiving full funding when planning for that hospital is nowhere near as advanced as Warrnambool? The Member for Buninyong said in this house in the last sitting week:
… this massive announcement of funding will see them being able to complete their master plan knowing that everything they put in their master plan can be reliably funded into the future.
Well, our master plan is complete. So is our feasibility study, responsibly done. Why does Ballarat Base Hospital not have to wait until its planning is completed? Why is it that this hospital is given special treatment? Why are the people of South-West Coast continually being told they have to wait, when other projects are given full funding straight up? James Purcell, Premier Andrews and the newly minted Labor candidate for South-West Coast, Kylie Gaston, must answer these questions.
In an email sent to me the day prior to the budget being delivered, Mr Purcell said that the cost of this project was likely to blow out by $50 million. So once again we see a key project that this government is running blowing out. But it still remains unclear if we will get anything extra for that $50 million, or if it will be like the level crossing removals or the Metro tunnel project — an extra cost but the same number of crossings removed and the same length of tunnel. I am not aware of what this extra cost will involve because Mr Purcell has failed to set up the promised briefing on the project. But I do know there has been plenty of planning done — a masterplan was completed and forecasts and projections completed, and responsibly so. The only thing that needed to be done was the public consultation. Mr Purcell and Labor have done nothing but delay. Perhaps it is time for Mr Purcell to release publicly the work his committee has done so we can get some idea of why this project has failed to progress.
Mr Purcell also has some questions to answer about his failure to secure funding for the Reid Oval upgrade in Warrnambool — another project he was telling everyone who would listen he could get funding for. Reid Oval is supposed to be the region’s premier sporting ground, but if anyone has seen the facilities, they would agree it is not the case. Bendigo certainly pointed that out at the interleague game just last Saturday, as seen publicly in today’s paper. Change rooms built in the 1970s, inadequate match-day facilities to accommodate media and fans, a substandard playing surface and a lack of lighting are keeping the oval in the dark ages. The facilities also pose an OH&S risk. The timekeeper’s box is accessed by a ladder and a hatch in the floor. If someone was to have a medical episode up there, it would be near impossible for medical professionals to remove the person safely and in a quick fashion. The Liberal-Nationals got the project started, funding a new scoreboard, a female change room and upgrades to the netball courts. It is unfortunate though that Labor and James Purcell have not continued it. But then again it is not hard to see why this oval and the lighting upgrade at Hanlon Park in Portland were forgotten. I mean, they are not AFL-owned. They do not get handouts.
What an absolute insult for local clubs in my electorate, which mostly run on volunteer labour — volunteers who we are celebrating this week and who do an enormous amount of work right across the electorate in all areas, and volunteers who run our sporting clubs. They raise funds through fundraising, and then they are told that to upgrade their facilities they can apply for a loan that bears interest, while at the same time the AFL, a non-taxpaying organisation, gets a handout to upgrade its own facilities and a sweetheart deal to build a new headquarters. How anyone on that side of the house thinks this is okay is beyond me. They really have forgotten the little guys. As someone commented on my social media pages, ‘If you do not invest in the grassroots, there will be no-one to play in the flash big stadiums in the future’.
I do note, however, that there are some unspecified buckets of cash in the budget for projects just like this, obviously put aside to tie these important projects to an election. I have no doubt, now that a Labor candidate has finally been announced for South West Coast, that there will be a lot of ministers flying in to make these pledges. But the damage is done. Mr Purcell has been very active in telling people he will get them funding in the budget. The community is now bitterly disappointed and is seeing straight through Labor’s games. The people of South West Coast will not be hoodwinked; they know when they are being dudded.
If these promises do come during the election campaign, how can the people of South West Coast believe they will be delivered? James Purcell, with help from his mates on that side of the house, has been running around over the past four years saying, ‘I’ll get you this’ and ‘I’ll get you that’, but nothing has happened. The government has not delivered, so what will make it any different after the election? It just keeps moving the goalposts further out of reach.
On education funding, I see that the money for the Warrnambool Special Development School was included in the budget. Work is already underway on this project because my community and I shamed the government into action. I was proud to stand with the member for Kew in December last year and announce that if a Liberal government is elected, the school will be immediately funded. Obviously not wanting to look foolish, Labor fast-tracked the money almost instantly. I have no doubt that had I and my community not been so vocal nothing would have happened until now and work would not have started on the new school as it has.
There was some more money for school maintenance in this year’s budget, which I am sure the principals are happy with. I am disappointed to hear though that schools in my electorate that received money in last year’s budget are still working through the process. They are being told to put larger than normal contingencies in their budgets because of the price of tenders. This may explain why there is around $4 million in expenditure remaining for the Warrnambool Special Development School. Why can’t that $4 million be used for an undercover outdoor areas or playground? They were not included in the plans but they are very important for children with special needs and often compromised chests That sort of area is very, very important for coping with our winter weather.
Rather than just accepting cost blowouts, Labor should be demanding this money be spent wisely and effectively, not just accepting exorbitant pricing and telling schools to make do. Last year one school was given $2.6 million for improvements. They needed to replace the windows from wood to aluminium. They also needed to modernise the school and get the asbestos removed. They are being told, ‘Don’t expect the windows to be done; they are not able to be done’. They are asking, ‘Can we at least be able to open a window of one classroom?’. That is disgusting. But as the process goes on they have had to alter their expectations.
There was so little in this budget to deal with the recycling crisis which is gripping the state other than giving handouts to councils, which actually does nothing to address the problem in the long term. It is a bandaid solution. I would have loved to see money for the industry to develop a waste to energy plant in our region, or grants for local companies to improve their equipment and processes so waste can be value-added and used here rather than being sent overseas. Councils are increasing the cost of their collection services, pushing up household bills and the cost of living because of this government and its inaction on this critical issue. The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change has handed out some cash and washed her hands of the problem. She will blame councils, she will blame the collection companies, she will blame anyone, but the fact is that her government has washed its hands of this. The cost of living is growing, and it is their fault.
There was also no money for the Lookout drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation centre, a much-needed service to fill a gaping hole in service delivery in the south-west. This is a project I am deeply passionate about, and I will continue to advocate strongly on this. It is too important to ignore, and I know the Minister for Mental Health recognises that, so I will continue talking to him until that money is announced.
I refer now to roads, because they are a key issue for my electorate. Granted the government is spending money, but when you break down the package you see the amount actually being spent on roads is a paltry 1.4 per cent increase on last year, hardly enough to cover CPI and the increased costs of materials. A good chunk of the package is being spent on setting up a new bureaucracy, which will apparently bring about more effective repairs for rural and regional roads. We have seen how this government is the fat cat’s friend, so it is my fear that this body will just become another level of bureaucracy, swallowing up money for road repairs to cover wages.
There is around $200 million to continue the rollout of wire rope barriers. This is money that needs to be spent actually fixing the roads first. Why rope people in when you have not even got a decent road to drive on? It is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with the concept, but fix the roads first, and do not rope us in.
I also want some assurances that these repairs will last longer than a few weeks, that there will be checks and balances put in place and some sort of plan. That is one of the biggest failings in road repairs, and it is time the minister and the government realised that. But of course this government is so accepting of cost blowouts on all its projects, because they can spin it to say that they are spending record amounts on infrastructure, despite getting nothing extra to show for it. This is a typical Labor budget just as we have seen for the past four years.