Reply to the 2020/21 State Budget

I rise to deliver my budget reply, and I will begin by saying we have got some good news finally. After six long years of advocating to the government the importance of South West Healthcare to the region, we have $384 million to complete the second stage of the hospital, so it is fantastic news.

I joined the CEO in a Zoom meeting the other night to pay tribute to all the people who had contributed to the advocacy and the hard work to get the project in front of the government so that we could stand here today and be thanking those people in the community who worked so hard. It was great to be recognised too by the local CEO, Craig Fraser, for the work that I did advocating for the hospital. Obviously it is a very important project for me, having trained in that hospital, having worked in that hospital and having a deep understanding of how the staff in accident and emergency particularly and also theatre have been putting up with some pretty cramped and difficult environments to deliver the fantastic results that they do under those circumstances.

Congratulations to the whole team at South West Healthcare. Your hard work and your persistence has paid off. There will be some challenging times over the next couple of years or so whilst the works take place. I remember being part of that when the intensive care was revamped at Warrnambool actually, and it is a challenging time. It is very good news for the Warrnambool community but also for the entire south-west, because this is the facility that needs to be the base—that is why it is called the base hospital—so that we can have decent health care for the whole of the region.

Whilst it was terrific to have such good news, I was surprised to see that with the borrowings of $155 billion, which I completely understand given we need to kickstart the economy, we did not have increased budget in the road sector.

As the Shadow Minister for Rural Roads, I know that I have brought up in this place—just like I did with the hospital—the importance of the regions having a modern transport network that actually meets the demands of the communities who service Victoria with the goods that they produce and take down to the ports of Melbourne, Portland and Geelong to export. These roads are just not up to that standard. When we see in the budget a similar amount towards just maintenance of the roads like we saw last year, it is quite disappointing, because as Infrastructure Victoria, who released their report again today, said in their last report, investing in regional roads is a way to actually make sure we get good results for jobs in the local economies. It is imperative.

The community of South-West Coast and the communities of regional Victoria right across the state will be very shocked to see that this opportunity was missed, because we all know that regional roads are in a very poor state. We want to see our families getting home safely, and we want to see our kids on the school bus getting to school without the bus drivers being frightened of the task they have at hand, which is what I get reported to me quite a bit nowadays.

Princes Highway west in my part of the world is a project that we were really sure would be in this budget, because the federal government has given half the money and said, ‘Just match it, or just give a contribution, and let’s get on with getting that Princes Highway west done’.

It is an absolute need, not want, and unfortunately there was nothing in that. But I hope the government will reconsider—there is some money that they have available to them within the budget that is not allocated—some of those projects.

I hope they do come out to the regions. With the hospital, I brought the shadow minister out, Georgie Crozier, and prior to her the shadow minister, Mary Wooldridge. We did not see Labor come out with such enthusiasm. We did eventually see the last Labor minister, Jenny Mikakos, come out in the 12 months prior to announcing the hospital, and prior to that the previous health minister took a couple of years to come out to the regions. And it is the same with the Minister for Roads and Road Safety: it would be great if he could get out into the regions.

You know, come out to South-West Coast, come out to the border communities like Nelson, who have really missed out in this budget and who are asking for some respect for the fact that they need their roads invested in, because the further away you get from Melbourne, it is quite a fact that you hit the poorest roads, and when you hit the border with South Australia—beautiful roads. So there is something going on, and I think if perhaps the minister could come to visit and have an experience he will find out for himself that this is not a want, this is a need.

The other disappointment with the budget was the fact that there was no funding for the Lookout project, a project in Warrnambool that is shovel ready and has the community behind it from the point of view that they have actually put their hands in their pockets and raised money. It is a project that is most needed. It is a project that will deliver rehabilitation drug beds to people who have made the commitment to turn their life around and just need that period of time post detox to actually get that reset time to change their habits and work through some new life experiences so that they can break that habit.

So it is a real shame when you have got a community behind it, you have got people motivated and they want to stay around their families and they cannot because we have got no rehabilitation beds available. Again, I am hoping the government will reconsider. Clearly in this day and age with the pressures of mental health issues and drug addiction—that do not always go hand in hand but sometimes do—and with what has been going on we really need some support there for our community members.

The other really interesting part of this budget was in my shadow portfolio responsibility area of freight. There was absolutely not one dollar allocated to any freight investments. The port rail shuttle network project sits idle. When you look at the fact that the government talks about commitment to getting trucks off the road, particularly in the suburbs of Melbourne, you have to ask yourself: where is the real commitment here? We have got the Murray Basin rail project, which the government have botched completely—$440 million has gone into the project, and instead of that being the amount that was needed to deliver it, what they have ended up with is a project that is actually worse than when it was started. So trains coming from Mildura, I think it is, down to Bendigo will actually get there slower than prior to the project beginning.

The minister has completely stuffed this project, and she is ignoring all of the regional communities who are saying, ‘This will be good for farmers, this will be good for export dollars, this will be good for income for Victoria’. That is ignoring the fact that there are 134 000 trucks that will be needed to take the grain harvest this year down to the port for export. So can you imagine how many trucks are going to go hurtling through the suburbs of Melbourne? I think there is a lot of goodwill in the farming community and there is a lot of goodwill in the Melbourne community for farmers, and I do not think the government perhaps recognises the missed opportunity there to get that project up and running and delivering for the whole of Victoria.

One of the areas of disappointment again was the fact that we have all recognised during COVID the importance of some things being manufactured here in Australia. We do not want to see a situation where we are held to ransom and we need things, such as what we had with the situation with PPE, for example. But the other thing is we have all talked for a long time about the importance of manufacturing, but it made us all really home in on that commitment we have now of buying Australian owned, and we are seeing that in the habits of the community.

But we in South-West Coast have manufacturing. We have got manufacturing in the dairy industry, we have got manufacturing in Alcoa, and Alcoa in particular do a very good job of being environmentally focused on improving their efficiencies. They are above targets with getting their renewable energy use up.

But the government have missed an opportunity. Whilst we are all transitioning as much as we can into renewables, we need to recognise that we have still got to support manufacturing that we have here, and there was nothing for Alcoa. We cannot afford to lose a manufacturing business like that—that is environmentally responsible—because our price of electricity is too high.

The government does need to understand there has to be support for Alcoa and I think even embrace the fact that they are doing such a good job and doing everything they can. So a government of Victoria supporting them would be what I would have expected to have seen in the budget.

On Portland, there was some money, $5.9 million, for a hub, but there is not a lot of detail on that yet. And it was not a sporting hub; it was to manage economic diversification. But Portland basketball and other facilities in the Portland area were really looking forward to some sort of support from the government. Sporting facilities have done it very tough, as have many volunteer organisations, such as Port Fairy SES, who early in the spring had that big flood event.

It really showed everybody once again how the SES volunteers go out in extreme conditions—rain, hail, wind—and yet in Port Fairy they cannot even return to the sanctuary of a decent home because their facilities are actually leaking with holes in the roof. It is freezing and it is completely unacceptable. When you have got people doing volunteer work in such extreme conditions, you would hope that we could actually show them the respect of having somewhere decent to return home to. So I am sure there is money that is still available, and I hope the government is listening to that request from the Port Fairy SES, who are waiting for funding so they can join the fire brigade and build an efficient facility that does not waste taxpayers money, because it makes complete sense to home them together.

The Portland Coast Guard, which is another example of volunteers who go out and help our community by helping people out on boats who have got themselves into strife, actually saves our government money. We have got all these people training and giving up their time, and what they have is not even a home; it is just this shelter on the coast. We all know how cold it can be on the coast, and they are out on the coast when there are extreme conditions, because that is why people get into trouble—it is usually in extreme conditions. So these guys do not even have walls on the shelter above their head where they come together and try to train and do what they need to do to keep our community safe.

There are plenty of projects that need more money—I know that—but the Warrnambool breakwater and the boat ramp are two projects that are very important to the local economy. It is a tourism part of the world, so having those sorts of projects invested in so we can attract visitors, particularly post-COVID, is something I would have liked to have seen in the budget and that we have advocated hard for. I think it is time that the government actually starts to look at the regions.

They have invested, or they have borrowed, $155 billion, and it is not something I am nervous about—I am not nervous about borrowing—what I am nervous about though is what we saw two days ago with the loss of the AAA credit rating, which was a real reflection of the assessors’ confidence, or lack thereof, in the Labor government. As I keep saying, I have been in business and I have borrowed fairly hefty sums of money to run a business and to grow, and I do not have any issue with that. But I know when you are assessed it is about your capacity to pay back, and often part of that assessment is what your history has been. When we look at the Labor government, what we do know is that historically they have not been the best managers of money, and we saw that during the Cain-Kirner era.

Ms Thomas interjected.

Ms BRITNELL: Whilst you might say, ‘Oh, well, that’s history’, I would urge you to look at the budget just before the pandemic hit and before the bushfires. Before anybody over the other side tries to say, ‘Oh, well, that was a long time ago. What about now?’, okay, we will talk about now. Just before the pandemic and just before the bushfires, this government was already in a hell of a state and the budget was looking pretty poor, and the blowouts for the projects they manage are the reason why. So no wonder when they go to borrow there is nervousness around their ability to repay, because there is a history of blowouts. It is like the Metro Tunnel; I think it was $5 billion that it was meant to cost, and now it is up to three times that.

That is like saying, ‘I’m going to build a house for $300 000’. It is not about saying, ‘Now, I’ve changed the plan. I want four bathrooms, I want double-storey, and it’ll cost $900 000’. No, this is if you get the same house for three times the price. So we are getting a tunnel budgeted for $5 billion now blown out to three times that, and that is just one example. No wonder the government are now starting to yell out, because they know their history of managing money is poor. The community know that. We Liberals have a very strong history of managing budgets, managing money. Let us watch what we see with the blowout. Let us watch what goes ahead. But I would be very nervous with the Victorian community if I was—

Ms Thomas interjected.

Ms BRITNELL: I am nervous. As a Victorian community member, I am nervous, and we will watch. But I will not let these blowouts go unnoticed, and I will make sure, particularly in my part of the world, for things like the hospital, that every dollar spent delivers for the community of South-West Coast.