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Peter Walsh MP:
State Budget Reply Speech
State Budget Reply
By Portal Admin - 8th June 2019 - Back to News
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (10:24): I rise to join the debate on the budget. I might just explain to the member for Oakleigh about how the budget process actually works for the opposition. As he should know, there is a budget lock-up at 10.30 in the morning. So when he constantly berates the shadow Treasurer for being disingenuous, the shadow Treasurer had plenty of time to look at the budget—
Mr D O’Brien: Four hours!
Mr WALSH: Four hours—plenty of time to look at her notes, plenty of advice from people who have been through this process in the past, plenty of stuff that was leaked to the press to know about beforehand—so I just think he shows his ignorance about how the system actually works by criticising the shadow Treasurer for doing a good job as shadow Treasurer, being across the detail and actually pointing out to those people like the member for Oakleigh the pitfalls that are in this current budget. And his lecture on debt I am totally confused about. I do not think he actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to the level of debt and the fact that debt is going to blow out to more than 10 per cent of gross state product over this particular life of what has been pointed out before us.
From a regional Victorian point of view, this budget I think shows that the Premier has no plan, no vision and no money for regional Victoria, member for Oakleigh, particularly when you take the fact that there has been a Regional Growth Fund for the last two terms—a term of the Liberal-Nationals government and a term of the Labor Party—that actually delivered more than 1000 projects for regional Victoria. It delivered some fantastic projects right across regional Victoria which are not funded in this budget. There is no dedicated fund for regional development in the budget. What is in the budget is a collection bundled up of what is actually recurrent expenditure that should be there anyhow, without a dedicated fund to drive decentralisation and drive population growth in regional Victoria.
If you think about what has been funded by that fund previously, I think True Foods in Maryborough is probably the stand-out example—a business that was relocated from Braeside to Maryborough with assistance from the Regional Growth Fund at the time. There are 160 jobs now in Maryborough that were not there before. That is an example of what can be achieved with a dedicated regional fund. When you think about SPC Ardmona, which was at risk of closing back in 2013–14, it got $22 million out of that regional fund, which made sure that SPC Ardmona was kept in Shepparton and made sure that there was a guarantee of the more than 500 jobs at that particular business into the future. That would not be able to happen now when there is no dedicated regional fund.
If you think about Mildura and think about the riverfront development there, it is a fantastic outcome for that community, not only for the people that live in Mildura but also for all the tourists that come there. It is a really great vista along the river. That was principally driven by money from the Regional Growth Fund. Those sorts of projects will not be able to happen in the future because there is no dedicated fund into the future.
If you think about all those people who live beyond Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong and who actually use the fleet of long-haul trains here in Victoria, there is no money in this budget for new long-haul trains. So we will be stuck using those 1970s vintage trains if you are travelling on those particular lines, with the challenges that we have with them—with the air conditioners breaking down, the toilets not working and the fact that we quite often end up being put on buses because those trains are just no longer fit for purpose for what we particularly need. There is no money in this budget for any commitment to return a passenger train to Mildura.
There is no money in this budget to do the detailed business case, as was asked for by the collective of councils in western Victoria, to return passenger rail services to Horsham or to Hamilton. There is no money in this budget to match the federal government’s contribution towards the Shepparton bypass. The federal government has committed $208 million to a $260 million project to build the first stage of the Shepparton bypass. There is no money in this budget for a contribution to go with the federal government to see that project done in the future.
The member for Gippsland South no doubt in his contribution will talk about the fact that there is no money for the Princes Highway upgrade.
Mr D O’Brien: I’ve already done it.
Mr WALSH: He has already done it, and I am sure he will do it again when he has his contribution in the future.
There is no money in the budget for a number of absolutely critical regional schools that need to be funded.
There is no money there to finish off the Warracknabeal precinct. There was previously money that has been used to do half of two schools. You have now got the specialist school and the high school that are stuck, with some at one place and some at another place, and it just does not work. I know the member for Lowan will be arguing very strongly that that money should be made available out of the budget cycle to make sure that happens.
There is no money in the budget for an upgrade at Swan Hill Specialist School. You have got the situation there where specialist allied health services have to be delivered in a corridor.
The speech pathologist has to sit in the corridor to talk to the particular students they are working with because there are no rooms for them to work in.
The one thing that is in the budget that is good is the allocation for Echuca Specialist School.
As I understand it the contract has been let and the builder that built stage 1 of the Echuca Twin Rivers Primary School is going to build stage 2, including the specialist school, which is a great outcome for community activism. The specialist school community, and particularly the Riverine Herald, ran a fantastic campaign and effectively embarrassed the Minister for Education into actually funding that particular school. So well done to the community of Echuca Specialist School for the work they did. Well done to the local media for what they did to make sure that school is actually funded in the budget.
If you think about the agricultural portfolio, there are cuts to the department of agriculture— a $48 million cut to the department of agriculture in this budget. And if you think about the things actually drive the future of agriculture and that drive productivity in agriculture, it is research and development. There is actually a cut to the research and development budget allocation in this budget. There is $2.8 million cut from agriculture R and D in this state. That just shows, as I said at the start, that there is no vision and no passion for regional Victoria and the industries that are out there with this Andrews government, because if you were serious about it you would actually make sure there was extra money for R and D rather than cutting that.
One of the things that the Andrews government has been noted for over the last four and a half years is their war on the CFA, and we are all expecting legislation to be brought back into the Parliament to bust up the CFA and just show absolute contempt and disrespect for the volunteers across this state. If you look at the budget, and if you look at it from my electorate’s particular point of view, there is no funding commitment there for a new fire station at Leitchville. There is no funding commitment there for a new fire station at Rochester. These are two stations that desperately need upgrading. The Leitchville fire station cannot get the new generations of trucks because they actually— Mr Edbrooke interjected.
Mr WALSH: Yes, it is a priority. I am responding to the interjection from the member for Frankston. It is a priority on the regions list that is not funded in this particular budget. They cannot get the new generations of trucks because they cannot fit them in, and the Rochester fire station, again, has to store some of their equipment off-site because they just cannot fit all their equipment in there. If the Andrews government was serious about a commitment to the CFA they would be funding particular projects like this.
If you think about it, as we have no doubt talked about a lot in this place and will talk about a lot in the future, from 2014 the Premier gave a commitment to no new taxes and no increase in existing taxes.
As the member for Oakleigh pointed out, the Treasurer was evasive in his answers to the comments about new taxes or increased taxes. This budget has a number of new taxes in there. As in the phrase which was coined yesterday, we now have a ‘Toyota tax’ in this state.
So someone who wants to buy a new Toyota LandCruiser is going to pay the luxury car tax.
For those people who are retiring, who want to buy a four-wheel drive and want to do the once-in-a-lifetime trip around Australia that they have been saving up for over their working life, they are now going to have to pay the luxury car tax on their Toyota. This is not about Ferraris. This is not about Maseratis. This is about everyday mums and dads who have saved all their life and worked all their life and want to buy a Toyota, buy a caravan and do the trip around Australia, and the Treasurer of Victoria is now going to tax them in their retirement for that particular trip around Australia. It is an absolute disgrace. I think the Treasurer learnt nothing from the federal election. When you actually start picking on normal mums and dads who work hard all their lives, and increase their taxes, they will hold you to account in the future.
Deputy Speaker, one of the industries that I know is in your electorate is the gold industry.
There is actually a new tax on gold. This is an industry that is creating regional jobs and that is really starting to go somewhere, and the Treasurer goes and puts a tax on it. I noticed that there were some comments about the reopening of the Stawell goldmine and the fact that the Treasurer had been up there a few months ago saying what a fantastic outcome it was that the Stawell goldmine was going to reopen. I am sure that industries in the future will not be asking the Treasurer to come out and visit them because they will know that once the Treasurer has been to visit and once he can see there is an opportunity to tax them, he will actually introduce a new tax on those particular industries. So I would imagine that people are not going to be asking the Treasurer to come out and see them in future because there will be a risk that there will be a new tax at the end of that particular visit.
I do not believe this budget delivers for regional Victoria on the vision that regional Victoria has for itself. Regional Victoria wants to be part of the population growth of Victoria. There are more than 120 000 people a year coming into Victoria. Over 90 per cent of that population growth is going into Melbourne. Regional Victoria and the local governments that make up regional Victoria want to see some of that population growth going out into the regions, and not just into Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. They want to see it go out further, which is why at the start of this contribution I talked about the need for European-style fast rail, something that we committed to in opposition coming up to the election. We would have loved to have the opportunity to be in government and truly deliver for regional Victoria with a decent fast rail service that would aid decentralisation. As I have said, there is nothing in this budget for regional development. That has been taken away. Obviously the Minister for Regional Development lost the debate around the cabinet table when it came to having a dedicated fund there for people to apply to.
As I moved around state and talked to local government, there were two things that they really appreciated out of those regional funds. One was the Local Government Infrastructure Fund, where there was dedicated money for councils to actually make decisions about how that money was spent. I know in my electorate most of the community halls had kitchen upgrades. They had new air conditioners put into those halls. All of that community infrastructure across the whole range of our smaller communities actually got upgraded out of that Local Government Infrastructure Fund. That money will no longer be there in future.
When it comes to roads, there is no money there for the country roads and bridges program.
You would know, Deputy Speaker, that those 40 councils across Victoria that got $1 million each year for four years really appreciated that money, which they could spend upgrading their road infrastructure. Now that gap in their infrastructure funding will increase again because there is no country roads and bridges program.
In finishing off, thank goodness we have a Liberal-Nationals government at the federal level.
The commitments that they have made across regional Victoria mean that there will be great projects happening out there in regional Victoria, but they will happen because they have been funded by a federal Liberal-Nationals government, not by an Andrews government, because the Andrews government does not have a true vision for regional Victoria. There would not have been a Murray Basin rail project without the federal government. There would not have been an Echuca bridge without the federal government. There is money actually on the table for the Swan Hill hospital from the federal government. That is something that is normally a state responsibility, but the federal Liberal-Nationals government has committed $30 million to the Swan Hill hospital, and it is very disappointing that in this budget the Andrews government has not committed any money to that. As I have said before, there is $208 million for the Shepparton bypass, so thank goodness for a federal Liberal-Nationals government and that it is actually committed to doing these projects in regional Victoria, where the Andrews government is not.
The last thing I would like to touch on is that it defies logic that a Premier of this state would be so pig-headed, would be so arrogant, that he would say to the federal government, ‘I do not want $4 billion to build a road in Victoria, to build a freeway’. The east–west link is an absolutely critical piece of infrastructure for the state. To have a Premier say no to $4 billion, to have a Premier say no to a project that would bust congestion here in Melbourne, without costing the Victorian budget one single dollar, I think is an absolute disgrace. I would like to see the Premier admit that he is wrong and actually say to the Morrison government, ‘We will accept the $4 billion. We will actually build that east–west link. We will actually make sure all those people who are stuck in traffic and all those country people that go to Gippsland and back will not be stuck in traffic in the future’.
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