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Peter Walsh MP:
Appropriation (2017-2018) Bill 2017 – Budget Reply Speech, Peter Walsh
A reply speech made in State Parliament on May 9 by Leader of The Nationals and Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh, to the Victorian State Budget 2017-18.
By Portal Admin - 11th May 2017 - Back to NewsMr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make my contribution on the budget. Before the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education leaves, I might actually remind him to have a look budget paper 3, page 59, where he talks about his record investment in education. If you actually look at, there has been an $87 million reduction in rural and regional school upgrades. So despite what the minister was just saying, there is actually an $87 million cut in rural and regional school upgrades.
An honourable member interjected.
Mr WALSH — It is not wrong; it is there in black and white. That is why he did not come back to answer where the money is for Echuca Specialist School, or where the money is for the Kyabram P–12, or where the money is for the Swan Hill secondary school, because it has actually been cut out of the budget — $87 million cut out of the rural and regional schools upgrade program.
So this budget taxes Victorians more than ever, but they are actually getting less than ever. Particularly if you are a country Victorian, you are getting less than less. I think in some ways the Labor Party — the Andrews government — have stopped even trying to pretend that they are going to govern for all of Victoria. They are actually not doing that at all. They are only governing for their union mates.
Like the Treasurer, can I bring the members of the house back to election eve on 28 November 2014. The then Leader of the Opposition, now Premier, stood in front of the television cameras and was asked the question:
Daniel Andrews, the polls say you will be Victoria’s next Premier. If you are, do you promise Victorians here tonight that you will not increase taxes or introduce any new taxes?
As we know, that was a blatant lie. It was a blatant lie to all Victorians that they would not increase taxes and would not introduce new taxes. As has already been said, we have had the coal tax — $253 million in extra taxes on the coal industry. The coal tax has tripled. What has that done to Victorians? It has forced up household power bills. It has increased cost-of-living pressures on all Victorians. It has forced up power prices for businesses. There are many food processing businesses I have spoken to who have power prices increasing by something like 25 per cent — a 25 per cent increase in their power prices.
We have got the Uber tax — $2 on every taxi ride whether you live in Melbourne or whether you live in the country. So every pensioner, every person in a country town that has not got public transport, that needs to go to the doctor or the supermarket to go shopping is going to pay $4 more. When I talk to the taxi operators in my electorate, they say the miserable, mean compensation they will get out of this program will be raised in less than 12 months. So after that we will actually be raising $2 a trip, or $4 a round trip, tax to send money to Melbourne to pay for this government’s stuff-ups around that particular issue.
Particularly for river towns, where there are taxis on both sides of the river, with New South Wales licences on one side and Victorian licences on the other side, who pays and who does not pay? Do you pay on a New South Wales trip or do you not pay on a New South Wales trip? All those things have not been resolved, and the taxi operators are not happy about that at all. It is just a straight tax on country Victorians, and particularly a tax on those who can least afford it, to pay for the Premier’s policy here in Melbourne.
We have the fire services levy up again just to pay for the United Firefighters Union (UFU) demands in this state. If you talk about the UFU or you talk about the Country Fire Authority (CFA), which is funded out of that fire services levy, we have a government that has absolutely trashed one of the best volunteer firefighter services anywhere in the world. It has been trashed by this government.
There are increased taxes on buying a new car. Country Victorians rely on their cars, they rely on their utes, they rely on their vehicles, and we have increased taxes on them. There has been something like $4 billion in extra taxes since we had a Premier promise he would not increase taxes over the life of this government. The only thing rising faster than the crime rate here in Victoria is the tax rate. Crime in this state is up 20.2 per cent since the election. The tax take is up 22.2 per cent. If I go to the community of Kyabram, one of the communities in my electorate, the crime rate is up 55 per cent over the last two years. The people in Kyabram are paying the 20.2 per cent increase in taxes, but they are not actually getting any additional police into that community. They are paying the extra 22.2 per cent increase in taxes, but there is not any money in the state budget for investment in capital for the Kyabram P–12 building that was pulled down because it was riddled with white ants. Even though the Minister for Education says there has been investment, if you look at the budget papers, there has been an $87 million reduction in investment in schools in country Victoria. If you go to the budget papers, there is proof that the government cannot manage major projects.
The Murray Basin rail project, an upgrade and standardisation of the freight lines in northern Victoria to the ports of Portland, Geelong and Melbourne was actually funded in the May 2014 budget. Work to standardise those lines has still not started. That was a game changing project for that part of Victoria. It has been three years since it was funded, and we are still waiting for something to happen on that.
If you go to that same budget, the 2014–15 budget, there was the port rail shuttle project. It included $58 million to build a rail shuttle into the port. It has still not started. That project was there to get trucks off suburban roads and increase the freight efficiency for containers into the port. That project has still not started. If you go to the current budget papers, all you see in the forward estimates is ‘TBC’. That project is not going anywhere at all. For a key project that would improve freight efficiency here there is $58 million sitting in the budget.
The doozy of all the capital projects is the Echuca bridge — $51 million of federal money has just disappeared out of the budget. A total of $51 million of federal money has just gone — poof! — out of the budget. In 2014 $96 million was in there from the then Victorian government, and $97 million was put into the budget by the commonwealth earlier this year. When you look at the budget papers, $51 million of that money has disappeared. It is in Victoria’s bank. It is sitting in consolidated revenue. It is propping up the surplus here in Victoria.
It is no wonder the commonwealth government does not trust the Andrews government when it comes to funding infrastructure projects here in Victoria. Let us remember that it was this Premier who spent $1.3 billion not to build a road. A thing that was not going to cost $1 ended up costing $1.3 billion. We have the $1.45 billion Santa wish list for the regional rail rorts in the budget. That could have actually been funded by the $1.3 billion that was spent tearing up a contract.
From the commonwealth’s point of view, they actually need a government-to-government discussion. They actually need business cases. They need to know how that money is going to be spent. You do not communicate to get $1.45 billion out of the commonwealth by putting it on the front page of a weekend paper. That is not how you do business. That is not how you have courtesy. That is not how you show decency. Stamping your feet and saying ‘it’s our money’ is not actually right. It is actually taxpayers money, and it is important that the commonwealth ensures that money is spent properly and responsibly, not like the $1.3 billion not to build a road. What we do not want is a sweetheart wages deal with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union like there was for the white elephant desal plant project — and we know what a great project that has been over time.
Many country communities have got less out of this budget than the member for Melton. The member for Melton has effectively been gifted $76 000 by the Premier. A lot of country communities — a lot of community groups in those country towns — would love to have the $76 000 to spend in their community that the member for Melton has been gifted. I just do not know; you shake your head at that.
The Andrews government does not care about the issues that affect country Victorians. If you think about the wild dog control program, there is no advisory committee there because the department could not be bothered to set up a panel to assess the applicants. The chair of that committee, Harriet Shing in the other place, resigned before it was even set up, saying she was too busy — just too busy to actually help the people who are in her particular electorate.
But I suppose the doozy of all is that we have actually had a recent announcement from the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change saying that the African wild dogs at the Melbourne Zoo are the beneficiary of a $9 million investment in a new enclosure for them to share out there. There is $9 million to spend on the African wild dogs at Melbourne Zoo but no extra money for a wild dog control program here in Victoria — no extra money for a wild dog program to actually save our small marsupials and to save our native fauna, no money for a wild dog program around the fact that — —
Mr Richardson — The DL is ready to go.
Mr WALSH — The DL is not going. It is just a straight-out fact that you care more about the African wild dogs at the zoo than you actually do about the wild dog program in the high country. When it comes to rural Victoria there is very little in this, and there is a very — —
Ms Neville interjected.
Mr WALSH — The minister interjects. Perhaps she should talk to Rob Gersch, who is the chair of Rural Councils Victoria. Rural Councils Victoria said in its media release:
… the state government has overlooked the needs of rural communities in its 2017–18 budget …
Rob Gersch is quoted as saying:
Increased support from the state government is vital to continuing service delivery, to keeping libraries open, to maintaining safety at school crossings, managing environmental weeds and pests, and building and maintaining roads and bridges.
The minister at the table needs to actually talk to Rural Councils Victoria, and she would find out the truth. What she is saying is not believed by country Victorians at all.
There is $87 million in cuts to country school programs. That is why there is no money in this budget for Echuca Specialist School. That school is all portables and has significant issues with drainage around the site — and we know how much rain we have had in recent times. It has significant issues where the sewerage services actually do not work appropriately for that school. That school is desperately in need of funding so it can become part of the school regeneration project in Echuca West. There is no money for that, and there is $87 million in cuts to country schools.
The people of Kyabram are paying that 22.2 per cent increase in taxes but not getting anything for their P– 12s. There is no money there for Swan Hill College. There was money for Kerang Technical High School in 2014; this year they are finally spending it after the Department of Education and Training argued and argued about whether it should raid that money to do the asbestos program. After the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Education, said, ‘That’s all funded’, the department came back and tried to raid a previous commitment for that to make them do that, so this is very much a hollow promise.
There is nothing in it for jobs. The 750 people at Hazelwood are no better off. The 260 people at Heyfield are running the risk of losing their jobs. The 7000 people downstream of the timber mill, who are reliant on the timber to have their jobs, have nothing in this budget for that. There is a small amount to set up a plantation industry, but I remind the government it takes decades to grow plantation trees, if they are ever grown, for sawlogs.
I suppose the biggest thing of all is that you have the government and the minister talking about the importance of agriculture. We have them talking about the importance of food and fibre exports out of the state, and we have the government talking about how important the agriculture industry is for regional jobs. So what do we find with the agriculture budget?
If you read the budget papers, you will see there is actually a $32 million cut in the agriculture budget. One of the fears that everyone had when the agriculture super department was set up was that it would lose its way — the government would lose focus on it and it would be worse off over time. What you see with this budget, with a $32 million cut in the agriculture budget, is that unfortunately that has come true. This government just does not care about regional and rural Victoria and this budget proves that. They are paying more and getting less.
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