Victorian Budget Reply 2016

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to give the budget reply on behalf of the Victorian Greens and the residents of Prahran and not only to give our response to the state government's budget but also to outline our vision and our plan for Victoria. Victoria really is a great place to call home. That is why so many people from interstate and around the world are moving in and coming to Victoria. Now is the time to have the vision and courage to take the next big steps for Victoria: to make the transition to an economy powered by clean energy; to shift to mass transit with a public transport system you can rely on, away from traffic and clogged roads; and to create the new jobs of a 21st century economy to ensure our communities remain livable. It is clear from this budget, just as it has been clear from previous budgets, that Victorians cannot trust the Labor Party or the Liberal Party to deliver on that transition.

There is absolutely no reason why we cannot make this transition. Despite ongoing slow growth in the global economy, and despite a federal government that is stuck in its own rhetoric of a budget emergency that requires spending cuts, as well as the clear dawning reality that the commonwealth has a revenue problem that needs to be addressed, Victorian economic numbers look good. You have got your multibillion-dollar surplus. You have got your low ration of debt to gross state product (GSP). You have got room to borrow. There is every reason why the government should be taking those necessary steps to fix overcrowding on our trains and trams and to tackle climate change, but unfortunately the government has again squibbed it. Instead, investment in public transport has not kept up with what is required. There is just a handful — a modest amount — for renewable energy.

Honourable members interjecting.

 

Wasteful Spending

Mr HIBBINS — I will just point out we have got money out the door that could be better spent. We have got another multibillion-dollar toll road — the western distributor, which will be full by 2031. We have got a grand prix that will cost this state half a billion dollars over the next eight years. We have got $5 million to promote hunting. We have got a government continuing to prop up VicForests to log our native forests while it runs at a loss. We have got the government raking in pokies revenue, proving once again that its precommitment scheme is an absolute sham. 

 

Local Government

All this is occurring whilst local governments have been hit by a Kennett-era rate cap.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr HIBBINS — I will just point out that I did actually listen to the Treasurer's budget speech, just as I did with the replies by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of The Nationals, and I did not interject. I ask for the same respect from members opposite. I am sure they will make good contributions themselves.

Unfortunately our local governments are hampered from delivering those high-quality services, those essential social services and that high-quality local infrastructure that our communities need to keep them livable. I was surprised to hear recent comments from the opposition that it is now against rate capping, which is disappointing because opposition members voted for it. If they had joined us in voting against rate capping, we would not be complaining about how bad it is. It would not be in place.

 

Privatisation 

The government is pursuing another Kennett-era policy of an aggressive privatisation agenda. It has already handed control of our last major public asset, the port of Melbourne, to private hands — the very asset sale that Labor warned against in the Kennett years — with more to come apparently, according to the budget papers. Where it is in the community's interest — —

Mr Nardella interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Halfpenny) — Order! Could the member from Melton lower the tone of his interjections.

Mr HIBBINS — Where it is in the community's interest, capital tied up in mature businesses can be recycled to build new infrastructure. The question is: what are these mature assets? The question is: what is for sale in the state of Victoria? That is the question that is being asked.

 

Western Distributor

The Treasurer made mention in his speech, which I did listen to in silence, of the road-versus-rail debate. He likes to say that the government is doing both. But the reality is public transport moves more people more quickly and for less cost. The car-based policies of Victoria have failed us in the past. When people come back from overseas they say, 'Why can't we do public transport like London, Paris and Hong Kong?'. I do not think I have ever heard anyone say, 'Let's do the freeways like they do in LA'. Yet despite this, the government is going ahead with another expensive, unnecessary tollway — the $5.5 billion western distributor — through a sweetheart deal with Transurban, with no explanation as to why the cheaper half-a-billion-dollar West Gate distributor or the port rail shuttle, which it took to the election, is not going ahead instead.

Communities around Australia are standing up to these expensive toll roads, which are destroying their communities and sucking up vital funds that could be used for public transport. Just as the Greens did with the east–west link here in Melbourne, local Greens members are standing up for their communities against the WestConnex in Sydney and the Perth Freight Link in Western Australia. They are bad for the economy, they are bad for the environment and they are bad for communities.

The Treasurer also made a point of saying in his speech that Melbourne's population could surpass Sydney's as early as 2030. That is an auspicious year, because it is around the same time that the western distributor will reach its capacity.

So for that 5-odd millionth person to call Melbourne home, who is perhaps travelling down the Tullamarine Freeway — maybe they are going to Altona Meadows or Wyndham Vale — and turns right at the western distributor or the West Gate Freeway, it is going to take them exactly the same amount of time to travel there as it would now. The western distributor is just another multibillion-dollar waste. The numbers do not stack up.

 

East West Link

Of course we have got a federal Liberal government and a state opposition continuing their obsession with and plan to build the east–west link, holding out the $1.5 billion from the Abbott era, which has been shoved out the door and is apparently now being kept in a locked box. This game must come to an end. The state opposition must end the east–west link policy and free up that money for public transport in Victoria. No political party can have any credibility on public transport if building the $22 billion east–west link is a policy of theirs.

The reckless, irresponsible spending on tollways and freeways by Liberal and Labor governments must end.

 

Public Transport - Signalling

We need to address the critical problems in our public transport network. Almost every week there is a problem with our fragile signalling, which shuts down lines and creates chaos. This budget was an opportunity to invest in a clear plan — a business case to upgrade signalling across all the lines of the network. Instead we have got piecemeal upgrades and we have got a high-speed signalling trial that we cannot even get basic answers to while commuters are running the gauntlet every day.

 

Public Transport - Rolling Stock

The budget includes extra rolling stock on top of the additional rolling stock that will be ordered next year. We welcome this extra train order, because we were the ones who told the government last year that the train order was not enough. We certainly welcome this extra train order next year and we will tell you again this year that it is still not enough. The government has not ordered enough trains. Trams have been left at production levels from the previous government when they could actually double. This rolling stock is critical to not just address passenger growth but also create those jobs being lost in high-skilled manufacturing, with the shutting down of the car industry.

 

Public Transport - Extensions

Again, we welcome the improvements to the Ballarat line and the Hurstbridge line, but more could have been done. This budget could have been a down payment on stage 1 of developing airport rail, Doncaster rail and Rowville rail; duplication of the Altona loop; tram extensions that meet up with train stations; and expanding the transport network.

 

Public Transport - Melbourne Metro & South Yarra Station

I will speak about Melbourne Metro. The government has announced that it will step in and fully fund it. It probably did not have any choice, with the dithering of the federal government in relation to the funding of that particular matter. But this is a big project, with a long lead-in time and with benefits that will not be realised for some time, and the state government must get this project right. The Greens took to the last election a common-sense position that South Yarra station could be included in Melbourne Metro. It is a position that I advocated for when I was a councillor, when at the time the then Liberal government still had Melbourne Metro without a South Yarra connection as a policy. In fact it is worth pointing out that in 2011, had the then Liberal government agreed to have a South Yarra connection in Melbourne Metro when it approved the original Melbourne Metro business case, and then got on and actually built it, we would not be debating this issue. We would be watching it get built.

Also in my budget speech last year I asked the government to go back to look at how a connection with South Yarra station could be achieved with Melbourne Metro. I have asked the Minister for Public Transport at question time to do that. But they have not done that. They have left it up to Stonnington City Council to do that, which has discovered that if you just swap the Dandenong and Frankston lines where they meet east of Caulfield station, an interchange with Melbourne Metro and South Yarra station can be achieved at significantly less cost and with less disruption than what the state government is claiming.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I take up the interjection by the member for Essendon. Let us not rely on what Stonnington says, let us get the state government to actually put some money into looking at it itself.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — Why would you do it? That is a very good question. I ask the same thing. I quote the member: why would you do it?

There has been some hope that the federal government would step in and stump up the money for the interchange. Unless it does so in the budget tonight, all we will have is just empty words from the federal local member. I say again that the state government needs to, at the very least, take another look at the South Yarra-Melbourne Metro interchange. It needs to get Melbourne Metro right. But Melbourne Metro aside, South Yarra station is in bad need of an upgrade. It is one of the biggest stations outside the city, with congestion and population growth in and around the city. This budget delivers nothing — not a cent, not a plan, not a task force, not a committee. It is not good enough for the people of South Yarra who have been ignored by successive governments.

 

Bikes

I just want to touch on one of my favourite subjects and that is the issue of bikes. As someone who rides into Parliament often, as do other members, I know that this government is yet to deliver on its big commitment of a $100 million cycling and pedestrian fund. This budget has just delivered one-tenth of that. I welcome the continuation of Melbourne Bike Share. I would like to see that expanded to areas around the inner city such as Chapel Street, and of course investment in separated bike infrastructure such as the separated lanes along St Kilda Road. Quality infrastructure and laws to protect cyclists like a 1-metre minimum passing distance will make Melbourne a true cycling city.

 

Clean Energy

The transition from dirty coal-powered energy to clean renewable energy is one that this state must make to tackle climate change, to create the new jobs in manufacturing and science and trades, research and development. The Greens welcome the modest funds that have been allocated to transition renewables and energy efficiency, but it is just not enough. Almost every week we have my colleague and Victorian Greens energy spokesperson, the member for Melbourne, putting the case for the need to make this transition, and not a week goes by without her being howled down by members of the government. It is good to see that the government is now admitting that the member for Melbourne is absolutely right on this and that it is putting in plans. It is putting in a Latrobe — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr HIBBINS — Your government has put up the money for a Latrobe Valley transition plan. We welcome that. But a transition plan without a plan to phase out coal is not enough. This government must put in the fundamentals — the pillars of a renewable energy plan. We must transition to 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, with a strong Victorian renewable energy target to phase out the dirty coal-fired power stations like Hazelwood, which was the previous Labor government's policy but it walked away from it. We need to support household solar with a one-to-one feed-in tariff. Labor's position is a step back from the former Liberal government's plan to start a coal export industry out of Victoria with the world's dirtiest coal, but it must now seize the moment and deliver on clean energy.

 

Education - Prahran High School

I will move on to education. In my electorate of Prahran the budget includes an extra $5 million for the construction of Prahran high school, and I absolutely welcome this commitment and the commitment to build a brand-new purpose-built school on that site, with construction due by 2018 and the first intake of students by 2019. This is good news. This is great news for the families of Prahran who want to send their children to a good quality local state high school. I commend the state government on its foresight in demolishing the existing building on the Swinburne site and building an entirely new school on that site. It will be a positive, lasting legacy for the Prahran community for decades to come of high-quality public education and ensure Prahran is a community where families of all types can live. I also want to acknowledge the State High School for Prahran community group for its ongoing work on behalf of our community in making sure that the school meets the needs of local families.

 

Education - Schools

But across the state there is still much to be done. A recent study indicated that 220 new schools will be needed across Victoria in the next 10 years. This budget delivers 11. If Victoria is going to meet that demand, it needs to be done in an open and transparent way, with a clear plan so families have the confidence that the needs of their community will be met. Recurrent needs-based funding is a must, and this government needs to end its private school funding laws which mandate that every time $1 is spent on public schools, 25 cents is spent on private schools, regardless of the need.

 

Education - TAFE

It is clear also from the budget that our TAFE and training sector is still in crisis, with enrolments in TAFE falling. This is despite the government spending millions on its TAFE Rescue Fund. We are in this position thanks to the former Labor government's disastrous marketisation reforms and because, when faced with the inevitable cost blowouts, the former Liberal government, rather than walk away or back out of this disastrous policy, doubled down. This whole exercise has seen money wasted, money out the door, on qualifications that are not worth the paper they are written on. The question must be asked: how much public money has gone to the profit margins of these dodgy private training providers that have now had their accreditation cancelled? Labor claiming that it is now the rescuer that is going to fix TAFE is like the shonky builder coming back to fix up a house for which it did not put in the foundations properly, despite everyone telling them it would not work.

 

Environment

On the environment, this budget lacks key measures to protect and deliver for our environment. We still have the government continuing to prop up VicForests and the unsustainable, uneconomic and unviable logging of our forests whereby the state faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum, is under threat and our forests are locked up from achieving the economic benefits they would bring to a regional economy. We need a Great Forest National Park — a national park on Melbourne's doorstep to protect the Leadbeater's possum, to protect the city's water supply and to grow regional economies with tourism. We need to act to reduce — —

Mr Nardella interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — You might want to speak to your environment minister about that one, member for Melton. The government must also act to reduce the rubbish that pollutes our cities, our waterways and the bay; introduce the 10-cent container deposit scheme; and make our seas and waterways free from plastic bags and microbeads. These are practical environmental initiatives that are good for the environment and good for the economy.

 

LGBTI Equality

As the Victorian Greens LGBTI portfolio spokesperson, I welcome the government's commitment to Safe Schools to ensure that it is not watered down by Malcolm Turnbull's conservative backbenchers. I have been concerned to hear some of the comments against Safe Schools by members of the opposition, raising the question of whether Safe Schools is safer under any future coalition government. I certainly welcome the construction of the Victorian Pride Centre and the extra funds for LGBTI community groups, which we know do absolutely critical work but are often completely underfunded and cash strapped.

The government must back up this funding with legislation. All schools should be safe schools. It is unacceptable that right now at religious schools it is perfectly legal for gay, lesbian or transgender students to be expelled, denied entry or discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender status. The same can occur to teachers, to staff and to clients at faith-based schools and community service organisations. No student, no person, should have to live with the threat that if they reveal their sexuality, they may be sacked, expelled or refused a job.

Mr Nardella — Where are you getting this from?

Mr HIBBINS — The member for Melton asks where I am getting this from, and I would direct the member for Melton to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. I could furnish the member for Melton with the Equal Opportunity Act. This is unbelievable! The Victorian Greens equality bill, which I have released publicly, aims to end this unacceptable situation, and I certainly seek the support of all parties and all members — even the member for Melton — in this place to do just that.

 

Public Housing

This government has failed to make housing the central concern it needed to be in this budget. Public housing stock has not kept up with demand, waiting lists are longer and maintenance and security is not up to scratch. Certainly these are not just houses; these are people's homes. In my own electorate of Prahran our housing estates are plagued by pigeon infestations, and even in new buildings promised security doors have taken too long to materialise. We have had some promise that there will be a housing affordability package some time later this year — in other words, 'trust us'. Trust is in short supply for those who are waiting for a home or whose own home needs to be repaired or upgraded. Victorians cannot wait.

 

Family Violence

We do welcome the housing package included in the response to the family violence royal commission. We welcome all the $500 million-odd in response to the family violence royal commission. However, it must be noted that this is just the start. It has been pointed out that community legal centres have missed out despite demand for family violence services provided by community legal centres increasing nearly 500 per cent over the last decade.

 

Sport

I will move on to another one of my portfolio areas. In the portfolio of sport, I certainly welcome the $22 million for indoor sports stadiums. There is demand in the Prahran electorate, where the local netball association is in bad need of new indoor courts. I will be encouraging them and the local council to seek funding through those funds.

The budget also includes $75 million for the upgrade of Kardinia Park in Geelong. I just touch on a pet issue of mine, which is that I believe there is no point spending tens of millions on new footy stadiums if at the end of the season loyal club members cannot actually get into the AFL Grand Final. The state, the taxpayer, has been very generous in funding new footy stadiums, and it is only fair that in return the lifeblood of our footy clubs, the loyal club members who go week in, week out, are able to attend the grand final. I would like to see the allocation of grand final tickets, which the Minister for Sport has legislative power over, raised from 30 000 to 60 000 so that those members of competing clubs who go week in, week out, can watch their footy team on the biggest day of the year, the grand final in September.

 

Population Growth

I will just touch on a few issues that were raised in the debate — firstly, that of population growth. I know that Liberal members have a new-found interest in population growth, because they have established an internal task force. I welcome this because the Greens have been putting forward policies to deal with population growth for some time. In fact the topic of my parliamentary intern research report last year was keeping Prahran livable in the face of population growth.

Let us just have a look at what they have got so far. Regionalisation is an idea to take the pressure of growth off Melbourne through incentives or tax breaks to live or set up businesses in regional Victoria. I just make a few points about this approach. Notwithstanding that investment in regional cities, train services and supporting local economies is of course welcome — it is good policy. Is regionalisation as a way of dealing with population growth. By offering tax breaks to residents and businesses and by offering other incentives to make running a business or living in regional Victoria more attractive, rather than redistribute population growth we might just end up growing the population pie overall, which, again, may be a desired outcome, but it does not actually deal with population growth.

Secondly, if you are actually able to shift a percentage of population growth to regional Victoria, you are still going to have the overwhelming majority of people living in Melbourne, and in those regional areas people are still going to need the transport, health and education services potentially now at a greater cost per capita than if they were living in the city.

I will be very interested to watch those free market ideology and regionalisation ideas meet with the brick wall of the stark reality that increased population growth will need a strong revenue base and the sort of investment in public transport, public housing and public education that the Liberals have been so unwilling to undertake when in government. I look forward to the population debate with the Liberals. And, who knows, just as they have done with supporting the inclusion of South Yarra station as part of the Melbourne Metro, supporting 10-cent container deposit legislation, supporting the introduction of presumptive legislation for firefighters and supporting the banning of smoking in outdoor areas, they might just end up adopting sensible and responsible Greens policies.

 

Labor

To conclude, I grew up in a Labor family. My parents were teachers; they were members of the local Labor branch. We had a sign of the Labor candidate up on the farm fence every election. As a young boy I met Bob Hawke on the campaign trail and I marched against Jeff Kennett. But when you look at state Labor today, aside from the factional infighting, it is unrecognisable from those days. In so many ways it seems to have taken the Kennett approach to governing, with its aggressive privatisation agenda, the failure to take on problem gambling and the scourge of pokies, the chumminess with Crown Casino, letting Transurban set our transport agenda, cutting local council budgets and giving millions upon millions to the grand prix with no questions asked — vested interests running this state.

As I said in my budget reply last year, this government says it wants to achieve great things, but it does not have the vision or the courage or the plan to do so. It says it wants to save TAFE, but it will not abandon the failed market contestability model that is destroying it. It says it wants to become the education state but walks away from the principles of Gonski and needs-based funding. It says it wants to support clean energy, but it will not shut down Hazelwood, our dirtiest power plant, or have a permanent ban on coal seam gas. It says it wants to support public transport but will not take any action to build airport, Doncaster or Rowville rail or invest in adequate signalling. It says it wants to support equality, but it is still allowing religious organisations and schools to discriminate. It says it wants to improve integrity, but it is still happy to accept donations from developers. It says it wants to protect the environment, but it continues to log our native forests. It says it wants to address problem gambling, but it is still dependant on pokies revenue.

There is no reason why this government cannot deliver. Our financial position is strong. We need a government with vision and courage to act. The Greens have a plan to keep Victoria livable and a plan to keep Prahran livable, and certainly they are plans that Victorians can trust.