Victorian Budget Reply 2017

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the budget on behalf of the Victorian Greens. It is unfortunate that this budget has been handed down under a cloud — over this government and over this Parliament — because of this government's failure to do what is necessary and what is right about the rorting of the second home allowance by the former Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

 Cleaning up Politics

There was a clear course of action available before them to refer those members to the Privileges Committee — just as there was with the former member for Frankston in the former government — and for that committee to investigate the matter further, to propose any sanction and for this house to vote on it. They have chosen not to do this in their attempt to avoid further scrutiny and further sanction, which is unfortunate particularly when a budget is being handed down. It is clear that the government's actions in regard to this matter are driven purely by politics, and that makes the need for an independent parliamentary standards commissioner all the more necessary. The government's proposed reforms still leave enforcement in the hands of MPs, and it simply is not good enough. This is a clear pattern of behaviour from this government, whose actions are not the actions of a government with integrity.

We have seen it with the rorts for votes allegations of using electorate office staff to campaign during the election — the staff members, who supposedly never met the MP they were supposed to be working for, donning red shirts and campaigning for the Labor Party, funded by the taxpayer. The government are going to every length to delay and to obstruct or stop the investigations in the Supreme Court and the High Court — and losing both times — and now they are resorting to moving motions in this house to protect their MPs.

We have seen it with their cosy deals with Crown Casino, which makes it clear that in this state what Crown Casino wants in Victoria, Crown Casino gets from this Labor government, without a whimper from this Liberal opposition.

First it was with Crown's licence extension that would put the state at risk of paying them compensation should the government dare act in the public interest that would affect Crown' profits. This time we have the Minister for Planning — the member for Richmond, who is out of his seat — changing the planning scheme to allow Crown to build Melbourne's tallest building while dudding the taxpayer out of millions of dollars in public contributions that it should be paying. It is dudding the state out of millions of dollars.

We see it in the government's failure to act on political donations by still accepting donations from property developers and lobbyists, still refusing to lower the disclosure amount, and still refusing to implement a real-time donations register. This Premier has said that he believes the current arrangements are adequate. Premier, the current system is not adequate. It needs to change.

We have seen it with the government's cosy deals with Transurban, who they are putting in charge of transport planning for the state, and putting Transurban's profits before people. This state needs a real plan to keep Victoria livable in the face of population growth. This government puts Transurban, Crown Casino and property developers first. It has got its priorities wrong.

Public Transport Not Tollways

This budget means overcrowding on public transport is going to get worse, not better. Train patronage will grow by 2 per cent but services by just 1 per cent. Tram patronage will grow by 4 per cent but services by just 1 per cent. V/Line patronage will grow by 4 per cent but services by just 0.5 per cent. If your train or tram is overcrowded now, it is more than likely that it will get worse, just as it has every year under this government — all while the government is spending billions on new toll roads.

The West Gate tunnel is just another dodgy multibillion-dollar toll road that does not stack up, just like the east–west link, this time to be paid for by extending tolls for well over a decade. What a sweetheart deal. Transurban gets to continue making profits off Victorians, Victoria gets a road we do not need, and $1 billion is spent that could have been used to actually reduce congestion. There is increased traffic pouring into the CBD and the urban renewal area E-gate is ruined.

This is not the project that Melbourne needs. It is not even the project that Labor took to the last election. If they really wanted to get trucks off the streets and trucks off the West Gate, they would have built the original West Gate off-ramps. That project could actually be built now for half a billion dollars, not $5.5 billion. The truck ban on residential streets could be in place now. The port rail shuttle costing $58 million to shift freight to rail could be built now. The completion of the Federation bike trail could be built now.

We do not need another multibillion-dollar tollway creating more traffic and diverting funding away from the projects we really need — and what hypocrisy to want to sign the contracts before the next election. We have the north-east link, which is going to go through some of our most environmentally sensitive areas. We have got the Minister for Roads and Road Safety spruiking this project, saying that you will be able to travel from Frankston to Altona without stopping at any traffic lights. I lived in Frankston and you would be lucky to get anywhere without stopping at any traffic lights. My sister lived in Altona, and I can tell you that you would not travel from Frankston to Altona by travelling through Greensborough. The only vehicle that is going to make that trip is the SmartBus orbital.

This government is calling it the missing link. The real missing link is airport rail. The real missing link is Doncaster rail. The real missing link is Rowville rail. Communities around Australia have stood up against expensive toll roads — east–west link here in Melbourne, the Perth freight link and WestConnex in Sydney. We know the Liberals want to waste $22 billion on the east–west link and destroy the inner-city. No party that has the east–west link as a policy can have any credibility on public transport, as is the case with the Liberals.

The government does like to point to its public transport projects: 'Look over there, you can't criticise us'. They get very offended: 'Look at what we're doing, we're doing more than the Liberals' which, to be fair, is true, but to be honest, is not that hard.

It is worth looking back at the Liberal record on public transport. After promises on feasibility studies for new rail lines they finalised the alignment of Melbourne Metro — without a South Yarra connection, I might add. Then nothing. They devoted all our money to the east–west link and put the airport, Doncaster and Rowville rail in the too hard basket. No new trams were ordered and barely any trains were built. Only a cent was given to Melbourne Metro before it was scrapped, to be replaced by the back-of-a-napkin plan — the Melbourne rail link — just months out from the state election which, whilst it did stop at South Yarra, did not connect to Flinders Street, did not connect to Melbourne's busiest train lines and did not include high-capacity trains. So it is no wonder that Victorians have so little trust in the Liberals when it comes to public transport.

This government is building Melbourne Metro, but it is not going to be built until 2026. This is not the silver bullet that is going to solve all our public transport problems. It is supposed to free up capacity for new train lines and new services. The planning and construction needs to start now or else we will end up with a situation like we had following the completion of the regional rail link, where this government did not increase peak-hour services despite the extra capacity on the network. We have been promised a new timetable every year since this government came to office but they still have not delivered.

In terms of new trains and trams the new E-class trams only continue the existing production levels of 10 trams per year when production could double to 20 trams per year. The new high-capacity trains are only being built for Melbourne Metro. According to the government's rolling stock strategy high-capacity trains will not be on any other line until two elections away, and whilst the trial for high-capacity signalling continues, this government has no plan to roll that out across the entire network and no plan to fill in the missing links on our tram network.

Public Transport in Prahran

In Prahran we have a number of pressing needs on our public transport network, which is overcrowded. South Yarra station has been neglected again. This government is following on from previous Liberal and Labor governments by not spending a cent to upgrade South Yarra station. It is a station that is bursting at the seams. High-rises are going up next door — —

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I want to just get on the record that the member for Essendon is saying that it is a perfectly good station. Please jump on the train and head down to South Yarra station and tell the commuters in South Yarra station that, and tell the residents who are living in Forest Hill that is the case.

My recent survey found that commuters overwhelmingly want the connection with Melbourne Metro rail, a second entrance with a platform overpass, a safer Yarra Street crossing and of course the heritage character maintained. I urge the government to actually start listening to South Yarra commuters and upgrade South Yarra station and, if they are so determined not to connect to the Melbourne Metro rail project, at least follow through and ensure that it can be built at some point in the future.

I see the Liberals are keen to adopt the Greens policy of including South Yarra in Melbourne Metro and now, having done absolutely nothing to build it or to fix the station during their term in government, they are trying to convince people that they can just conjure up a station using the planning scheme. It is not a planning motion that connects South Yarra to Melbourne Metro; it takes a government to build it. It is something the Liberals failed to do during their term in office.

Passengers at Hawksburn, Toorak and Armadale stations are still waiting over 10 minutes during peak-hour services with trains too full to get on, and with express services passing the station. It is time this government increased peak-hour services at those stations. Commuters on the Sandringham line are not faring any better. One-fifth of all services are overcrowded. No new peak-hour service has been added for many years and there are waits of 15 to 20 minutes during off-peak and at weekends.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — Again I take up that interjection. Sandringham runs on its own line. This guy does not know what he is talking about. Sandringham does not run through the city loop. It is very simple to run trains every 10 minutes during the weekend at off-peak; it is actually catered for in Public Transport Victoria's network development plan. It was supposed to be implemented years ago. This government has not done anything.

Bikes

Once again it is very disappointing to see that there is nothing for bikes.

The government promised $100 million for bikes and pedestrians at the last election, but we have seen nothing. We are still waiting for the St Kilda Road separated bike lanes to be announced, and this government has rejected a 1-metre minimum passing distance despite all other states accepting it. It is unfortunate that this government is going all out on toll roads when we need to get cars off our roads with public transport and cycling.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I note that as per usual the member for Essendon was silent during the shadow Treasurer's contribution, yet he interjects when the Greens are speaking. I will just give him a word of advice: do not worry about interjecting when I am speaking. Interject when your best mate in here, the member for Melton, is rorting the taxpayer. Will we ever hear that yes-man speak up against his best mate in here, the member for Melton? You will not hear him ever say that.

Climate Change and the Clean Economy

No plan for action on climate change can have any credibility if it does not plan for the end of coal. This budget is a lost opportunity to put in place an orderly transition away from coal and a plan to phase out coal-fired power stations and transition their workforce and communities. After a long campaign our most polluting coal-fired power station, Hazelwood, has closed, and front and centre of this campaign has always been a just transition for workers and the community. Everyone saw this closure coming. Coal is on the way out. Companies are divesting themselves of coal-fired power. It is a bad bet.

But just like with Anglesea, this government did not have a plan in place — and what hypocrisy! After spending the best part of two years criticising the Greens and my colleague the member for Melbourne for urging the government to act on Hazelwood and transition its workforce — I think the Attorney-General once said we could not shut Hazelwood because the TV would stop working and he could not watch the footy — they changed their tune once it closed. Now they have had to belatedly put a transition plan in place that is still being put together months after Hazelwood shut, leaving workers in the lurch.

This government does not want to take the political heat or take responsibility for the closure of Hazelwood and other coal-fired power stations, but it wants to swoop in as the saviour at the last minute. This government has a choice: put in place an orderly transition plan for workers in the phase-out of coal-fired power stations or simply leave it up to the market, which is getting out of coal, and leave workers in the lurch.

You could not find a more reckless energy policy than that of the opposition and the Liberals. It goes like this: scrap the Victorian renewable energy target and spend untold millions on propping up polluting coal-fired power stations. Having privatised the power stations in the 1990s, Liberals now want to go to them with a blank cheque and pay them whatever it takes to keep their ageing plants open. The Leader of the Opposition has said he wants to have a conversation with the owners of brown coal plants about what kind of support they need to stay open. I thought Tony Abbott's 'pay the polluters' policy was bad, where the government would pay polluters to pollute less instead of having a price on carbon pollution, but this policy is even worse. It pays polluters to keep polluting. This cash-for-coal policy makes it clear what a future Liberal government would mean: no action on climate change, paying polluters to pollute more, a dangerous climate, no transition plan for workers and standing in the way of jobs in renewable energy and other clean industries.

The Greens have a clear plan for 90 per cent renewables by 2030: a strong Victorian renewable energy target; investment in solar and wind battery storage that can deliver clean, reliable, affordable energy; a one-for-one feed-in tariff so people with household solar can get a fair price for the energy they produce instead of getting ripped off by power companies; and a plan to phase out coal-fired power stations and transition workers and their communities at a time when the nation's energy market is broken. It is now time for a plan that works. We know coal-fired power stations are going to close. The question is when and what is in place for those workers and those communities.

Environment

This budget is also a missed opportunity for our environment. The failure of Labor and the coalition to transition the logging industry away from native forests to plantations is destroying our native forests and costing jobs. As usual, the lies and misinformation is spread by the native logging proponents, who are now lobbying to scrap the protections for the Leadbeater's possum. It is mismanagement by VicForests that has caused job losses, not the protection of the Leadbeater's possum, and again this government is scrambling at the last minute with the announcement that it is going to buy the Heyfield plant.

In this budge we finally have an admission that plantations are the way to go, with $110 million to establish a timber plantation in Gippsland. Where was this decades ago? Labor went to the last election without an environment policy. The Liberals and The Nationals went to the last election with a 'no new national parks' policy. The Premier has set up a native logging task force, which to date has just resulted in business as usual — logging our native forests.

The Greens have a clear policy to transition away from native forest logging to plantations; to create the great forest national park on Melbourne's doorstep, which will create jobs in regional communities, tourism, conservation and science; to create resilient forests that reduce the risk of bushfires; to protect our water catchments; and to protect the Leadbeater's possum and other endangered species. Two years ago the then Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water said she hoped the great forest national park would become a reality in this term of government. Time is running out. Now is the time to create the great forest national park.

Plastic pollution is choking our waterways and killing our sea life. The Greens and communities across Victoria are calling for a ban on plastic bags and microbeads to stop plastic ending up in our oceans and waterways. This government is opposed to that ban, and all it is doing is sticking up for the supermarket's bottom line. Local communities in other states are all getting on board with this change. The Greens have legislation before this Parliament. It is time for this government to get on board too and ban plastic bags and microbeads.

Mr Dimopoulos interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I would simply urge the government, including the member for Oakleigh, if he is not familiar with the Greens' bill to ban plastic bags, to familiarise themselves with that. Perhaps the member can urge his colleagues to support that particular bill.

Education & TAFE

In regard to education, the Prahran community absolutely welcomes the extra funding for Prahran High School — an extra $37 million — to take that school's funding to a total of $62 million. This is a big win for local families, who can be confident that they can access high-quality public education. I love living in the inner city and raising my family there. More and more families are deciding to stay in the inner city, sending their kids to the local primary schools and then on to the local secondary schools. It was incredibly short-sighted of the Kennett government to close down and sell off inner-city schools. Local primary schools are experiencing a massive growth in enrolments. We now need transparency around future enrolment data so communities can have confidence that their schools will be upgraded and that new schools will be built as their populations grow. This information is held by the Department of Education and Training. The Greens have called for its release, and that is also supported by Infrastructure Victoria.

It is time for transparency in funding for vocational education and training as well. The TAFE reforms that were put in place by the former Brumby government and continued by the previous Liberal government turned our training system into a get-rich-quick scheme for shonks and profiteers. We need to know how much money is going to these for-profit private providers and what return we as Victorians are getting for our investment in terms of quality and course completion. Yes, there are extra funds for TAFE, and yes, there are tighter rules for private providers, but we need a long-term plan that delivers the vast majority of our vocational education budget for recurrent funding to go towards our trusted, high-quality TAFEs.

Youth Justice

In regard to community safety neither this government nor the opposition have a plan to prevent crime. The government sees the need for a political fix. The opposition sees a political opportunity. We are serious about crime prevention, reducing reoffending rates and investing in communities. Let us be clear: the coalition's plan for crime will result in more crime. Their changes to sentencing just shut the gate after the horse has bolted. This will simply lead to increased reoffending and more money spent on prisons with a revolving door. The Labor Party has followed them down the rabbit hole, implementing the opposition's policies. Where has that got us?

We were told creating new offences for acts that were already illegal was going to reduce crime. It did not. We were told that having mandatory minimums would help. It has not. If the coalition's approach to crime worked, it would already be working now because the government keeps implementing their policies.

The government's handling of youth justice has been shameful. This is a crisis that could have been avoided had this government taken the right action. Both this government and the previous government ignored warnings that our youth justice facilities were like tinderboxes. Decisions made have led to an increase in children being remanded in custody, not enough staff to cope and the increase in the use of lockdowns and solitary confinement. The government's response was to illegally transfer children to adult jails. We had this so-called progressive Premier out there telling everyone that adult prison was where these children deserved to be — children who were Indigenous, part of the child protection system, suffering mental illness and with disabilities — and the government's response was to act unlawfully. We know there is a small cohort of young violent offenders, and this issue needs to be dealt with. But these measures — locking kids up in a prison-style institution — is going to make this problem worse, and it will not make our community safer.

The government's response has been to transfer responsibility of youth justice to the corrections department. It is clear where this is heading; it is heading to another Don Dale situation. This government needs to change course. It needs to invest in justice diversionary programs and intensive therapeutic programs for those young people who need it, and it needs to address the systemic issues in our communities and our state.

LGBTI Equality

In my portfolio area of LGBTI I certainly welcome the funding for health and wellbeing for LGBTI Victorians, even though there is little detail as to what that actually is. It has been incredibly disappointing over this term in Parliament to see the path that the Liberal Party has taken in opposing laws that were so critical to the transgender community and its proposal to scrap the Safe Schools program. We still need further legislative reform in this term of Parliament to protect workers, students and service users from the discrimination that is still allowed under our Equal Opportunity Act 2010. Both the government and the opposition opposed the Greens equality for students bill, and I would urge them to rethink their opposition to changes to the Equal Opportunity Act. There is still so much more to be done, particularly in the area of LGBTI homelessness, where there is a far too great over-representation There are issues facing the intersex community and with gay conversion therapy and the ex-gay movement, which still occurs.

Public Assets in Public Hands

In terms of revenue, this government is continuing its sell-off agenda, flogging every asset that is not nailed down, handing control of key public assets to the private sector and driving up costs for Victorians. Following the sell-off of the port of Melbourne, which Labor railed against in the 1990s when Kennett started asset sales, we now see the land titles office up for grabs. The result is simple: a short-term hit of cash, the state loses regular income from dividends of the asset and we hand over control of that asset to the private sector. The private owners try to squeeze more water from the rock, driving up costs for users while service levels drop.

The government is wanting to raise taxes but is doing so at a time when local councils are being hit by a rate cap. For some councils that is essentially a million dollars out of services and infrastructure — what hypocrisy. This policy of course will hit rural councils most of all, and the coalition just rolled over and let it happen. This is when the government is spending billions on new toll roads, a billion dollars for the Melbourne grand prix, promoting duck shooting and propping up VicForests.

Conclusion

To conclude, this budget is a missed opportunity to keep Victoria livable. We need to invest more in public transport to reduce overcrowding and traffic congestion. We need to plan to phase out coal and replace it with clean energy and new jobs. We need to create a great forest national park and ban plastic bags to prevent plastic pollution. We need to stand up to One Nation Islamophobia, not pander to it like the opposition. We need to change the Equal Opportunity Act so that all LGBTI Victorians are protected by the law from discrimination. We need to make sure that health and school funding goes to where it is needed most. We need to be investing in communities to reform our youth justice system and child protection system. We need to ensure that transparency, integrity, accountability are at the heart of all our decisions. With this budget the government has shown it is incapable of doing this. The Greens have a plan to make it happen.