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Budget Reply 2019-2020

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise on behalf of the Greens to respond to the budget. This budget really is the Premier’s and the government’s missed moment, their missed moment to hand down a budget that would put our climate and our environment at its heart. It is not a budget that puts climate and environment at its heart, at a time when more people are concerned and when more people are taking to the streets, particularly young people, demanding action on climate change and species extinction; when we are already experiencing the effects of climate change, drought, bushfires, extreme weather and heatwaves; when our waste system is in crisis; and when our environment here in Victoria is in decline and we are facing an extinction crisis. The Greens had a really clear ask for this budget and what it could have been: a multibillion-dollar climate and environment budget that would phase out the use of coal and gas for energy by 2030, fix the waste crisis and protect and restore our natural environment, and it would be paid for by using the unspent money from the landfill levy and asking profitable industries like the banks and property developers to pay more. But this is not a budget that phases out the use of coal and gas for energy; it actually funds coal and gas projects. It is not a budget that fixes the waste crisis; it kicks the can down the road whilst there are still unspent funds in the Sustainability Fund. It is not a budget that protects and restores our natural environment; it continues the logging and destruction of our native forests. And it is a budget paid for off the back of cuts to the public sector. Around half of Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions come from our coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley.

So if you do not have a plan to phase out coal, you do not have a serious plan for climate change. The government’s plan for coal is to keep burning it. It has already extended coalmining licences. It is not just refusing to phase out coal, it has committed to new coal. It has got new coal projects. It has got a gas program looking for onshore and offshore gas. In Western Port Bay, where I grew up, it is looking to have a giant dirty gas import terminal that will put our environment at risk and create more greenhouse gas emissions, when we need to keep them in the ground. In this term of government what we do need as a first step to reduce Victoria’s emissions is to replace Yallourn power station with a clean energy plant, and it needs to be planned now so that affected communities do not get left in the lurch. With our waste system in crisis, a crisis that everyone saw coming, with materials being stockpiled in dangerous conditions and the risk of toxic fires and thousands of tonnes of recycling being sent to landfill, there are so many solutions that residents talk to me about: a container deposit scheme, implementing a plastic bag ban, kerbside organic waste collection, investing in the recycling industry here in Victoria and creating that circular economy. All of these things could be done, but they are not done in this budget. They are only spending $100 million over the next five years out of the Sustainability Fund whilst the waste crisis continues here, and they are using those funds to prop up the bottom line. Our natural environment here in Victoria got a damning report in the state of Victoria’s environment report by the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability: native species diminishing; invasive species increasing; river health poor; fish numbers decreasing; waterbirds diminishing; bushfire impact worsening; food waste generated excessive; sea surface temperature rising; energy use per capita excessive; and rainfall poor and shrinking.

At a time when we are facing this extinction crisis, this budget barely lifts a finger to protect Victoria’s natural environment and threatened species. This was their chance to turn the tide. But instead of doing that, instead of protecting our environment, the government is continuing to log our native forests and is not creating new national parks where they need to be. This truly is the government’s missed moment for a climate and environment budget. In terms of revenue, we outlined a number of revenue measures at the last election, including a tax on Victoria’s share of bank liabilities and taxing the windfall profits that are made when land is rezoned. This budget has not done that. It has plugged its holes with some revenue rises, but what it is really built on is the back of cuts to the public sector—almost $2 billion worth of cuts, when they said they would only cut $200 million. It is a broken promise. We are now seeing expenditure reviews across the public sector and no guarantees on job security. No public sector worker is safe, and CPI is rising above the government’s own wages policy, which could lead to real cuts in wages for the public sector. The Premier needs to tell workers who and how many of them will lose jobs and have less wages because of this budget. Instead of going after the big banks and property developers, they have gone after public sector workers. The Treasurer said he had to make some hard choices about wages in this budget at the same time as trying to hand his own MPs tens of thousands of dollars worth of pay rises.

In terms of social policy this budget has failed to properly address the biggest social justice issue in Victoria right now: homelessness. Over 80 000 people are on the public housing waiting list. Hundreds more—many more—are sleeping rough in unsafe or insecure accommodation. Certainly I welcome the building of 1000 new public housing dwellings, and I hope we see some in the Prahran electorate. But this is just a drop in the ocean of the many thousands of new homes that need to be built each year. Compared to $1.8 billion being spent on prisons, this $209 million is just outrageous. The government is continuing its public housing sell-off with the public housing renewal plan. A report recently released found that this program is motivated by private profit. It will result in the sale of virtually all public land assets into private ownership, and it will result in the overall reduction of public housing bedrooms available at a time of severe housing crisis for low-income households. This is a disgrace. This Labor government’s approach to public housing has been exactly the same as the Liberal approach to public housing, and it has been straight out of the neoliberal playbook—run down and underinvest in a public asset, then claim privatisation and selling it off is the only way to afford to fix it. There is no doubt that this government’s intention when it came into office was to rid itself of the burden of having to provide a fundamental human right—housing for people in need—by privatising the estates and transferring public housing stock into the community sector. First they said the only way they could fund it was to sell it off, and suddenly before the election they found some more housing. What we really need is a big build of new public housing and upgraded estates to end homelessness, to reduce the waiting list and to ensure a home for all, with the ultimate goal of universal public housing allocated on the basis of need with security of tenure for life.

It can be done. Instead the government is spending $1.8 billion on a new prison. This is a government that has put more and more vulnerable people in prison—more women, more Indigenous people, more victims of abuse, more youth and more people with a mental illness. They have just adopted the failed law and order policies of the Liberal Party, and really if you are spending $1.8 billion on a new prison it is a failure of social policy. We do live in a great state. It is a great place to live, but our transport system is falling apart. It is overcrowded and it is unreliable. I welcome what investment they have done in public transport, but they are still spending billions on toll roads. The North East Link is economic and environmental vandalism. When transport emissions are rising this project locks in emissions from cars for years, and it permanently trashes some of our most sensitive urban environment. Just imagine what you could do with the billions of dollars spent on the North East Link and the West Gate Tunnel.

And a message to the Liberals as well: we do not want the east–west link doing the same to inner Melbourne—permanently trashing it. The $4 billion on offer is actually a third of the actual cost of stage 1—just a third—and with that money you could be transforming one of our train, tram, bus or bike networks. That could be done. Melbourne Metro is just not enough. For the billions spent on toll roads we could have a second metro tunnel connecting the Mernda and Werribee lines. You could have more trains in peak hours on those overcrowded lines, new stations in the inner city and at Fishermans Bend and high-capacity signalling across the network. Every tramline could be upgraded with safer stops and new high-capacity trams. There are not enough new trams being built. I do not think it is even meeting the government’s own rolling stock strategy. We could have a high-frequency bus network across the suburbs. There is so much more that could be done instead of spending billions and billions on polluting toll roads that are trashing our city. And whilst they are building new infrastructure—this government is building new infrastructure—they are not getting the most out of the existing infrastructure. There are no increases in tram services. The train services—there is no detail on what that will be. We had our policy of having 10-minute train and tram services seven days a week costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Increasing tram services would be around $40 million a year. Increasing the train services would cost around $160 million a year.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS: That would be increases in services on the Sandringham line through my electorate and the Craigieburn line through this bloke’s electorate. You have got to wait 20 minutes for a train at Essendon station. It is outrageous. I have never heard the member for Essendon raise that, have I? I have never heard it.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS: Well, this is the great debate. You do not need the Metro project to increase trains outside of peak hour. The Werribee line could have 10-minute services. The Mernda line, you could have trains every 10 minutes. Instead passengers have got to wait 20 minutes during the day and during the weekends. This would be about improving livability, reducing emissions and ensuring transport access for all people. I welcome the $27 million for St Kilda Road bike lanes, with the initial investment to flow next year. I have certainly been calling for that to be finished as soon as possible—not to wait till 2025, as was the earlier promise—so I welcome the new time line on that. But there is next to nothing for pedestrians. There are so many dangerous pedestrian intersections and crossings, particularly in Prahran, that people get in touch with me about—near schools, near stations. We need investment there to make those pedestrian crossings safe. I do want to finish on schools. Good public schools—they are just so important to our community. In this community we have welcomed the opening of the new Prahran High School, and I certainly welcome the much-needed $6 million for South Yarra Primary School. They sure do need it. Congratulations to everyone in the community who has fought for that. Windsor Primary School has planning money—the government’s promised $4.7 million. But I would urge the government to be more transparent around funding upgrades to schools and new buildings. They should not have to wait until election time for the minister or the Premier to roll around, hoping they have won the lottery. Both the Auditor-General and Infrastructure Victoria have recommended the Victorian School Building Authority publish their list of priorities to give school communities the confidence that they will not get left in the lurch for years, like so many do. On recurrent funding for schools, what Labor or the Liberals are not telling you is that with either of the deals they put on the table our public schools will still be underfunded until 2028. They still will not meet their full allocation under the schooling resource standard that was part of the original Gonski deal, and again there is still in this state a complete lack of transparency around how funding is allocated. Now, what we have pushed for, what the Greens—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The time set down for consideration of items on the government business program has arrived, and I am required to interrupt business. The member may have the call next time the matter is before the Chair. 

Mr HIBBINS: With the short time I have got available, when I left off previously I was talking about school funding, and in the time since my last contribution the school funding deal has been signed. But what I would point out, as I commented at the time, is that the federal Liberal bad deal won out over the state government’s bad deal. The current bad deal will make sure that the public school system is still underfunded—even until 2028 under this deal that has been signed. What the state government was putting on the table was that public schools would be fully funded, but in 2028. Public school students and public schools cannot wait another decade, or off into the never-never, for their schools to be fully funded. This is the Gonski deal that was set out years ago. We are still not seeing those public schools fully funded, which is what we need to do. I would urge the state government and the federal government to bring forward the full funding of our public schools to at least around 2023. That is what needs to happen. Our schools cannot wait. To conclude, this entire budget was really the Premier’s missed moment to put the environment and our climate at the heart of the budget. Instead we are going to have coal burning for decades, the waste crisis continuing, the environment continuing to decline and homelessness and the public housing waiting list continuing to rise. It is not good enough.

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