My budget reply
It is a real privilege to be able to talk on the Appropriation (2015-2016) Bill 2015 not only in order to give a budget reply but also to outline the vision of the Greens. We are not here to be just a second opposition; we are here to set a high standard and outline our clear vision for Victoria. Our vision is based on fairness, opportunity and equality with an economy that is clean, smart and innovative and that creates meaningful jobs.
The first topic I want to touch on is TAFE. I am the Greens TAFE spokesperson, but it is also an important issue to me as a former TAFE student at good old Frankston TAFE. As the member for Frankston would know, it is a quality TAFE — and do not ever say that a liberal arts diploma will not get you anywhere, because it will get you somewhere. I know this government is committed to saving TAFE with its TAFE Rescue Fund, because what the TAFE sector has endured recently is an absolute travesty — but it is a travesty that started in 2008 under the previous Labor government's marketisation policy. This policy forced our quality public TAFEs to compete with private providers.
It has not just been an adjusting issue; it has been an utter failure and an utter fiasco. Course fees are up, quality standards are down and there have been cost blowouts. By every measure this has been a failure. When the coalition came to office it threw fuel onto the fire with devastating TAFE cuts. I know this government wants to save TAFE, but what it really needs to do is to end this failed marketisation policy in vocational education and training. It is an utter failure. We need to back our TAFEs that have served us so well. If there are issues around meeting flexibility and skills shortages, rather than trash our TAFEs we should back them to act on those issues.
Further on education, the Prahran high school is the no. 1 issue in the Prahran electorate, and I welcome the government's commitment to that school. Yesterday we had the announcement that unfortunately it will not be going ahead at the Victorian College for the Deaf site, and obviously that is disappointing. It was clear from the assessments that it was the best site. It had a lot of advantages, but there are a lot of opportunities at the Swinburne site. The Prahran high school has a real opportunity to become a shining light in public education and an accessible, high-quality school for the students of Prahran. That is why we need to secure the site as soon as possible and for the government to start engaging with the community. That is how we will get a great school. The community wants to be involved with the school, it wants buy-in, so I ask that formal consultation begins because that is what the community wants.
Schools need infrastructure but they also need recurrent funding. We require needs-based funding for all our schools and all our students. That is why it was such a huge mistake and disappointing that the Parliament passed the bill in relation to private school funding, which allocates an arbitrary figure to private schools regardless of their needs against the needs-based principles of Gonski. Gonski was sector blind. It did not matter which type of school you went to. Now a New South Wales conservative government has moved away from these arbitrary figures and gone with a funding model that matches the national school partnership. It does not make sense. Now if we want to go back, we will have to do it through legislation. It was a terrible mistake. We also need to commit to years five and six of the Gonski funding. We cannot go to the federal government to argue about Gonski if we are not prepared to commit to years five and six of that funding. That is what we need to make sure that not only are our schools built but that they are run effectively and students get what they need.
Education is the key to opportunity and the smart economy. We need a clean and innovative economy, and addressing climate change is the challenge of divorcing economic growth from carbon emissions. The way to do it is to plan for and shut down our coal-fired power plants. We must be proactive. In the last sitting week the government and the opposition ridiculed and criticised the Greens for its plan to shut down the Hazelwood and Anglesea power stations. I think the Attorney-General was disappointed that he might miss out on watching Carlton on the television, or something along those lines, although it is probably best that he does not watch Carlton on the TV. But then Anglesea was shut down. The market decided, and the government was left flat-footed and without a plan. The government has to be proactive. What will happen with Hazelwood now? Will the government be proactive and form a plan for Hazelwood?
The government needs to shut down the coal-fired power plants, plan for transition and plan for renewable energy. That is the key. Instead of criticising the Greens, the government should act on what we are saying for renewable energy, because that is the future for a clean, innovative economy. We need to be proactive and increase the feed-in tariff for households, assist with funding for large-scale renewables with a green bank, and fund transition packages before the inevitable closure of the power plants. That will create jobs and skilled manufacturing. Science and research in other industries will play a key role in the future of a clean economy.
Public transport infrastructure is key to creating high-skilled manufacturing jobs at a time when the car industry is shutting down. The government's order for rolling stock and its rolling stock strategy does not cut it. We need to order 50 trams and get production started now. We need to get output increased from the Bombardier factory in Dandenong. There are 500 jobs there. The current output from the factory is 10 trams a year. That output will not change with the government's order. We should up the order now so there is an output of 20 trams a year from the Dandenong factory, which will create jobs. We should not just wait until the end of the government's term in office and then push back the order for the other trams until after the next election. We need high-capacity trams.
Tram services in Prahran are already overcrowded. Tram route 8 is at over 100 per cent capacity. We need high-capacity trams on this route and not have it merged with other routes as has been suggested. A reduction in bus routes has already been scrapped due to community pressure. I urge the government not to go ahead with the route 8 merger and to order 50 new trams now.
Also missing from the budget is funding for South Yarra station, which is one of Melbourne's most overcrowded train stations. It has one entrance, which is always overcrowded; trains that are full on arrival; no bike parking; and dangerous intersections. We have 10 000 people moving into South Yarra every year and a high-rise urban renewal area right next door. We need to invest in South Yarra station and to get the north entrance up and running. Land is already set aside for it, and I urge the government to commit to that second entrance. There is also the issue of the interchange with Melbourne Metro. We heard the doomsday scenario from the government regarding the connection, but I do not buy it at the moment. I do not see why we can have underground connections at Flinders Street and at Melbourne Central, but we cannot have one at South Yarra station. I will be asking the government to go back to look at how the connection with South Yarra station can be achieved.
We have seen a fair bit of change in views of the coalition about South Yarra station. When I was on Stonnington City Council we urged the coalition government to have the connection put in. Later in government it had a second position when it proposed a connection at South Yarra station, but the line was to be rerouted somewhat west of Flinders Street. Then after the election its third position was to adopt the sensible Greens' position and have a South Yarra interchange at Melbourne Metro. I welcome that, but if the coalition is fair dinkum about the South Yarra station connection or any public transport, it would adopt another Greens policy and ditch the east–west link, because no party can have any credibility on public transport while it still has the $18 billion east–west link as a policy.
We need to look at how we fund our public transport infrastructure. We need a more transparent and cost-effective way of funding major infrastructure, with manageable public debt at a time of record low interest rates, and not these secretive public-private partnership deals where taxpayers pay through the nose and for years to come do not know how much they are paying on projects that are essentially too big to fail. What happens when the consortium goes belly up? We will have half a road and half a tunnel. We need to look at value capture over cuts to services, and public asset dividends and management rather than asset sell-offs.
The port of Melbourne is a vital public asset, and we will be opposing its sell-off. Of course we need that vital federal funding for public transport, which the Liberal federal government refuses to provide.
I will touch on a few local issues. I am glad to see that there is $400 000 going to Prahran Mission. I would like to see that money used for the purpose-built drop-in centre that unfortunately had to close under the previous government due to changes to mental health funding. I welcome commitments to review Punt Road and the public acquisition overlay. That overlay is unnecessary. It is based on a 1960s freeway plan that should never happen, so I am glad to see that a review is in the budget.
I welcome the creation of the Office of Equality. Of course the Greens were the first party to have an equality spokesperson, and it is good to see that both major parties are again following the lead of the Greens. A sum of $10 million over four years is a good start, but obviously other areas are going to need investment. Support for legislative changes in adoption, official documents for transgender people and the Equal Opportunity Act is vitally important. It is also important to fund the critical services at the Royal Children's Hospital gender dysphoria service, where there is a far too long waiting list for young people.
To conclude, this budget is of course representative of this government — a government that wants to achieve things but is not quite taking the necessary steps to do it. It wants to save TAFE but it will not abandon the failed market contestability model that is destroying it. It wants to become the education state but walks away from the principles of Gonski and needs-based funding. It wants to support clean energy but will not shut down Hazelwood, our dirtiest power plant, or have a permanent ban on coal seam gas. It wants to support public transport but not build Doncaster, Rowville or airport rail. All the major toll road projects are going to get built before any public transport projects. It wants to support equality but is still leaving in blanket exemptions for religious organisations and schools to discriminate. It wants to improve integrity but is still happy to accept donations from developers.
The Greens have a clear vision for this state — a clear vision for a more livable Prahran and a society with fairness, opportunity and equality at its heart supported by a smart, clean, innovative economy. That is the standard we will hold this government to, and that is what we will work towards in this Parliament.