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PUBLIC ACCOUNTS AND ESTIMATES COMMITTEE: Report on the 2019–20 Budget Estimates

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
18 March 2020

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise to speak on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report into the budget estimates 2019–20. Within those budget estimates it did provide for a $1.8 billion so-called efficiency dividend, which we know will be cuts to the public service. The budget outlined these whole-of-government efficiencies of $201.3 million in 2019–20, $462.8 million in 2021, $524.2 million—that is over half a billion dollars—in 2021–22 and $548.6 million in 2022–23. The state government has now doubled down on this, or even more than doubled down, with the Treasurer recently announcing $4 billion worth of cuts to the public sector over four years. As reported on 12 February, just a month ago:

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas says he needs to cut $4 billion in spending from the state’s budget over the next four years to keep it in surplus amid ‘trying times’.

Well, I think there is no doubt that now is the absolute worst time—the worst time—to be implementing austerity measures in the state of Victoria that will take money out of the public sector when people need it most. This government needs to urgently reverse the madness of billions of dollars worth of cuts to the public sector. Now is not the time—not the time—to be squeezing the public sector in order to keep a surplus. It is the wrong course, and I disagree with the opposition in saying that the government must still deliver a surplus this year. That is absurd. The government needs to end this ridiculous austerity policy of cuts to the public sector.

Not only is this bad policy, but it is absolute hypocrisy from the government to do this. I read from a media release from 2017 by the then Minister for Industry and Employment, and it says:

VICTORIAN WORKERS ON THE LIBERAL CHOPPING BLOCK

Michael O’Brien has confirmed … as part of the Liberal … proposed ‘Commission of Audit’—frontline public sector workers will once again face the Liberal chopping block as part of their agenda of cuts.

So on the one hand you are saying a commission of audit is bad, but if you call it an expenditure-based review, well, that is okay. The media release goes on:

Michael O’Brien has let the cat out of the bag—no public sector worker will be safe from their planned cuts.

Cutting services is in the Liberal Party’s DNA—Jeff Kennett cut services, Ted Baillieu cut services, Denis Napthine cut services, and Matthew Guy will too.

Well, right now as it stands, you can add to that list the Premier. These cuts are absolute madness. I will read from the report Messing with Success: Victoria’s Puzzling Turn to Austerity by the Australia Institute. It states that these efficiency dividends:

… would impose an effective and homogeneous budget cut on departments and programs. This expanded ‘efficiency dividend’ is justified as a tool for eliciting greater efficiency and service delivery; in practice it amounts to a simple, mindless, across-the-board cut in expenditures, service delivery, and potentially employment.

Now is not the time to be waging war on the public sector, as we now need to do everything we can to prevent or fight against an economic downturn due to the crisis we find ourselves in. Additionally to that, the government needs to scrap this ridiculous 2 per cent wages cap on the public sector. This is depressing wages across the board, from the government sector to the private sector. The government needs to support the modest and reasonable pay rises that the public sector are asking for.

It is also inexplicable why the state government has not already announced its own stimulus measures, just as the federal government has, just as other states have. Why has the government not provided specific leave for public sector workers who need to self-quarantine or provide support to someone who does, including workers who are casuals? It is very unclear why the government has not announced these measures. They need to do it. They need to support our public sector workers in this time of crisis.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
18 March 2020
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