APPROPRIATION (2022–2023) BILL 2022

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (11:36): Yes, member for Oakleigh, I am going to start with negativity. I normally would say it gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the budget, but I have done 7982 days of Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), or so it seems, and so unlike most members of the house I have probably just about had enough of the budget. But having made that comment, I am actually going to start with some of the positives that are delivered by good local members who advocate for their community. In spite of a Labor government that is only focused on metropolitan Melbourne, sometimes we do get a few things. There are a couple of good things that I certainly am excited about in the budget, one being the Yinnar Primary School—$7.3 million for Yinnar, which is going to be a new part of my electorate. I suspect the government forgot and did not realise that Yinnar is not in the electorate of Morwell anymore and in fact is now in the electorate of Gippsland South, but I had already written to the Minister for Education about this issue and I was very pleased to see that funding.

There is $3.7 million for the South Gippsland Specialist School, and I was interested to hear some of my colleagues comment yesterday that Heather Braden at South Gippsland Specialist School, like when I rang her, had no idea that there was funding coming—there was no particular project—but of course was very, very grateful, so that is good. With the Sale and District Specialist School, which was initially funded by us in government—we actually did fund schools when we were in government—and topped up by the current government, we will have two excellent specialist schools in Gippsland South.

There is money for an overtaking lane on the Strzelecki Highway between Morwell and Mirboo North, which I am a bit perplexed about given the lack of availability of spots to put one in. There is already one good, long one there, funded by my predecessor Peter Ryan.

The McLoughlins Beach jetty—and I will give credit to the Minister for Ports and Freight on this one because this is an issue that has been going for a long time—has seen a big community campaign from the McLoughlins Beach community, which is not a wealthy community and certainly not in any way, shape or form advantaged and yet has fought very hard for this and has finally achieved $1.5 million to rebuild that jetty. That is the good.

But of course even in my electorate there were plenty of other things that were missed out. For five years now I have been campaigning for Foster Primary School to have a full rebuild. We took that to the last election, and there has been nothing in the last four budgets now. There are the Coal Creek bends on the South Gippsland Highway and likewise what is known as ‘kamikaze corner’ in the middle of Leongatha, which is a debacle and requires stage 2 of the Leongatha heavy vehicle bypass to address the intersection there, which is really a very ordinary intersection. There is no money for that.

Sale College received planning money last year, but we have heard nothing since on what is actually happening with the consolidation of Sale College onto one campus, preferably a greenfield site. There was an early flurry of activity, but there has been nothing since and certainly no funding announced in this year’s budget.

The member for Gembrook and others have mentioned CFA brigades. After seven years of campaigning, the CFA board has indeed identified capital spending for Yarram, Foster and Mirboo North stations, but there is still not a single cent coming from the Andrews Labor government to support those upgrades that are crucially needed for our volunteers.

And of course the perennial one, the Traralgon bypass—we finally, finally got the Andrews Labor government to commit funding to match the federal government funding for the Princes Highway duplication between Traralgon and Sale. That is now well and truly underway, the final three stages of that important project, which leads us to the next important project on the Princes Highway through Gippsland, and that is the Traralgon bypass. The government did provide some funding for community engagement and further planning back in 2017, and it has gone nowhere. Nothing has happened since then, and to be honest it is an issue that the people of the Valley and eastern and central Gippsland now treat as a bit of a laugh whenever you mention the Traralgon bypass, because it has been on the drawing board for decades and nothing has happened. There is certainly no further movement towards it in this year’s budget despite the fact that there are 10, soon to be 11, sets of traffic lights going through Traralgon, huge congestion for the people and businesses of Traralgon but also huge delays for people like me and people in my electorate heading further east. Yet there is nothing there for it.

I want to turn now to the bigger picture, and as said, I have had plenty of time perusing the budget papers over the last couple of weeks in my role as a member of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. I want to talk a bit about the spin that goes with this budget. This budget is a budget for an election campaign. It is not a budget to address the issues that Victorians need.

I will start with health, because it is most critically the most important issue already. We have got a health crisis in this state. We have got an ambulance crisis and a 000 crisis, and the government papers over things to make itself look better. I will start with the claim that there is a $12 billion investment in this budget for health. Let us have a look at it. In budget paper 3, pages 54 and 55, there is $3.5 billion of that supposed $12 billion investment there in the 2021–22 column. So these are significant funds, but they are funds that have already been spent. The Premier tried to argue back at me, ‘Are you suggesting, Mr O’Brien, that we need to go out and revaccinate people? Because that is money that was spent on vaccination programs and the like’. Well, exactly, Premier. But you are now counting it towards your $12 billion investment in the health system: $3.5 billion of that so-called $12 billion has already been spent. I might add—and the budget papers confirm this at note (a) and note (b)—that almost all those 13 line items in 2021–22 are 50 per cent funded by the commonwealth. So it is spin to suggest that there is an enormous amount being spent this year, because there is the first $3.5 billion of it that has in fact already been spent in 2021–22.

We can then turn to assets, and I will not go to into it in detail, because others have as well. The Barwon women’s and children’s hospital and the new Melton hospital both have TBC there. Everyone will jump in and say, ‘Oh, but you’ve got to look at the total estimated investment at the end’, so $1.5 billion supposedly for those two projects listed there as TEI, which means it is not actually in the budget papers. I can give you an example. If you go back to 2016–17, there was a similar project listed in the assets for the health department for a new proton beam therapy project. It was in the budget papers, it was all TBC with a TEI at the end and it never happened. So it is very easy to get out there and say that we are spending all this money on health, but in fact there is $5 billion of that proposal that is not actually in the budget papers or has already been spent.

I want to go on to highlight some of these things. If you go to budget paper 3, page 220, which is the output summary for the Department of Health, there are a hell of a lot of brackets in the final column. We know what brackets mean; brackets mean reductions in funding. That is cuts. One of the ones most particularly that I mentioned in the PAEC hearings is a $24 million cut to dental services. If you go to page 239 of budget paper 3, it shows that because of that $24 million budget cut there will be 44 000 less Victorians this year getting dental treatment through the public health system—44 000.

I thought it was quite telling that when I raised this with the Premier in the budget hearings the best he could do was point to budget cuts by the federal coalition government in 1996. That was the Premier’s defence on these. That is all he had. And I must say when he came up with that I thought, ‘Well, that’s as good as it gets from us’. The Premier—

Ms Ryan: I was 10.

Mr D O’BRIEN: The member for Euroa was 10 when that happened. I think I did reply to him, ‘What happened under the Fraser government, and what happened under the Menzies government?’. I mean, for the Premier to be trying to defend himself by going back to 1996—that is 26 years ago—just shows how much focus the government has on politics at the expense of outcomes. That is a significant cut that will hurt Victorians who are in need of public dental services.

We can go through the budget papers, and I would venture to suggest that I probably know these papers better than most people, perhaps with the exception—maybe not—of the Treasurer. But—

Members interjecting.

Mr D O’BRIEN: I know them pretty well. Yes, I absolutely know them pretty well. From listening to those opposite making their commentary on the budget, they certainly have not actually picked up the budget papers. It is very easy to get your briefing pack from the Premier’s office—all the nice things in your electorate and all the talking points about what it is. Have any of them actually opened up the budget papers and had a look at what they say?

I mentioned health—page 220, the health output. The revised figure from 2021–22 to the budget this year goes from $27 billion to $25 billion. That is a $2 billion cut overall to the health budget. It is there in black and white.

Mr Eren: It’s federal.

Mr D O’BRIEN: No, it is not federal. It is the state budget papers, member for Lara. Have a look at the budget papers.

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions—there is a 31.2 per cent, $80 million cut from the regional development budget. I think the member for Murray Plains would tell me it was a 50 per cent cut on last year. Is that correct? So that is two years in a row of massive cuts to regional development spending. And on that, the government that supposedly has a commitment to my region and to the Latrobe Valley Authority gives the Latrobe Valley Authority $7.5 million out of that. We discovered last week that $5 million of that goes to continuing to pay the public servants. There is no grant money left for anyone to try and establish new businesses and new industries in the Latrobe Valley. We have now been told that some of the money has been given for the new CEO, the former Labor candidate for McMillan, to develop a transition plan. Well, hallelujah! Here we are five years after the LVA was established and now, just now, they are being asked to develop a transition plan for Latrobe Valley. That is just a disgrace.

We can go through other parts of the budget. The agriculture portfolio has been cut $46 million on last year. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning—this is one that is interesting in the context of the weekend’s election—a 16 per cent cut to climate change programs and a 36 per cent cut to Solar Victoria. So all of the spin we have heard—

Ms Ryan: That’s $100 million.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Yes. These are actually in the budget papers. You could open them up and have a look—I could even tell you: page 168, members opposite—because you need to have a look at some of this stuff because it seems that you are just taking the spin.

We see housing assistance on page 197—a 19.5 per cent cut. We see the Office for Disability—a 50 per cent cut. We heard in the public hearings on Monday the minister fluffing around with his papers, and eventually he told us that that was a mistake, that in fact some money for the Office for Disability was put in a different line item. It makes you wonder: can you trust anything in these budget papers, because there are so many mistakes?

Then the one that is particularly close to my heart of course is the road asset management budget, which again had a 4 per cent cut. When our roads are at their worst after two wet years and two years of cuts by this government to road asset management, it is disgraceful that the government is not putting more money into this.

But there is a bright light. If you turn to page 313, never fear, because the Department of Premier and Cabinet has got an 18.5 per cent increase in funding for itself—so the Premier’s office itself. More public servants, less boots on the ground but more suits in Treasury Place to look after the Premier—an 18.5 per cent increase and the cuts just highlight how badly this government has got its priorities wrong. I think if you want to know anything more about that, have a look at the front page of the Herald Sun this morning—

Mr Dimopoulos: Oh, yes, a reputable paper, that one.

Mr D O’BRIEN: with the ‘Hospital bedlam’ story, where people from the Australian Medical Association, a nursing and midwifery training organisation and the hospitals association—all of them—highlight how this government is failing Victorians in a crisis. And if you actually happen to read it, member for Oakleigh, you will find all the comments talking about how this was a problem before COVID and how wrong it is for politicians and the Premier and the Minister for Health to say ‘This is just COVID’ and ‘We are struggling to cope because of COVID’. Have a look at it.

Mr Dimopoulos: Mate, I’m not going to read the Herald Sun and pretend it is fact.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Well, open up the budget papers and you might learn something. This is a budget of spin and for an election, not for the people of Victoria.

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