APPROPRIATION (2024–2025) BILL 2024

Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (18:08): Labor cannot manage money, and it is Victorians who are going to pay the price. We are already paying the price, and we are seeing it on every single page of the budget papers that were delivered last week. We are seeing it constantly in the reports that are coming through as the budget is digested by people. I must say I am a little bit disappointed to be getting up and giving my budget speech now and not in a couple of weeks time, when we will have had the opportunity through the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee process to actually get into the weeds of this budget, because the little bits and pieces that I have seen in my own portfolio and in my own electorate just highlight that Labor cannot manage money and it is Victorians who are paying the price.

The purpose of a state government is to provide services and infrastructure to the people of this state, and we have an ongoing debate in this place between those opposite and the Liberals and Nationals with respect to financial management. Sometimes it does get a little puerile. There is no doubt that debt can be a good thing. Debt put towards productive infrastructure is a good thing, and it is quite appropriate that future generations pay for some of the infrastructure in particular that they will utilise. But it is all about balance, and it is about making sure that you have got that debt under control and that spending under control. The failure in this budget, after 10 years of this Labor government, is that this Labor government has completely failed to get that balance right.

It has lost complete control of its spending, it has lost complete control of its debt, because Labor cannot manage money, and we are seeing that right throughout these budget papers. We are heading, by 2028, for $188 billion of debt for the state of Victoria.

Tim McCurdy: How much?

Danny O’BRIEN: $188 billion. Debt will become 25.2 per cent of the gross state product of this state – that is, Victorians will owe a quarter of what they produce every year. To put that in context, I think the Cain and Kirner government disaster in the early 1990s got to about 16 per cent, so it is not insignificant in a historical context and it just reinforces that Labor cannot manage money.

We all have debt. We all borrow to build a home, we all borrow for a business – whatever it might be. Where that issue comes in for debt is in what it ultimately costs you and what it stops you as a government from being able to do. By 2028 that $188 billion of debt will be costing Victorians $9.3 billion a year in interest, which is $26 million per day. To put this in context – and I am pretty sure those opposite probably have not looked at this – $9.3 billion a year in interest payments is more than the entire budgets this year for the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, the Department of Government Services, the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions, the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Department of Treasury and Finance. All those departments have a budget this year of less – in most cases far less – than the $9 billion we are headed for terms of interest repayments.

What does that mean? That means the services and the infrastructure that the people of Victoria need are going to be removed, because we will be spending so much on interest payments – $9.3 billion a year, $26 million a day. There are consequences for that spending. There are consequences for the fact that Labor cannot manage money. You have seen it in this budget. You have seen it in cuts to airport rail – the airport rail that we have been promised for decades that this government said it was finally going to get on and do. The former Premier said it was going to be his thing; now it is put off for another four years. We are seeing community hospitals that were promised two elections ago – three of them, at Eltham, Torquay and Emerald – totally on hold, probably never to happen, because the money has gone. We see through the budget papers community crime prevention down 46 per cent, a 46 per cent reduction; early childhood supports down 11 per cent, an 11 per cent cut to the budget there; environment protection, a 37 per cent cut; and waste and recycling, a 44 per cent cut. That is notwithstanding that at the same time the government is actually upping the waste charge, so the tax increase is there but the waste and recycling budget will actually go down. How could that possibly be? I can only assume it is because the waste and recycling charge is going to prop up the bottom line. We are seeing child protection – child protection – down $140 million on last year, home and community care support for young people down 19.8 per cent and the public health budget down 33.8 per cent.

I heard the member for Bentleigh and many others talk about how well the jobs market is going. The jobs budget in this budget is cut by 70 per cent. Then we have seen things like the government’s signature policies, like the sick pay for casual workers. Remember, everyone sat over on this side and got lectured by the government about how important this was and how this was a Labor Party delivering for casual workers. It is gone – just cut. Absolutely gone.

We have got hospital waiting lists. We saw in the Sunday Age this week that the government’s commitment, announced to great fanfare and with a huge amount of money just a couple of years ago, that they were heading for 240,000 surgeries per year – that target has been cut before they even reached it. They did not even get close to it.

The minister at the time said she would not accept anything less than 240,000 surgeries a year. They are now expected to perform 207,000, and the target has gone back to 200,000. That is not numbers; that is not budget figures.

Bridget Vallence interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: It is people, member for Evelyn – people with hip surgery that they are waiting for, with knees, with all of those things that our constituents come to us with all the time. The government, with great fanfare and billions of dollars, announced they were going to do these 240,000 ‍surgeries and get well beyond what the surgery target was before COVID, and in this budget it is just cut, because Labor cannot manage money.

We see it affecting everything else. We have got the public housing lists. We have seen the so-called Big Housing Build of $5 billion, and yet we have still got something like 60,000 Victorians on public housing waiting lists. In my electorate in Latrobe city, Wellington shire and South Gippsland shire there are less public and social homes now than when this government came to office. Notwithstanding a $5 billion increase in spending, there are less in those shires across the Gippsland South electorate.

We have seen the failure to deliver in mental health. We have seen the failure to establish the lived and living experience agency as recommended by this government’s own royal commission, which was meant to be delivered this year and in this budget – not going to happen. Two thousand supported dwellings for Victorians living with mental illness and 500 medium-term supported housing places for young people – neither of them are delivered in this budget as expected. And finally there is the delay of the rollout of the next tranche of the local mental health and wellbeing services, again put on the backburner because Labor cannot manage money. That includes a mental health and wellbeing local in my electorate of Gippsland South in Leongatha, because the Labor government cannot manage money.

We are seeing in education more money over the last 20 years – more money and less outcomes for our students. We hear the government talk about all the schools that they are getting – well, I have still got Sale College unfunded. Despite the fact that it was given $3 million three years ago for a master plan, it is still unfunded. Foster Primary School – still waiting for it to be finished. Leongatha Secondary College actually did not have an ask for money and did not have a master plan but was given a commitment by the government before the election of $11.7 million, which of course we would welcome – except, because Labor cannot manage money, that too, along with several dozen other schools, has also been put on the backburner.

We are seeing cancer funding cut by 70 per cent, dental services cut in this budget – dental services; we have already got a two-year waitlist in Latrobe Regional Health for public dental services.

The member for Nepean has gone on about the tourism promotions that have been cut, and we come to the crux. I think the member for Bulleen put it pretty well: we all remember the debate about the Suburban Rail Loop and the health system at the last election, and the former Premier put up the Old El Paso TV ad, remember: ‘Why don’t we have both?’ Well, now we are not getting either, because the Arden hospital, the so-called biggest hospital promise in the nation – gone. We are not doing that anymore, apparently for some electromagnetic thing: ‘Oh, actually, we knew about that three years ago.’ But it is a very handy excuse for us to just shelve the whole thing because we cannot afford it anymore.

We are not doing airport rail. We are not doing the Melton and Wyndham rail. We are not doing Geelong fast rail anymore. But we are going ahead with the $125 billion, $200 billion, $250 billion – whatever it is – Suburban Rail Loop that no-one ever asked for. I heard one of the members on the other side before say people voted for it. People voted for the Arden hospital too. I am not hearing anyone mention that one. They also voted for the airport rail. They also voted, Acting Speaker Farnham, for the West Gippsland hospital. Did you get any money for that? I cannot put you in that position when you are in the chair, Acting Speaker, but those are things that people also voted for. People also voted for the sick pay guarantee for casual workers. That has been dropped. So do not stand there and tell us people voted for the Suburban Rail Loop when you have dumped all the other things that people voted for because Labor cannot manage money.

We are seeing this in my portfolio of roads. We now have a roads maintenance budget that is 16 per cent less than it was four years ago. Not only that, we have got a whole range of performance measures that the government has introduced, and they are failing to meet some of the old ones. They are introducing a new performance measure of ‘road area major patched’. That does not make literal sense. Is it patched majorly, as opposed to the minor patches they are doing? I do not know. They are bringing this in, ‘road area major patched’, and of course the targets are there this year but they are irrelevant. If you are patching potholes, that is not a measure of success in fixing roads, it is a measure of failure. Why have we got that? Because also on that same page, page 128 of the performance measures, we have got the ‘road area resurfaced or rehabilitated’ performance measure. In regional Victoria the target two budgets ago was 12 million square metres. What was achieved this year was 340,000 square metres – a 90 per cent failure on what the target was two years ago. The target for this year is 3 million square metres, so the government is absolutely abandoning any concept of actually looking after our roads, and our roads are in the worst shape they have ever been.

The government’s own statistics have shown that 91 per cent of our regional roads – our roads across the state indeed – are in poor or very poor condition. They are like that because the money is not being spent on them because Labor cannot manage money. We are seeing that everywhere in the services that we are missing out on, in the roads that are not getting fixed and in the preventative maintenance. That performance measure includes resurfacing. We do resurfacing to make sure that a road is sealed and that water does not get in and we do not create potholes. The government has cut that to such an extent that there has been virtually no resurfacing program undertaken this year alone, and that is just a disgrace.

The government’s $26 million in spending on interest rates per day is leaving us without the ability to deliver the services that Victorians want. In my electorate that $26 million a day is three Mirboo North fire stations or Foster fire stations or Korumburra fire stations. It is four Foster Primary Schools. It is half of Sale College in a day. This government has lost control of the finances, and it is Victorians who are suffering the consequences. Labor cannot manage money. It has got $180 billion worth of debt, heading for $26 million a day, and that means services and the things that Victorians need will not be delivered.

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