Matters of Public Importance

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:33): I am pleased to rise to support the member for Sandringham on his excellent matter of public importance, which is a ripper, but it is a very sad state of affairs that we are talking about today. I was looking just today at the pictures of the 60th Parliament. I saw an old bald bloke in there, and I suddenly realised it was me. I am actually not as old as I look, but I am reasonably old, and I remember the 1980s and 90s. I am seeing in this matter of public importance and the issues that we are addressing that we are feeling a bit of history here. We are going into the third term of a Labor government. We have got budgets in deficit. We have got debt going through the roof. We have got a Premier who is about to hand over the mess to a female replacement, and we have got the SEC in trouble as well. It is just a bit like the Cain–Kirner days. I know I have been around for a bit and we have been saying this about Labor governments for a while, but it is now absolutely coming true. As we headed towards 25 per cent of gross state product being made up of our state debt, I remember asking the Department of Treasury and Finance in a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing last year if we have seen worse. The answer was no. This is getting worse – worse that the Cain–Kirner years – and it is a fact that this government has lost absolute control of the state’s finances and it is Victorians that are paying.

James Newbury interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: Well, I could have added, member for Brighton, that on the horizon is a Liberal leader from the eastern suburbs who is going to have to come in and clean up all the mess when he becomes Premier. That is the next thing that is going to have to happen, because this mob have showed time and time again that they are incapable of actually delivering and picking up the pieces of the mess that they make consistently.

The member for Sandringham is belling the cat, and I think it is true that Victorians are starting to wake up. They are just starting to see, and people are starting to say to us on a daily basis: ‘$10 million a day – is that right?’ We are paying $10 million a day in interest repayments. I hear those opposite a lot when they are in government talk about cuts by the previous Liberal–National government, by the Kennett government and by the federal coalition government, but what they never talk about is the economic management required to ensure that the budget is balanced so that you have the money to deliver the services and the infrastructure that the public needs. Ten million dollars a day, from a local perspective for me in my electorate of Gippsland South: I am looking for a new Sale college in the budget next week; that could be delivered in a week of interest repayments. I have got the fire stations at Mirboo North, Foster and Yarram that I am waiting for funding on. You could do those in about 18 hours with the funding that is being spent on interest payments. I have got ‘kamikaze corner’ in Leongatha, which the Leader of the Nationals has come with me to a couple of times. Every time I take him there to highlight how bad it is, there is nearly an accident while we are getting the photo, and that could be fixed in probably three or four days with the money that this government is spending on interest payments every day – $10 million a day. And if I look at the matter of public importance, which indicates that by 2025 interest payments will be $9.2 billion, well, that takes it up to $25 million a day.

That is absolutely reckless economic management, and it is going to hurt Victorians, who are paying more. We have had 44 new or increased taxes by this government since 2014, and Victorians are getting less because the services and the service delivery are just not there. That is the importance of economic management. Economic management is not about lots of black in the columns. It is not about making a Treasurer feel good about themselves. It is about making sure that you have the finances under control so that you can deliver the services and the infrastructure that Victorians need.

It is extraordinary that we have got to this position. I want to talk a bit about how we got here. As the member for Sandringham has indicated, a lot of the blame is put on COVID. I am just going to back up some of the things he said. What is never mentioned by the Premier or the Treasurer or the Deputy Premier is that before we went into COVID, in March 2020, the state budget had already gone into deficit. In the December quarter of the 2019–20 year the state government budget was in deficit. We had a government that promised in 2018, two days before the election, that they would raise government net debt from 6 per cent of gross state product to 12 per cent, and we are now, as I just said before, heading toward 25 per cent. So to suggest that we have just had this happen because of COVID is a fallacy. For all my sins I have done eight years on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee.

A member: You are still there.

Danny O’BRIEN: I am still there, and I am really looking forward to the minister at the table the Minister for Public Transport coming to PAEC in a couple of weeks because we have got some rippers for him too. But in PAEC every year we see the budget figures showing what the public service is going to cost, and every year the estimate is wrong because the government cannot keep control of the numbers in the public service and the cost of the public service. It says that this was all about COVID. The member for Sandringham has indicated that it was not; he has given us the figures. The member for Frankston has actually gone out now to go and check the member for Sandringham. He is out there with a calculator now. But if it was true, let us look at the results of how we went through COVID.

We had the most cases in Australia. We had the most deaths, particularly in that first wave in 2020 when we had the infamous hotel quarantine. We had the world’s longest lockdowns. We had the biggest impacts on business. As a result of all that, as a result of the government’s great management of looking after COVID, they are the results we got, and we have ended up with the biggest deficits and the biggest debt – more debt than New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. Obviously, as everyone knows, COVID did not happen there. There was no COVID in the other states of Australia, was there? Oh, was there? No, maybe there was. For the Premier to say that this was all the COVID debt and now we have got to pay it back – and the absolute gall of his statements last week to blame the Reserve Bank and say, ‘They made me do it. It was the Reserve Bank, everybody, that said I had to go out and rack up this debt.’ Well, Tasmania, Queensland and New South Wales did not rack up $165 billion of debt, so that line is absolute bullocks. The Premier needs to come back to the facts and understand that Victorians will see through this. If we are paying for the management of COVID, then we are paying for something we did not get because it was not very good.

There are so many issues that are now being affected. I have indicated before, as the member for Sandringham said, there are 44 new or increased taxes. Half of those new or increased taxes are on property, and now these geniuses opposite and their fellow travellers in the Greens up there are surprised that we have got a housing affordability crisis. He attacks housing and the prices go up. How can that possibly be? That is just unfathomable – that continued mismanagement of the finances when you have just got to keep on jacking up the taxes, keep on jacking up land tax and raking it in.

Brad Rowswell: Debt-fuelled spending.

Danny O’BRIEN: It is debt-fuelled spending, as the member for Sandringham says, and it is hurting Victorians. It is hurting them on things like housing affordability, and it is hurting them on things like the cost of living. I mentioned the SEC. I do not have time to go into energy prices and how well that is going under this government. But in return, what are we getting? We have got a disaster of a health system at the moment. It is not getting any better. It is now over 12 months since the worst of the pandemic, and the health system is still in crisis. You cannot get an ambulance half the time. We have got allegations on the front page of the Herald Sun today about how the government manages ambulance response times in the public domain. We have got our roads crumbling right across the state, and regional Victorians know it all too well.

The final point to the matter of public importance is the absolute disregard for regional Victoria. It is 25 per cent of the state. As the report that we had produced by the Parliamentary Budget Officer last year stated – the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer; he was so independent he has been let go by the government now, because he actually belled the cat as well on things like that – 13 per cent of infrastructure spending was happening in rural and regional Victoria. So we are getting less under Labor. We are getting more debt and bigger deficits. Victorians are paying more and getting less.


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