FEDERAL BUDGET

Motions

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:19): I am going to start with reference to the previous speaker, the member for Lara, and also the Minister for Education during question time. The Minister for Education during question time said some people want less money spent on education, and likewise the member for Lara was just going on about Liberal and Nationals members who support the current arrangements in Canberra. To both of them I say, ‘Who?’. To paraphrase the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ‘Who? What people? Name names?’. It is very easy for those opposite to stand up there, throw bombs over and say, ‘Oh, you all do this, and you all do that’, but who has ever argued, Deputy Premier, that there should be less money spent on education? Not the member for Warrandyte. Not the member for Lowan. Not the member for Gippsland South.

I stand here first as a Victorian, and as a Victorian I will always back the interests of Victorians. I find it a little bit bemusing that we are standing here debating this particular motion—firstly, because it is yet another example of the government having completely run out of ideas and having no legislative agenda; secondly, of course, because it is playing absolute partisan politics with a federal election about to be called. The government is doing the bidding of its federal Labor counterparts, and to that end I would like to pick up some of the comments that were just made by the member for Lara but also by the Treasurer during question time because they seem most perturbed by the current carve-up of the GST arrangements. That is understandable. Certainly we always will argue for a better deal for Victoria. We live in a situation, though, in Australia where we have what is called horizontal fiscal equalisation, where across the nation we try and make sure that every Australian has the right to equivalent services and infrastructure. That has been the case since federation and, as the Treasurer said in question time, it has been the case that Victoria has always been, I believe, a donor state.

So we heard a 2-minute rant from the Treasurer during question time about the dastardly Frydenberg-Morrison budget and this particular GST carve-up. But I have discovered that members of the Labor Party seem to have missed the other memo that has been around in the last 24 hours, because the reason we are having this debate is that there is a federal election about to be called. Quite rightly Victoria should be standing up for Victoria’s interests and the government should be standing up against unfair arrangements that may come from Canberra. But they should be standing up against unfair arrangements that come from either side of politics. We heard the Treasurer spend 2 minutes complaining about the GST carve-up. We just heard a good 7 or 8 minutes from the member for Lara about how terrible Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are with respect to the GST carve-up. But what have we heard from the alternative federal government? We have heard that they would do exactly the same. I can quote to you in fact—

Ms Kealy interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: No, no-one seems to have mentioned that. I am here to help, member for Lowan. It seems that the members of the government missed the announcement from the Shadow Treasurer federally yesterday. I just want to make sure that they are aware of it, because he said yesterday at the National Press Club—it might have been after the press club in a press conference:

We’ve said to all of the governments that we don’t intend to reopen that deal—

that is, the carve-up of the GST.

That has been a subject of some conjecture …

Jim Chalmers said.

And as always, in these deals, which are done years in advance, but are asked to take into account fluctuations in state economies, there are typically people who are happy for good reason and people who are unhappy for good reason.

While we hear the partisan comments from those opposite about this terrible GST carve-up, the point that is relevant to Victorians is: vote for a Labor federal government and absolutely nothing will change. Now, I put the question out to the Treasurer, to the member for Lara and anyone else who is going to speak on this from the government benches: have you rung Jim Chalmers? Have you lobbied Anthony Albanese for a better deal for Victoria? Because it seems like they have not. In fact it seems I have just let them know what Jim Chalmers actually has said, because he has no interest in opening up that deal and changing it for Victoria. You can complain all you like about the GST deal and blame it on the Liberals and Nationals, but the Labor Party is going to do exactly the same.

I also wanted to talk about the situation with respect to the Victorian budget and how that is being impacted by the federal budget and what this motion is all about, because we have seen time and time again this government waste valuable Victorian taxpayers funds. On the infrastructure build alone there are $24 billion of blowouts. We have the Minister for Health moving this motion and standing up every day in question time attacking the federal government and blaming them for not spending enough. Well, the facts bear out a different story. Since the 2012–13 year the commonwealth funding to Victorian hospitals has grown by 112.7 per cent. Now, you might say, ‘Oh, but there’s been health inflation over that period of time’. Well, the Victorian government funding for their own hospitals has increased by 69.5 per cent in the same period. If the Victorian government are serious that they are somehow being short-changed by the commonwealth, well, they should have a look in their own backyard.

I note that the big announcement made on the weekend of $1.5 billion to catch up on elective surgery is half funded by the federal government; $750 million will come from the federal government. That did not actually get a mention in the Acting Premier’s press release somehow. It must have just got deleted at the last minute.

We have seen these arguments before. We hear the Minister for Health bemoaning the crisis that we are having to deal with, the pandemic crisis that has turned our health system into just a basket case. Yet we can go back and we can remember that the government announced on 1 April 2020—no pun intended; it was not an April Fools’ Day joke—that the state government would put $1.3 billion into the health system to fund 4000 beds. In fact it literally says in the government’s media release from the Premier and the Minister for Health at the time that this announcement:

… will secure the ICU equipment, staff and space we need to meet the expected surge in case load at the peak of the pandemic.

The government knew two years ago that there was going to be pressure on the health system. Indeed we were told we needed these initial lockdowns to flatten the curve, to protect the health system. And yet here we are, over two years later now, and there is no sign of those 4000 beds that the government promised. There is no sign of the government actually having acted to address the issues that are affecting the health system, including the ambulance system, which is severely under stress at the moment. Yet now we have got the government, weeks out from a federal election, saying it is all the commonwealth’s fault, and that is an indictment of the management of this government.

I want to just touch on the second part of this motion too, which refers to all COVID-19 funding being cut at the end of September. COVID-19 is an issue—it has been a significant issue—but it is retreating as an issue. My word, if we get to September this year and the government is still wanting funding to deal with COVID-19, we will be in a serious situation. The health system is going to take a long time to recover. We know that for sure. But it would appear, as the member for Lowan said in her opening comments, that the government is preparing us again for more lockdowns, for more restrictions. It is very clear that the government has not had a plan. The Leader of the Opposition said this time and again last year: if you are going into lockdown, that is a public policy failure.

We know there have got to be measures taken to deal with the health threats, but it is very clear that omicron and even the most recent variant, whilst they are far more transmissible, are nowhere near as virulent. I know some people are getting quite crook still, but there is no question that the worst of it has passed. The government needs to accept that, and it needs to be removing the restrictions that we still have on in Victoria—restrictions that I might say are still costing businesses money. Come September we should not be needing funding from the commonwealth to deal with COVID-19.

This government has mismanaged its own budget. It is failing to be clear on the facts of what is happening at federal level with the federal Labor Party changing nothing about the GST carve-up, and the government stands condemned for its own mismanagement.

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