Governor’s speech


Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (13:34): It is a privilege and a pleasure to stand and speak on the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech as the member for Gippsland South. I say a privilege because it is indeed that, and every one of us should remember each and every day that we are in here that we have been given the trust of the 50,000-odd people that elected each of us in our respective electorates to stand up and be their voice. I intend to continue to do that.

I was very pleased to be re-elected, and I thank the people of Gippsland South for placing their trust in me. It was a slightly revised Gippsland South, with the addition of new communities – Yinnar, Boolarra, Boolarra South, Budgeree, Jumbuk, Jeeralang, Toongabbie and Cowwarr. I am thankful for their support as a new MP to them under the arrangements put in place by the Electoral Boundaries Commission, and I thank them for supporting me, as did the rest of the electorate. Indeed, whilst the margin came back down a little bit with the new boundaries, we managed to keep it at about 15 per cent, so we increased the notional margin for Gippsland South. Indeed the Nationals won every booth on primary vote and on two-party preferred, and that is a great endorsement of the work that we have been doing.

I do offer my congratulations to the Labor Party for its election victory and to the Premier for a third election victory, as difficult as it is to say that. They do indeed deserve the congratulations for winning the support of Victorians. But I note the Premier’s commitment to governing for all Victorians, and I make the comment that whilst the government was returned to government, it did suffer swings in many areas, not least of which were some of its traditional areas in the north and west of Melbourne but particularly in rural and regional Victoria, where the Nationals had an outstanding result. In saying that, the government needs to understand that, yes, it has a mandate, and we acknowledge mandates and respect them up to a point; it also needs to acknowledge that many people in Victoria supported other parties and parties such as the Nationals and the commitments and the policies that we took forward. I am not suggesting for a moment that the government is obliged to implement those commitments, but it does need to acknowledge that the people in those areas, including in Gippsland South, did back the commitments we made – for example, in my electorate, the commitment that the coalition made for a new Sale College, a new campus and a $10 million investment to get that underway, to ensure the purchase of an appropriate new greenfield site and to start on stage 1. That is something for which the government, to its credit, has provided $3 million for the master planning, and I would expect and hope that once the budget comes around there will be funding for the full school rebuild of Sale College. It is certainly needed in the Wellington shire and Sale in particular.

The Leongatha intersection of the South Gippsland Highway and the Strzelecki Highway, otherwise known as ‘kamikaze corner’ because it is dangerous and confusing – again, the government needs to act on that.

The Loch Sport foreshore erosion we have been dealing with now for at least five years and seeking action for from the former minister for environment, who has just spoken and has now left the chamber. I would hope that the new Minister for Environment will actually pay some attention to that issue, because the previous one has presided over reports and consultants and further consultation but not done anything to address it. So we need that addressed.

We committed to a new Sale train in the early morning. Despite years of disruptions through construction of the Gippsland line upgrade and many of the works in Melbourne – Gippslanders have been put through an enormous amount of disruption when it comes to train services – we still need a down payment on that. We need a commitment from the government that were will be additional services beyond Traralgon. We committed to a new early morning service from Sale, and we still need to see the government actually match that and go further.

We committed to completing the rebuild of Foster Primary School, a new netball court for Korumburra Bena football–netball club and a new roof for the Waratah Beach Surf Life Saving Club. I note both the Waratah Beach and Venus Bay surf clubs have been waiting for funding from this government for some time. There have been a significant number of announcements for those along the Bass Coast, but there has been nothing for those in the South Gippsland area, and the government needs to address that. Fixing our roads, implementing a new overtaking lane at Toora on the South Gippsland Highway – these are all things that we committed to.

I would like to extend my congratulations to my colleagues, particularly the Leader of the Nationals Peter Walsh, the member for Murray Plains, for the work that he did; to the member for Lowan, as our deputy; to our headquarters, led by state director Matt Harris; and in particular to the new members for Mildura, Euroa, Shepparton and Morwell and Gaelle Broad in the other place. It is an extraordinarily result – the Nationals’ best result since 1943. I think it is a 78 per cent increase in numbers for the Nationals, and it needs to be recognised by the government.

I really want to highlight the electorate of Morwell and the work of the new member for Morwell in winning that seat. This is a seat that was a 4.6 per cent Labor seat, on the new boundaries. The city of Moe going into the electorate of Morwell made it a notional Labor seat, and for the new member for Morwell to pull a swing of nearly 9 per cent really shows I guess – just like those northern and western suburbs where Labor had a huge margin and had it eroded by swings –and is a reflection of the Labor government’s failure to continue to represent what were once its traditional blue-collar supporters. We can see that through the recent announcements on Opal Australian Paper and indeed the SEC. I know the minister – prior to me – had a fair bit to say about the SEC policy. Well, the idea of bringing back the SEC might have worked in some parts, but the place that knew the SEC best – the Latrobe Valley – saw right through this. They saw that this policy is a failed bit of spin.

Some may have been suckered into what this policy was supposed to be. The Premier tried to sell it as the government bringing back the SEC and basically putting electricity back into public hands. It is not doing that. There is not going to be a single government retailer. There is not going to be a single government producer of electricity. There is not going to be a government entity that owns the poles and wires. That is not what this is about. That is what the Premier tried to make it about, tried to make it seem like. This was said to be ‘We are bringing back the SEC to bring your prices down.’ Well, it will be five, ten, 15 years before the government actually starts producing any of its own electricity, and we saw that from the questions asked of the minister a few weeks ago when she could not say when prices will come down thanks to the investment in the SEC.

With respect to offshore wind, I found it a bit bemusing that the Premier constantly referred to the privatised producers, these offshore companies, that are leaving, when the biggest single company that produces power in this state, which is leaving in 2035, is in fact AGL – an Australian-owned company, Premier. It is an Australian company.

Annabelle Cleeland: Thanks for the facts, Danny.

Danny O’BRIEN: Well, facts have been pretty light on from the government, but we need to put this on the record. He talked a lot about offshore wind as well, so we would be offshoring instead of offshoring profits. Well, I know in my electorate of Gippsland South, or off the shore of my electorate, there are at least five proposals on the table right now for new offshore wind. I say to the government, with those private companies – and some of them are Australian companies, some of them are some of the biggest renewable energy companies in the world – why do we need the taxpayer to risk our dollars when the private sector is already doing it?

There are so many questions to the government. Will you be co-investing with those companies? Will you be building your own offshore wind farms? Why would you do that when the private sector is prepared to do it? We have this opportunity happening already, but this is part of the spin that the government has put in.

I note that there is a great opportunity for us in Gippsland potentially with the offshore wind farm development, particularly as oil and gas in the area wind down. There are complementarities between that and the offshore wind sector, and there are great opportunities. But the government last year put out an offshore wind farm implementation statement, and it highlighted that its preferred construction port was the Port of Hastings. It went even to the point of a graphic in that document showing labour mobility and workers from offshore oil and gas and from the Yallourn and Loy Yang power stations – which we know are scheduled to close under this government, earlier than planned – all those people, not getting jobs in the Latrobe Valley or in my electorate around Sale but actually – having arrows – going to Hastings. So supposedly the benefits for Gippsland are not going to be in Gippsland; the benefits will be ‘Oh, you can all pack up and move to Hastings, where you will be able to work at the Port of Hastings.’

Obviously the private companies will make their own decisions about where the best place to develop their offshore plans is, but I will be strongly encouraging them to consider Barry Beach in Gippsland so that the benefits of the construction and ongoing operation and maintenance of these wind farms are in fact in Gippsland. We need to push that.

On the government’s rhetoric on the SEC – the rhetoric about privatisation – the government tried to say this was a referendum on privatisation. Well, I am sorry, but you are about 20 years late. I think we had that when Jeff Kennett lost in 1999. But Labor, when it comes to privatisation, is either wrong or hypocritical. For a start, it is constantly forgotten by the current government that it was Joan Kirner that started the privatisation of the SEC by selling half of Loy Yang B. That does not get mentioned. Joan gets mentioned a lot, but not when it comes to privatisation. We have got this government having privatised the lease on the Port of Melbourne, the land titles office and VicRoads – a modernisation program worth $7.9 billion.

I must say it genuinely saddens me that Labor has gone backwards on policy on this and gone back to this notion that government knows best. Since the Hawke and Keating reforms, supported by the then federal coalition, I thought we understood that government does not know best. Time and time again the evidence is otherwise: that the private sector can do things more efficiently and more effectively. If I am wrong, why has this government gone through all those privatisations that I have just mentioned? I just find it a difficult argument to deal with. Sometimes they say, ‘Essential services shouldn’t be privatised.’ As someone whose electorate is host to the oil and gas industry in this state, which provides still to this day 90 per cent of our gas supplies, it should be a big shock to those opposite that that has been run for 50 years by the private sector. Esso BHP and its partners have been running that for 50 years. It has been competitive, there have been good prices and it has all flowed. There have been great jobs in our region, and the government did not need to lift a finger. Heaven forbid – please do not anyone tell the Premier who owns the petrol stations in this country, because I am sure he will start saying that they need to be privatised too.

I just want to mention too that the Premier in his celebratory speech on the night of the election talked about hope over hate. I am not entirely sure what he was referring to when he mentioned hate. But I would like to challenge the government on truth versus lies, because we saw a lot of lies during the election campaign. We had the government telling us that the only way that we could get the gas that the coalition proposed would be to go fracking. You can go back onto the government’s own website and find the Attorney-General, the then Minister for Energy and Resources, in 2020 and 2021, with a press release, ‘Onshore conventional gas restart a green light for jobs’, 16 June 2020. The minister said:

Production of the estimated resources could generate as much as $310 million annually for regional economies …

Two years ago the government said, ‘Yes, there is onshore gas.’ Then through the election campaign the minister comes out and says it is not there.

Tim Richardson: It’s not fracking, mate. Are you opposed to fracking?

Danny O’BRIEN: I am opposed to fracking. That was the lie, member for Mordialloc. That was the lie.

The government stands condemned for bringing those things in. We had the candidate for Morwell saying that we were going to privatise Gippsland Water – that was never our policy – and that we were going to privatise Latrobe Regional Hospital. So do not stand there and point your finger at us on this side and talk about hope over hate when those lies come out.

I will briefly reprise what I said in the address-in-reply back then: we need to do better as politicians. Our behaviour needs to improve. The way we do politics is still turning people off. In 2018, 78 per cent of people voted for the major parties; in 2022, just 71.3 per cent. We need to do better. We need to do better for our democracy.

Members applauded.

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