Matters of public importance
Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:32): I am pleased to say a few words on this matter of public importance proposed by the member for Gembrook. I would like to remind the member for Melton that this MPI is actually about Victorians trusting not what the Victorian government says but what it actually does, and we have just heard a lot of discussion in the last 15 minutes about what they are going to do at Melton. The reality is in 2018 a hospital was promised, and there is still a paddock out there.
I wonder whether this is maybe a new version of the Victorian Future Fund. Maybe they have got some cattle on agistment out at this hospital site and they are raising a few more dollars for the fund. The member for Melton says he is delivering, but when you go to the budget papers, the budget handed down by the Treasurer just last week, you can go to page 66 of budget paper 3, member for Melton, and you can find exactly how you are delivering on the new Melton hospital. In 2021–22, TBC; in 2022–23, TBC; in 2023–24, TBC; in 2024–25, TBC; and in 2025–26, TBC—all to be confirmed. There is not anything in this budget that says that this government is actually going to get on with it at any stage. It is all TBC. I see the member for South Barwon is in the chamber as well—
A member: Cattle prices are up.
Mr D O’BRIEN: Cattle prices are up. Well, maybe they are getting a bit more on agistment on these blank canvases that they have got. But the Barwon women’s and children’s hospital, another so-called $500 million project—once again, TBC, TBC, TBC: every year to be confirmed. It is this spin that we get from this government, time and time again from the budget. We heard it once again in question time today, ‘A record $12 billion spend on health’. Well, take out $1.5 billion for those two projects for a start, because they are TBC. They are actually not in the budget papers as funded items.
You can go further than that and look at the output initiatives in the budget papers for the health department. There is $3.5 billion of the output initiatives in the budget papers that shows that it is money that is being spent this year, as in 2021–22. There is a month to go. All that money is already spent. So $5 billion of the so-called $12 billion record spend is either not in the budget papers or has already been spent. And I might add that, of that $3.5 billion, half comes from the commonwealth, because it is under the COVID spending. So it is $1 billion for rapid antigen tests and a little bit over $1 billion for PPE and other measures, and half of it funded by the commonwealth.
But I want to turn to the one that really gets me going when it comes to spin and believing not what the government says but what it does. We all remember the famous press release of Wednesday, 1 April 2020. And yes, it was April Fools’ Day, but this was not apparently a joke—although perhaps it was, because the government promised back then, at the start of the pandemic: ‘We are going to deliver $1.3 billion for 4000 ICU beds’.
Mr McCurdy: Where are they?
Mr D O’BRIEN: Exactly, member for Ovens Valley. Where are they? The government said in this press release from 1 April 2020:
Victoria’s health system will receive a massive $1.3 billion injection to quickly establish an extra 4,000 ICU beds as we respond to the coronavirus pandemic and protect Victorian lives.
So this was all about getting us ready. Indeed the quote from the Premier in there talks about flattening the curve. It goes on:
We are preparing for the worst …
Now, the reality is the government did not prepare our health system. Yes, we have got a one-in-100-year pandemic, but this government said on 1 April 2020, ‘We’re going to prepare the system. We’re going to provide 4000 ICU beds’—and they never appeared. I have been on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), where we have been asking, ‘Where are they?’. We get all sorts of spin from the department and from the minister: ‘There’s this many ready over here’ and ‘We’ve got this many spaces over there’ and ‘We can ramp up if needed’. Clearly, thankfully, we do not currently need 4000 ICU beds, but the second paragraph of the press release from the Premier and the then Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos—does anyone remember her? Anyone heard from her? She got thrown under a bus, didn’t she?—says:
… which will secure the ICU equipment, staff and space we need …
If we had the staff for those 4000 ICU beds, we would not have our system in crisis like we do now. The government promised it was going to prepare the system, and now it is saying, ‘We couldn’t possibly have prepared for a one-in-100-year pandemic’. Well, Premier, you cannot have it both ways. Two and a half years ago you said you were going to do it. The government has abjectly failed on this.
Changing tack just for a moment and picking up the comments from the member for Melton about commitments at the 2018 election, it goes to the same theme here about trusting not what the government says but actually what it does. Literally the day before we went into caretaker mode at the 2018 election the Premier went to the Latrobe Valley and promised 500 jobs through an SEA Electric vehicle plant in the Latrobe Valley. In the following year’s budget papers, in 2019–20, under ‘Regional Development’ in budget paper 3, page 243, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions literally put those 500 jobs in its expected outcomes for 2018–19. It literally says here:
The 2018–19 expected outcome is higher than the … target due to a number of projects with large employment outcomes such as the SEA Electric Vehicle Project …
What happened with that? We never saw the 500 jobs. You know what we found? We found that the taxpayer was funding four or five people from the Latrobe Valley to go to the Dandenong plant and work for SEA Electric. But did the 500 jobs ever come about? No. It took questioning at PAEC in November last year to actually finally get the government to admit that not only did the Premier’s commitment go out the door but the budget papers are wrong too, because the government never delivered this. It is this sort of spin that we get from this government time and time again, particularly just before an election: ‘We’re gonna do this for you, we’re gonna do that for you’.
On health in particular this government continues to fail. You can also go to the budget papers—again, the spin of the $12 billion investment. Have a look at budget paper 3. I know government members probably do not actually look at the budget papers, but have a look at budget paper 3, page 220, the ‘Output summary by departmental objectives’ for the health department—the totals at the very bottom: the 2021–22 revised total, $27 billion; the 2022–23 budget, $25 billion. So last year, the year we are currently in, $27 billion; next year’s budget, $25 billion. That is a $2 billion cut to what the government has actually been spending versus what it is going to spend this year, and yet we get this spin from the government, this spin of ‘We’re spending more, we’re fixing the health system, record spending’. It is not even more than last year. It is $2 billion less than last year.
Now, you can have a look at it—I can see some furrowed brows and shaking heads on the other side—page 220 of budget paper 3. That is right; that is not what the ministerial talking points said. They said, ‘We’re spending $12 billion’, when we know $5 billion of that either is not in the budget papers or has already been spent this year. And the overall figure is $27 billion in the current year, down to $25 billion next year. So the spin from this government is extraordinary.
We are seeing this manifested. We are seeing it in dental cuts; we are seeing it in cuts to small rural hospitals; we are seeing it in the failures on the elective surgery waiting lists, which have blown out. And the government says on that—there is another one—on elective surgery waiting lists, ‘Pandemic. Pandemic—we had no choice, we had to save lives’. Well, the elective surgery waiting list in December 2014 was at 40 869; in March 2020, 51 330. So they had already gone up by—what is that? That is by nearly, well, 11 000 people on elective surgery waiting lists before the pandemic hit. This is the point that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister in the other place have been making time and time again: this government’s spin is that it is because of the pandemic that we are suffering this health crisis at the moment, but the reality is this government had failed time and time again before the pandemic came along.
We have seen those failures. We saw them through the failure of the ambulance response times in the previous years, which the Premier actually got wrong here in the Parliament—and he refuses to correct the record. We have seen them in the blowout in elective surgery waiting lists, and we continue to see them in the spin from this government, with the TBCs throughout the budget papers on hospitals like Melton and Barwon. Sadly it is Victorians who are paying for it through the failures of the ambulance and health systems at the moment under this Andrews Labor government.