Matters of public importance

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:07): I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I really am quite perplexed that here we are, six months out from an election, we have got a crisis in our health service, a crisis in our ambulance service, a housing affordability crisis around the state and cost-of-living concerns right around the state, and the best most important thing that the government can come up with to talk about is what the opposition has done in changing its view to support something the government wanted it to do in the first place. It is quite extraordinary that government members are supporting this MPI and that they put it forward in the first place. Frankly the member for Oakleigh should be embarrassed to be putting forward this MPI. I think the government have forgotten that they are the government. It is the opposition’s job to hold them to account—

Ms Britnell: Not the other way around.

Mr D O’BRIEN: and they are doing it the other way around, member for South-West Coast. That is exactly what they are doing.

Ms Vallence: They’re getting used to it for December.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in the chamber. I am having trouble hearing the member for Gippsland South. If members want to have conversations, please take it outside the chamber.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and you will want to hear it, because it is going to be very good, I am sure. But the government seems to have forgotten its job is to govern, and at a time when we have got that many issues happening in this state, many of them caused by the government’s own incompetence, the government is putting up as the matter of public importance for the week what the opposition has done or has not done. It might even be understandable if we were still opposing something the government thinks is good policy, but it is actually alleging that we have changed to support what it wanted us to support in the first place. How disgraceful of us to do that.

Ms Britnell: Hang on, here comes a Utopia episode.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Thank you, member for South-West Coast. I was going to mention that. The member for Buninyong brought up The Thick of It. This government is more Utopia every day. We talk about some of the things that this government has messed up, and the mental health levy indeed is a classic example of the government needing to find more money because it has been like Utopia in the way it has wasted money, particularly on infrastructure, $24 billion of cost overruns on its infrastructure. Just think how that would have gone if put towards the mental health system in this state.

I say again, at the moment we have got a significant health crisis, and every day in question time for the last couple of months the opposition has been standing up and giving examples of the absolute failures of the government when it comes to the health system, to the ambulance system and indeed to the mental health system. We have got housing affordability and availability as a huge problem right across the state. We have got cost-of-living issues, which are hurting Victorians, housing being one of them, and yet the government is worried about what we are doing. This is just astounding to me.

I want to pick up a couple of the comments made by those opposite, particularly the member for Buninyong and the member for Yan Yean, about backflips. Every member of Parliament changes their view on things. Every member of Parliament adapts to the situation. I think it was actually former Prime Minister Gillard—I think it is a Mark Twain quote—who said, ‘When the facts change, my view changes. What do you do, sir?’, or words to that effect. That is exactly what has happened with us with the mental health levy. We opposed it. We have opposed dozens of things in this Parliament where we do not agree with the government, but it does not necessarily mean that when we are in government we will overturn them, because things change. As the member for Warrandyte pointed out, the government’s astonishing waste of money, our huge deficit situation and our increasing debt situation make it impossible for the opposition in coming to government to wind back everything that we do not like that was brought in by the Labor Party.

Let us talk about some of those backflips. Remember the Premier said as opposition leader to Channel 7 the night before the election in 2014 that there would be no new or increased taxes, and he gave that guarantee to each and every Victorian. We have since had 42 new and increased taxes. That is a bit of a backflip. Remember the heroin injecting rooms? That was something that the government was not interested in touching until the Northcote by-election in 2017, and suddenly the government was under significant pressure from the Greens, and the government backflipped. Remember the east–west link in 2014? The opposition leader then said, ‘No, no, if the government has signed contracts, we won’t be tearing them up’, and he backflipped.

Mr R Smith: ‘Won’t cost a cent’.

Mr D O’BRIEN: ‘Won’t cost a cent. The contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on’. Here we are $1.3 billion down the tube later—that is another backflip. Only recently the housing tax that the government was going to introduce in conjunction with planning changes, the reform of the planning system—no, backflipped, dumped, changed.

Mr R Smith interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: One that is close to my heart: this government said just a month before axing the—

Mr Dimopoulos interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Oakleigh and the member for Warrandyte, if you could stop yelling across the chamber.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I am always happy to pick up interjections. I would prefer if they were directed at me, though. There is an issue that is deeply serious, and there were people here in the Parliament today talking about the timber industry. We know the now Attorney-General told the industry only a month before the government axed the timber industry that it was sustainable. That was another instance of the government overturning things.

The issue of the mental health levy is simply a matter of perspective. It is a matter of political perspective, and we all agree and disagree in different ways on how governments should raise money, how they should spend money. It has never ceased to amaze me that the government have criticised us for not supporting a new tax, because they seem to think that the only way that fixing the mental health system can be done is by introducing a new tax. It just beggars belief. You can go through any one of the government’s press releases in the last 24 hours—‘New microscope revolutionises critical medical research’, a $31 million announcement by the Minister for Higher Education. We have got ‘New health connections’, ‘Stepping close to the Metro Tunnel’, ‘Improving the air in our small business’, a $60 million fund for small business. Have any of these things been done through a new tax or levy? No.

Mr R Smith interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: That is right. I don’t want to give the government ideas. These are funded through government revenue. If mental health is not a fundamental role of the state government to fund, then what is? When does the government start putting a levy on to fund the police or the education system or the health system? What a ridiculous notion, that we have to have a tax just to fund what is core business for any state government. That is where we fundamentally disagree, and I think everyone should acknowledge that. We should acknowledge that we will have disagreements. The reality is, though, now that the government has got the budget in such a parlous state, it is impossible for us if we come to government to overturn that mental health levy.

I want to mention climate change, because that is part of the member for Oakleigh’s MPI. We need to do more on it, there is no question about that, but my issue with the question of climate change, particularly in energy, which is such a big focus, is how we manage the transition. And it is deeply personal for me and for most country members because it is country people that provide energy at the moment—whether it is through coal, or oil and gas in my electorate—and it is country people that overwhelmingly are bearing the burden of new developments. And when I say ‘bearing the burden’, it is often a burden because for many of them there are very few benefits to the local area of a new wind farm, for example.

The second thing I want to talk about on that, just briefly, is that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change consistently tells us that renewable energy is cheaper, and therefore I say: well, why does it need a subsidy? If it is cheaper than coal and any other energy source, why does it need a subsidy? We can question these issues and we can question policies, as we did in the previous term of government, and oppose bills. It does not mean we do not support action on climate change. And I carve out from that the debate on offshore wind farms. They are a new area, and, yes, the government will need to assist in those areas.

This ultimately is a sad MPI from an arrogant government that has forgotten that it is actually here to govern and solve the problems that affect the people of Victoria, not to waste the Parliament’s time attacking the opposition.

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