Report on the 2019–20 Budget Estimates


Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:20): I acknowledge the contribution of both of the previous speakers, including the member for Geelong, on that very difficult issue. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the work of Brenda Coughlan, from Sale in my electorate, as an advocate for independent mothers in regional Victoria who was also a victim of the forced adoptions of the past and has been a tireless campaigner for their rights and for recognition of what went wrong.

But today I would like to get up to speak on the 2019–20 Public Accounts and Estimates Committee budget outcomes report and particularly focus a little bit on the issue of performance measures for our departments and the question, I guess, of delivery versus outcomes. You might look at inputs versus actual outcomes and delivery, which is one of the key focuses of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. We had further discussions last week on the 2020–21 budget outcomes as well, and I look forward to that report being finalised in coming months and tabled in this Parliament. One of the things that I am particularly concerned about is the emphasis on inputs, as I said, and particularly when it comes to the public service. It is a concern to all of us, particularly in regional areas, that the work that is supposed to be done is not always done, and yet we are seeing, particularly under this government, a constant escalation in the number of public servants on the taxpayer payroll, which would be a good thing if we were getting better outcomes.

I was concerned last week to see the annual report for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), where the number of field staff, according to the annual report, has actually dropped by 133 people, so field staff actually out doing the work. The vast bulk of them, we heard in the hearings, were actually firefighters, so the contract firefighters and seasonal firefighters. But the number of Victorian public sector staff actually went up by 444 staff, the number of executives went up by 20 and the total number of staff—so in total when you net that all out—saw a 340 increase. Now, if we were getting better outcomes, that would be a good thing, but I can tell you as a rural member of Parliament, and I am sure many of my colleagues would say the same, that we are not getting better outcomes, particularly on the issue of management of public land and the issue of planning, which is a separate issue. I just digress for a moment. We heard last week that planning processes are taking 184 per cent longer than they were the previous year—

Mr Battin: A record.

Mr D O’BRIEN: It was absolutely a record, and clearly COVID has had an impact. But as we have been told by numerous departments over the past couple of years, people are still working; they are just working from home. Well, that sort of increase is not good enough. Whether it is the failure to meet targets for fuel reduction burning or mechanical treatment of high-risk areas; whether it is weed and feral management control, particularly in national parks but, again, on Crown land more broadly; whether it is firewood collection areas and their availability and their preparedness for the community to come and collect firewood; and more particularly whether it is bushfire recovery, we have got this significant increase in the number of staff, but I would very strongly argue that we are not getting the outcomes.

There is no further evidence needed than in the questioning we went through last week on bushfire recovery, on replacing a bridge at Thurra River in Croajingolong National Park. Both the Thurra River and the Point Hicks campgrounds are just nearby, and the department is taking four years to replace that particular bridge. This is just one of many. I know of the issue of the boardwalk at Salmon Rocks, and there have been other parts of Cape Conran that have taken a long time and continue to take a long time for the government to recover. The question, really, when you have got that huge increase in the Victorian public service and a reduction in field staff, is: what are we actually getting for our money? That is a significant concern for the community, particularly in our rural areas where people know the impacts of mismanagement of public land.

I note, again from the annual report last year, that 57 per cent of DELWP staff are situated in the Melbourne CBD. This should be an outward-focused, public-land-focused organisation, and I do not think it is good enough. It is one thing to be putting on these extra staff and getting more work done, but I do not believe we are getting that and I do not believe we are getting value for money under this government.

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