PUBLIC ACCOUNTS AND ESTIMATES COMMITTEE
Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:15): I am pleased to rise to say a few words on the Report on the 2022–23 Budget Estimates by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, of which I am deputy chair. It is quite possibly—hopefully—my last experience of eight years on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. I have got to say, and I have said this to the secretariat and the members of the committee, I actually think this is the best budget estimates report we have done in those eight years. There are some really good recommendations and some actual things that hold the government to account. I recommend it to members throughout the chamber, particularly those opposite, because it astounds me quite regularly when I hear people from the government side get up and speak about the budget and it is very clear to me that they have not actually looked at the budget papers, so having a read of the budget estimates report might be good.
As the member for Ripon pointed out, in particular there is the issue that in the budget this year, despite the claims of those opposite, there was in fact a $2 billion cut to the health department budget. If you are not sure and if you are not understanding, you can go to budget paper 3, page 220, and you will see there that in last year’s budget we spent $27 billion on the health department and this year it is $25 billion. It is there in black and white, and as the member for Ripon pointed out, members of the opposition highlighted this in a very brief minority report at the end of the main report. It highlights the barefaced denial of facts that we saw from the Premier and the then Minister for Health—and I gave another example of the Minister for Training and Skills and Minister for Higher Education—as just a couple of examples where ministers would simply say that white is black or black is white when the evidence was there in front of them. In particular, as I said, when it comes to the health budget the minister and the Premier simply denied the facts in front of them in the hearings that we had. The government members should have a read of that, because again I heard one yesterday talking about the wonderful investments in health, and clearly that member has not actually seen the budget papers.
The other issue I want to touch on, which is also addressed in the minority report, is the increasing propensity of government ministers and particularly public servants, especially departmental secretaries, over recent years—and it was heightened in this year’s hearings—to get a question from the committee and say, ‘We’ll take that on notice, Mr O’Brien’. That is fine. We do not expect, as we say in the minority report, that everyone will have all the answers—particularly when it comes to data, we do not expect they will have it on hand—and that is one reason to take questions on notice. I might say just as an aside, though, it is astounding to me how often we ask the same questions every year at PAEC hearings and the bureaucracy comes with reams and reams of folders of paper and is not able to answer those questions and says, ‘We’ll have to take that on notice’.
Now, as I said, taking questions on notice is not a problem. What then happens, though, is the government does everything in its power to possibly avoid answering the question asked, and there are a couple of examples that we have given in the minority report. One in particular that I am sure many members opposite will be interested in was the funding of the Foo Fighters concert that occurred in March this year. Now, why would taxpayers be funding a Foo Fighters concert—one of the most popular bands in the world that tours regularly—that people will pay good money to go and see? Well, that is a very good question, and that is why I asked the question: ‘How much did it cost taxpayers to put on a Foo Fighters concert in Geelong?’. Of course the Secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Mr Phemister, said, ‘Yes, we can get that information for you, Mr O’Brien. I can tell you it was a very successful event’. Well, that is good, but that was not the question I asked. After three attempts we still did not get an answer to that question from the secretary. This is just one example of where secretaries, ministers and department officials are consistently saying, ‘We’ll take that on notice’, then giving an answer that does not actually answer the question and hoping that the members of the committee will not notice and follow it up.
Ultimately we were told that the Foo Fighters concert was put on by Always Live Limited and ‘It’s an independent organisation, so we don’t have access to that information, Mr O’Brien’. Well, just a few days after I got that answer the government put out a press release headlined ‘Always Live is all it takes—falling in love with Victoria again’ and loudly proclaiming in the first sentence ‘the Andrews Labor government’s Always Live program’—so not so independent when it does not suit the government.
This is a very good report. It is well worth the read. I highly recommend it to members to actually understand what the government is in fact doing with our state taxpayers dollars.