Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (11:27): I am pleased to rise to speak on the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2023 and to follow the member for Sunbury, who has done a manful job of trying to spin the unspinnable by talking about fairness in a piece of legislation that will actually tax renters and make rents less affordable, tax mums and dads, tax schools, tax jobs. That is what this piece of legislation is really all about.

I particularly want to focus a little on the economic illiteracy that is at play in this particular piece of legislation. Before I do that, though, I want to acknowledge that debt is a fact of life for governments and households. If you want to do things, you often – not always but often – need to actually borrow money to go ahead and do them. Obviously at a state or a federal government level, if you are running surplus budgets, then you can have additional cash to put into infrastructure investments in particular. That is not happening now. We know that this government has sent debt through the roof. What is not acceptable in my mind is to waste taxpayers money and to shackle future generations to massive amounts of debt repayments and interest repayments when so much of that money has gone on wasteful spending. We know the infrastructure Big Build has become well and truly the big bill – $30 billion of cost overruns on those projects that we know about, and probably more to come. So that is the debt that we are concerned about: unproductive debt that has been wasted and will be a yoke around the neck of Victorians for many years into the future.

I do want to take up some of the measures in the budget and the Treasurer’s justification for them. The Treasurer yesterday told us in question time that:

At the risk of taking the Shadow Treasurer through market economics 101, I will make the basic point that the price of rental accommodation … is a consequence of the issue of supply and demand.

He went on to say that we have got:

… the metropolitan Melbourne market running at about 1.2 per cent vacancy, clearly we are in a position where it is a landlords market.

I have perhaps the slight advantage over the Treasurer in that despite the fact he has got the entire Department of Treasury and Finance behind him, I have actually done an economics degree. I have done economics 101 – and 201 and many others. I know from maths, and most people who have got half an idea about economics understand, that if you add a tax to a product that is already in high demand, all that is going to happen –

Jess Wilson: It’s going to go up.

Danny O’BRIEN: thank you, member for Kew – is the people paying that tax are going to pass it on to the final customer. And who is the final customer – the renter. So in the midst of a rental crisis, of a housing affordability crisis, of people struggling to be able to buy their own property, of people struggling to be able to find rent and literally to be able to find rental properties at all and of people coming to our electorate offices all the time seeking help with public housing as well, what does the government do – it places a new tax on renters. That is just unbelievable.

They are doing that because we are going to see debt interest payments heading for $22 million a day, as the Shadow Treasurer indicated. That will see by the end of the forward estimates total debt at 24.5 per cent of gross state product. Bear in mind in 2018 it was 6 per cent, and the government a couple of days out from the 2018 election said ‘We’re going to double it to 12 per cent of GSP’, and here we are now heading for 24.5 per cent. So state debt as a percentage of the product that we produce in this state will have quadrupled in about 10 years. That is the issue that we are facing here. It is a massive, massive increase, and the member for Sunbury is running the government’s line that this is just COVID; it just happened because we had to deal with a once-in-100-year pandemic. Well, everyone knows that, but does anyone remember: did COVID only happen here in Victoria?

A member: Yes, apparently.

Danny O’BRIEN: It only happened here in Victoria. Right. I thought by definition ‘pandemic’ actually means it happened across the world. So a pandemic happened across the world, yet we are heading for $171 billion in debt. If it was just COVID that had caused this debt, we would not have a debt that is larger than New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania put together. The Age belled the cat on it very well last week by highlighting that of 17 similar-sized states across the world, no-one has a debt higher than Victoria. So please do not try and tell me ‘This is just a COVID debt; this was about keeping you safe.’ The government messed up COVID, because if it was about keeping us safe, why did we have the most deaths, the most cases, the longest lockdowns in the world and now the worst fiscal position? Because the government messed it up. That is what we are facing in this piece of legislation. We are facing the bill for the government’s economic mismanagement.

It is easy to stand there and say it was about saving lives and everything. I remember being an observer as we were going into various lockdowns and the government saying – this is towards the 2021 lockdowns, when everyone else was starting to get it under control – ‘We’re going into lockdown for five days, but there’ll be a $10 billion’ –

Members interjecting.

Danny O’BRIEN: Do you want to talk about New South Wales again? Do you want me to remind you that the debt that you have given Victorians is larger than New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania put together? So do not try and compare yourself to New South Wales. You had more deaths; you had more cases. It is a very inconvenient fact that the members of the government seem to forget. We had the government saying, ‘But it’s okay, businesses. I know we’re going to shut you down for another 10 days. Here’s $10 billion to compensate.’ And now we are saying that somehow we have just got to pay all of that back – it was not our fault.

I was thinking at the time, and I had businesses come to me at the time saying, ‘Thank God we’ve got this money coming forward, but oh my God, who’s going to pay it back?’ Well, here it is. Now we are paying the debt for that. Remember it is $171 billion of debt that we are talking about, and you are only saying that COVID was $31 billion. So please remember to talk about the other $140 billion. I hope you will get to that at some point, because the government has messed this up. As I said, it is 24.5 per cent of GSP, our debt now – higher than the Cain–Kirner government, and we know how well that ended.

So we get what we have here today, which is a piece of legislation that is introducing a rent tax at a time when we have already got a rental and housing affordability crisis. It is a government that is introducing a new schools tax and obviously playing a little bit of culture war and class warfare as well. We have a jobs tax. I will go to some of the comments that have been made by some – and I am sure those opposite will not like to hear these. The Australian Industry Group said:

The Victorian State Budget has delivered stinging costs on Victorian businesses …

It may not be helpful when companies compare Victoria with other states or countries for their investments.

Jess Wilson interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: What do those investments bring, member for Kew? They bring jobs. The Australian Retailers Association said:

The cost of doing business is at crisis point for many retailers …

These new and increased taxes are likely to manifest in job losses and increased prices for customers which further contributes to the cost of living crisis.

That is the Australian Retailers Association. I wonder what the shoppies are saying about that. Are the shoppies getting up and saying, ‘We’re worried about our workers’ jobs?’ You have got the Community Housing Industry Association – again coming to my point about housing and renters – saying:

A 10-year plan to repay the debt from Victoria’s pandemic response is central to this budget, however, the same consideration and long-term thinking is not applied to our state’s housing crisis …

Moody’s – which is obviously the subject really of the next piece of legislation, the Victorian Future Fund Bill 2023, which we are doing to keep the ratings agencies happy – said, and I quote:

… we do not expect Victoria’s debt burden to stabilise before the end of fiscal 2028, maintaining negative pressure on the state’s rating.

That probably gets to the heart of this budget. It is a budget with a COVID debt repayment plan that does not actually repay any debt – we still see our debt increasing from $165 billion to $171 billion. And who is paying for that? Victorians are paying for it. Victorians and regional Victorians will pay for this mismanagement that the government has seen over a long period of time, and I remind those opposite again that the government’s debt budget had gone into deficit before COVID even reached these shores. It is a symptom of the mismanagement that this government has had, the waste in infrastructure projects, the mismanagement of COVID, and now it is Victorians who are getting the bill because Labor has sent this state broke.

anny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:22): Deputy Speaker, in accordance with your previous rulings I will attempt to stick to the narrow procedural debate, but in doing so, as I said in my point of order a moment ago, it is incumbent on us to argue as to why we do think that there should be an adjournment of this debate and it is incumbent on the government to explain why we need to rush it through –

Mary-Anne Thomas: I’ve done that.

Danny O’BRIEN: No, Leader of the House. The Leader of the House has not said why we need to rush it through in one day. The best the Leader of the House can do is to say, ‘We’re getting on with it. Victorians want us to get on with it.’

Mary-Anne Thomas: Yes, they do.

Danny O’BRIEN: So Victorians want you to throw out all due process? You could actually have a budget without even coming into the Parliament if you wanted. This is the equivalent of the AFL now going to get rid of the first three quarters of all games because they just want people to get on with it. We are not going to go through any of the process. We are just going to play the last quarter of the grand final now. This is the same thing that the government is doing. It is saying, ‘Look, we usually do two weeks for everyone to have their say, but no, we’re going to just throw that out the window because we’re in a rush.’ The Manager of Opposition Business and the member for Kew will say it is because they want to get their taxes through. No, it is not just about that. They just do not want Victorians to know about the new taxes, ‘Let’s rush it through under cover of darkness in one day’ –

James Newbury: Less than.

Danny O’BRIEN: Less than one day, Manager of Opposition Business. We got a bill yesterday that is 85 pages long.

Mary-Anne Thomas: You were all briefed, the people that need to be briefed.

Danny O’BRIEN: There were, what, five opposition members or so at the briefing? Has the minister at the table been briefing the people of Victoria? I just had a quick look through the second-reading speech. To give you an example, on this 85 -page bill the second-reading speech says, ‘the bill will’, ‘the bill amends’, ‘the bill will’, ‘the bill increases’ – 20 times it does that.

Tim Richardson: Sounds like you’ve read it. Sounds like you’ve had a fair crack.

Danny O’BRIEN: We were briefed, absolutely, and we were told what was in the budget last week in terms of the new taxes: a new jobs tax, a new schools tax, a new renters tax and death taxes everywhere. We knew about that, but there is a whole lot of other stuff in this budget. I wonder whether any of those members on the opposite side on the back bench have actually had a look at the bill. There are the taxes and there are the new revenue measures, but there is also a change in this bill to the fire services property levy. I am sure the member for Mordialloc is very aware of the Victorian Court of Appeal case Valuer-General v. AWF Prop Co 2 Pty Ltd [2021] VSCA 274, otherwise known as the AWF decision.

I am sure the member for Mordialloc is right across all the detail of that, because that is in the bill too. That will be part of the 85 pages. I want to know whether the government members are across that. I want to know whether they are aware that the bill also abolishes the Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution Hardship Relief Board. Is the member for Mordialloc aware of that, I wonder? He can perhaps explain to me why he does not need to talk to his community about these sorts of things.

Mary-Anne Thomas interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: I am actually talking exactly about the bill, Minister. I suspect the minister does not realise there are these other parts of the bill.

Colin Brooks: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I renew my earlier point of order that I made when the Manager of Opposition Business was on his feet. The member for Gippsland South just said he is talking to the bill, in plain English, so he needs to come back to the very narrow debate that this procedural motion is about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member had strayed into anticipating debate, and I call him back to the procedural motion on the adjournment.

Danny O’BRIEN: I am simply highlighting the depth and complexity of this piece of legislation, which I suspect those opposite have not been given. Yes, we got a briefing on the bill, but we were told to keep the bill confidential. It was not until yesterday that the people of Victoria even saw these 85 pages of legislation. Again, I look forward and I really hope that the member for Mordialloc is going to speak next and that he will tell us exactly why all these new taxes need to be rushed through in one day, because still the government members have not said why we need to divert from our standard practice of at least two weeks for the government, for members of the opposition and other members of the house and indeed all the people of Victoria to have their say on this sort of legislation. We know the reality of this. We know that this bill has got in it $1 billion a year in additional payroll tax. We know there is $4.7 billion a year in additional revenue through land tax – the renters tax – and we know this is a government that is embarrassed that it messed up the finances and that is why it wants to rush this legislation through.


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