Victorian’s lose out in Andrew’s First Budget

EXTRACT FROM PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES HANSARD

 APPROPRIATION (2015–2016) BILL 2015

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Second reading

Mr WELLS (Rowville) — I rise to join the budget reply. The Andrews government’s first budget is one about rewarding mates. If you live in a Labor seat, are a member of a union or are a friend of the ALP, then this is a good budget for you. However, if you are looking for a budget for the benefit of the entire state or the entire population, or you are looking at economic growth or financial management, then you see that the Victorian population misses out in this budget.

I notice that the wages bill for the public sector will increase by 7.1 per cent. People will argue that if you are putting on more public servants, more police, more nurses, more ambulance officers and more paramedics, you would expect the public sector bill to increase, but if you do not have a clear wages policy that everyone understands, it is very concerning. The previous government had a wages policy of 2.5 per cent plus productivity offsets. Ambulance officers and firefighters were not happy with that, which created issues for the previous government, but at least everyone in the state knew where we stood on wages.

We believe our wages policy was fair for one and all. It was 2.5 per cent, but if you wanted to increase that amount, the government was happy to do so providing it was based on a genuine productivity offset. The Department of Treasury and Finance would calculate what was being traded and come back with an amount, and we would say that 0.3 per cent or 0.4 per cent could be added on top of the 2.5 per cent. We thought that that was a fair way of doing it because you then could not have one union accusing another union of having a better deal and attempting to negotiate a higher wage next time around. It was clear and everybody knew about it. It will be interesting to see how the current government’s wages policy will play out when it sits down to negotiate with police, firefighters, nurses and teachers, and also paramedics next time around. It is going to be very interesting to see if others use what was paid to paramedics as a benchmark.

I was also interested to note that there are no additional police officers in this budget. The Andrews government has committed to 400 custody officers, which we support and which was an idea we also put forward. We want to free up the police officers who were looking after prisoners in police cells so that they can get back to working on the street. We thought that was a very good point and we were strongly pushing for it. However, we also promised 700 police officers on top of our 2010 election commitments for 1800 police — though we delivered 1900 police by the end of our term — and 940 protective services officers (PSOs), which were great initiatives. We actually delivered 1046 PSOs, making sure that every metropolitan railway station had two PSOs patrolling them after 6.00 p.m. One of the Andrews government’s public transport policies is to trial 24‑hour public transport on Friday and Saturday nights, so the obvious question now is: if the government is going to increase the length of time trains and trams operate, where will the PSOs come from if it is not going to add any additional PSOs? The numbers regarding PSOs do not add up, so we will be looking for an explanation as to how that will work.

The other thing in the budget papers that concerns me is on page 11 of the Treasurer’s speech, where it says:

15 more police in Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula.

We do not have an issue with more police, but it does not tally with the Victoria Police Act 2013, which the Napthine government introduced to update the Police Regulation Act 1958. A lot of the changes were made in regard to the relationship between the government, the police minister and the Chief Commissioner of Police. The act is all about making sure that the chief commissioner could act independently of the police minister and independently of the government. I refer in particular to ‘Division 2 — Relationship with government’ in part 2 of the Victoria Police Act 2013. It states:

10    Ministerial directions

(1)   The Minister may from time to time, after consulting the Chief Commissioner, give written directions to the Chief Commissioner in relation to the policy and priorities to be pursued in the performance of the functions of Victoria Police.

(2)   Subject to subsection (3), a direction under subsection (1) cannot be given in relation to any of the following matters …

I emphasise ‘cannot be given’. One of those matters is:

(f)    the allocation or deployment of police officers or protective services officers to or at particular locations;

If the government cannot direct the Chief Commissioner of Police as to where to put the police officers, how can the Treasurer put in his budget speech that there will be 15 more police in Geelong and on the Bellarine Peninsula? It is highly contradictory, and it flies in the face of the act. The act was written like this to protect the chief commissioner from political influence when stationing police; otherwise you could have a situation in which a Labor government could flood Labor seats with police officers while drying up police numbers in Liberal‑held seats, or vice versa. The question is: if it is against the Victoria Police Act 2013 for the government to direct the chief commissioner on the deployment of police to a particular location, how is it that the government said through the Treasurer’s speech that it is directing 15 more police to be stationed in Geelong and on the Bellarine Peninsula? It does not make sense, and we need an explanation as to why that has been allowed to happen. To me that smacks of direct government interference with the chief commissioner’s powers. If the Treasurer’s speech had read, ‘After consultation with the chief commissioner, the chief commissioner is directing 15 more police to Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula’, we would not have an issue with it because that would be a direction of the current Acting Chief Commissioner of Police, Tim Cartwright, but the way it is written is contrary to what has actually happened.

It is also interesting to note — and the member for Morwell made the same point — that for many years there were issues regarding funding for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. The coalition government introduced a new property‑based levy for fire services, which I think worked very well. It is interesting that the Andrews government has now been able to increase that by around $100 million to pay for 450 firefighters. As we said at the time, we see increasing full‑time firefighters as a proper step forward, but if you increase the number of full‑time firefighters in those CFA stations and start pushing out volunteers, the volunteers will not come back.

What happens is that when we want that surge capacity — like we did during the fire season a couple of years ago or on Black Saturday — when we need all the volunteer firefighters to step forward, they will not be there. They will have been pushed out by the unionised, full‑time firefighters in CFA areas. You can already hear the chatter at those CFA stations on the fringes of Melbourne because volunteers feel they are being pushed out.

The other interesting thing about the budget is infrastructure. We have to look hard to find what money for genuine infrastructure has been tagged in the budget. In the past we have seen what Labor governments do in regard to infrastructure. We have spoken about the regional rail project, and my understanding is that it will open soon. In itself it is a very good project. It will mean that there is more capacity on the train lines from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, and it will free up a lot more capacity to move people more quickly. When we came to government we had to deal with an infrastructure mess that had been left by the previous government, and that was frustrating. If you do not have signals and you do not have trains, then you have to deal with the funding black hole to ensure that the project can continue.

Lots of members in the chamber have talked about myki and the issue that Labor could not sort out myki. The Labor government promised that it would never take water north of the Great Dividing Range. It built the north–south pipeline, which may never be used but which is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. I am not sure whether the business case and the cost‑benefit analysis were done. The desalination plant is also an issue.

One of the matters that the Labor government is trying to take credit for is the widening of the Tullamarine Freeway. The government has argued that the widening of the freeway is an Andrews infrastructure initiative, which does not make any sense, because it had already been announced a couple of times by the previous government. Press releases state that the Napthine government had made the commitment to widen the Tullamarine Freeway. It is a good project and we strongly support it, but to claim it as your own when it was announced on 28 April last year and signed with the Prime Minister agreeing to funding on 6 October last year is disingenuous and grossly unfair.

Part of the deal for the western distributor is that the contract for collecting tolls will be extended. When you set up a contract with a tolling company the idea is that it is for a fixed number of years, and on CityLink it is 32 or 33 years. At the end of that time the road reverts back to the government and then hypothetically it is able to run the road toll free because it has been fully paid for. To extend the contract for another 15 years, which is longer than it should be, means that people in the eastern suburbs will be paying the toll for 15 years longer than they should for a road that they will probably never use, and that is not fair. It is also a bit rich for the government to say, ‘We want this project to go ahead, but by the way, people in the east should pay the tolls on the Monash Freeway, and we are also expecting the federal government to pick up the tab’. Once again, that is absolutely unfair.

Interestingly in my local area there have been no commitments from the Labor government, so we will continue to campaign strongly for Rowville rail. We were hoping that the Napthine government’s plan to upgrade the Pakenham‑Cranbourne line with high‑performance signals would occur, because once that line was upgraded there would be a greater chance of connecting the Rowville rail into it.

The Napthine government made commitments to two secondary schools and three primary schools in my area, and it is disappointing to note that the five schools have missed out completely. But we will continue to campaign very strongly for them. We committed money for the Scoresby Football Club and the Lysterfield Junior Football Club, but once again they missed out, and there is no money for them. The Scoresby Country Fire Authority (CFA) brigade has been tolerant. We made a commitment that we would rebuild the Scoresby CFA and build traffic lights so trucks could get out onto Ferntree Gully Road. This busy CFA station is fully manned by volunteers. It has about 500 call‑outs a year; it is one of the busiest in the state. Unfortunately it has missed out on funding.

All in all, if you are a mate of Labor, this budget will probably have something for you. Road congestion continues to be one of the big issues for us in the outer east, but it is not just a concern in the outer east, it is also a concern in Gippsland, Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong for people wanting to come into the city. All great major cities around the world have a ring‑road. We do not have a ring‑road, and that is why we are so committed to pushing very strongly for the east–west link to be built. Everyone needs it.