EXTRACT FROM PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES HANSARD
Tuesday, 3 May 2016
APPROPRIATION (2016–2017) BILL 2016
Mr WELLS (Rowville) — I join the debate on the Appropriation (2016–2017) Bill 2016. I want to start off by asking: can anyone remember any time when a Labor government left the finances in a better state than when it found them when it won an election?
Honourable members interjecting.
Mr WELLS — 2010? Come in, Spinner. That is exactly what I wanted you to say. Let me say, this is what we had to confront when we came to power in 2010, left to us by those economic financial wizards from the Labor Party! The first thing we found was that the spending on myki was completely out of control, and there were no solutions. The Melbourne fruit and vegetable market was an absolute disaster, and what Labor was doing was forcing all the fruit and vegetable growers out to a place for which it had not even signed contracts. The desalination plant was costing, in fixed costs, $1.8 million a day. But undoubtedly the classic of all classics was the regional rail project.
This project was something that Labor was very proud of. Running into government, it had a plan to connect Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong to the metropolitan system. The idea and the concept was very good, and that is that a train would go all the way from Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong straight into Spencer Street. The concept was great, but what sort of moronic department or government or cabinet or minister would put together such a great big infrastructure project and forget two vital points — one, no signals; two, no trains? If you are going to have a lot more services, you would think that you would put on more trains and certainly have a signal program. So the fantastic so‑called regional rail project and infrastructure event was $500 million short because it did not have any signals attached to it.
I know that the member for Murray Plains, the Leader of The Nationals, was also absolutely frustrated when he found out on coming to government just how hopeless the previous Labor government was. The telling point was that revenues were growing on average at 6.9 per cent but expenses were growing at 7.2 per cent. Every day, every month and every year that was going past, Labor was falling further and further behind, trying to keep pace with a falling revenue. Clearly it was not altering the expenses to make the budget balance, so what happened? Kevin Rudd came with the stimulus packages. Under the Rudd and Gillard governments a whole heap of stimulus payments were made to Victoria for schools and other worthwhile projects, but the problem was that the Victorian Labor government had to rely on those stimulus payments to keep the budget in surplus. If it had not been for those payments, then the budget would have been in deficit. Without those payments, the budget was in technical deficit.
The Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF), whose independence the Labor government recognises when it comes to financial advice, as do we, said that had the incoming coalition government not taken steps the deficit would have been $10 billion at the end of the Labor forward estimates in 2010 — a $10 billion deficit that the previous Labor government got so terribly wrong. On top of that, we had the $6 billion GST writedown and the $1.2 billion writedown in stamp duty over a four‑year period. So never, ever has there been a time when a Labor government has left the finances in better shape than when it found them.
We have had people from the other side call out, ‘2010’. That is just blatantly wrong. In 1999 Alan Stockdale, the then Treasurer, left a surplus of $1.8 billion and an efficient economy, yet Labor was still able to spend it. The Labor government was spending like a drunken sailor — spending, spending, spending — and not increasing productivity. As a result of that Victoria came across tough times. Labor is never, ever able to get its finances right, and it never leaves the budget in a better position than it found it.
If we look at the pre‑election budget update for 2014, which is a document that both sides of Parliament rely on in regard to the true state of the finances, we can see that it showed a $9 billion surplus over the forward estimates under the previous coalition government. It is ironic that despite record amounts of taxes coming in, the surplus under the current budget is exactly the same as the surplus Labor inherited from the previous government. Where it says it is prudent and everything else, if you were to stack up the increase in taxes, then there has been no improvement whatsoever. What the Treasurer was saying in regard to prudent management is obviously wrong.
On jobs growth, under the coalition government, between December 2010 and 2014, 130 000 jobs were created, and that left all the other states for dead. These are not our numbers; these are numbers that were given to the community by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In the final year of the coalition government there was growth of almost 80 000 jobs. Labor came into office promising the world when it came to jobs growth, and despite the Premier saying Labor would deliver on every single election commitment, this has failed and there is no question that those opposite will say, ‘We got this wrong. The jobs that we promised still will not be delivered’.
Who remembers this? All of us remember that on the night before the election Peter Mitchell from Channel 7 said:
… all the polls say you will be Victoria’s next Premier. If you are, do you promise Victorians here tonight that you will not increase taxes or introduce any new taxes?
And this is what the Premier said:
I make that promise, Peter, to every single Victorian.
Of course that was blatantly wrong. In this budget Labor has hiked up the fire services property levy by 7.2 per cent; introduced a brand‑new tax, the land tax surcharge for absentee owners, of 0.5 per cent; and introduced a stamp duty surcharge for foreign buyers of 3 per cent. So is the government now saying, ‘Hang on a minute, they are not taxes. They are not new taxes’? This represents a state tax increase of 20.7 per cent since the election. So in just two years taxes have increased from $17.9 billion to $21.6 billion. This is yet another broken promise.
Of course the issue that Labor is going to be faced with is the increase in public sector wages. If you look at the $2.8 billion increase in public sector wages, our side has no issue with regard to the frontline services; it is the back office we have concerns about.
Ms Thomas — You hate public services, don’t you?
Mr WELLS — No, you are not listening, I just said that we have great admiration for the frontline services of the public service. There is no question at all, and we have been very consistent on that, but when it comes to the back office, the government has a $2.8 billion increase. The public service under the previous Labor government was increasing by 5 per cent on average. When we had population growth increasing by about 1.6 per cent to 2 per cent, Labor had the back office of the public service increasing by 5 per cent.
One of the frustrations with this government is Labor’s waste and mismanagement. I come back to the east–west tunnel, which is still the biggest issue in the outer east and in the electorate of Rowville by a million miles. We want the east–west tunnel built. We all remember that in the run‑up to the 2014 election we were categorically told by the opposition leader, now Premier, that there would not be one cent of compensation paid. Well, he was right — it was not one cent. In the Victorian Auditor‑General’s Office media release of 9 December 2015 the Acting Auditor‑General, Dr Peter Frost, announced that the tunnel:
… was terminated in June 2015 with more than $1.1 billion paid, or expected to be paid, by the state for little tangible benefit.
If you talk to someone from overseas and explain to them that we spent $1.1 billion not to build a tunnel, they look at you and think that something is wrong; something is wrong if you spend $1.1 billion not to build a tunnel. This is a project that sooner or later will have to be built, because you cannot have a situation where a capital city the size of Melbourne does not have a ring‑road. The east–west tunnel would connect the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine Freeway so that if there were an issue on the Monash, you would be able to take the alternative; you would be able to get onto the Eastern Freeway, get into the east–west tunnel and do business. It is not just motorists getting to work; it is all those hardworking tradespeople and people in business who need the east–west tunnel built.
I will just touch briefly on the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the goings‑on with that organisation. After question time I am just bemused with the way the Labor government is treating volunteers. To have a situation where you are going to give the United Firefighters Union (UFU) veto powers over the CFA board and the chief fire officer is blatantly wrong. I tell you what, when it comes to the next major bushfire — and Victoria is renowned for them, and we need that surge capacity — it will be interesting to know how many CFA volunteers are still in, because the frustration among CFA volunteers is boiling over. My whole electorate of Rowville is in a CFA area, and we rely on them 24 hours a day.
We have great respect for the CFA volunteers, but the Premier is reported to be intervening in this to take the side of Peter Marshall and the UFU and to say that it is a legitimate right as part of the enterprise bargaining agreement to be able to have veto power. It is interesting that the previous coalition government fought it every step of the way. When it came to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade we fought every single step of the way to get rid of that veto power because we just simply did not believe that the union should have veto over the chief fire officer. It is wrong now, and it will be wrong in the future.
With regard to my Rowville electorate, we ended up from this budget getting absolutely nothing. We promised, in the run‑up to the last election, an upgrade to the Scoresby CFA and to the intersection at Henderson Road and Ferntree Gully Road. We promised $10 million for the Rowville Secondary College, a huge secondary college with around 1600 students. It is a great school that needs upgraded facilities. We made a promise to Rowville Primary School, and we promised Scoresby Secondary College an upgrade of $5 million. We made promises in relation to Park Ridge Primary School, Karoo Primary School, Lysterfield footy club, Scoresby footy club and the duplication of Napoleon Road. We wanted Ferntree Gully Road upgraded, and obviously for Dorset Road we wanted the duplication extended. There are major projects in our area, but not one of them attracted one cent from this budget. I hope that the Labor government does not mind if we say that this budget was a failure for people in the Rowville electorate.
Just recapping: it is beyond belief the way the UFU is pushing around the government and the CFA. It is no wonder that public sector wages have blown out so much, and there will be a lot more to come with regard to increased wages if the UFU gets its way with the CFA, especially when you have to have seven career firefighters on the fireground before operations can start. It is just absolutely ludicrous. No matter how small the fire may be, having seven on that fireground simply does not make sense. To have a situation where a career firefighter cannot report to a volunteer firefighter with regard to control rooms suggests someone does not understand how the fire system works in this state. With those words I cannot say that I wish the bill a safe and speedy passage. I think it is an incredible disappointment, especially to the people in the electorate of Rowville.