Budget; Taxation

APPROPRIATION (2016–2017) BILL 2016

3 May 2016

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make a contribution on the Appropriation (2016–2017) Bill 2016. The way I would couch this budget is as the budget of broken promises. The Premier was on the record unequivocally saying there would be no new taxes and no new tax increases under his government. If you go back to the eve of the election in 2014, he stood out on the front steps of Parliament, and he was interviewed by Peter Mitchell from Channel 7 news. He said to Peter Mitchell:

I make that promise, Peter, to every single Victorian.

How wrong could that promise have been? How could he have broken that promise and broken faith with all Victorians about what he has actually done in the budget last week.

If we think about what has happened in the budget, state taxes are up $3.7 billion, or 20.7 per cent; insurance taxes are up $1.2 billion, or 6.3 per cent; stamp duty on property is actually up $1.6 billion; land tax is up $2.2 billion dollars, or 28.3 per cent. I do not know how you compare that with the promise the Premier made that there would be no new taxes and no tax increases under a government that he led.

If you look at the fire services levy, the fire services levy has gone up 15 per cent over the last two years. That means that everyone who owns a property in Victoria and pays the fire services levy to help fund our fire services is going to pay an extra 15 per cent over those two years. The key thing with this, though, is that that is before the United Firefighters Union (UFU) actually cashes in its IOU with the Premier. When the UFU cashes in its IOU with the Premier, all those conditions that are in that enterprise bargaining agreement will have to be met, because I think there is no doubt that the Premier will win on this. The Premier will roll his Minister for Emergency Services, and he will give the UFU the sweetheart deal. He will give it the sweetheart deal. He will give the UFU the right of veto over management decisions; he will give it the staffing requirements it wants. The government will cave into all of this, and the fire services levy will go up again.

This is a high‑taxing, high‑spending budget that actually does not deliver much for regional Victoria at all. There is no economic plan to grow regional Victoria. There is no jobs plan for regional Victoria — there is no jobs plan for all of Victoria, but from a regional Victorian’s point of view there is no jobs plan for regional Victoria.

If we go back to the eve of that same election, the Premier said that he would create 100 000 new full‑time jobs in the first two years of his government. If you look at what has happened and if you look at my area of Victoria, north‑west Victoria, there are more than 12 000 full‑time jobs that have actually been lost in that time. It is not a matter of creating new jobs; there have actually been jobs lost. There is no clear vision, no economic plan and no jobs plan for country Victoria in this budget. The saying that I have started to use to frame this budget is: the further you live away from Melbourne, the less you get out of the Andrews government. I think that says it all about this particular budget.

On top of the record tax increases that I have already spoken about, the Andrews government has reached further into the pockets of all Victorians. It has actually introduced a new electricity tax — a $250 million tax on electricity in this state. Every household power bill will go up because of this. The cost‑of‑living pressures are well known to people, whether they be in Melbourne or whether they be in country Victoria. This will impact on those cost‑of‑living pressures. More importantly, not only are they putting electricity costs up but you also have the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water stopping firewood collection. So for a lot of those people in country Victoria who have the alternative of bottled gas, electricity or firewood, electricity is going to go up and firewood is going to be hard to get, because they are stopping the collection of firewood. It is going to make it more expensive for people to heat their houses, and again on top of that in the budget there is actually less money for energy concessions. So for those people who used to get concessions, there is less money for concessions as well. Power bills will go up for every household in Victoria.

It is also a tax on business. If you think about the dairy industry, it has a high‑energy requirement. The dairy industry has been suffering from drought, and it has been suffering from low world prices. We know the issues in the dairy industry very well, and the recent announcement by Murray Goulburn is that it is going to downgrade its prices because of the impact of the global price of dairy products. The power bills of that company are going to go up, whether it be because of running the dairy or cooling the milk. For irrigators, it is running the pumps to irrigate; their costs are going to go up. It is a tax on their particular business. It is similar with the horticulture industry, which uses irrigation — pumps again. Large cool stores use a lot of electricity. This is a tax on that particular sector of the agriculture industry as well. So this electricity tax is effectively a tax on our exports. It is a tax on those people who are actually creating the wealth of this country over that time. Every Victorian will be hit with this new tax, and every business in Victoria will be hit as well.

In the last budget the regional infrastructure spend was only about 3 per cent of the total spend of infrastructure in Victoria. With a few exceptions this year, not much has changed at all. Most of the things that have been announced for country Victoria are actually on the never‑never; it is 5 or 10 years before anything will happen.

I read with interest that Yarrawonga gets $625 000 for an artist’s impression of the Yarrawonga bridge. That is about all it will get. There is nothing in the budget to build anything in Yarrawonga in the future, so it is a very small promise to get an impression done. It will probably be a little bit like sky rail — it will look fantastic on paper but there is nothing there to actually fund the bridge anything over that time.

Funding for the Echuca bridge is still in the budget as it was included by the coalition government and it is still there, but there is no time frame for that money to be spent. The Minister for Roads and Road Safety was at the despatch box a couple of weeks ago saying, ‘We will get on with this project. We will build this project. We are not going to stuff around’ — the minister can be very colourful in his language — but if you look at the budget, you see it is vacant. There is nothing to say when that project is actually going to start. I remind the Minister for Roads and Road Safety that it is not a bird‑brained idea to build the Echuca bridge. The money is there, and the federal government is willing to come in and pay its share. All we are waiting for is a business case from the Andrews government to put in its share. The Echuca bridge could be started almost immediately if the Andrews government showed some common sense on this particular project.

In terms of the Ballarat rail line upgrade, the Minister for Public Transport was waxing lyrical about it during a ministers statement in question time, but if you drill into the budget, only 6 per cent of that project is funded in the budget. The minister would have the people of Ballarat and Maryborough believe that somehow their transport service is going to improve in the foreseeable future, but if you actually look at the budget papers, it is not planned to be finished until well into the 2020s. It is a long time before that project will be finished, and in the meantime it will not be delivering much at all.

Turning to some of my portfolio areas, the agriculture sector in Victoria is an $11.6 billion export industry for this state, but if you take the last two budgets, in the last two years there has been a drop of $36 million in funding for the agriculture sector in the budget. It is a key economic driver for all of Victoria but particularly for regional Victoria and it involves $11.6 billion worth of exports, but there is a $36 million cut in the budget over the two years of the budget. The Treasurer is bragging, with his high‑taxing budget, that he has these surpluses — lots of money — and can actually spend $11 billion of taxpayers money to build the Melbourne train tunnel, but he cut the agriculture budget by $36 million, one of the key sectors that is actually a driver that creates jobs, particularly in country Victoria.

In the same budget there is funding for the wild dog program and for the fox bounty. The Minister for Agriculture made a lot of fuss about the fact that this was new funding and it was doubling the amount of money for aerial baiting, but it is actually just putting back the money that was taken out previously.

On the issue of jobs in country Victoria, one of the key things in getting a job is getting training if you need it, but the training budget shows that the government is actually cutting money from training here in Victoria. Apart from not meeting the 100 000 full‑time jobs over that time, it has actually cut the training budget. In 2015 Labor trained 65 856 fewer students through the training system. That is a huge cut to the training budget and to training outcomes. There are 800 000 fewer subsidised enrolments here in Victoria, and the government has reduced subsidised training by 27 million hours. That is 27 million contact hours that have been taken out of the training budget. If you lived in country Victoria and wanted to get trained for a job and help the government fulfil its promise of 100 000 new full‑time jobs, which is not being met, you would find it very hard to get a training place in country Victoria.

Looking at the water portfolio, the government has continued some of the good programs that the coalition started. If you look at the issues in South Gippsland, the coalition government did a great job sewering the towns of Loch, Nyora and Poowong, and there was a continuation of that program with the northern towns project connecting water to some of those towns, but it is a continuation of what all governments have been doing over time — improving the water services here in Victoria.

It is the same with the south‑west Loddon project. It was already being planned under the coalition government and has partly been funded by the money that GWMWater had left over from the
Wimmera–Mallee pipeline project, which was a great coalition project when it was instigated. As much as the other side wants to rewrite history, I again put on the record the great job done by the then federal member for Mallee, John Forrest, in making sure that that project was funded and has happened. With the tough seasonal conditions that we have had, that has really meant the difference for north‑west Victoria over that time.

If you look at the issue of law and order in country Victoria, despite the record tax income that this government has had and all those huge tax increases that I have spoken about, there has been no real change or increase in frontline police services. There has been money for additional police for task forces but not for frontline services, and I can go right across my electorate and see stations that are undermanned. Some of the smaller ones are not manned at all now because police are being drawn into the regional towns to backfill positions there, so no real increase has occurred in funding for frontline police services.

In my last few minutes I will address what has and has not been funded in the electorate of Murray Plains. As the local member in that area, I have worked very hard with some of my community groups to enable them to get funding for some particular projects. If you look at the Echuca regeneration project, the Echuca West, Echuca South and specialist schools are to be merged into one site.

The previous coalition government actually bought the land for that particular merger, and it allocated $200 000 to do the detailed planning. There has been $11 million for stage 1 of that — not quite half the funding for that particular project. Particularly for the specialist school, that is very important, because the specialist school in Echuca is all portables. There is growth in the numbers there, but it is effectively a cluster of portables, so they are desperate to get this new school up and going. Funding of $11 million is a good start, but I would have liked to have seen the $23 million that is needed to do this whole project, particularly so that the specialist school could have a new school.

In my response to the family violence royal commission I raised the issue of the Echuca courthouse and the fact that there is one entrance that the court shares with the Shire of Campaspe. I raised the need to have a separate entrance for the Shire of Campaspe and a separate one as well, particularly for when there are issues around family violence or around ice and drugs, so that people can come and go without necessarily bumping into other people who are in court. Again the community fought very hard to get that particular money.

One of the things that is not funded in the budget that I think is an absolute crying shame is Kyabram P–12 College. The Kyabram P–12 school has been to hell and back. Its A wing is absolutely riddled with white ants and is going to be pulled down. The Minister for Education tried to take away its year 9 portable classroom 18 months ago. The community got a reprieve for that building, but there is no funding in the budget to help the school to rebuild any of those particular facilities. And there is no funding in the budget to fix up the issue of a deficit it has from a previous principal under the previous Labor government, when the school was rorted for a whole heap of money. That money now has to be repaid out of the school budget. There is nothing there to help the Kyabram school, which I find very disappointing.

As I said at the start, this is a budget of broken promises because it increases taxes and does not deliver for all Victorians, as the Premier said it would.


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