Regional and Rural Victoria Regional and Rural Development

Grievances - Government Performance

10 June 2015

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to join the grievance debate. I grieve for all Victorians, but I particularly grieve for country Victorians. I grieve because we have a dysfunctional government that is only interested in infighting, in factional deals, in rewarding factional mates and in being given its marching orders by its union mates. This is only six months into the government. The people I talk to in country Victoria just shake their heads in wonder — six months in and it has come to this! We have an absolutely dysfunctional government. We know that eventually Labor governments end up like this, but it usually takes a few years, maybe even a couple of terms. With this one it has already happened in six months.

It is good to look at what the Labor platform in 2014 said. It said governments must also be honest and transparent. How much honesty and how much transparency is around this government at the moment? How often do we see Michael Donovan up here giving the marching orders to the government? How often do we see ministers going to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the other places where they get their marching orders? There is not much honesty and transparency around this government.

Decisions should not be made in the shadows. They should not be made in the shadow of union officers; they should be made out in the open. Communities should always be consulted and the powers of the Parliament and the government should never be abused. What we have seen so far is an absolute abuse of parliamentary process. We have had one minister stood down, we have had a Government Whip who has resigned, we have had a royal commission where there is contradictory evidence being given by the whip and upper house member and a senior staffer in the Premier’s office. There is absolute dysfunction in that office.

The Premier talked about honouring every election commitment. What was one of the key commitments before the election? There would be no compensation for the east‑west link contract. The Leader of the Opposition said, ‘We will not be paying compensation for the east–west contract. The contract is not worth the paper it is written on. We will not have to pay compensation’. That was a hand‑on‑the‑heart statement from the now Premier, saying he would not pay compensation for the east–west contract.

What happened? It is $640 million later, and still growing, Victorian taxpayers money is being spent by this government not to build anything. It is $640 million — and the figure is growing — not to build anything. The people of country Victoria who drive on roads that are very poor in places say to me, ‘We have spent $640 million to build nothing and all we want is a few hundred thousand dollars to gravel our road’. It just defies logic that the Premier, with his hand on his heart, would say as an election promise that there would be no compensation paid and then we spend $640 million — a figure that is still growing.

On top of that, in an absolute insult to country Victorians, is the demise of the country roads and bridges program. This great program is now gone.

I remind the member for Macedon that such actions have brought down a government. Labor members could have put money into it if they believed in it. This is not about us. This is about this government and what it is doing for country Victoria. There is no country roads and bridges program. There has been a 10 per cent reduction in country roads funding. Not only has the government spent $640 million not to build anything at all, but also money has been taken away from particular country road projects.

The Premier is reported in an article in the Herald Sun on the state budget as denying that the government had given IOUs to unions that helped to elect Labor last year. He said:

We made open, transparent commitments to the community.

I cannot see that and the people of country Victoria cannot see that. They just shake their heads and say, ‘After six months it has come to this’. The Premier might tweet, as he did recently, when he said:

We’re putting people first. We’re getting on with it. And we’re bringing Victorians with us.

I am afraid the people I talk to in country Victoria do not want to go where the Premier is going. They are ashamed of what is happening in Victoria and about the fact that after six months it has all come to this.

One of the other core promises made by this Premier and this government was that there would be no increases in taxes and no increases in fees above the CPI. But what did we have in the budget? We had a 7.2 per cent increase in the fire services levy. I am not exactly sure what the CPI is at the moment, but I am sure it is not 7.2 per cent. Every householder, every small business, every farmer in Victoria is going to pay that 7.2 increase in the fire services levy.

I come back to the issue of the Premier saying that the government has no IOUs. This 7.2 per cent is all about an IOU to Peter Marshall and the United Firefighters Union of Australia (UFU). This is all about payback to the UFU, involving pay increases and extra firefighters. It is a payback to all of those fireys who went out in their make‑believe uniforms. They doorknocked, they manned polling booths, they manned pre‑polling booths, and they abused people who wanted an opportunity to cast their vote, as is their right in this democracy. Those voters were intimidated by those people.

The other thing I find intriguing about the fire services levy debate and the payback to the UFU is the fact that during this debate I have not heard one Labor minister mention the word ‘volunteers’. Those opposite have never mentioned the word volunteers. I have not heard that word pass the lips of a minister on the other side of the house. They will talk about the firefighters and they will talk about the UFU, but they do not talk about the volunteers. It is the volunteers who are the heart of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) — —

Mr WALSH — It is the volunteers who are the heart of the CFA in this state. They give up their time — —

Mr Edbrooke interjected.

Mr WALSH — The member for Frankston might laugh. He is a firey and he might laugh about the volunteers, but we on this side of the house care about the volunteers. The member for Frankston might laugh about the volunteers, but we are not laughing about the volunteers. They deserve praise for what they do to keep Victorians safe. They deserve a CFA that functions and cares about them. They do not deserve union representatives on the CFA board and union domination of the board. They do not deserve that sort of decision‑making. They do not deserve that sort of care by the organisation that is there to look after them.

At some point in the future, as part of this payback to Peter Marshall and the UFU, there will be more union influence on the CFA, and that will be to the detriment of our volunteers. It is more about payback to union mates than it is about caring for volunteers.

We have heard many comments about the education state, and I listened with interest to the member for Eltham during her contribution on committee reports. I also listened to comments by the member for Ovens Valley, and his comment was the most telling of all. This may be an education state, but it is certainly not an education state in country Victoria. It is only an education state if you live in Melbourne. We may end up with numberplates that say ‘The education state’, but for the people of quite a few communities around country Victoria those numberplates do not mean anything; they are just hollow words from a Melbourne‑centric government.

In the seat of Mildura, the member is still struggling to get the money to finish the Merbein school, which is a Building the Education Revolution school that was started with promises that it would be finished. It is still not being funded, and neither is the Robinvale school. In the seat of Lowan the process for the Warracknabeal school was started by us in government. We gave that school money for planning, but there is no capital in the forward estimates. In the seat of Euroa are the Benalla and Seymour schools. In the seat of Gippsland South the Korumburra school is desperately in need of money. Across the boundary into the seat of Bass, in Wonthaggi a school was promised money by the Labor candidate during the election campaign, but what has happened? No show. It is another broken promise, and the list goes on.

In Gippsland East the East Gippsland Specialist School is desperately in need of more money. The number of students has gone up. In my electorate not only did Kyabram not get any funding for its upgrade, but the minister tried to take away the year 9 portable so those kids would be disadvantaged into the future. I went to a public meeting in Kyabram, and no‑one in that room would have said Victoria will be the education state. The deputy mayor of the Campaspe shire volunteered to chain herself to the building so it would not be taken away. That is the sort of commitment there is in that community. In Kyabram they do not think this is an education state. It is the same in Echuca, with the merger of the southern, western and specialist schools. It is the same in the seat of Ovens Valley, with the Wangaratta District Specialist School, which went from an enrolment of 80 students to over 130 students over the last four years. It desperately needs some money. In Wangaratta this is definitely not an education state, and the list goes on.

The key is lobbying. We obviously need to talk to Michael Donovan so we can get money for those particular schools. If we talk to Michael Donovan, we might get money for those schools into the future because apparently he has a say in everything that happens.

Looking at the budget, 2.9 per cent of the government’s capital spend on infrastructure is in country Victoria, but 25 per cent of people live in country Victoria. Where is the equity in that? There is absolutely no equity in that. I grieve for all those people who are missing out in country Victoria. There is just 2.9 per cent of capital spending for 25 per cent of the population. There is something wrong with the maths on that side of the table. The country roads and bridges program and the Putting Locals First Fund are gone, and there is a 24 per cent reduction in Regional Development Victoria funding and a cap on rates. People will severely miss out in country Victoria.

I will finish quickly on the sale of the port of Melbourne, which is a key piece of infrastructure for the people of Victoria, particularly for the food and fibre industry. It is our gateway to the world for exports. It is a critical piece of infrastructure in this state, and we want to make sure that it remains the best port in Australia. I am devastated that I hear people on the other side of the house asking why we need to have the best port in Australia and why it matters. It leaves me cold that people on the other side of the house would think that way about the port of Melbourne. It is a key piece of infrastructure. As country Victorians, as food and fibre producers and as exporters, we do not want to see 800 per cent increases in fees at the port of Melbourne just to fatten it up so the government can sell it and get more money to spend in Melbourne. We want to see the port being competitive for future generations.

Grievances interrupted.


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