June 13, 2013  |  Second Reading

Appropriation (2013-2014) Bill 2013

 I am certainly pleased to speak in  the debate on this appropriation bill.

In  commencing,  I  cannot  help  but  make  some  comments  in response to  the contribution made by  the member for Forest Hill,  who is new to  this place. He seems to be proudly stating that this  is a AAA-rated budget. He really needs to reflect on  the  fact  that  in  its  11  years  the  Labor government attracted AAA-rating status and surplus budgets every year. This concept of a  AAA  rating being  something special to  this  government is clearly  not  true. Perhaps the member for Forest Hill needs to be aware of that.

The member for Forest Hill contrasted  this state budget with the federal budget and  suggested  that  the federal Treasury was  inept,  yet  he  seems  to  have forgotten that  the same federal Treasurer  saw the country  through  the global financial crisis.

Members on the other side  of the house do not seem to remember history; they do not  even seem to remember  what happened yesterday,  because  this country came through the  global financial crisis better than almost any other country around the world, and  many people in this country can be very pleased about that: they did  not lose their homes, we did not  fall  into recession and as a country  we came through very soundly financially.

The  other  point  I  need  to  respond  to  in  the  member  for  Forest Hill’s contribution is his  suggestion that the  desalination  plant was some  dreadful mistake that  Labor made. I do not  know where he was in  the time before he was elected, but he cannot  have been in the same  state, because as the  member for Ballarat East I  know that the 11 years  of drought we experienced prior to 2010 were  very  significant. Right across  the state, water levels  dropped at water storages.

Ahead of the 2006 election,  Labor  said it was going to build a  pipe  from the north of Victoria through to Bendigo  and down to Ballarat, because that was the best way to  secure Ballarat’s water supply. That  was laughed at at the time by the Liberal  opposition,  and yet by 2009 we saw that  if the water pipe had not been built to provide Ballarat with water, Ballarat would have run out of water.

No-one  knew when the drought was going to end.  It certainly ended in a big way in  2010,   creating   significant  flooding  across  this  state  and  flooding significant parts of my electorate. I spoke about Creswick Bowling Club  earlier this week.  It  has  been  washed out thoroughly twice and is  still awaiting  a solution on funding to be able to rebuild its facilities.  No  government  could have known when the  drought was going to end, so it  is always very sensible to droughtproof the state to ensure that it has a secure water supply.

I now  want to  focus on  this particular  budget, the  third budget  that  this Liberal coalition  government has brought in. There is nothing  surprising about the AAA rating, as I  said. It is something we  experienced in all Labor’s years in office. But what did we get out of this budget for its AAA rating status? The budget  is  very disappointing.  As  a  former secondary  teacher,  I feel  very strongly about the need to provide quality education across the state to support all young people to gain a good, sound education. I was always very excited when Labor was in government, because in every year and in every budget there were at least two or maybe three schools that gained major capital upgrades  as part  of Labor’s program to rebuild our schools over a 10-year  period. In the last three budgets how many schools across the Ballarat East electorate have gained capital funding for upgrades? The answer  is  zero.  It is very sad for me  to  see that schools such as Daylesford Secondary College  — which gained stage 1 funding to upgrade its very aged facilities — will apparently have  to wait  a long  time until  they  get any  further funding  to complete the other two-thirds of the school that seriously need reconstruction.

In Kyneton,  also ahead of the 2010 election, Labor supported the development of a plan where  the Kyneton Primary School, Kyneton Secondary College and the Lady Brooks Kindergarten were working together to come up with a new K-12 concept for state  education,  which  resulted  in Kyneton  Primary  School  moving  to  the secondary college site. Unfortunately  the  schools  have  received  no  capital funding, other than  funding  to do maintenance  work on the  secondary  college site. It is much  needed, but what they really want to  see  is some funding for new capital  works so that they  can  get excited about the  K-12 plan that they envisaged  being  implemented  in the  Kyneton  area. Mount  Clear  College  and Ballarat Secondary College have similarly received no  capital funding, yet they clearly need such funding.

I am also concerned at the so-called savings in this budget. Over  $1 billion of savings  were  found  in  this   budget,   and  part  of  those  are  listed  as reprioritisations and adjustments. What that actually meant was that  savings of $69  million were  taken out of education and savings of  $209 million  were cut from the  health budget.  This is  money that  is  simply not  going into  other programs  or support  for  education, particularly in  state schools across  the state.

What  is an example  of  some  of these savings?  One  of the savings that  this government has supported is to broaden the regional structure for state agencies across  the  state so that instead of  having  a  regional  office  in  Ballarat servicing  the Grampians region,  we  now have  a  western  region office  which services  not just Ballarat and the Grampians region but also  Geelong  and  the western region  of Melbourne.  As a  result we  have lost  over one-third of our education area and one-third of our support staff for education.

When I speak to principals who are  experiencing  problems  they  say,  ‘We  are frustrated about this particular situation. When we try to get someone to assist us,  we do not know  any  more who the person from  the region will be who  will assist us. We have eventually got somebody who is now based in Melbourne who has said they can help  us but they are struggling to find the  time to provide that support’.

This has happened not just in the regional  educational setting. It has happened in the former Department of Transport and it has  happened in  the Department of Human  Services,  where  so  many staff in the regional offices have  been  made redundant or taken off to Melbourne that  we are not getting the same support in the region that we have  had  in the past. That is an  example  of savings under this government, and I will talk more about that if  I get a chance later  in my contribution.

I also  want  to talk about major road funding  works,  and I was pleased to see some funding in the  budget for the Ballarat-Buninyong Road, which is a severely congested road in my electorate.  Ahead  of this government coming to office, $2 million was allocated in the outgoing Brumby Labor government budget for 2010-11 to upgrade the  roundabout at Geelong  Road  and Whitehorse Road,  Mount  Clear, which  would provide better  traffic flow through that  area. Nearly three years later that  roundabout  still has  not  been  completed. In  fact  the  property purchases that need to take place still have not been completed, as I understand it.  Although   this   government   has   allocated  $4.5  million  towards  the Ballarat-Buninyong Road, it seems to be including in that amount $2 million that was already allocated by Labor.  To date,  of that  $4.5 million,  less than  $1 million  has been  spent. So although the government has had money in the budget over the last three years, it simply has not spent it. It still has $3.5 million remaining from the $4.5 million allocated to be spent on that road.

It seems to be a recurring theme from this government that  a lot of the capital funding projects that  are in the budget drag  on and do not get  completed, and therefore the funds roll over into the next year.

I  note  in  the  budget  papers that this government has continued a  tradition started under Labor  where there is  a special building-for-growth section which reports on regional and rural  Victoria. In it, again as Labor did, it has a map of the state  in  the middle where  it  can  identify some key  projects  in key regions. I notice in  the  Grampians region, in which the electorate of Ballarat East  is situated, there is  a  listing of key projects.  It has only managed to list four. Under new initiatives it lists the construction of  eight  new trains in Ballarat. I am certainly pleased  to see the contract with Alstom in Ballarat for this to continue.

But it is listed as a new  initiative, and the fact is that Alstom  continues to be in Ballarat because the former Bracks and Brumby governments supported Alstom with projects, and  indicated support for  Victorian companies in producing  new trains, and its earlier  contracts for X’trapolis  trains  came about under  the Labor  government.  The eight new  trains,  although very much  welcomed,  are a continuation of a project started under Labor.

The  second  project listed as a new initiative is the remediation of Fiskville, which is in my electorate. It is something that is needed, but is clearly not of benefit to people across the Grampians region, although it is something that needed to be addressed. The current initiatives list works on the Western Highway, and I welcome those as they are to the west of my electorate.

The Ballarat hospital  upgrade  will  get  $46  million  over four years, and it includes  the Ballarat  Regional  Integrated Cancer Centre  which has just  been opened.  It is fantastic  for  the people of  Ballarat.  It incorporates  mainly federal government funding but also a significant  contribution from the  state, again committed under the Brumby government, because Labor saw the attraction of that  federal government  funding to  enable  that to  happen. It  is not  a new project under this government, but  one that this government inherited, and I am pleased to see it has continued to support it. I also note in regard to Ballarat Health Services that the long-awaited helipad promised by the  coalition when in opposition  still  has  to be completed. Perhaps  we  will  see  it  before  the government completes  its four-year term,  but it certainly has  not rushed into that project, as it has not rushed into any projects across my electorate.

The other projects  listed are the  Ballarat-Western Link Road and  more Western Highway upgrades — so it managed to  list that twice. That is all it could list in the whole of the Grampians region. It  is an example of the  disappointment I feel  and  that  other  people across the Grampians region would feel about this budget. They would note that one of the  highlights of this budget, according to the government, is the announcement of a relatively meagre amount of funding for the east-west  link, as  the government  calls it, to start work on the  eastern section  of the link, but it  is  yet  to produce a business plan  or  any  real details in  that regard.  Clearly the  need from  the point  of view of Ballarat residents or other residents in my electorate,  in Geelong  and to  the west  of Melbourne, and  the priority identified  by the main  planning  authorities, has been to start in the west. That is clearly not  happening under this government, which is another source of great disappointment.

The other issues that concern me in relation  to this budget are the significant cuts in the health,  education and justice portfolios — supposedly as  savings. The cut to the trade bonus that the member for Ballarat West talked about in her contribution  is  a  $20 million  cut  from  support  for  apprentices.  As  she mentioned, we were in Ballarat when the Leader  of the Opposition joined us soon after  the  budget  was announced, and we met with  many  apprentices  who  were greatly distressed about it. They  said that money was important to them to help them in the provision of  tools. Rather than cutting funding for apprentices, it is  very important to do everything  we can  to attract  people into  the trades where there is  a  shortage  of  labour, so to cut the  trade  bonus  is  a very backward step.

We can see the ongoing effects of the cuts  to TAFE, even though this government says, ‘We are putting $1 million towards transition funding’. That really means, ‘We recognise that you are struggling as a result of the significant cuts.

This will help you  to either merge, close  down campuses or do other  things to adjust  to the significant cuts’. There has been $20 million cut  from  Ballarat TAFE and  significant  cuts  at  Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE that saw the Kyneton  campus cut.  There is  no jobs plan,  as has  been identified  by other speakers, which is a real disappointment for the region.