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.