November 13, 2013  |  Matters of Public Importance

Government Financial Management

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— What a sad and pathetic government this is. Not only can it not get a government business program through the house this week, but when its members have a chance to put forward a matter of public importance (MPI) they say, ‘What a wonderful thing. Our MPI is going to be based on the fact that we have a AAA credit rating’, as though this is new news. It is not new news for Victoria.

This is old news, because it is not only under this government that we have had a AAA rating; we also had it for the 11 years of the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments. Standard &Poor’s gave us a AAA rating, as did Moody’s Investors Service, in every one of those 11 years, and in every one of those Labor years we had a substantial surplus.

The government is trying to rewrite history by saying this is something special for Victoria and we ought to be pleased about it. Victorians can be pleased that this government has kept the AAA rating and that it has not gone backwards in that sense. However, what have we got from this government keeping the AAA rating? We have not got very much. We have gone further into debt. This government is a particularly lacklustre government. It is a no-vision government for this state. It has had no plan to take action to provide jobs growth in reality. There is no plan to support education and training, which are serious issues.

For young people in particular, who are at risk of falling into the unemployment trap, this government has provided nothing.

We have heard from other speakers on this side of the house that throughout all the years of the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments we had a AAA rating. We had surplus budgets with an average of over $1 billion every year of the Labor government. We saw strong growth. We saw substantial infrastructure development across this state. It was astounding to see how much we were able to put into the Ballarat East electorate after it had been neglected in the Kennett years, when regional Victoria missed out completely. All the focus in those years had to be on the growth of Melbourne, the heart pumping in Melbourne, as Jeff Kennett said, and the toenails in regional Victoria might eventually get some of that blood as it pumped out.

Labor reversed all of that. For example, of the 34 public state schools in my electorate, 30 got major infrastructure upgrades in the 11 years of Labor. Under the Baillieu and Napthine governments three years have passed, but how many schools have got further upgrades and how many of the last few schools that did not get on the program in the 11 years that Labor was in power have got their upgrades? Not one. This is a sad government under which no action is taken.

The promises that the coalition made prior to the last state election were pretty minor for my electorate. However, it promised the communities of Mount Clear and Mount Helen a new fire station.

You would have thought, given the Black Friday bushfires report and the Country Fire Authority report which came out in 2010 and which identified that Mount Clear and Mount Helen should have their own fire station rather than relying on the others in the region, some action would have been taken. Labor promised action ahead of the election, as did the opposition at the time.

Now that it has come into government, the coalition’s idea of following through on promises is to say, ‘In year one, we do not need to do anything. In year two, we just need to consolidate our revenue, but we still do not need to do anything, except maybe in Liberal-Nationals electorates. In year three, we still do not need to do anything, although we have bought the site for the Mount Clear fire station, but another year can elapse, and in year four, if we tick it off, that is good enough’. We will see whether it gets ticked off in year four, but again I point out there is no fire station in Mount Clear ahead of this fire season.

For the first two years of this government under Premier Baillieu there was a complete lack of vision. There was no sense of supporting jobs in my region. Eventually Premier Baillieu was pushed out of his leadership position, because there was seen to be a great deal of inaction, and we got a new Premier. However, there is still no demonstration that anything better is happening under this government.

Premier Napthine was in Ballarat last week. Following his visit a headline in the local newspaper read ‘Premier throws support behind Ballarat’s manufacturing industry’. The article quoted the Premier as saying that he supports the manufacturing industry in Ballarat. I read on to see what action he intended to take to support manufacturing jobs in Ballarat only to find that he was offering moral support, not action. It is good that manufacturing jobs still exist in Ballarat, but there is no sense of action from this government. The Premier went on to talk about what was happening in Ballarat.

He said jobs were being created at the Ballarat West employment zone and the Ballarat railway station precinct redevelopment. The Premier should talk to the people of Ballarat a little bit more, because those projects are still in the planning stage with the City of Ballarat and there are no new jobs there to be created.

The Premier named one area where a lot of jobs have been created — that is, at the University of Ballarat Technology Park at Mount Helen. It is pleasing to note that over 1000 people are being employed at that site. Why has that happened? It has happened mostly on the back of direct action taken by the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments. Former Premier John Brumby decided to take direct action by relocating most of the State Revenue Office Victoria, which does not need to be located entirely in Melbourne, to the technology park at Mount Helen. That provided a significant opportunity for Ballarat to have 250 jobs at the State Revenue Office in the technology park in Mount Helen.

The Labor government also provided well over $5 million to support IBM to develop its new centre at the technology park and provide further jobs. The Bracks and Brumby governments took direct action to support jobs in Ballarat. The technology park has been a success, not because of this government, but because of the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments.

Sadly, under this government IBM has cut back a number of those jobs. Telstra and a number of other private companies in Ballarat have also cut jobs in recent years under this government. What has been the government’s response? Instead of helping to support the creation of jobs, this government has actually sacked its own staff at Ballarat. Something like 400 public service jobs have gone from Ballarat. The government’s response has been to sack more people, to sack its own staff.

We have had huge confusion in Ballarat, because the government’s regional offices have been decimated. The government decided it would be a great idea to not have regional offices just in Ballarat and Geelong but to amalgamate them with the regional offices in western Melbourne, creating a big super-region. Over the last two years, since this amalgamation work has been in progress, schools in Ballarat have been looking for the support staff they used to know in the Ballarat regional office. For a long time they did not know what was happening. Now that all the positions have finally been established, it is obvious there are significantly fewer positions, and they have to talk to some of the people from Melbourne or Geelong because they are no longer in Ballarat.

Ballarat has lost jobs and service provision, not just from education but also from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure and the community services area. The regional offices in Ballarat that used to provide great service and support on the ground for the people of the region are no longer there, and that support has to be found in Melbourne or in Geelong. This government has taken no action to support jobs, which are most important to Ballarat and the wider region. It has taken no action to move infrastructure projects along. It is saying, ‘Oh, in year four we might finally get around to them’. To be proud of a AAA rating is a joke. This government is a joke. It needs to be chucked out at the November 2014 election so we can get a government that is going to act.