Today, the 2016 State Budget was a chance for the Andrews Government to show Victorians they understand what is most important for the state’s future.
Climate change is the biggest threat facing Victoria and the world. All Governments must prioritise acting on this urgent issue - especially those that are home to dirty brown-coal power stations, like Victoria.
However, unfortunately this Budget committed very little to renewable energy or protecting our environment.
Here I explain the positives and negatives of the 2016 Victorian state budget.
❌ A loss for renewable energy
The Government was able to find more than $2 billion to spend on roads, but only around $40 million for investing in renewables. Labor’s priorities are out of whack.
Labor is committing $1.4 billion to a huge new toll road (the Western Distributor) that will funnel more cars into already congested inner-city roads, but they couldn’t seem to find more than a few million for renewables.
Given we have a $2.9 billion surplus, surely it would have been a good idea to invest this in creating jobs and reducing emissions?
✔ Some wins for the Latrobe Valley
The Budget includes an increase in coal mining royalties, which is estimated to raise $252 million over the next four years. This is long overdue, and a good step. However the Government won’t spend this money on renewable energy, sustainability or energy efficiency, which is a huge lost opportunity.
There is also $40 million for a transition plan for the Latrobe Valley, for new training facilities and some other projects. This is a win for the community and the Greens who have been campaigning for this over the last two years. However, in order to transition to the new economy, we need a plan to move our energy system away from coal and towards renewables as soon as possible, and this is a plan that Labor doesn't have.
There is also some money for air quality monitoring, health services, and reducing risks of another catastrophic Hazelwood mine fire. This is good - but if we really want to reduce the risks from coal, we need to phase it out.
❌ A loss for our forests
There’s still no plan to stop logging our native forests or create the Great Forest National Park. :(
✔ A win for preventing family violence and healthcare
There is money in the Budget to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. This is much-needed and very welcome. There are also some good healthcare commitments in the Budget.
❌ A loss for biodiversity
Labor has found millions of dollars to promote hunting, but not nearly enough to protect endangered species, in fact, the Andrews Government is passing the buck on protecting Victoria’s biodiversity with a program for volunteers and private organisations to take responsibility for conserving our flora and fauna! There are little bits and pieces here and there for biodiversity, in particular some good funding for protecting river areas - but there is nothing substantial enough to make a real difference, which is disappointing, especially when Labor continues to allow logging and duck shooting.
In particular, it's sad to see Parks Victoria hasn't had its funding returnined in full after the Liberal/National Government cut it during the last Government. We urgently need to see significant more funding for our national parks system.
❌ A loss for public housing
Another key question is, if we have a $2.9 billion surplus and can find $1.4 billion for a new toll road, why is there hardly any new money to build more public housing and solve homelessness in Victoria?
The Government has also failed to restore funding to the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program (SHASP) that had its funding slashed in previous years. This is a crucial service that supports public housing tenants to avoid eviction.
✔ A win for roads
Including $1.4 billion for a huge new toll road (the Western Distributor) which will funnel even more cars into the already clogged roads of the inner city.
❌ A mixed bag on public transport
There is money for the new Melbourne Metro project, which is good, and some outer suburban train lines are winners. However, public transport usage is growing at 3% a year and investment is only growing at 1% a year, so if you have overcrowded trains or trams or buses now, that's not likely to get any better because of this Budget.
✔ A win for Carlton Primary school
Labor has provided the remaining $9 million they had previously committed to Carlton Primary School. There is also money for new schools in Prahran, Richmond, South Melbourne and many outer suburban and regional areas -- but not in the CBD and Docklands. You can get involved in the campaign for a city school by visiting http://www.cityschools4citykids.com/
❌ A loss for a CBD or Docklands school
The community in the CBD is crying out for a school to be built. This Budget fails to deliver a local city school for city kids.