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Budget-Reply: Our Vision for Victoria

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
9 May 2018

Yesterday, I gave my budget-reply speech, outlining the Greens' alternative vision for Victoria. Here it is, in full:

Today I rise to give the Greens' budget reply speech for 2018. The Victorian budget is about much more than just a set of numbers. A budget, especially in an election year, shows us exactly where the government's priorities lie.

The government may tell us what they care about, but it is not until we see money in the budget that we know for sure. In short, it is about governments putting their money where their mouth is.

So what does this 2018 budget say about the Andrews Labor government's priorities?

Despite their rhetoric, the budget is clear. This Labor government prioritises toll roads instead of better public transport, new prisons instead of new public housing and privatising our public assets instead of keeping them in public hands, and it provides almost no new money for addressing climate change or protecting our environment.

At a time when Victoria is in such a strong financial position, this lack of vision is disappointing to say the least. As Victorians, we are proud of our state. We love living here, and we want our government to spend our money on things that make our communities strong. We do not want our hard-earned money propping up the profits of toll road companies or used just to shore up votes in marginal seats. We want it spent on addressing the problems we face in our community, and unfortunately this Labor budget does not do that.

Victoria is at a crucial time in history. Melbourne is growing at a faster rate than any other time since the gold rush. In the 1850s swollen gold rush coffers ushered in the era of Marvellous Melbourne. This wealth led to an explosion of civic and public works, like schools, libraries, art galleries, post offices, telegraph stations and even this very building, Parliament House. Today Victoria is once again flush with cash, largely off the back of population growth, high house prices bringing in extra stamp duty for the Victorian government as well as extra unexpected GST revenue and selling off the Snowy Hydro scheme to the commonwealth. This growth has brought our state wealth but also challenges — challenges that we all are feeling. We are feeling them in our crowded schools, when we cannot get on a train in the morning, when our kids cannot afford to buy or even rent a house, in the number of homeless people in our communities and of course in the impact it is having on our environment.

But instead of fixing these problems and instead of investing this profit into our communities to make sure Victoria stays a great place to live, this Andrews Labor government is giving billions of dollars of our money to toll road companies and brown coal projects and is selling off our public assets for private gain. On the surface, the budget might look good. The newspaper headlines tell us that Victoria is spending big on construction while also posting big surpluses, and the government boasts about record investment in schools. However, you do not need to look far for proof that our economy is simply not working for many Victorians and this government has its priorities out of whack.

Let us look at our public transport system, for example. It is at breaking point. Trains are bursting at the seams — three go by in the morning before you can get on in places like Kensington. Buses are unreliable and not well integrated with the broader network. Trams are seriously overcrowded and often late, and most are not even accessible to people with different abilities. The government knows that when the new Melbourne Metro is built it will be at capacity almost immediately, but instead of beginning to plan now for Melbourne Metro 2, this Labor government is locking in congestion across our city by prioritising two huge new toll roads which will flood our city with traffic.

Let us look at housing. Homes in Victoria are some of the most expensive in the world for renters and for buyers. For the first time ever, people do not see home ownership as an attainable goal, and there are more than 35 000 applicants on the public housing waiting list. But instead of funding a large-scale build of public housing, like we need, this government is selling public housing land to private developers.

Let us look at energy. Electricity prices are skyrocketing due in large part to successive governments which have carved up our electricity network and sold it to the highest bidder. We were promised a cheaper, more efficient network. What we got was the complete opposite. But instead of funding for climate action and instead of funding a plan to get out of coal and transition us to 100 per cent renewable energy, this Labor government is sinking over $50 million of new money into the brown coal industry to try to keep it alive.

Let us look at our environment. Our native forests are being felled at a faster rate than anywhere else in the commonwealth. Our oceans, parks and waterways are being choked with plastic pollution, and all around the state recycling is piling up higher and higher because we simply have no plan for what to do with it. But instead of a plan to move logging to plantations or to fund the establishment of a sustainable recycling industry in Victoria, Labor continues to use taxpayer funds to log our precious native forests and does nothing about our recycling crisis. It is clear that this Labor government has its priorities wrong.

The Greens have an alternative vision for this state: a fair society, clean energy, a reliable public transport system, the opportunity to look for a job that you can count on, a safe and secure home, accessible health care, a healthy environment and a strong social safety net. These are the Greens' priorities, and we have a plan to get us there. Instead of spending billions on the West Gate Tunnel and north-east link toll roads, which only go to propping up the profits of Transurban and do nothing to ease congestion, we would extend the Melbourne Metro project with upgrades to important stations like South Kensington and Caulfield, electrify the Melton line, extend the Cranbourne line to Clyde, build an interchange with South Yarra and increase services and then start planning for Melbourne Metro 2 to transform the rest of our rail network with new trains and high-capacity signalling.

Instead of spending $53 million on a dodgy project that seeks to turn brown coal into hydrogen to export to Japan when really all it does is give false hope to the people of the Latrobe Valley that brown coal can last forever — which it cannot — we would plan to phase out coal and invest in 100 per cent renewable energy, including a plan to transition the Latrobe Valley to new jobs in battery technology, in offshore wind and in education. We would put solar panels and batteries on every Victorian school and roll out large-scale energy efficiency programs to save energy and save money. And we would start to bring the energy system back into public hands so Victorians do not keep getting ripped off and we can finally start to address climate change. Instead of caving to the Liberals' rhetoric on law and order and spending $700 million on a new prison, we would fund a large-scale build of public housing on a scale we have not seen since the 1960s to ensure everyone who wants a safe, secure place to call home and a place they can get back on their feet when they need to —

Ms Victoria interjected.

Ms SANDELL — I notice the member for Bayswater is saying, 'That's crackpot stuff'. Say that to the people in public housing whose homes are falling down around them and need important maintenance —

Ms Victoria interjected.

The SPEAKER — Order! Without interjections.

Ms SANDELL — They are the 35 000 people who need a place to call home. Instead of spending $35 million to find more ways to log our forests through new regional forestry agreements, we would create the great forest national park and the Emerald link to create jobs, to secure our water supply, to store carbon and to protect our endangered species and biodiversity. Instead of privatising Land Use Victoria and disability group homes, on top of the already privatised port of Melbourne and the selling off of public housing land, the Greens would fight to keep public assets in public hands, and we are the only party in this place that would do so. This is the alternative vision provided by the Greens, and it is one that people can look forward to hearing a lot more of in the lead-up to November.

People might be saying, 'This budget sounds pretty grim. Is there anything good in there?'. Yes, of course. There are programs and projects that we support and that we welcome. For example, much has been written about record investment in schools, and this is good. It is a big investment — much more than the Liberal or National parties ever invested in Victoria's schools. But does it keep up with population growth? Unfortunately not. Does it fully address the huge maintenance backlog in our public schools? No. Does it end the ridiculous formula that Labor introduced whereby every time the government invests $1 in our public school system it needs to put 25 cents into private schools, no questions asked, regardless of whether they need it or not? No. Does it fund schools based on need rather than marginal seat status? No. Many people have mentioned to me that they are pleased to see the much-needed improvements to TAFE in this budget, including several courses which will now be free. But before there is too much self-congratulation from the Labor members in this chamber, I remind members that it was Labor that sold off our TAFE system to for-profit corporations in the first place, and now they want a round of applause for giving back some of what was taken from a system that used to be the envy of the world.

One of the biggest gaps, and the most heartbreaking gap, in this budget is how little is being spent on our environment. When it comes to our natural environment, the only ray of hope is the 130 park rangers for Parks Victoria, which the Greens secured as part of our negotiations with the government. This would not have happened if it were not for the Greens in this place. Our parks funding was slashed by the Liberals in 2014, and Labor has not restored it in full. The Greens negotiated to restore funding for rangers to protect our parks from invasive species and feral animals. We are pleased, but it is far from what we actually need to protect our environment. We are of course bitterly disappointed there was virtually no new money to meet our climate targets or to reduce emissions. It is sad because this government has done some good work setting climate targets and putting them in law, but if there is no money in the budget to actually do the work to meet these targets, well, it is just more talk and no action while climate change keeps bearing down upon us.

Months before the budget the Greens laid out our priorities and entered into negotiations with the government, and we are pleased to see that some of our priorities have indeed been funded. On top of the 130 rangers, we were also able to negotiate $22 million for safer cycling and better active transport infrastructure, although the government still is not spending the $100 million that was earmarked for cycling in the budget — and it needs to. This money, along with the Sustainability Fund, cannot just sit there and prop up the bottom line. It is supposed to be used to actually protect the environment, to actually build bike paths, and that is what it should do. We negotiated $5 million to upgrade Casey Fields, including facilities for women's sport and the AFL Women, and $12 million to upgrade South Yarra station. A big congratulations to the member for Prahran and the local councils who have campaigned so strongly for this for so many years. Of course this is on top of other successful campaigns that were funded, such as funding for a Docklands primary school.

This was of course not everything that we asked for in our negotiations with the government in this budget. Unfortunately many of our claims ended up falling on deaf ears. We called for an expansion of the government's community revitalisation program in Flemington to other housing estates with high unemployment and underemployment and for these jobs programs to be run by local community-led organisations that already exist. But it was not funded. We asked for proper funding for our medical research institutes to bring us in line with New South Wales, but this was not funded. We called for more funding for community legal centres for migration, refugee and asylum seeker support, because they are absolutely swamped at the moment, but they were not funded.

We asked for the government to join with other states and finally ban duck shooting, jumps racing, greyhound racing, battery hen cages and sow stalls in Victoria — all incredibly cruel practices — but they refused. The Greens will keep fighting for these important policies now and in the lead-up to the election. Victoria is at a crucial time in history. We are facing big challenges, from population growth to catastrophic climate change. But we have so much potential, we have the funds in the budget to invest in solutions and we are living in a time when interest rates are at record lows.

We could have used this situation to create another marvellous era in Victoria. We could have used public funds to create a cleaner, fairer society in harmony with the natural world and powered by renewable energy. Instead what the Labor government has delivered is a cash splash to help them win outer suburban seats off the Liberals with hollow promises that try to convince people that we can build toll roads to ease congestion and build prisons to fix society's problems. As the saying goes, building toll roads to fix congestion is like trying to fix obesity by loosening your belt: it simply does not work.

This Labor government desperately wants to win the next election, but what it is offering the Victorian people are false solutions and false hope. We do not need false hope. What we need is governments that do not just think about the next election but think about the next decade and indeed the next generation. That is what the Greens are fighting for, and we will keep fighting for it as long as we still have two major parties in this Parliament that care more about short-term votes than long-term vision.

With this term in government the Labor Party has shown what its true priorities are: toll roads, keeping the brown coal and logging industries alive, privatising our public assets, building new prisons, school and TAFE funding that does not match demand; and leaving the climate and environment for someone else to deal with in the future. Unfortunately the Liberal-Nationals coalition's plans are even worse.

So what to do? For the voters who want something more than this, who want a Victoria that actually invests in the future, that looks after people and the environment, your choice is now clear. If you want this positive vision of Victoria, you will not get it with Labor and you will not get it with the Liberals; this budget proves it. If you want this vision, put the Greens in the balance of power this November. It is the only way you will see it become a reality.

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
9 May 2018




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