his budget reminds me how quickly things change and how tiresome the spin-doctored rhetoric of a government that has failed this state on so many levels has become.
If 2020 was a year defined by anxiety and fear, this year in Victoria is defined by the relief and joy of normal life resuming.
Workers are returning to offices, shops and restaurants.
Guests are arriving at parties and weddings.
Footy fans are packing into stadiums.
But there’s a new sense of freedom as we leave the house without wearing masks, meet with friends and plan for a holiday.(1)
That was the preamble from the Treasurer.
Let me tell you about fear and anxiety. The Treasurer pulled out a couple of well-crafted personal stories but chose to ignore the real fear and anxiety that the constant threat of lockdowns has had on casual workers, on the businesses that have gone to the wall—your ‘rescue packages’ barring them from anything meaningful with petty clauses and improbable demands.
That speech on budget day is in the dim and distant past, before lockdown 5.0 and a new set of rules imposed on border communities that once lived in the border bubble but now live in a shell of that arrangement, the Murray River now a barricade to our everyday life.
What support will you offer our people for that? You have turned economic management into a class war, and the losers are real, honest and hardworking people caught in the middle.
Bump up land tax and stamp duty—penalise those willing to invest in the private rental market. Wage your Marxist revolution, but squeezing the rental market only squeezes out the renters, often young people, those you pretend to defend—often the most vulnerable. Make us the most taxed state in the nation and watch them leave. Make big business pay for mental health rather than make it part of your government and watch the jobs disappear.
Already the ratings agencies are deserting you—they are losing faith that even with a big-taxing budget, like this, you can repay the record $155 billion debt.
Tax is such a dull subject, so I want to paint a picture of how this affects our region. Up our way the Border Mail is running a series on the rental crisis. The vacancy on rental property is less than half a per cent. It is impossible to find a place. If you do, the landlords, at least on the Victorian side of the river, are having to raise rents to cover your taxes.
And yet this budget creates a windfall tax. You are imposing a tax on good business acumen. Property developers plan ahead, anticipate the rezoning of land as regional cities or even this great metropolis of Melbourne expand.
Investors buy land decades ahead of time because they have the foresight and knowledge to see what’s coming. What many would call good business sense or sound judgement, you are throwing into a basket and calling luck—a windfall. You are penalising future development, robbing the region of new builds and rental properties that might ease the rental squeeze. You are making developers, along with mum-and-dad investors, look interstate, and at the end of the day those who can least afford it will be without a place to live, without a roof over their head.
You will blame the ‘big business’ bogeyman—the real culprit is Labor’s taxes that fill your ideology bucket list and at the same time try to take some heat out of your massive cost blowouts and generational debt. What you are doing with these land taxes, stamp duty changes, the windfall lucky dip and the mental health levy is driving people away from Wodonga and making Albury look so much more attractive. We want big business in the regions—in Victorian regions.
The pandemic started that shift to the country, but without private investment, without jobs it all stops with this budget. You are talking about businesses—many of whom were abandoned during the past 12 months. Your speech says this budget will re-affirm Victoria as the best business destination in Australia, it will rebuild the state as a holiday destination.
Well, let me tell you about Ty and Esther Bates at the Lake Anderson Caravan Park at Chiltern. It’s a beautiful spot.
But because the hardworking couple are set up as a partnership, they don’t qualify for any of the support mechanisms in your COVID recovery; they have been rejected at every turn. They did not have a customer for months during last year’s second-wave lockdown.
You say they don’t employ anyone. Well, they certainly employ themselves. You believe all business is bad—well, these guys are just trying to improve themselves and their business and hopefully get a return down the track. You do nothing for them.
In this latest lockdown of the border there are steel fabrication businesses that can’t get technicians from Melbourne to repair and install new equipment. They lose contracts, Victorians lose jobs and yet what will you do for them in this budget?
The race caller from Yackandandah who can’t call the trots at Wagga under the new rules—what allowance have you made for him? The funeral director is being told he can work from home. A couple were to be married next month—they live in Albury, planned to have the wedding at Granya, that’s in Victoria; the caterers, hire company and celebrant can all go, just not the two that were getting married. They work in Wodonga five days a week; they just can’t get married here on Saturday. It is Victorian businesses who were catering and supplying the tables that now lose money.
Under this budget, in four years time Victorians will be paying 40 per cent more tax than they did in 2019. Tell me, given the choice of living in Wodonga or Albury—living in the highest taxing state in the nation or NSW—where are you going to build, invest and ultimately live?
Adding insult to injury is the mental health levy you want to whack on big business. It’s another disincentive to business, but it also smacks of hypocrisy.
I’m tipping that behind the scenes your army of spin doctors must have been slapping each other on the back with this one: ‘They can’t argue against this … everyone loves Mental Health … it’s a crisis’.
Well, let me tell you about a crisis. Corryong, which bore the brunt of the bushfires last year, has lost too many young people to suicide in the 18 months since that time. It was compounded by COVID—rural isolation made more solitary by remote schooling and other lockdown measures. Those lockdown measures include your current ‘border lockdown’, which just last night ended the Upper Murray football season—another part of the social fabric that helps overcome that isolation. I fear for that community, and I hold you responsible for any harm that comes to that community.
Your latest token gesture in this budget is to create a long-overdue post-hospital suicide outreach service based in Wangaratta. Well, that’s a long way from Corryong. They need real help.
People want solutions, not more unicorn jockeys spreading fairy dust and rainbows. They are fatigued by do-gooders pushing their own agendas and pumping up the tyres on their own CVs. No-one is arguing the need for better mental health services, but this should be part of core government, not underpinned by a tax on business growth and jobs.
Under this budget you are also upping the ante on fines—a 10 per cent slug from 1 July for penalty units for everything from court penalties to traffic infringements.
Vince McPherson, who lives at Talgarno, has to travel along the Murray River Road each day and wants to know if you are putting any of that back into the roads themselves—or just paying back debt. The road is potholed, the shoulders crumbling with exposed culverts dangerously close to the bitumen.
Your own budget paper says ‘our road network is vital to connecting regional communities’. But that is not Mr McPherson’s or his neighbour’s experience. The potential for a serious accident increases by the day, and yet markings for fixes still sit on the road, years after the fluoro paint was used to mark the danger. Councils tell me that Regional Roads Victoria is pleading poor.
On behalf of Mr McPherson I’m pleading that this is not just revenue raising to furnish your $155 billion debt but that some of this income be put back into fixing our country roads. I don’t accept the default position of your road safety lobby that says the simple fix is to reduce speed limits—we want safer roads, not slower roads.
You want to talk about raising revenue from increased fees. Well, let me tell you about Peter Thompson. He moved to Wodonga from NSW recently and had to make the usual changes—drivers licences, rego and the like. So for each of the three changes he had to book separate appointments at VicRoads, $19.20 each time. That’s price gouging in the corporate world.
In this hallowed place we talk in telephone numbers, but this is the lived experience of real people where each dollar counts. The talk of millions and billions is simply ‘polly waffle’.
I look at schools, and we will take the promises in this budget but at this stage they are just promises. In April 2018 this Labor government also announced plans for a new school at Leneva.
It will replace the Bandiana School on defence land that continues to exist on a year-to-year lease. That corridor will still need a school. But as for Leneva, this is 2021 and this budget has no start date, no completion date—in fact it has no mention of that school. Where is this up to?
There is no specific mention of roads in the north-east in this budget, but we are left to ponder what just a small amount of those billions in Melbourne cost overruns could do for my patch.
If it was a simple ask, I would say: what about the Melrose Drive overpass suicide barriers? Where are you up to here? Where is your contribution?
Again Albury Wodonga Health, the biggest regional health service outside of Geelong, is ignored.
Two billion dollars to ‘build, expand and modernise’ hospitals.
There is more money for Wangaratta on top of the $7.6 million—new maternity wards at Wangaratta from last November’s budget.
Last December I wrote to the Minister for Health seeking advice and details of funding provided to Albury Wodonga Health since 2016. What I got back, six months later, was a list that included an air conditioner for the operating theatres, the nurse on-call system, wi-fi upgrades, fire sprinklers and solar panels on the West Wodonga ambulance station.
Rob Sitch couldn’t make this up. The health service is finalising a master plan, and it is almost certainly going to argue for a single-site hospital for acute services rather than it being spread across the two cities.
It will be the cheapest hospital you are ever likely to build—NSW is on board, the Feds have agreed—it just needs you to sign up, invest in the health services that look after a catchment of 270 000 people.
Our waiting list, like the rest of the state, is out of control. Catherine Artis needs a new hip. She has been waiting for 10 months and is now told she has to wait for at least two years. But by all means talk up your commitment to health.
And what about trains? Two years ago you promised new trains. There was no line item, just a telephone-number figure tied into Ballarat and Geelong. ‘Trust me’, you said. ‘Your trains are in there. They’ll be delivered when the tracks are fixed’, you said.
The tracks were fixed in March. We hear something might happen in December but not what was promised—something much smaller than your big talk.
This budget, like its predecessors from Labor, is just a talking point, another opportunity to throw about buzz words and catchphrases. I say stop the BS, cut the spin and focus on truly delivering for all Victorians. I condemn this budget to the spin cycle.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The time set down for consideration of items on the government business program has arrived, and I am required to interrupt business. The member has an opportunity to continue the debate on the motion when it is next before the house.
Business interrupted under resolution of house of 3 August.