Mr BURGESS (Hastings) — It is a pleasure to finally rise to speak on the Appropriation (2017–2018) Bill. I have been on the speakers list many times since the budget, but we moved on from the debate just before it became my turn. I am actually the last speaker on the budget this year, not that it is a great budget. I think it is fair to say that it is a massive disappointment for the majority of Victorians, specifically given the circumstances that the budget should be in if the government had done the job that it should have done. It had a windfall of over $9 billion from the sale of an income‑producing asset, which it seems to have now buried in the ground. It had an increase of more than 22.2 per cent in state taxes, and on top of that the state has gone further and further into debt. So with all of that money being available to the state —
Mr Nardella interjected.
Mr BURGESS — Well, we will not talk about money with the member for Melton. It is very difficult to look around and see where the money has actually gone. Obviously there are priorities that the government has put forward. They are not priorities that the opposition agrees with in most terms, but certainly they are ones that are worthwhile considering to see exactly how they stack up against what this state needs.
It is interesting to look at today’s release of the annual reports, because we see that there have been enormous blowouts already in all sorts of things. Whether some people refer to them as a blowout or not, in fact the burgeoning public service has had an incredible achievement, if you would like to see it that way from Labor’s perspective, even just in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which has grown from 716 people last year — already a massive increase — to 946 people this year. So we are looking at more than 230 people who have been put on in the public service just in the Department of Premier and Cabinet — an astonishing statistic and something that this government certainly needs to explain to the Victorian people. The Victorian people are struggling to pay for their electricity costs and gas costs that have been pushed through the roof by this incompetent government, and at the same time this Premier is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his Facebook likes and employing more and more public servants in his office, so he can do his political shenanigans — something that he does very well.
Also, consider the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. One of the ministers there is the hapless Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, who is really about small business in name alone because he says he is responsible for less and less things every week. In fact he added to that just this sitting week. This time he is not responsible for the huge damage that is being done to small businesses that do cleaning in schools. There are a growing number of things that he says he is not responsible for, even though they are to do with small business and they are affecting small business. It makes one wonder who in fact in cabinet is responsible for standing up for small business and doing something to help them.
That particular department just in its grants has blown out by $410 million. There has been no explanation for that. The government has not said anything about this enormous blowout, but it certainly has a case to answer there — $410 million in blowouts in that department. The minister needs to come forward and say exactly where that money has gone and why there has been such a blowout. We will not hold our breath for an explanation in the same way that we do not hold our breath for that minister being responsible for anything.
If you look at the Young Street problem that has happened in Frankston, certainly the local member has responsibility, but he cannot take all the blame for it — and he is sitting over there in his seat now sort of half‑smiling. Certainly the minister should have been able to get assistance from his Premier and from various ministers, and I am not quite sure why that would not be happening. When the Young Street problem has been raised with the minister in the house, the minister has gone missing and said he is not responsible, even though there is so much damage being done to small businesses all through the Young Street, Frankston, area. This minister has gone missing and says he is not responsible. Well, he is responsible for the health of small businesses in Victoria, and if he is not going to take any responsibility for helping them out when they are being attacked by other departments within his government, then I am not sure what he is doing there.
On the level crossings, when the businesses were suffering, when somebody had to stand up to talk to the Level Crossing Removal Authority on behalf of the small businesses to make sure that their needs were taken into account; that, for instance, where the roads were being cut off was reasonable so that at least the businesses could continue to function, of course the minister went missing again: ‘It’s not my fault. It’s not my responsibility. It’s not my job’.
Then there are the Acland Street changes. Again, when the minister was asked about the small businesses that were suffering, what did he say? ‘It’s not my job. It’s not my responsibility. You can’t blame me. I don’t want to know about it. Go and ask somebody else’, is what he said.
Mr Nardella interjected.
Mr BURGESS — Again we come to the school cleaners, and the member for Melton should know quite a bit about this. The school cleaners work around all of our electorates; there are more than 250 small businesses out around our electorates. In fact I had a meeting with the member for Melton and a business from his electorate to talk about how they were being absolutely attacked by this government. These small businesses that are out there have been doing these jobs for decades. They have got little businesses running out there, and the schools are getting what they want because they have been able to get them to do the things they need within their school.
It is not just a template that larger businesses can often deliver in this way; they are able to cut their cloth to what suits the school. These contracts are done with school councils so that the parents get to understand what is happening within their schools, and on many occasions the larger businesses that the government is trying to push down the throats of the schools have already been dismissed from those schools because they were not doing the job that the schools wanted. The principals, although they are reluctant to come on the record because they know what this government is like if you oppose them, have been on the front foot on many occasions saying that they want the cleaning companies that they have got because they do the job for them — and it is a very important job that they do for the schools with our children in them.
Nevertheless this government is going to sack all of those small businesses and all of the employees that they have because they are going to divide the metro area into eight sectors. The smallest of those eight sectors has 157 schools in it. The only people that can apply for a tender are businesses that can actually service at least one of those sectors — so you have to be a business big enough to take on 157 schools, which automatically rules out these small businesses from even applying for this tender. Every one of the members in this house should be angry about this because we have all got schools in our electorates and we have all got these small businesses operating in those schools, and this approach absolutely contradicts this government’s intention that it puts together with its tender process that says it will make these tenders available for small businesses.
This is specifically going the other way. This is making sure that these small businesses not only cannot apply but are also losing their jobs. There are not going to be these small businesses out there cleaning these schools anymore. We are going to have probably one or two big businesses doing this job. The schools will lose their choice in what they have been able to choose in the past. This government needs to look very carefully at what it is doing for these small businesses because these small businesses are really just Victorian families. They are families. This is the way they survive and this is how the money comes into their homes, and then they go out and spend it in the small businesses around their places. To take that away from these small businesses is to do a great injustice to these families and to the Victorian community.
Again there are so many variations within this budget, but there are many things that have been left out. The rising cost of living is an incredible impost on Victorians — in fact the minister is sitting at the table — through the approach that they have taken to handling energy. If people had listened to Rod Sims in his address to the National Press Club yesterday, they would have got the truth about what is going on in the energy sector across Victoria and across Australia. He was scathing about the way we have adopted plans around the country, but specifically in Victoria, and the way Hazelwood was sold off. In fact he said, ‘Who would believe that the Victorian government would have done that, costing us 22 per cent of baseload power?’
Ms D’Ambrosio — That is not true. You are verballing Rod Sims. You verbal people.
Mr BURGESS — He was very critical of green schemes that apply to all of the community, which the Victorian renewable energy target (VRET) is. Am I verballing him now, Minister?
Ms D’Ambrosio interjected.
Mr BURGESS — No, I do not think so. He lay the rise in the cost of electricity largely at the foot of the closure of Hazelwood. We know why Hazelwood closed. While the government would like to tell the community that it had nothing to do with it and that it was just a business decision, we know what happened. We know that the policy of the Andrews Labor government was to close Hazelwood. We know that they then tripled the coal royalties on our coal‑fired generators, which is something that no business model could accept.
When no business model could accept that sort of thing, Hazelwood was forced into a situation where it was only just hanging on, and then the government dispatched its loyal Treasurer over to see Engie in France. He saw that the coal royalties were tripled in May. Tim Pallas was the Treasurer who was dispatched to see Engie in France at the start of November last year, and by the end of November Engie had reluctantly announced that they would close Hazelwood — 22 per cent of the base load of Victoria’s electricity. If you look at what Rod Sims said yesterday — and I am not verballing him — that was a very large contributor to why Victorians are now struggling to pay their electricity bills. You have gone very quiet, Minister.
There is a whole range of things that this government could be doing to bring those costs down. Rod Sims, the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, laid out a plan, but I am sure that this government will not look at that because it is caught up in its ideological march towards a green future. Nobody in their right minds would get rid of what we use for our generation of electricity without replacing it with something else, and that is exactly what this government has done.
Ms D’Ambrosio interjected.
Mr BURGESS — You have said that it is ideal if we go out and close the generators. If you asked anybody in the street, even if you asked the opposition, ‘Do we need to close the generators?’, the answer would be, ‘Eventually, yes’. But do you close them before you have replaced them? No, you do not. What happens? It becomes less available. Gas becomes less available because there is a moratorium on it, and of course what do prices do? Read what Rod Sims said.
Ms D’Ambrosio interjected.
Mr BURGESS — Have a look at our policy, Minister, and see what that says. Have a look at what Rod Sims said yesterday. Who would have possibly thought that your government would not only have a moratorium on fracking, which we all support, but also a moratorium on conventional gas?
Ms D’Ambrosio — That is what you have got.
Mr BURGESS — No. It is not our policy, Minister; it is your policy. Conventional gas in Victoria is available, but we are not allowed to look for it. So what do you think people do when they decide where they are going to go to supply energy? They do not come to this state. That is exactly the sort of approach that has been taken in Victoria to the ports. Not only did they withdraw all funding to the port of Hastings that was being developed to take care of a major problem that Victoria has but they have also short‑changed the Victorian people by telling them lies.
The Infrastructure Victoria report was based on assumptions that nobody was aware of — for instance, that there is no such thing as a port of Melbourne, that the dredging in Port Phillip does not have to be counted because it is going to be used to make a mud island and that they used the dredging numbers from the port of Hastings as the largest possible port that you could build down there rather than the one that we actually planned to build. So of course that is another way that this government is hoodwinking Victorians, and it just really continues to do that from day to day.
Nothing has been done in my electorate. In 11 years of the Bracks and Brumby government there was virtually no investment in my community at all, and this government has continued that process. Look at the things that could have been funded, such as the development of the Port of Hastings. Despite it being the government’s policy, instead of spending money there at all you decided you were going to drop it as soon as the opposition adopted it in government. On additional transit police for the Stony Point line and opening the Somerville police station — we have record crime rates that have been rising since you became government. You have done nothing to stop them. They are continuing to rise.
The Somerville police station was promised to my community in an election campaign. The government was elected, and built it as the authority government. Then when it was time to open it, you were the government and you decided not to. But what did you do? You decided to hold back police from the station and instead sent them down to one of your marginal seats, withholding them from my community. That is the kind of approach this government takes to Victorians. It is all about politics, it is never about Victorians, and this is a disgraceful budget.
Motion agreed to.