Second reading- Appropriation (2017-2018) Bill 2017
06 June 2017- Mr O'Sullivan- It gives me a great deal of pleasure to stand up and make a contribution — my first contribution — in relation to a state budget in this place.
Mr Finn — A pity it was not a better budget.
Mr O'Sullivan— That is very true. This is an opportunity that could have delivered a lot of things to a lot of people in a lot of areas. It is a budget that has got plenty of money to spend, but unfortunately we have seen many areas miss out, areas that were well deserving of getting a whole lot more than they did. Regional Victoria is one area that has really missed out in this budget, but we have come to expect that under the Daniel Andrews Labor government as it selects winners and losers in the way it conducts its business. There is no doubt that the closer you live to Parliament House or the city, the better you do under a Labor government. We have seen that not just in this government; we have seen it in successive Labor governments along the way.
Usually when a budget is delivered it comes with a lot of fanfare, a lot of media coverage and a lot of headlines. The TV stations cover it; they have live crosses. The radio stations have got their budget lock-ups where everyone comes in, gets a sneak peek at the budget and then they get out to write their stories. I find it quite strange that such a budget has such a low profile. This budget has come and gone in the blink of an eye, and there is no aftermath to the budget that is going to carry on very far into the future. It is a one-day wonder story that has just been swallowed up and tossed away because it was so unmemorable to so many people. The media found it so uninteresting that they moved onto other things almost within a day. I know we have got a very fast moving news cycle in this contemporary world we live in, but I did not think it was so fast that this state budget would only have a life span of less than 24 hours. That is what we have seen with this budget.
There are some things about the budget that I do want to put on the record. One thing that I find interesting is the fact that this budget has got nine new taxes — yes, nine new taxes. Those taxes cover a whole range of areas. We have an energy tax on coal royalties, the tax that was applied to taxis and Uber operations and the tax in relation to land surcharges for absentee owners. There will be a hike in the fire services levy as a result of the reform of the Country Fire Authority when this government dismantles it. We have got an increase in stamp duty for people wishing to buy new cars. We have got stamp duty increases for those people who buy a property straight from the plan. It used to be a way of avoiding stamp duty, but no, this government has found a way to tax those people as well.
This budget introduces new stamp duties on property transfers between spouses. That was once an area where, if someone was transferring a house within their family operation, they would be able to do that without any stamp duties being applied, but no, this government has found a way to tax them as well. Do not worry, they are not going to miss out. They will be taxed; everyone is going to get taxed in this budget. There is a new annual property valuation which will increase land taxes as well.
This government, more than any other government we have ever seen, knows how to put their hand in the taxpayers pocket, pull out a wad of cash and take it for themselves. What I find most interesting about the fact that there are nine new taxes in this budget is that when the people of Victoria were making up their minds who they were going to vote for at the 2014 election, they were probably making up their minds on the basis of who would increase taxes and who would increase the cost of living as a result of extra taxes. Would it be the coalition? No, the coalition rarely increases taxes. Was it going to be the Labor Party, because quite often they increase taxes because they tend to be higher spending governments?
The people of Victoria were probably reassured after listening to speeches made during the election campaign by the then opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, in relation to higher taxes and charges. I wonder whether people got some comfort from what the then opposition leader said in relation to increasing taxes and charges. Going through some of the media reports at the time, there are some instances where Mr Andrews made some comments in relation to increasing taxes and charges. On 5 November 2014 on ABC News it was reported:
Mr Andrews ruled out increasing state taxes or household fees and charges to fund Labor's promises.
That is the first instance when Mr Andrews said there would be no increase in taxes or charges, so we have had one reassurance on 5 November.
On 6 November 2014 — just one day later — the Herald Sun reported, and I quote:
Opposition leader Daniel Andrews said Labor would reveal its full costings before the election, and said he had 'no plans' to increase fees and fines.
On two occasions — on two successive days — the people of Victoria had reassurances from Mr Andrews that he was not going to increase taxes, fees and fines.
On 19 November 2014 David Speers was doing an interview with Daniel Andrews on Sky News, and Mr Speers asked Mr Andrews:
So, any higher taxes, levies?
To which Mr Andrews replied:
Absolutely not …
That makes three times that Daniel Andrews said there would not be increases to taxes, levies, charges, fees or fines.
There was a fourth occasion, on 28 November 2014, and this was the night before the election. On Channel 7 news Peter Mitchell was doing a live interview with Daniel Andrews. He was standing out the front of Parliament House when Peter Mitchell asked:
Daniel Andrews, all the polls say you will be Victoria's next Premier. If you are, do you promise Victorians here tonight that you will not increase taxes or introduce any new taxes?
That is a pretty straightforward question: if you are the Premier, do you promise tonight that you will not increase taxes or introduce new taxes for Victorians? Daniel Andrews replied, 'I make that promise, Peter, to every single Victorian'.
Here we are on 5 November, 6 November, 19 November and 28 November — all within the space of 23 days — and Mr Andrews said on those four separate occasions that he would not increase taxes, charges, fees and fines. I guess probably a lot of Victorians made a decision that they might give Mr Andrews a go on the basis that he had given them four reassurances that he was not going to put his hand in their pockets and take their hard-earned money.
Mr Andrews said he was going to be very transparent and very honest in terms of the way that he would conduct his government, but here we are, just a short couple of years later, with a budget that has introduced nine new taxes — not eight but nine new taxes. And some people actually debate that there are some others that have been overlooked, but I am not sure about that. I did not want to go out and say that there were more than nine because I do not have direct evidence of that, but I am happy to go through the process of talking about the nine new taxes.
It makes me wonder that if Mr Andrews said on four separate occasions in November 2014 that he was not going to introduce any higher taxes or levies or increase fees or fines or anything like that, why then do we have nine new taxes in this budget? Obviously Mr Andrews's word cannot be taken as being honest. He lied to the Victorian people when he said he was not going to introduce any new taxes or increase fines or fees. I think that is pretty disappointing because the people of Victoria on many occasions have been finding it difficult with the cost of living.
They have only got Mr Andrews to blame in terms of this, because this is a very high spending, very high taxing government. I think when the coalition was last in government the budget was about $52 billion. It is now up to about $64 billion, so this government has increased spending by about 20 per cent in just two and a bit years, which is something that they should not be proud of because they are absolutely hurting people out on the ground by taxing the living daylights out of them. As a result of that I do not think people are saying, 'Well, I can see where the money's going, and they're doing good things with it'. I do not see anyone saying that whatsoever. That is very disappointing. People are getting charged about an extra $200 per person per year, and they are not seeing anything for it.
In terms of the regional areas we have seen about an $87 million reduction in school upgrades across rural and regional Victoria, and many of those areas in northern Victoria in particular are missing out. There was no money in the budget for the Echuca Special School, which is something that would have been very valuable in what is being called the Education State. I think everybody who has bought a car of recent times must carry that badge of honour around on their number plate: the Education State. That might be the case if you are in Melbourne, but it is certainly not the case if you live in regional Victoria, where there has been an $87 million reduction in school upgrades.
In the agricultural area, which is of particular interest to me, there was a $32 million cut to the agricultural budget. Agriculture plays such a critical role in Victoria through its exports, through its research and through its employment, but unfortunately what we see here is this government having no real plan for agriculture in Victoria. There is a whole range of things that could be done through additional research and development to boost production that would boost exports, bring more wealth to our state and create more employment, but unfortunately we are seeing this government cutting the agricultural budget. Agricultural exports are worth about $11 billion for the state, so it is not an insignificant industry, but unfortunately it is not getting the support it should have as a result of this budget.
In terms of regional rail we see that regional rail is an issue that is of particular interest to regional people at the moment. This government came out on the Sunday before the budget with a big headline about a regional rail revival, saying there was $1.4 billion for a regional rail revival. This all sounds like a good deal, but you do not have to scratch very far at all. What they should have said in the second line of the press release is, 'We don't actually have any money to do this. We have to rely on the federal government to give us all this money so we can keep some of those promises'.
But no, this government came out with a big headline about a regional rail revival. Unfortunately they forgot to tell anyone from the federal government that they are spending their money. I think the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, called it a Santa's wish list. I think that is absolutely right. This government is big on commitments but very small on backup in terms of delivering on those commitments.
Another one I thought was particularly fascinating was in relation to wild dogs. When wild dogs came up in the budget I thought, 'Terrific. Finally we're going to see some action from this government in relation to wild dogs', which are a real scourge when it comes to attacking baby lambs and calves and also the native flora out there in regional areas. I thought, 'Beauty. There's going to be some action on wild dogs finally'. But when I looked a bit deeper into it there was $9 million to be given to the Melbourne Zoo in relation to the African wild dog. I was quite disappointed. I thought there was finally going to be some action on wild dogs — but no, only some money for the African wild dog. There was no money to fight the scourge of wild dogs around regional Victoria.
Wherever you look in this budget there is nothing but misery for people who live in regional Victoria. Taxes are up, charges are up, everything is going up, but unfortunately there is less going into regional Victoria and there is just more of Premier Andrews digging into people's pockets and taking money that they could better spend in their own communities and on their own families.