Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — It gives me some pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the motion to take note of the budget papers. Speaker, with your indulgence and a little bit of digressing, I would also like to congratulate Ray Purdey, our Clerk. I wish all the very best to you, Ray, and your family in your retirement. It is very sad to see you go, but thank you very much for your professional and personal assistance over many years. Thank you, and well done.
Back to the budget papers, it was interesting to note some of comments of the member for Ivanhoe. He seems to have completely forgotten about the West Heidelberg police station, which he spoke so passionately about in the last term of Parliament. I still do not see it in the budget, so that is very interesting. But, nonetheless, on this side of the house many people have spoken about the number of promises broken by this government and particularly the Premier. The interview that the Premier had with Peter Mitchell just prior to the election, when he promised no new taxes and no increases in taxes, has been well covered.
When you have a look at the latest budget you see that in just over two years we have seen an increase in taxation of $4 billion — not $4 million but $4 billion — an increase in taxation revenue of some 22 per cent, which is quite extraordinary in just over two years. When you average that out, it is an extra $2000 for every Victorian household. If you are collecting that much additional revenue in taxation, you have got to then have a look at what are you doing with it. As the member for South Barwon said when he spoke about the east–west link, that is where some of that money has gone — $1.2 million to not build a road is absolutely extraordinary.
The thing that concerns me is that with all that additional revenue coming into government coffers there appears to be no relief at all for householders and businesses, whether it comes to taxation itself, electricity and gas bills, water costs rising all over the place or transport fares going up. There is absolutely no relief for individuals, householders or businesses with respect to all that additional revenue. In terms of the broken promise of no additional new taxes, it is extraordinary when you go through the list of new taxes that have been introduced by this Premier and this government.
We now have the annual property valuations, and they will increase land tax rates and council rates. We have new stamp duties on property transfers between spouses, new stamp duties on off-the-plan purchases, increased stamp duty on new cars, and I will come back to that particular point in a moment. We have got increases to the fire services property levy. Imagine what it is going to be like if this government gets through its fire services reforms that it is trying to implement. It will just be extraordinary for householders and businesses. Then we have got stamp duty surcharge increases, we have got land tax surcharge increases, we have now got the debate in the Parliament this week around taxis, Uber and a new tax being imposed on commuters, and from a local perspective we have got the additional $252 million increase in taxes on some of the Latrobe Valley’s largest employers. It is just absolutely extraordinary when you go through that list.
I referred earlier to some of the concerns being expressed about the increase in stamp duty on new cars. This is an issue that has been raised with me by a number of local car dealers, who are very concerned. But it is probably all encapsulated in an advertisement that the VACC, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, put out in a newspaper not long after the budget. It was under the heading, ‘Why drive new car deals out of Victoria? Not happy Dan!’. The article underneath that, about the government’s budget announcement to increase stamp duty on new cars from 1 July 2017 and addressed ‘Dear Premier’, said this had absolutely:
… disappointed Victorian new car dealers and will impact the hip pocket of consumers purchasing that much-sought-after new car.
They go on to talk out the lack of consultation — no consultation — with the car industry and the impact upon not only the businesses but consumers as well.
I have heard from quite a few car dealers within the Morwell electorate, and like the VACC they are absolutely filthy and angry that this stamp duty increase has occurred without any consultation. They are really fearful, and the figures and statistics back up that sentiment. We have had a significant decrease in new car sales within the Latrobe Valley community, and they fear that this further impost will only make the situation worse. In my community, where you have got rising unemployment — where unemployment has increased by 50 per cent under this government in two years — people simply do not have the money to spend on new vehicles. Now it will be made incredibly harder because of the increase in stamp duty on new vehicles. This is a massive concern for car dealers within my electorate. At the same time when you have the loss of Hazelwood and the future loss of Carter Holt Harvey jobs, you have probably got $100 million annually in expenditure coming out of our community that will not be there in the future. These decisions around the increase in stamp duty on new cars is not welcomed, and it is not welcomed by car dealers and consumers.
In the budget itself the government has spruiked a government hub that it is looking to place down in the Latrobe Valley. In budget paper 2, ‘Strategy and outlook’, in chapter 1 at page 15 it talks about the notion that these government hubs will support jobs and growth in the regions. It says:
… building on the 2016–17 budget’s investment in a government hub in the Latrobe Valley, expected to bring 150 government jobs to the region.
There is no reference at all in the 2016–17 budget to a government hub in the Latrobe Valley and in the budget papers themselves there is no funding allocated to a government hub in the Latrobe Valley. From the community’s point of view, yes, any notion of the creation of new jobs or the relocation of government departments or agencies is welcome, but the fact is, as I said, there is no reference in the 2016–17 budget about this government hub and there is no funding in the current year’s budget. The government is talking about constructing this in mid-2020; it does not help us right here and now in the Latrobe Valley, when we need those jobs.
To confuse the matter even further, we have had three different quotes of the number of jobs that the government hub would bring to the valley. In the budget papers it talks about 150 jobs. There are quotes from ministers saying it will be 100 and then 170, so again we wait with bated breath to see what might happen with the government hub. I make the point that whilst it has been announced by the government as a key initiative for the Latrobe Valley, the reality is it is not going to happen until 2020. The government has not allocated any funding and certainly has no idea about how many jobs it will actually create.
The budget papers also talk about the Gippsland rail upgrade. People are well aware of those matters. The reality is the mantra put out by the state government with respect to these upgrades is absolutely disgraceful. There is no funding at all allocated by the state government towards the Gippsland rail upgrade. This is money they are trying to extract out of the federal government. But I make the point that the state government has had an opportunity for two and a half years now to make vast improvements to Gippsland rail services by adopting coalition policies. It has done very little towards adopting those policies, and now it is calling on the federal government to fund these projects. It is just outrageous. When you look back in history it has been the state government’s responsibility to fund these projects. To simply throw your hands in the air or shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Oh well, if the federal government doesn’t contribute to this, then we’re not going to build it’, I think is absolutely disgraceful, particularly when I say it is the state government’s responsibility to fund those programs.
Further in the budget papers there is a page dedicated to assistance for the Latrobe Valley, and it talks about $266 million that has been allocated for a Latrobe Valley assistance package. It says $266 million, and it provides a little bit of a breakdown about where that money will be spent. People in my community know that $252 million of that $266 million assistance package has been ripped out of Latrobe Valley employers, because just last year this government imposed an extra $252 million in taxes on Latrobe Valley employers. Here they are now saying they are saviours with a $266 million package. I am sorry, but that has been funded by employers from within our own region, and we know of the demise of one, which has already closed its doors. People in our community are acutely aware of that.
Another matter I would like to address in terms of assistance to the Latrobe Valley is the talk about cutting red tape to lower the cost and time required to do business in the Latrobe Valley. I am sorry, but these are just hollow words. I have a number of developers who have come to me in recent months who have projects ready to go — and even today I was on the phone with one. They do not necessarily want the state government to provide financial assistance to them, but they need assistance with state government departments and agencies, whether it be water authorities, whether it be road authorities or whether it be local councils, and they are just sitting idle and are getting nowhere. You can say those words all you like, but it is just not happening in reality at the moment.
If you are really going to provide assistance for the Latrobe Valley, I will tell you what you should not do — and it was stated in question time today. Surely when there is an opportunity for the state government to work within the community, particularly after you have lost hundreds of jobs and are about to lose hundreds more jobs, it should try, if it can, to give the community at least a possibility to do that work. We have a situation in Morwell at the moment where we have seen the demolition of two primary schools. Nothing against the particular contractor on site, but — heavens above! — they are from the other side of the state. I have spoken to two of my local demolition contractors who know nothing about this. There was no tender process, and it is just a real kick in the guts for local businesses when they have not even been given the opportunity. Sure enough, if they lose out because they are not qualified or the costs are too high, I would accept that, I could appreciate that, but they were not given the opportunity. Again they are just hollow words in the budget.
When I look at the rural and regional part of the budget and the heading ‘Creating and protecting jobs in the regions’, I think I will just fold that part away, because that is not what is happening in our region. When you have got Hazelwood power station that has just closed and the state government has done nothing to even try to extend its life, and more importantly the jobs of those employees, and you have got Carter Holt Harvey employees at a timber mill that is about to close down, with jobs being lost next month and the month after that, I do not call that creating and protecting jobs in the regions. It is far from it, and unfortunately the statistics do not lie — that is, in two years under this government unemployment in Latrobe city has increased by 50 per cent.
What the budget did not deliver for my community was desperately needed upgrades to Yallourn North Primary School and Latrobe Special Developmental School. An election commitment that we made in 2014 was for the redevelopment of Newborough Country Fire Authority, which is also desperately needed. Unfortunately that was not in the budget. Funding for our mental health support group, Barrier Breakers, and also the Gippsland Carers Association — something that the coalition government funded when in office — was unfortunately cut by the current government, and we have not seen funding reinstated for those important organisations.
I must say that there were a number of election commitments made in 2014 right across our communities, and a number of those unfortunately still have not been taken up by the current government. In summary, it is a disappointing budget for all Victorians because there is no relief in costs for businesses or households, but we look forward to hopefully more being done in the Morwell electorate in the future.