Address-in-reply to the Governor’s Speech

21 Feb 2023

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Parliament

I rise to speak to the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech, and although this is not my first speech, I have been informed that my children may be tuning in through the live stream. We felt it about time that they see what Papa gets up to in the big place he goes to every second week. Hopefully I can beat out Paw Patrol. No doubt the temptation to switch over will be great, but a shout-out to my wife Ariel and hello to Henry and Alma. I am told Alma spoke for the first time at school assembly today, so very similar, but no doubt with much better delivery than me.

I am really pleased to be re-elected as the member for Prahran and so glad to be re-elected on the positive platform that the Greens took to the election, a platform that spoke to the massive challenges that this state is facing: climate change, the extinction and biodiversity crisis, homelessness and unaffordable housing, the massive increase in incarceration, particularly amongst First Nations people, and rising inequality. So I was really proud to stand on a platform of stopping new coal and gas projects and getting to 100 per cent renewable energy as soon as possible. The approval of fossil fuel projects, whether that is gas drilling offshore near the Twelve Apostles, onshore conventional gas or trying to turn coal into dirty hydrogen for export, is incompatible with the need to stop burning fossil fuels and to limit the earth’s temperature rises.

Our platform included supporting people to make the shift out of polluting petrol cars to more climate friendly transport – transport is Victoria’s biggest growing source of carbon emissions and our biggest overall source of emissions after coal-fired power stations – increasing funding for active transport above the paltry 1 per cent is that it is now; increasing the number of services on our trains, trams and buses so people are not waiting 15, 20, 30 minutes or more for their public transport, even in Prahran on the Sandringham line and route 78; and lowering the costs of making the switch to electric vehicles by making them more affordable and not putting a new tax on them to make them even more expensive.

Our platform included ending logging in our native forests, which we even introduced legislation in the other place to do, ending it this year. If there is one thing – one thing – that the government can do right now to halt the decline in species of our native plants and animals, it is to stop logging in our native forests. In fact in the Governor’s speech, which was of course written by the government, I do not think the word ‘environment’ was written there. The same thing happened last term. The second thing the government can do is properly fund biodiversity. The Greens inquiry into biodiversity found that the state government has been chronically underfunding environment and biodiversity by billions of dollars, leaving thousands of species at risk of extinction.

Our platform included ending homelessness. A society like ours should not have people sleeping rough, should not have people living in unsafe or insecure accommodation or living in poor-quality housing, but that is what is happening here in Victoria. It is the number one social justice issue facing this state, and the reality is that the public housing waiting list continues to rise – it is over 120,000 people – and the government is simply not building enough homes. That is why I introduced a bill on day one of this Parliament into this place to make housing a human right, to set a target for new public housing homes and to ensure adequate funding of homelessness services.

Our platform included criminal justice reform. The massive increase in incarceration in Victoria, especially of First Nations people, is not an accident. It was an entirely predictable outcome of the tough-on-crime race to the bottom that occurred several years ago. That is why we took to the election reforming bail laws, raising the age of criminal responsibility so children are not caught up in the cycle of incarceration and, instead of spending billions on new prisons, actually closing prisons and investing the money in what has been proven to prevent crime. Increasing incarceration and the need for government to spend billions on prisons is a failure of social policy. Another failure of social policy has been drug laws – for the past century, I would say. We need drug law reform, like legalising cannabis and pill testing. I have got no doubt that society is with us and that the evidence is with us, so it is time to reform drug laws in Victoria.

The Greens ran on a positive platform supported by our campaign teams, volunteers, supporters and state office. Now the Greens have doubled our numbers in this Parliament – the most Greens ever elected at a state election: four now in the lower house, with Gabrielle de Vietri elected in the seat of Richmond, and four in the upper house, with Aiv Puglielli in North East Metro; Sarah Mansfield in Western Victoria, the first Green MP representing regional Victoria; and Kat Copsey, my upper house MP in Southern Metro, who also did a lot of work to help me campaign in Prahran. I am sure they are all going to be absolutely fantastic MPs. This state does need to go further and faster on climate, on environment and on social justice, and this Parliament, with a progressive majority in the upper house, with more Greens than ever, should seize this moment for progressive reform. We might not get a better chance.

There are great opportunities in the Prahran electorate too. I love living in Prahran. It has been my home for well over a decade now, from when I was first renting with a flatmate to now raising my family. I do not get the chance to experience the night-life on Chapel Street as much as I used to, but I still do occasionally. I put on the agenda this election some of my key priorities to help make Prahran more liveable and more thriving and to create a better future for everyone. That includes further upgrades to South Yarra station. I campaigned hard for the first stage, and now I am urging the government to go further with new ground entrances, with a platform overpass, to really serve that growing Forrest Hill growth area.

There is still much more that needs to be done to make walking and riding a bike safe for everyone in Prahran. It is great to see the St Kilda Road separated bike lanes finally come to completion. I, like many in our community, have been pushing for these bike lanes to be built for years. We are now waiting to see the pop-up bike lanes in Chapel Street and Orrong Road that were promised some time ago, not to mention the numerous dangerous pedestrian crossings that are still in need of fixing, particularly around schools in Prahran. Our public housing tenants are still struggling, not just from the lack of maintenance and upgrades to things like windows that need to be filled with old newspapers but from kitchens that have not been upgraded since these buildings were originally built. There is a need to ensure there is adequate staffing and support for tenants so when they raise issues they can be addressed.

The Prahran TAFE site remains massively an untapped potential. Already home to the performing arts, dance and the National Institute of Circus Arts amongst others, a Prahran arts and education precinct would revitalise the campus and the local area around Chapel Street, so I urge the government to quickly progress the consultation process and start investing in the campus.

I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who helped us retain Prahran. It was good, or it was a nice change not to have to wait two weeks for the result again, but if it comes to that, it is better than not getting in at all, I would say. To my campaign manager, John Friend-Pereira; organisers Brendan Cooper, Naomi Lanbie, Kurt Callaghan; my neighbourhood team leaders Rodney, Jane, Lucy, Anitra; data coordinators James and Maria; and my placard installers Terrance, Bob and Jeremy, and to all volunteers and everyone who helped out, it was as always a team effort and a massive honour to be the MP for Prahran.

I am really pleased to be able to take on the portfolios of treasury and economic justice as well as community services and, of course, sport. These are critical – particularly economic justice – portfolios at this time in history. As a society inequality is rising, homelessness is increasing, living standards, particularly for young people, are going backwards, the cost of living is skyrocketing, rents and mortgages are continuing to rise throughout the year and wages are not even close to keeping up. It is time to turn the page on neoliberalism, which has been the driving ideology behind economic policy here in Victoria for the past 30 years. It is staggering that at a time when so many people are struggling with low wages this government’s official wages policy is to keep wages low, not just in the public sector but the wage cap sends a signal to the private sector that they can keep wages low too.

The underfunding of public services needs to end. It is little wonder with the lowest-funded public schools that parents are faced with the highest costs in the country, with what should be a genuinely free public education. As the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services revealed, Victoria is below the national average in funding public schools, public hospitals and public housing.

There is no doubt that with upcoming budgets the government will cry poor, but it needs to look at revenue. It needs to look at revenue from the profiteering big banks. It needs to look at revenue from property developers and the gambling industry. Billions can be raised to properly fund the services that everyone needs. The big banks are profiteering off rising interest rates, and we should make them pay with a state-based big bank levy. The government walked away from a social housing levy last term that could be paying for thousands more public and affordable homes. If the government is not looking at revenue in the lead-up to the next budget, it is not doing its job.

The Premier, who I note is in the chamber, has not hesitated to weigh into federal issues when he thinks it is relevant to Victoria. I reckon there is one thing the Premier could advocate for right now – to lift people out of poverty and help with the cost of living and push the federal government to lift the rate of income support. I know Labor does not want to listen to raising the rate, keeping income support below the poverty line. It keeps people in poverty. It pushes people into hunger, homelessness, poor health and into already overly stretched and underfunded state services. It is an example of cost shifting from federal to state, with the worst possible outcome for people. And if he is looking for a way to pay for it, the Premier should be urging the Prime Minister to abolish the stage 3 tax cuts – to reverse them, tax cuts for the most wealthy –and redirect them into income support for those most in need –

A member interjected.

Sam HIBBINS: You go for it, mate. You go for it, Premier. Whatever way, whatever works for you.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Prahran, through the Chair.

Sam HIBBINS: What we saw during COVID, when income support was raised by the federal government, when the state government had the From Homelessness to a Home program, which again it cut, was that we can end homelessness. We can properly tackle poverty and disadvantage. In fact it should be at the heart of what governments are doing. What this will take is a fundamental shift in ideology and economic policy that has been in place for too long.

On top of that this government needs to end its addiction to privatisation. We have seen the biggest privatisation agenda since Kennett under this government, and despite their claims even the new SEC is going to be part-privatised. So to make sure that public services are delivered –

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order!

Sam HIBBINS: They don’t want to hear it. I reckon I have hit a spot. I reckon I have hit a nerve.

This government needs to make sure that public services are delivered in the public interest and for the public good, not for private profit. I move that this government put a moratorium on privatisation until a parliamentary inquiry into the effects of privatisation has been completed and legislation is passed so that either house of Parliament can veto the privatisation of public assets. Finally, I want to say thanks to my electorate office staff for working so hard over the past terms and for, no doubt, the hard work that they will do in this term supporting me and helping members of our community.

Members applauded.

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