Economic Policy

17 May 2023

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Parliament

I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to this matter of public importance put forward by the member for Sandringham. There has been a lot of talk in this debate about debt and deficit, but why has no-one mentioned or brought up the real impacts of the social and environmental deficit that people are currently facing right across Victoria? Just look at homelessness rates: over 30,000 people experiencing homelessness in Victoria every single night. That is an increase of around 24 per cent since the last census, well above the 5 per cent increase nationally. You have got up to about 120,000 people, including children, on the public housing waiting list. It is going up, and it has gone up almost every year since this government has been in office. You have got young people who are experiencing mental ill health waiting six to 12 months to access the care that they need. You have got people on the public dental waiting list waiting on average 16 months for dental treatment. You have got the cost of living skyrocketing, with people needing emergency relief, food and material aid. You have got community service organisations struggling, unable to keep up with demand. You have got workers experiencing the biggest real wage cut on record. You have got our ecosystems on the brink of collapse, the number of threatened species continuing to rise – over 2000 plants and animals under threat. This is the real debt and deficit that we are facing here in Victoria, and it comes at a time when we have already got, in Victoria, below the national average funding for public education, below the national average funding for public hospitals and below the national average funding for public housing. This is data from the Productivity Commission.

Let us talk about young people, who are being left behind and facing the prospect of being a generation that is worse off than the one that came before them. It is harder to afford a house, harder to get a secure well-paying job, harder to get by and easier to find yourself in poverty or homeless if things do not go right, and of course they are facing the impending climate crisis. These are all political choices, and the idea that people in need and our environment can afford the austerity budget that is coming up that cuts funding to services and programs and that cuts jobs is just ridiculous.

We must move away from the boom–bust cycle of governing, where in the good times the chequebook opens and in bad times the red pen comes out and rules a line through programs and infrastructure that people depend on.

Pre election the state government did not tell anyone that this was going to be a slash-and-burn budget, their first budget coming up. In fact when they released their Labor’s Financial Statement 2022, as I outlined during question time, they said their promises were fully funded and fully costed. They said that and made points about cuts and closures. They said:

… Matthew Guy’s Liberals want to try to cut and close and call it good management …

They said:

“Matthew Guy’s Liberals’ plan for cuts and closures would not only hurt Victorians’ jobs and livelihoods – it would put our state’s entire economic recovery at risk.”

They said:

“Our election promises are fully-funded … without privatising, increasing net debt or introducing new taxes.”

They were providing themselves with an economic straitjacket. They are not the first government to do this. I think we recall when the Liberals were elected in 2010 promising no increase in taxes, no increase in debt and no cuts to public sector workers. Well, of course when they were in government there was next to nothing when it came to infrastructure, they cut public sector jobs and promised a massive pay rise for teachers – the best paid in the country they said they were going to be. That did not happen. And they did end up having to break the fiscal straitjacket that they set for themselves. But why do governments seem to feel that they can just make these promises prior to the election and in the first budget after completely break them – in this budget? Why is it that public sector workers should cop it when they have got to break these promises? Why is it people in need that cop it when they have got to break these promises? And what is coming up? If the budget is what has been foreshadowed, it is going to be exactly what the Liberals did in their time in office.

In terms of economic management, I will just make a couple of points. In terms of infrastructure and debt, of course we should be borrowing to build, and certainly that was something the Greens very much supported and very much encouraged. We should be using public debt to fund infrastructure. But where this government has erred is that it cannot just be a case of ‘Well, the other mob didn’t build, so we’ll just build.’ The frameworks in terms of what you were exactly investing in – there were none. For example, the North East Link, something I have raised in this house, started at $10 billion, went to $16 billion and is probably going to be more than that. That is going to put 100,000 cars on the road. We have now got the Suburban Rail Loop at many billions of dollars. When they were first promoting that, that was going to take 100,000 cars off the road. So you are spending $18 billion to put the cars on the road and how many billions to take them off the road? Why don’t you just take them off the road in the first place? We have got billions of dollars being spent on jails for these tough-on-crime policies. Now the jails are sitting empty. Then we have got the addiction to sweetheart deals and public-private partnerships that are no doubt going to come back to bite the government, and there have been very generous deals.

There is a clear pathway for this government, and every decision needs to put people in need and the environment at its heart. It is always people that miss out when governments need to make so-called ‘tough decisions’. They need to be raising revenue from profiteering corporations like the big banks, property developers and the gambling industry. The big banks are on track to raise $33 billion of profit this year – record profits at a time when people are struggling and Victorians are struggling with the cost of living. These banks are too big to fail and they are given effectively a subsidy by the government, so a levy is an absolutely fair return and a fair level of taxation that could deliver billions of dollars of revenue here in Victoria.

And what could that pay for? What do we need: more affordable and public housing here in Victoria, direct investment in building public housing – not some sort of convoluted privatisation deal but actual direct investment in public housing. We need much higher wages for public sector workers. We had one of the harshest wage caps here in Victoria. It has gone up to now 3 per cent; they should abolish it. We need more free GPs, dentists and psychologists. The waiting lists for people needing dental care or needing mental health care or even to see an affordable GP – we have got the community health sector crying out for more funding to be able to deliver these services, and this government is cutting funding to them. And then we need dedicated funding to end extinction. The Parliamentary inquiry into extinction last year showed it was very clear: to reverse the decline in species here in Victoria needs dedicated funding.

I have got to mention in the time that I have got left, in regard to housing, it is extraordinary that today the Labor Party teamed up with Moira Deeming on the crossbench in the other place to vote down an inquiry into the rental crisis. This is a government whose current housing policies include no rent freeze, no ongoing rent caps, a weak vacancy tax, no social housing levy, privatised public housing land, no regulation of short stay and no reform to stamp duty. This is a government that do not want an inquiry into the rental crisis because they do not want to listen to renters who are struggling.

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