I rise to speak to the Victorian Future Fund Bill 2023 on behalf of the Greens. This is a bill that essentially formalises the Victorian Future Fund in legislation, meaning the funds that are put into it and the revenue raised from the future fund cannot be used for any other purpose. The fund itself is essentially an offset account for the state’s debt, with the initial funds coming from the privatisation of the licensing and registration functions of VicRoads and then further funds from government land sales, funds from government surpluses and then anything really that the Treasurer determines. And this essentially is to give to the ratings agency to ring fence these funds used to offset the debt.
I had some significant concerns with the future fund when it was announced last year. The Greens had significant concerns. At the time I called it a neoliberal economic policy using the sale of public assets and public land to service debt. Even more concerning was that the government had not ruled out excluding fossil fuel investments within the future fund itself, and that stands true today. The government should not be privatising public assets. Make no mistake, the sale of VicRoads or whatever they are calling it, the modernisation, is privatisation. I mean, $7.9 billion for a consortium to operate the licensing and registration function of VicRoads for 40 years means downward pressure on services and jobs and upward pressure on fees and costs. When you have got members on the government side saying, ‘It’s not privatisation because we haven’t given up the asset’, I mean really, you have got to wonder are you mixing the Kool Aid or are you drinking the Kool Aid when it comes to that? The consortium, who is a private consortium who are operating and receiving revenue from the licensing and registration from VicRoads, is not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They not doing it because they want to be really good public citizens. They are doing it to make a profit, and that profit will come at the expense of services. That means, when it comes to public services, jobs and wages for public services. We have seen it in the privatisation of the port and the land titles office and public housing land being handed over to private interests for decades.
The other significant concern that I have around this bill is the land sales, particularly land sales targets used in government. I raised this at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee in the last term, and it has been raised by the Auditor-General – I would urge government members to actually look at that Auditor-General’s report – that the government is prioritising profiteering off land sales rather than using surplus land for community benefit. I will just read from the Auditor-General’s report itself where it refers to land sale targets:
Land sales targets for individual agencies encourage the sale of surplus land as a means of generating revenue, rather than as part of a strategic whole-of-government approach to achieving best value from surplus land.
There are further issues with the actual process in terms of land sales and other government agencies being able to access surplus public land. It states that the first right-of-refusal process:
… does not maximise the opportunity to retain surplus land within government. Few agencies or local councils purchase sites through the …
first right-of-refusal process. So it is a system that does not work within government. Surplus land has been used to generate revenue and is now going to be used to offset debt, and this is concerning. I think it is going to put even more pressure on government agencies to sell off land that should be used for the community benefit, particularly for housing.
If you just look at the examples in this term of government, with the houses that were surplus following the cancellation of the east–west link you had the Premier on the record saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this was used for public housing or social housing.’ And of course when push came to shove they ended up not using them for that purpose but actually selling the vast majority of them.
It was very similar with the properties acquired as part of the Level Crossing Removal Project in the south-east, with sky rail down around the Murrumbeena–Carnegie area with these fantastic properties – and I am sure the government is probably making a nice little profit on them, to be honest, given the way land sales have gone up. Why couldn’t they have been used for public housing? We have some really serious concerns around the pressure that is going to be placed on government departments now to be further profiteering from land sales.
We have concerns as well around just where these funds are going to be invested. Again, fossil fuels – there is no blanket divestment of fossil fuels from investments by the government already within their investment funds. It is incredible that at this point in history public money could be invested in fossil fuels. That is another one of our significant concerns.
Of course by putting this in legislation, we are now limiting it. The Treasurer now might decide that these funds are best used to offset debt. The Treasurer or the government might also decide that they want to privatise more public assets, they want to get more revenue from privatising essential public services, and that is a great concern. That would limit a future Treasurer or a future government from deciding that that money should actually be used for another purpose. There could be a better purpose. It could be going towards solving some of the massive social issues that we are facing here in Victoria, particularly around housing.
So we have some significant concerns with this bill. We are not supporting this bill. There are concerns around the government’s privatisation agenda. There are concerns around land sales, lack of divestment from fossil fuels and potential to invest in fossil fuels and restricting the decisions of future governments in terms of where money within the fund may be best spent.