Public Accounts and Estimates Committee Report on the 2023–24 Budget Estimates

4 Oct 2023

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Sam HIBBINS (Prahran) (10:34): I rise to speak on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report into the budget estimates. As a former member of that committee in the previous term –

Danny O’Brien interjected.

Sam HIBBINS: can I acknowledge all members of the committee for, yes, what is arduous work in both the hearings themselves and then putting together the report as well. Can I echo the member for Gippsland South in his calls for reform to the budget estimates system. I mean, the reality is even having an accounts committee and an estimates committee jammed together is not typical of states. We already have in both houses standing committees that cover a wide range of portfolios. It would be a very, very simple action to either utilise those standing committees or alternatively appoint select committees to then be able to much better interrogate the budget, rather than having these arduous hearings that can only be described as a way for the government to avoid accountability. The government before it came to office committed to reforming estimates to a Senate-style committee and banning Dorothy Dixers. They have not done that; in fact it has probably got worse with the Dorothy Dixers.

But on to the budget itself: prior to the budget the Greens called for the government to make those who are doing very well, the profiteering corporations, pay their fair share of tax and then invest that money into helping people in need, into protecting and restoring our environment, into tackling the climate crisis. The government raised revenue but then left people stranded. The reality is, as has come to pass from this budget, that people who were already doing it tough are still doing it tough and are doing it worse. It is extraordinary that this government would be raising billions of dollars of revenue over the next decade or so but is only going to pay off the debt. A better approach would be to look at tackling inequality, tackling poverty and reaping both the social and economic benefits of that.

The report itself does make a number of references to inflation – that it is being driven by price rises across a range of goods and services and energy. It is a risk to our economic outlook. It is putting downward pressure on household incomes. There are issues with interest rates and the impact that they are having. Inflation is having a massive, massive impact on people with the cost-of-living crisis. It is causing more hardship. People are skipping meals. They cannot afford the essentials, cannot afford health care. It is creating mental stress and anxiety for so many people. It is reducing people’s quality of life. This is a crisis, and it is being driven by profiteering corporations, by supermarket greed – the supermarket duopoly. The question is: what is this government’s strategy to tackle inflation? Does it even think it has a role? Is it just adopting the federal government’s approach, which is basically to let the Reserve Bank do what it wants, to not introduce super profits taxes and to exercise fiscal restraint instead of investing where it is needed? Is it simply just adopting the federal government’s approach?

There was a time in Victoria when Labor governments did see a role for state governments to lower inflation, did see a role for government to take on grocery prices and supermarket prices. In fact it was an express objective once to deter excessive price rises. We need to go back to those times. In fact as recently as the Cain Labor government they had legislation to back it up, and it was successful, and they said it was successful. So we need to go back to that. We need this government to take responsibility in lowering grocery prices and taking on the supermarket duopoly and helping people in need.

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