2024 State Budget Reply

14 May 2024

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I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the 2024 state budget, a budget that is coming for the second year in a row at a time when so many people are looking to their governments to do all they can to tackle the housing crisis, to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, to tackle the fact that people cannot afford food and health care or pay the bills, and to improve the dire and shocking circumstances that so many people find themselves in.

The difficulty that so many Victorians find themselves in is stark. There is not a single home on the private market that someone on youth allowance can afford – not even a share house. For someone on the minimum wage working full-time, less than 1 per cent of homes are affordable. People are having to pay on average $200 more rent a week than they did before the pandemic. The public housing waiting list has grown by over 120,000 people. The most vulnerable on it, such as women fleeing family violence, are having to wait nearly two years. Thirty thousand Victorians are experiencing homelessness every single night. Over a third of all households are facing hunger and food insecurity. People who have never faced food insecurity are now struggling to afford groceries, skipping meals or going without. They are worried, anxious that food will run out. Community service organisations are overwhelmed with requests for food and material aid. Calls to Lifeline are going through the roof because of the cost-of-living pressures people are facing.

Could there be a clearer, more striking example of a failed economic system, a failed economic ideology that for too long has put the interests of those doing well – big corporations, wealthy property investors, people who own multiple homes, developers – ahead of the interests of everyday people, that has treated housing as a commodity rather than the fundamental human right that it is, a system that treats big corporations that people rely on for essential services like banks and supermarkets as untouchable and that has left it up to the private market to decide how much to people should pay for essentials.

This budget represented a momentous opportunity for the government to turn the corner, to break with the status quo. It was an opportunity for government to be bold, to step in, to stand with everyday people, to make sure that everyone has a safe and secure place to call home, to make sure that people can afford to feed their families. At a time when the problems are so clear, so obvious, the needs of people so significant, so urgent, is not the time to stand still or to stand back or to go backwards or to continue with the status quo, but that is exactly what we got from this government with this budget – a do-nothing budget.

So much of the commentary around this budget has been around the size of the debt. How far would the budget go in reducing it? But the number one issue that this budget should have addressed is how well does it tackle the massive social deficit Victoria is facing. People who cannot afford to pay the rent or pay the bills, pushed into homelessness, stuck on the public housing waiting list, unable to afford basic health care, living in poverty, living in disadvantage – these are the biggest economic and social problems facing the state.

A generation is facing lower living standards than the previous one. A generation is locked out of ever owning a home, locked into housing insecurity and economic uncertainty. To those who say it is the time to shrink government, to make cuts and to go into austerity, I say you are wrong. To people who are struggling, who are living everyday through the housing and cost-of-living crisis, I say to you there is an alternative, there is another way. The Greens have put forward a very clear path, a very clear vision, one where the government steps in to make housing affordable, steps into make food and groceries affordable.

Our vision is one where the government steps in to freeze rents. If a rent freeze had been put in place 12 months ago, Melbourne renters would have saved on average $2500. Just think of what that would mean for someone who is struggling to keep their head above water and is potentially a rent rise away from homelessness. That is money straight out of a property investor’s pocket and into the pocket of a renter. The government could have joined governments around the world that have implemented rent freezes – Ireland, France, Berlin. Instead it continues to rule it out as if the unintended consequences are worse than the very real and devastating consequences of allowing unlimited rent rises. Now the government does have a chance to change course and support the Greens rent freeze bill that is being debated in the other place tomorrow. The Greens vision would have seen thousands of short stays being pushed onto the rental market and put an end to the practice of potentially thousands of homes being used exclusively for profiteering through platforms like Airbnb. They could have, again like governments around the world, put a cap on the number of nights a home can be made available on short stays. But again the government are standing on the side of investors with multiple homes instead of renters.

The Greens vision would see a massive build of public housing, housing that would be there for people in need. It is something that governments used to do, something that governments used to see as their core business – to build houses for people. Instead, in the middle of a housing crisis there is a budget with no new money for public housing, and the government continues down its path of knocking down and privatising our public housing estates for a measly uplift of 15 social housing homes a year while swathes of public land are used for private housing. In my electorate in Prahran public housing residents are forced to stuff newspapers to plug gaps in windows. Vast numbers of units in towers have gone unrenovated for decades despite government promises. And we are expected to trust a government that refuses to do the basics but is going to knock down an entire estate to have public housing residents’ best interests at heart.

This budget was an opportunity for the government to finally take action on the supermarket duopoly. Every time someone goes into a supermarket they are faced with massive unfair price hikes on basics like bread and dairy. It is next to impossible to do a cheap shop anymore. This is all happening while supermarkets are posting massive profits and increasing their profit margins. We are hearing a steady stream of evidence of outrageous behaviour from the supermarket duopoly, from screwing over consumers, farmers and workers to locking out would-be competitors. If ever there was a time for the government to use the powers it has – that previous Labor state governments have used – to stop the supermarkets from price gouging, to regulate prices and to get out-of-control groceries prices back under control and to see groceries as the essential service that they are, this is it. Instead the government continues to wash its hands of responsibility. The Treasurer in his budget speech said this budget considers how best to manage inflation but then did nothing to actually bring the price of essentials down.

The Greens vision is one where profiteering corporations pay their fair share of tax. The government could have raised billions from profiteering corporations like the big banks, like the gambling industry and property developers, revenue that could go towards paying for things that people need, to urgent cost-of-living relief.

With so much commentary around this budget around Victoria’s financial situation it is staggering that this budget contains no major revenue initiatives: a big bank tax, one that recoups the effective subsidy that banks are given because they are too big to fail, could have raised $5.3 billion over the forward estimates; develop a windfall profit tax, $8.2 billion; a social housing levy like the one Labor abandoned after pressure from the property industry could have raised $760 million and gone directly into funding public houses; and doubling the online gambling tax, $600 million. The idea that this needed to be a budget that needed to rein in spending is patently false.

Victorians have every right to be profoundly disappointed in this budget by the Labor government. At a time when they needed government the most, they have been let down. Whole generations are looking to government to do more, to do better. They wanted an end to fossil fuels, not an expansion and exploration of new gas. They want a stand taken against the war in Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians and children, not secret agreements with a military that is under investigation for genocide or agreements with weapons manufacturers whose weapons are being used to kill civilians. They want secure jobs, good pay and good conditions, not for casuals to have their sick pay guarantee taken away or for injured workers to be kicked off workers compensation. They want to be able to access mental health support when they need it, not to have recommendations from the royal commission to go unfunded, delayed or later abandoned. They want the murder of women by men to be seen and acted upon as the national crisis it is. They want progressive drug law reform that saves lives, not a government that walks away from another safe injecting room and refuses to implement pill testing. They want animals treated humanely, not a government again that are walking away from their own recommendation to end duck shooting.

People have a right to be disappointed, to be frustrated, to be angry, not just in the government of the day but in the apparent alternative in the opposition. There is hope: the Greens are showing there is a different way. There is an alternative to the economic straitjacket that the old parties have put themselves in. The Greens are on the march in Victoria and across the country. To all those who are looking to their governments to stand up for them, I say: we hear you and we will never stop fighting for you.

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