June 7, 2012  |  Second Reading Speech

APPROPRIATION BILL 2011/12

I rise to speak in the debate on the Appropriation (2012/2013) Bill 2012, but it is with no pleasure that I do so. I have listened to members opposite, and it is apparently no pleasure for most of them either because they did not have a lot of positive things to say about their budget. They spent most of the time talking about Labor in government. This is their second budget, and if I think back to Labor’s budgets in 1999 and 2000, I recall that our members of Parliament proudly got to their feet and talked about the initiatives of ‘our government’, the things that we were striving to do and the vision we had for Victoria. 

I have not heard one member on the government side mention ‘vision’ — a vision of what Victoria should be and how this budget fits within that context. Victorians want a government that has a vision. Instead we have had a mantra about budget surpluses.

The member for Ferntree Gully decided that he should give those of us on this side of the house a lecture about deficit, and I will say this: the Labor government in its whole 11 years ran a recurrent surplus. We actually ran a surplus. If members look at the debt, they will see it was debt for infrastructure. If Sir Rupert Hamer were alive to hear the contributions of members opposite, he would be horrified. If members look back at the level of debt under Sir Rupert Hamer’s government, they will find it was much larger than it was under the Bracks and Brumby governments. Do we talk about that? Is that Sir Rupert Hamer’s legacy to Victoria? No, it is not. Sir Rupert Hamer’s legacy to Victoria was a vibrant arts community and the infrastructure to support it. 

It was the West Gate Bridge; it is infrastructure that Victoria now relies on. It was the city loop that we now rely on.

If we look back to the time that Sir Rupert Hamer was Premier of this state, we see that he knew that going into debt to provide infrastructure was the right thing to do, and it was certainly the right thing for the Bracks and Brumby governments to do. Victorians will look back in 20 to 30 years and say, ‘Thank God the Bracks and Brumby governments put that infrastructure in place so we can rely on it today’. The shame is we did not get the chance to finish the job. I have heard from those opposite for almost two years now that we had 11 years. The truth is that if everything that could be done were done in 11 years, there would be no need for a government now. The truth is that the job continues and it continues to need to be done. 

When you reflect on budgets you ask yourself what is it that you really want the budget to achieve. What is it that you want Victorians to see when they look at the budget and what benefits will they receive from it? I looked around to find out what a good government is, what a real government is, because governments have changed over the last 20 to 30 years, as have the expectations of government, and I came across a quote from Herman Henry Lehman. He was the 45th governor of New York and went on to become a US senator. He said: 

You can’t run a government solely on a business basis … Government should be human. It should have a heart.

This government has no heart. I know it has no heart because it has deliberately cut money from the people who have no voice and who need it most. That goes to the heart of the issue for me, which is education. 

When we talk about education, we see it as an opportunity for people who come from low-income families. We see it as the basis on which country Victoria can continue to flourish. When we drove around country towns in 1999 half the shops in those towns were closed. But we invested in the country over our 11 years, and through drought and through bushfires those towns continued to flourish. We invested in education in those areas and we gave children and their parents hope for their children’s future. Those opposite are depriving those people of their hope for the future. The decisions they make today on education affect a generation of young people, and the choices they have made will damage a generation of young people — the most vulnerable young people in our community. Government members should hang their heads in shame for the state that they are going to leave the education sector in, particularly the TAFE sector.

The government has cut $300 million out of the TAFE sector. That is immediate — effectively it is an immediate cut. What does this mean to the most vulnerable in our community who rely on TAFE? I can imagine a family in my electorate where a parent has lost his job because he was in manufacturing and this government does not have a jobs policy and does not have a local content component in its industry policy. I can see that family saying to their young son or daughter, ‘You could have gone on to a TAFE course, you could have gone on to do vocational education and training in schools and you could have made something of your life, but the reality is these programs have been cut and I now have to find $3000 or $6000 so that you can do that course. But we don’t have that money, so go stack the shelves at Coles’. 

That is not the future I want to paint for the constituents in my electorate who want their kids to do better than they did, who want their kids to have the future that they could not have. That is not what good government is about. That is not about heart in government. That is about saying, ‘We do not care about you. You do not matter’.

Today we will see unprecedented numbers of teachers come to the steps of Parliament House. Yes, it is about the Premier keeping his promises to these teachers, but it is also about the fact that the government is going to cut psychologists, it is going to cut counsellors, it is going to cut speech pathology supports to those very teachers who need them to support those children — —

Dr Sykes — Where’s your money tree? Tell us about your money tree. 

Ms THOMSON — ‘Where is the money tree?’, I hear. That is where the vision comes in. If you have a vision that prioritises where your money goes, you will find the money for the things that matter, and education matters. It is a fundamental responsibility of state government to provide good educational opportunities for people in this state. It is a priority for government to provide that, and government members are failing Victorians. Government members are failing Victorians in their own electorates and they are certainly failing them in the electorates of those of us on this side of the house.

I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of Victoria University to talk about the effect of the TAFE funding cuts on VU, and they are horrendous. I do not know that you can ask institutions to take these cuts without them having diabolical effects, and I will go through some of those effects on VU TAFE. VU TAFE will be keeping 180 courses but scrapping 106, and that is not the end of it. 

It will be looking at a number of the courses it is keeping, and it will have to increase the fees for them. It does not yet know, because of those increases, whether the courses will remain viable. VU has done an amazing job of creating pathways from TAFE to degree courses. That is going to be drastically affected by the decisions this government has made about cutting TAFE. It is privatisation by stealth, and it is absolutely shameful.

Victoria University specialises in fitness. It has agreements in place with the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne University concerning how to develop a full program in the fitness arena. Whether it is in sports, physiotherapy or nursing, it has built very strong partnerships across a range of areas as well as an amazing new facility at its Ballarat Road campus. VU is now wondering how much that program is going to be affected by the cuts imposed upon it by this government. Fifty staff have been told that they are immediately redundant; they are gone. 

The concern is that another 50 might have to be told exactly the same thing at the beginning of next year.

This is not what we are put in government to do. We are not put in this chamber to deprive people of an education; we are put in government to make sure that people have access to one. While the government makes cuts here, we had another member — I think it might have been the member for Melton — mention the additional white cars, the extended catering and the things that are being done to build the cabinet. I have sat around that cabinet table and I would like to know how government members all fit. I well remember that when we sat around the cabinet table we had a vision. We knew that education was a priority, we funded it and we delivered. When Labor was elected to office in 1999 student retention rates were 76.2 per cent. In 2010 it was closer to 90 per cent. We had our priorities right. We aimed to deliver and we did. That is what having a vision can do. It delivers real outcomes, because you have a reason to make decisions. 

This government has made a hotchpotch of policy commitments that it made during the election. It wanted to keep some of those promises, but some have obviously fallen by the wayside. Teachers pay has fallen by the wayside. It is that hotchpotch of policy promises the government made before the election that has created the budgetary problems it now faces. These problems are not the making of the previous government; they are the making of this government. This is the government’s second budget. It is responsible for the budget bottom line, not the previous government.

The government was left with a budget in good condition, which the current Premier admitted on the Jon Faine radio program just after the election. He believed there were no black holes. He believed he was handed a budget in good condition, and he was. It is just that this government had to deliver on its own hotchpotch promises, and how could it do that when it had to retain Labor’s programs because it did not have any others to replace them with? This government has no ideas; it is devoid of ideas. It has no vision. It is a shameful government. 

If this government really wants to leave a legacy like that of Sir Rupert Hamer, one that will last forever, then it should get a vision, because he had a vision. He had a vision for Victoria that is still very much alive today. He would be ashamed of the Liberal Party and the government today because it does not meet any of the criteria of a visionary government that is there to support the very people who cannot support themselves. It is there to build an education system for everyone. I am proud to be able to say that we will be able to look back on the Labor government’s legacy, because it will last and this government’s will not.