SPEAKING ON A BILL | ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr Melhem: I also rise to speak on the motion moved by Mr Davis. I am actually quite surprised at the motion moved by Mr Davis, a man with his experience—he was the Leader of the Government when they were in government for four years. He has been in this place for a long, long time. He knows full well that his motion is not practical to be debated or agreed to in this house. He has sort of missed the boat in relation to the separation of powers between the Assembly and the upper house about what role this place plays in relation to the budget. He wants to turn this house into the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee—to actually do the role of PAEC and basically start debating the budget item by item. We all know that the Legislative Council has no power in relation to whether a budget is passed or not. It is the Assembly that actually determines a budget passing or not. What this house can do is have a debate about the budget. Individual members will have contributions and they can place their views in this place about what they think of the budget, and they will have allocated time to do so.
But what Mr Davis is proposing is unprecedented, and it has never happened in the history of this place. There is a clear reason why that is the case. As I said, there is a separation of powers where the Council does not deal with money bills. We cannot block supply; we cannot even block a budget bill. Yet I think Mr Davis just wants to turn the whole thing into a circus. As I said, these sorts of things should be done by PAEC. He will have his chance to cross-examine and scrutinise the Treasurer as much as he likes—along with his members on PAEC—and to basically question the Treasurer and other ministers about every budget item for the whole period of the committee process. It really is not something where we turn the committee-of-the-whole stage of this particular house into basically something that is starting to do the role of PAEC.
I have been advised that in good faith the government are prepared to entertain some elements of the motion put by Mr Davis—just in good faith. Being an open government, we provide opportunities for members to express their views, even though we do not feel there is an obligation to do so. I believe that with the proposition put by Mr Davis, which is item (1)—that the bill be read a second time and the question put no later than 6.45 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 June 2019—an amendment will be put by the government later on to basically accept that. Item (2) is that the committee-of-the-whole stage take precedence on Thursday, 20 June 2019 and Friday, 21 June—if we are sitting on Friday, which is a possibility if the house decides to do so during government business. I think you will find an amendment will be coming through—and I will deal with that later on—to facilitate that and also give members a chance to address that. In relation to, for example, asking or demanding that the Treasurer attend this place, I think Mr Davis knows the answer to that question, and more than likely it will be no. I do not believe there is any reason why the Treasurer should be attending this place to answer questions.
The Treasurer, I am sure, will probably be one of the first ministers attending the PAEC hearings and answering all of these questions, and I think that is the proper place. So I do not think we should even waste the chamber’s time because we know the answer to the question. Mr Davis alluded to that in his contribution—that the Council has no power or authority to compel the Treasurer to attend the committee stage. Therefore if we know the answer to that question, what is the point of putting the question across? In relation to point 6, again Mr Davis in his motion wants to change the laws to suit him and suit his opposition party whenever he feels like it. There are standing orders and they are very clear, and the government will not be supporting that part of the motion. Going back to the earlier point about members having the opportunity to debate the budget in the next few months, as per current practice, we should definitely not turn it into a charade, as Mr Davis is proposing. Let me turn my mind to what this budget is all about and where the priority of this house should be. It should be about delivering for Victorians. We got elected to this place in 2014 with sets of priorities to build massive infrastructure programs over the subsequent four years, and we have delivered on every single project we said we were actually going to deliver on during that period. We just had an election back in November 2018, and we went to the Victorian electorate with new sets of priorities in relation to what we were going to do in the forthcoming four years. This is our first budget in the current term, and this budget clearly outlines the promises we took to Victorians at the last election. This budget reflects exactly what we promised Victorians we would deliver in the next four years, and I want to take the time to basically go through some of those areas. Mr Finn: We don’t want to hear from you; we want to hear from Fester.
Mr Melhem: Unfortunately I have got 23 minutes. You have to put up with me for 23 minutes.
Ms Patten: 22 minutes and 50 seconds now.
Mr Melhem: There you go. I am losing time already. So the only thing the Liberal and National parties are interested in is basically frustrating things, stopping things, slowing things down, going to sleep, having a nap and not making any progress whatsoever. They were rejected by the voters in 2018 again because when they were in power they did exactly that—they went to sleep and they did bugger-all to actually get the state moving. Let me talk about some of the budget items. The 2019–20 operating surplus is estimated at around $1 billion, notwithstanding the massive write-off in relation to house prices and so forth of around $5 billion. But we will still achieve a $1 billion surplus and we will be averaging surpluses of $3.4 billion from 2020–21 to 2022–23. So the budget will be balanced and we will still achieve surpluses, notwithstanding some of the difficult conditions we might be facing. The new debt will be at 8.3 per cent of the gross state product in 2019–20 and not higher than 10 per cent over the forward estimates. We are stabilising at 12 per cent over the medium term. People will say we are borrowing, and there is a good reason why we are doing that—because it is a good opportunity to actually continue to implement the infrastructure programs this state needs and the best time to do that is now, while interest rates are at a record low. The average expenditure growth of 3.1 per cent over the four years to 2022–23 is lower than the revenue growth of 4.3 per cent. That is a very important point. Victoria remains one of only 10 comparable sovereign governments in the world to receive a AAA credit rating from both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. I think that is very important. That is a credit to the Treasurer and the whole government’s prudent way of running the economy, making sure we deliver on infrastructure programs and making sure we remain strong economically and retain a AAA rating. It is a credit to everyone involved.
More than 450 000 jobs have been created since we came into government. We promised 200 000 and we more than doubled that, and I think that is a great achievement. Unemployment fell to 4.9 per cent, 1.8 per cent below the level we inherited when this lot on the other side were in government last. Regional unemployment is at 4.2 per cent, the lowest on record, and more than 66 000 jobs have been created in regional Victoria. So employment is actually growing because of the strong investment in all of these infrastructure projects in Victoria. If I turn my mind, then, to the government infrastructure investment forecast, we will average $13.4 billion per year over the next four years, more than double the average of $4.9 billion per year over the 10 years up to 2014–15 if you compare what we are doing with what the previous lot were doing. It will reach a record high of $14.7 billion in 2020–21, with a total of $107 billion of state capital projects either commencing or already underway.
Now let me do a comparison. We just had a federal election, and the Morrison government were looking at spending $100 billion over 10 years for the whole nation—for the whole nation. We are spending $107 billion just in the state of Victoria in the forward estimates. That is a good story to tell Victorians. We are building things when the only thing the Liberal-Nationals are interested in is how they can slow the process down, how they can put Victoria down and how they can basically put things on hold. This motion just wants to achieve that. We are spending $27.4 billion on the suburban transport blitz and investing $804 million across our regional road network, $425 million to fix and maintain our regional roads, $12.3 billion for public transport projects and $615 million to upgrade regional public transport. That is a massive investment in transport in Victoria.
Let me turn my mind, then, to business and tax. We are growing jobs by slashing the payroll tax for regional businesses from 50 per cent to 25 per cent of the metro rate by 2022–23. That is another strong indication that Labor care about business and care about small business, particularly in regional Victoria. The other side basically talk about it; we actually do it. That is on top of slashing the payroll tax. We have been doing that for the last few years for regional areas. We are also increasing the payroll tax threshold from $650 000 to $700 000 by 2022–23. That change will reduce the amount of tax paid by around 38 000 businesses, while 1400 additional businesses will pay no payroll tax at all. There is $150 million for the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund—that will be another way to encourage businesses to invest. While we are still talking about regional Victoria, the budget also includes $2.6 billion in additional funding, benefiting regional Victoria through the Delivering for Regional and Rural Victoria program, and that is estimated to create some 4500 jobs.
We are strengthening our investment in education as we have been doing for the last four years as Victoria becomes the Education State. A further investment of $1.8 billion will be invested in new schools and upgrades, and there is $882 million to ensure every three-year-old has access to at least 5 hours of subsidised kinder by 2022. Seventeen new schools and upgrades to more than 100 existing schools—that is another commitment we made in the election campaign, and we are delivering on that in our first budget. We are adding early childhood to priority free TAFE courses and providing $46 million for facility upgrades. Again that is a commitment that we have given Victorians that we are going to fulfil. We have started providing free TAFE courses, and this budget will cement that position and continue to deliver on our commitment.
That is the contrast between what we are doing and what the opposition are not able to do, and I think that is what distinguishes this government and this Premier in particular. We go to an election and we say, ‘We’re going to deliver X, Y, Z’, and we do exactly that. It is important that politicians deliver on whatever commitments they give before an election when they get into office—that they honour these commitments. Daniel Andrews delivered on that 110 per cent in the last term, and we intend to do that in this current term. In terms of health, which has been another signature policy of our government since 2014, we have got here an excellent Minister for Health, whom we are privileged to have in our house taking over the portfolio and continuing to deliver and advocate for investment in health. There is a further $5.5 billion over the next four years to make sure Victorians get the best care from the best professionals and the best facilities. There is $1.6 billion to build and expand hospitals across our state, including $1.5 billion for the construction of the Footscray Hospital in my electorate. I am so pleased and my constituents are so pleased that we are delivering on that commitment. We are going to build a brand-new hospital in Footscray to supplement the Sunshine Hospital and other regional hospitals and community hospitals in the west. That is going to add 500 beds to service the region. Also we are investing $2.6 million to actually do a feasibility study or a business case for the Melton hospital, and that is another commitment to the west.
I am proud to be able to stand here in this house as a member for Western Metropolitan Region. I am proud to be a Labor Party representative in this place for Western Metropolitan Region, because we have been doing nothing but delivering excellent outcomes for the west since we got into government in 2014. The west has become the place to be because when we talk about investment in health and education and major infrastructure projects it is all happening in the west. The west has become the destination to live, and in order to achieve that and maintain that we needed to invest, and I am proud that this government is investing heavily in the west. I am looking forward, for example, to the investment of $2.6 million for the Melton hospital. Hopefully we will see that as a reality in the next few years. In addition to the new Footscray Hospital, we just opened a few weeks ago the new children’s hospital in Sunshine. That is a state-of-the-art facility. Again, credit to the health minister and to the government for actually investing in and opening that hospital. Unfortunately I could not go to the opening, because I was next door in the emergency department getting my arm fixed. But it is a first-class facility, and if you have not had the chance to go and have a look, it is probably one of the best children’s and women’s hospitals in the state of Victoria, and that is credit to this government. When it comes to health, various community hospitals will be opening soon in Melbourne, such as in Point Cook and a few other places. That is in addition to the $173 million to address mental health, and we have got a royal commission into that as well.
Police numbers is another area. This government is serious about investing in law and order and increasing the number of sworn police officers. Since we came into office we have said we are going to increase the numbers, and we are now recruiting and deploying an extra 3135 police officers, along with investing $121 million to crack down on dangerous driving, $1.8 billion to expand and secure our prison system and $235 million for court improvements across the state. We are delivering on what we said we would deliver. We have got the runs on the board. The only thing this opposition is interested in doing is basically trying to stymie our efforts, trying to delay things, trying to put spikes on the road to make sure it slows our progress. But guess what: that is not going to happen. This house can debate. Members, as I have said, can actually express their views on the budget, but what Mr Davis in this motion is trying to do is something that this house has never done in its history—that is, basically stopping a budget or trying to block measures in the budget. We all know this house has no power to do so.
Mr Davis: The constitution does not allow it.
Mr Melhem: Well, that is right. Exactly, Mr Davis. The constitution does not allow it. You are absolutely right. Mr Davis: You can’t block it. It does not allow the blocking of the budget.
The Acting President (Mr Elasmar): Through the Chair, Mr Davis, please.
Mr Melhem: So I cannot see why you are turning this place into the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. There is a joint committee that is called PAEC, and its role is to question ministers, including the Treasurer, about their portfolios. I know PAEC’s whole focus over the next few weeks or the next few months will be on the budget. So I do not know why we would want to waste days and weeks of this house’s time performing the role of PAEC, because that is what you are doing with this motion.
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr Melhem: Well, it is bizarre really. It is really bizarre. It could only come from Mr Davis. Going back to the budget, there are wonderful investments. Growth in population is estimated to be about 2 per cent. That is why it is important for us to continue investing, including $15.8 billion to fully fund the North East Link and make it a reality. This budget will now make that a reality; that will go ahead. There is $6.6 billion to remove another 25 of our state’s most dangerous and congested level crossings. And as part of this budget there are at least three—actually, no, there are four—level crossings that will be removed in my electorate. We were quite desperate to get a commitment to actually get them removed, and I was so pleased that the Premier and the Minister for Transport Infrastructure agreed that it would become part of our election commitment to get these level crossings removed at Mt Derrimut Road in Deer Park, Fitzgerald Road in Ardeer and Robinsons Road in Ravenhall. They will be removed. They were supposed to have been removed about six years ago—no, more than that, eight years ago—with regional rail upgrades. When Labor was last in government, when we started the regional rail upgrade—the original regional rail upgrade—these level crossings were supposed to have been removed as part of that upgrade—upgrading the regional rail between Melbourne and Geelong and Melbourne and Ballarat. But when this lot came to government in 2010 the first thing they did was axe the plan, so these crossings were not removed. But now they will be removed. This budget makes a clear commitment that that will be part of the removal program.
Also, there is $12.3 billion towards a major public transport project, including the Melbourne Airport rail link. It will be running through Sunshine, and it is going to be a huge improvement for the west. Sunshine will be a significant hub as part of the airport link, which will facilitate and also link to regional Victoria—Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong—and I am looking forward to the commencement of that project. And also there will be a further $2 billion, I think, for the Suburban Rail Loop and the Western Rail Plan. Now, on the Sunbury line, for example, there will be a huge improvement to that line, where every single station between Melbourne and Sunbury will be upgraded. The line will be upgraded to enable the new high-capacity train to carry more passengers and the line to run more efficiently. There will be $2 billion invested on that line. I think that will be welcomed by my constituents, and I am very appreciative that the government have again made the west a priority for further investment and public transport. The Suburban Rail Loop again will complement the airport rail link, because the two will be connected, and we are fortunate that the west will be the first beneficiary of the Suburban Rail Loop, because the airport rail link will form the first part of that new outer rail loop. We will be the first beneficiaries out of that, and I think it is a very welcome project.
Let us talk about how this budget was actually received, but before I do that, the cost-of-living issue, which I think has been a real issue for Victorians over many years. One of the areas, the biggest one, is the cost of power. We will be extending the power-saving bonus until 3 June 2020 and providing a further $1.3 billion over the next 10 years towards our positive plan for solar, including subsidies for solar panels, solar hot water and battery storage for 770 000 homes around Victoria. I think that action is very important because we are putting forward practical solutions, enabling 770 000 Victorians to access renewable energy which subsidises the cost of these solar panels—pretty much 50 per cent of that—so they are able to reduce their power bill and also contribute to a better environment. So that program will continue. And there is a further investment in projects, with $12.2 million to design and replicate the Cranbourne line duplication project; $654 million to fix and maintain roads in Victoria; $608 million to begin planning upgrades to a number of roads across our state; and $21.5 million for the next stage of upgrades on the Hurstbridge line.
Now, in the 3 minutes I have got left, let us talk about what people in the community have said about the budget and how this budget has been received. The Victorian Council of Social Service, for example, said: Labor was swept back into office promising a progressive suite of social policies. It’s wonderful these pledges are now in black-and-white within the budget books … These are significant programs that will make life better for Victorians. The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: More positive, is the adoption of the Victorian Chamber’s recommendation to introduce a 50 per cent stamp duty concession for commercial and industrial property transactions in regional Victoria. This $70 million saving will provide a positive incentive for business investment and location in regional Victoria. The Brotherhood of St Laurence: … warmly welcomes the Andrews Government’s Budget—and its key social investments that recognise that the prosperity dividend has yet to arrive for all Victorians. Environment Victoria said: We are pleased to see the Andrews government honouring its commitment to ensuring all Victorians benefit from growing renewable energy investment and jobs in our State. Jono La Nauze, CEO of Environment Victoria, also said: To ensure Victoria remains a leader on climate action and continues to create thousands of jobs, our government must meet the investment targets promised during last year’s election campaign. And they are doing just that. I think that is a good endorsement, and that is the point: we said we were going to do all these things, and that is exactly what we are doing, because that is what we did in the previous four years. We delivered on every single commitment we actually made before the 2014 election, and we are doing exactly the same thing now. Trades Hall gave the budget ‘a gold medal for infrastructure’ but said there was room to give wage rises for public sector workers—and good on them. Why not? They want to ask for more wages for their members, and that is a fair comment. The Australian Industry Group said: We welcome the additional infrastructure expenditure over the next four years. Funding for major projects in and around Melbourne will reduce congestion on freight transport routes. That is why I find it a bit amusing, this motion by Mr Davis. That is why we will not be voting for the motion in its current form but shortly will be formally moving some amendments to this motion. I have outlined them briefly, but the next speaker will formally move them. I am looking forward to debate, and hopefully the house will accept the amendments, because I think they are reasonable amendments and they will give the opportunity for the house to discuss this motion in an efficient manner, making sure that the house’s time has not been wasted by going on the merry-go-round suggested by Mr Davis, trying to frustrate the process and waste our time. Some of these issues are probably better served by discussion in PAEC. So with these comments, I hope the house will support our amendments.