Federal Infrastructure Funding in Victoria

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I rise to speak on the report on the 2016–17 budget estimates, and I do so with a tinge of sadness because last night’s federal budget did not really restore the imbalance that exists currently with infrastructure funding in Victoria. In the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report on the 2016–17 budget estimates the Treasurer is quoted as saying:

I think it is important for the state to acknowledge that we do need to look at whether or not we are getting value for money from the assets that the state holds and whether or not we can work our balance sheet better in order to get a better return for the Victorian community.

I think one of the reasons the state has formed a view … that it is important to make sure that we are getting value for the assets that the state holds. I do not see ‘asset recycling’ as a cute one-liner. I see it as being something very tangible and real in the sense that, if we asset recycle, that is we are changing a current status, which could in fact be a leasehold, into another state asset that we have formed a view has better and more immediate economic value for the state.

Of course the Treasurer was referring to the lease of the port of Melbourne and the funds from that going into level crossing removals, a commitment we made to the Victorian people before we came to office and a commitment that I think absolutely is one of those that is similar to the prevention of family violence. This government is branded by those two commitments. If you ask any Victorian about what the Andrews Labor government stands for, if they know nothing else — and there is a lot we stand for — they know about family violence prevention and level crossing removals.

Of course the asset recycling initiative that the federal government announced was to receive 15 per cent of the sale or lease proceeds as a bonus for recycling an asset. It has been a bone of contention between the federal government and our state government here, and unfortunately it was not addressed last night. I think we have gone up 1 per cent, but we are still at about 8 per cent or 9 per cent of infrastructure funding provided by the federal government to states and territories, while we represent 25 per cent of the population of Australia. So our taxpayers are paying enormous GST revenues and income tax revenues to the federal government, and in return we are getting 8 per cent, or perhaps 9 per cent after last night’s budget, rather than the 25 per cent that New South Wales is getting comparable to its population.

If there is any misunderstanding in the community about who is to blame for this, it is absolutely clearly the federal government. The Victorian government has done everything possible to establish a framework where we can receive those funds. We signed the agreement with the federal government to receive those funds. We have set up the Victorian Transport Fund, and we have established Infrastructure Victoria, an independent, non-political group of experts to advise not just us but effectively the Victorian community on infrastructure needs over the next 30 years. We have a AAA credit rating. We have lower debt than that which we inherited. We have significantly higher economic growth than that which we inherited. I think when we came to office our economic growth was better only than Tasmania; now we are first or second in Australia. We of course have invested significantly of our own funds, so we are not just going cap in hand to Canberra. Our infrastructure investment over the last three years of this government is close to $9 billion. It was less than half of that under the previous government.

We have a big agenda of infrastructure projects. It is not as if we are struggling to find any and we have to dig up the ones from the bottom drawer. All our frameworks are in place, our vision is in place and our legitimacy is in place in terms of being elected on this big infrastructure agenda. All we are waiting for is a fair deal from Canberra. While it sounds like a political cliché, it is such a significant issue. We are being short-changed — I think the Treasurer said by about $6.5 billion. When we say that we are being short-changed, it is not the people in this room necessarily, it is the Victorian taxpayer that is getting 9 per cent rather than 25 per cent. Imagine the infrastructure improvements we could make if we got our fair share, particularly for a growing population, which Victoria has. So it is a timely reminder to keep putting pressure on the federal government to restore that imbalance.