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Victorian Labor Budget 2018/2019

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) (18:40:28) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Appropriation (2018–2019) Bill 2018. We are a government of values and we are a party of values. Nothing quite represents the values of a government more than its budget, both in terms of its scope across all areas of public policy and all areas of service delivery. Nothing quite as broad as that exists in any other legislation we consider in this chamber. Its depth is extraordinary — $70 billion of expenditure. There is $70 billion in the Victorian budget and it is all represented in the appropriation bill that we are debating tonight.

When you believe in something, you do something about it. You do not just sit in the corner of your office or at home and talk to yourself about it, perhaps think about it or perhaps attend a press conference and talk about values. You actually do something about the things you believe in. You put them into action. We believe in the power of our commitment to the Victorian people. We believe in the power of the promises we made and the delivery on those promises. We believe in the bonds between words and actions, and that is what this budget and in fact the last four budgets have represented in this Parliament under this government.

Those on the opposite side who are filled with sorrow and regret for an opportunity lost will characterise this budget as a cash splash before an election. If they want some lines to attack this budget, they should do better than that. For example, let me take you back to four months after the 2014 election. That was 31 March. It was a Tuesday morning. It was a beautiful autumn day and I made my way to Carnegie station to meet the Premier and the Minister for Public Transport to make a pretty major announcement. This is the journey we have been on. The announcement was that we would ditch the expensive, inadequate project that the previous government received as an unsolicited bid to remove only four level crossings on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line at a cost of $2.5 billion, effectively privatising the line for 25 years. We said no, we were not going to do that.

There we were, on platform 1 of Carnegie station. The Premier and the minister for transport and I said, ‘No, we have something better for the community and for the Victorian people on the busiest transport corridor in Victoria’. We announced that we would remove the crossings at Centre Road, Clayton; Corrigan Road, Noble Park; Heatherton Road, Noble Park; Chandler Road, Noble Park; Clayton Road, Clayton; Poath Road, Murrumbeena; Murrumbeena Road, Murrumbeena; Koornang Road, Carnegie, and Grange Road, Carnegie — nine level crossings.

Mr Wynne interjected.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — I am glad that the minister at the table, the Minister for Planning, just asked how they are going. This is four months after we were elected. Six weeks from today all will be gone. In fact I can tell you that Chandler Road, Noble Park, is gone; Heatherton Road, Noble Park, is gone; Corrigan Road, Noble Park, is gone; Centre Road, Clayton, is gone; Clayton Road, Clayton, is gone. That is the commitment we had to the promises we made to the Victorian people. We have four more to go and they are going in six weeks time. When people on that side talk about a cash splash and last-minute action before an election, the truth shows them up.

We started this journey in March 2015 — in fact way before that. We started with the election campaign. That is one example, and that project is one I am extremely proud of. It will boost capacity up to 42 per cent in peak hour on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, an extra 11 000 passengers in the peak. We got straight to work. We put out an expression of interest and today we are here, a few weeks away from getting the last four crossings removed. In fact by the middle of June they will all be gone.

I will take you back to even before 31 March 2015. On 29 November 2014, on election day itself, I spent some time at the polling booth at Amsleigh Park Primary School with the volunteers, handing out for all parties. I looked to my right and I saw an A-frame with the words, ‘Labor will rebuild Amsleigh Park Primary School’. I knew that of course, but I thought it was great that we were telling voters as they were going to the polling booths that that very school would be rebuilt. Sure enough, the journey started then. I went to that school about three weeks ago and met with the principal. We are almost done with that project. The old red brick building, which we all love, has been gutted. We are refurbishing that. But the new building to house the junior school is completely built, with I think eight classrooms, very modern spaces, inclusive spaces and a place you would be proud to call a school. There are outdoor spaces and theatres. It is a wonderful, wonderful commitment to what we promised that community.

Again, we start with consultation and a plan and we deliver it within four years. By contrast in my community, with schools as one example, under the four years of the previous government only $544 000 was spent across all 15 schools in my electorate. In the three and a half years of this government, in the same electorate, in those same 15 schools I am talking about, how much do you think was spent by this government on improving the lives of students and the teachers’ capacity to teach? Fifty-six million dollars —

Mr Wynne — How much?

Mr DIMOPOULOS — Fifty-six million dollars, Minister for Planning. We have gone from $544 000 over four years on the same schools to $56 million under our government. That is a commitment to education, that is a commitment to Labor values and that is also a commitment to the community we serve. That is 103 times more funding than the funding under the previous government.

In this budget alone, there is $9 million for Oakleigh Primary School for a new gymnasium and a new fit-out of the old building, which was built in the 1970s and which has leaky roofs, rotten gutters and windows. We are going to fix all that. There is $300 000 for Clayton North Primary School to extend their hall; $400 000 for a new oval at Huntingdale Primary School and a new master plan; and $1.9 million for Monash Special Developmental School. Other colleagues have talked about the profound effect that spending on special needs schools has, and there is now $13.8 million for the Monash children’s hospital school — $13.8 million for a school that will teach 170-odd students who call Monash hospital their home for that period, with about 17 or 18 teachers. That is our record in education in one electorate in Victoria.

If you listen to those opposite, capital upgrades do not count. The shadow Minister for Education has left the chamber, but apparently capital upgrades do not count. But for us they absolutely do, and the parents, teachers and students tell us they do. As the Minister for Education says, you cannot have a 21st century education in 19th century accommodation.

That is the legacy of just two projects in my electorate — level crossing removals and schools — but there is so much more. The budget speaks to a lot of values that are not only dear to the Labor Party but are personally dear to me, and mental health is one of those. I thank the Minister for Mental Health for his very generous comments in relation to me, but fundamentally without his commitment and the commitment of the Treasurer and the Premier, the transformation of $700-odd million spending on mental health would not have happened. This means an extraordinary amount to not only people who have led torturous lives in terms of their ability to live in a community and fully express themselves as human beings but also their loved ones, who have to care for and worry about them day in, day out, who have to have endless conversations with nurses and psychiatrists in and out of psychiatric wards and endure late-night phone calls. The daily lived experiences of thousands and thousands of Victorians are too easy to ignore. They are not as powerful as the top end of Collins Street in arguing for funding. We are making over $700 million worth of investment in this budget for almost 13 000 more Victorians to get mental health beds. We are investing in the community and mental health sector and also in more drug and alcohol rehab services.

I wrote a story on Facebook the other day. A young man in Oakleigh rang me. His name was John, and he said, ‘I’m 32, I’m an ice addict and I want to get help’. For anyone who has dealt with someone who is an addict, whether it be ice or anything else, the first powerful step for them is to say, ‘I want help’, and he could not get any. That was two years ago. He could not get any help. He was of Greek background — not that that matters — his name was John and he lived in Oakleigh. I had an affinity with who he was and his life. I am so proud that we are investing in more drug and alcohol rehab beds because it is not just about John’s story, it is about the stories of his mum, his dad and his whole family who live lives of constant anxiety about where he will end up.

Another budget issue that speaks enormously to our values, as others have said, are the 30 TAFE courses. I saw some of the comments on the Premier’s —

Ms Thomson interjected.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — That’s right, member for Footscray — 30 TAFE courses. I saw some of the public, raw comments on the Premier’s Facebook page about the life-changing event that this is for some people. There is one that most people saw which said something like, ‘Wow, this now really does change everything for me. I have different choices. I need to rethink my choices’, because some TAFE courses are literally $15 000. This is not small fry. They are very expensive. There is a greater span of hours, giving students, whether they be younger students or older students, the capacity to learn during hours that are suitable to them regardless of their work commitments, so right into the evening and on Saturdays. It is giving people a real chance.

The other thing that speaks to our values as a Labor government is the social procurement stuff that the Minister for Industry and Employment talked about — investments in effectively creating a whole generation of apprentices by using the power of the Victorian government’s chequebook to require 10 per cent of all jobs to be for apprentices and for 2.5 per cent Aboriginal employment targets. I went down with the member for Clarinda to the Clayton level crossing and saw 30 or 40 Aboriginal Australian workers on the project. I think we have reached over 100 now. Fundamentally they would not have had that chance if it was not for the policy matching the expenditure of this government and the values of this government.

There is a lot more I would love to say, but I do want to quickly pick up on a couple of things the member for Malvern and others have said on the other side. I do not want to waste too much of my time on them because, as the Premier says, they are really irrelevant to the goals and the achievements of this government. Fundamentally all they can argue — and it is false anyway — is that we are the highest taxing government. A, that is false. That is absolutely false. But they also say —

Ms Thomson interjected.

Mr DIMOPOULOS — That’s right. As the member for Footscray says, it is absolutely fake news. But they talk about cost blowouts. I think the member for Malvern literally talked about the Cranbourne-Pakenham level crossing removal project and its cost blowout. What he failed to tell the chamber is that from when we initially announced this project to where it is today we have added a whole measure of things to the project which has made it far better. We have increased the signalling and capacity of the whole line, not just where the level crossings are being removed but the entire line. The signalling upgrades mean we will now be able to run trains back to back safely. That is why we were able to, a few weeks ago, make the announcement that from 7.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. at night we will have trains every 10 minutes. In the morning it will be ‘turn up and go’. Fancy that. That is like London or Tokyo — ‘turn up and go’. It is absolutely incredible. They are the investments. That is what you get when you make such investments. They are not cost blowouts, member for Malvern. I would not call those cost blowouts; I would call them prudent investments.

When you talk about cost blowouts you also have to be cognisant of the fact that this government is delivering budget surpluses that are unparalleled, as the Treasurer said, in Victoria’s history. There is $2.4 billion on average in budget surpluses. Debt is down to about 4.5 per cent, from memory. We inherited 6 per cent. So there is lower debt, more budget surpluses, the fastest growing economy in Australia and the biggest employment growth. So the opposition’s commentary about cost blowouts falls on absolutely deaf ears, because we get value for that investment and we also observe budget prudence and fiscal prudence in our budgets. I am immensely proud of this budget and I am immensely proud of this government, of the Premier’s role obviously as the leader of this proud, proud government, of the Treasurer’s role and of the finance minister’s role. I commend the bill to the house.