MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Government performance
Mr PALLAS (Treasurer) (14:16:54) — It gives me great pleasure to rise to totally dismiss in many respects the matter of public importance. This government and this Treasurer, might I correct the member for Warrandyte, have delivered the highest average surpluses in this state’s history. In so doing they have delivered the most substantial infrastructure program the state has ever seen, from $13.7 billion in this year’s budget compared to a $4.9 billion average. If you want to talk about a government making a substantial contribution to the terms under which Victorians live and operate then it ultimately comes down to this: are you prepared to get up and have a go for Victorians.
The member for Warrandyte got up here today and all he did was essentially direct and call names at the Premier, which really goes back to the history of this man. He is the shadow minister for cost of living, which I am sure is a very senior and august role in his caucus. I am curious, however, what that has to do with the work that he is supposed to be doing with his Cost Watch truck, which is missing in action at the moment. We have missed it. There have been no Facebook entries since March 2017, but they are hard at work doing nothing — hardly working. But I digress, and so rather than engage in banalities with the opposition I will talk about the substantive action that the government has taken. Let us get into the substantive issues that the member for Warrandyte has raised.
Employment: the best thing that the government can do to support Victorians with the cost of living is ensure that there are secure, full‑time jobs available to them. Since this government took office we have created 370 000 jobs. The security of employment and the opportunities to be able to go out and create work, and from that labour create wealth both within your community and your family, is what Labor governments do. There have been 233 000 full‑time jobs created as a consequence of this government’s efforts; 40 000 full‑time jobs was the total sum of jobs created by the coalition when they were last in government. So 40 000 compared to 233 000 put in economic terms is nothing short of pathetic.
Under the coalition government we saw the unemployment rate rise to 6.7 per cent, and of course it is now down to 5 per cent. The youth unemployment rate hiked to 14.5 per cent at the same time that they slashed TAFE funding and cut jobs across Victoria. Under their watch 70 000 Victorians joined the unemployment queue. That was effectively their contribution; that was the care that they had for the plight of people struggling with the day‑to‑day costs they confront. The first and most important thing you have to do is give people the dignity of work and give them the dignity of showing you that governments rate that as the first and most important thing that they should do. Of course those opposite were asleep on their watch. They did nothing and delivered nothing certainly when it came to employment generation.
On the issue of electricity costs, this year’s budget invested $48 million in the power saving bonus. All Victorians will receive $50 if they go on to the Victorian Energy Compare website. We know from experience that visiting this website will save people $330 in the first year alone on average. Big power companies of course rely on people not having the time or the capacity to look at the transparency around their billing structures, but this gives them that opportunity and it will reward them for exercising their rights as a consumer in the market environment. This comes on top of rebates that we have offered to consumers on standing offers or expired market offers — the rebates proposed by the big retailers. For non‑concession holders on standing offers where they have expired offers, somewhere between $250 and $400 will have to be paid back to them if the rebate was not in place. So here we are as a government looking at our capacity to do more. The utility relief grant cap, for example, had a $21.7 million increase, with $500 to $650 a year being provided to put power back in the hands of Victorian consumers, particularly those most in hardship due to unexpected electricity bills.
We have also announced that a re‑elected Andrews Labor government will help Victorians save around $890 a year and put power back in the hands of Victorian households. Here we are four years into this term, but have we heard anything positive from the opposition about what they might do around how you can address power costs for households? Here is a real policy that this government is putting in place: $890 is likely to be saved off people’s power bills through the Victorian government’s solar homes program; 650 000 homes will be the subject of this relief over 10 years; and importantly for Victorians hurting from high prices we have allocated $68 million to get this program running immediately we take up government. Those who wish to take up the offer of access to solar panels will be able to do so without causing a distortion in the way that the market operates in anticipation of this program getting fully underway. Additionally for those houses that are currently unable to access solar panel discounts — we have not forgotten them either — we will make sure that a re‑elected Andrews government provides for 60 000 households to replace their old hot‑water systems with a new solar system and get $1000 cash back via a rebate.
We are the government with a broad agenda. We are dealing with the impacts that the costs of electricity and power prices more generally are having on consumers, and we have put those into the public domain. We have said this is what we are going to do to help people who are struggling with increasing power prices. What have we heard from the opposition? The only policy we seem to have heard from the opposition is that they want to cut the Victorian renewable energy target, reducing supply and provoking probably further uncertainty for investors and the energy market. This is not the brains trust of the state of Victoria. They are certainly not people who should be given the responsibility of managing the state going forward in a policy sense.
It is also important to note, if we look at gas prices in this debate, that those opposite have found a way to be on the wrong side of this issue more times than I thought would be mathematically possible. In September 2015 there were pending by‑elections in the seats of South‑West Coast and Polwarth. The opposition decided that they wanted a moratorium on onshore gas exploration until 2020 — that was their plan. Then in October last year they backflipped again and committed to scraping the legislated moratorium.
You just cannot trust the Liberals on gas. Their position is up for sale, and whatever their lords and masters in Canberra tell them to do, they will step to attention. By supporting the same policy position that those opposite took credit for just six months beforehand, we have been accused of playing politics. We know who is playing politics, and we know who is not letting the science lead them on this. It is clear that this is an opposition that will take any opportunity to try and score cheap political points even if it means wiping history. It is Orwellian in its concept. They like to forget about their behaviour and their lack of action in government and the harsh costs that they inflicted upon consumers that this government is taking real and tangible action to address.
The truly sad thing about those opposite is not that they are hypocrites but that they are also just plain wrong. On the evidence, we have onshore resources that would provide only about six months of gas capacity if taken by conventional means. If that is essentially what the opposition sees as a panacea in reducing gas prices, of course we know that the science does not lead us there. So to the flat‑earthers on that side, keep continuing with the chant but be clear about this: we will be led by the science, and ultimately we will get an outcome that serves the interests of Victorians well.
As we know, Victoria produces almost twice as much gas as it consumes. One would have thought we should not have a supply‑side problem with gas from our offshore gas wells, but of course the federal government — people that members opposite do not want to criticise — are more than happy to continue this idea that the national reserve, the national asset, is shipped offshore without an effective domestic reserve being put in place. What does that mean? That means consumers are hit, that means that essentially industry is hit. People have been crying out for some leadership and at least for this federal government to do something that might address the imbalance in pricing. We are going shortly to be the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas. We are not far off it, and when that happens, we will still have a problem because essentially the commonwealth refuses to provide a domestic reserve and a surety for the needs of our consumers and our businesses.
I want to turn now briefly to TAFE. Of course it is worth noting that in government those opposite took an axe to TAFE. They closed campuses, they cut jobs and they failed our young people. We, by alternative, have put money back into TAFE. In the 2018–19 budget we gave every Victorian every tool they need to undertake a quality, accredited TAFE qualification to get the skills and the jobs that they need in building our state. We have gone further than that. We know that the cost of training can act as a barrier to getting the right skills, so this year’s budget breaks down that barrier and invests $172 million to provide 30 priority TAFE courses and 18 preapprenticeship courses to young people to give them the opportunity to get a fee‑free education through TAFE and preapprentices. That means that we are investing in the future of young people. They will get jobs and they will be able to pay the costs that confront everybody in their livelihoods. We want to make sure that everyone gets this free, quality training, and we have provided some 30 000 new training places to provide for it.
Now I want to turn briefly to homes and what we have done around the cost of housing in the state of Victoria. We have put forward a comprehensive Homes for Victorians package. We have abolished stamp duty costs for properties worth less than $600 000 for first home buyers. We have doubled the regional first home owners grant for new build properties to $20 000 and we are making long‑term leases a reality for Victorians, recognising that there is not one path by which you can have a place to call your home. Recently we have seen some 22 000 first‑time buyers right across the state take up this opportunity.
We have also put in place rate capping as a government. We saw under the opposition council rates rise by 10 per cent in 2013 — 10.8 per cent, in fact — and 10.5 per cent in 2014, and they did absolutely nothing about it. So when we hear these four tiers of concern being expressed about the poor consumer being hard done by by government, let us recognise that this is a government that has actually taken tangible action. Whether it is on the housing side or whether it is on the gas or electricity side, we have taken a proactive approach to put in place measures to protect Victorians and to make sure that they are well served by a government that is focused on delivering to them.
Of course there is our land release policy, which I am sure someone else will talk to because I am running out of time. But I will make this point. This is a government that has not wasted a day in its obligations and its opportunities to look after Victorians. Today, on a day when the Victorian economy is seen as the best performing economy in the nation through the national accounts release, what I have to do is spend my time dealing with this dross from an opposition who have no vision for the future.