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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17216

Mr HAWKER (5:20 PM) —I would like to describe to the House the unfolding tragedy that is starting to occur in Victoria under the Labor state government. Tragically for Victoria we are seeing a repeat of history. I do not think anyone could forget the disaster of the Cain-Kirner government. Who could forget the loss of that great institution, the State Bank, thanks to the Cain-Kirner government? Who could forget the jokes about the capital of Victoria and who could forget the exodus of people from Victoria as they sought new opportunities and new jobs?

All of that was turned around by the Kennett government. In fact, the Kennett government did an outstanding job in taking a state that was in perilous trouble financially and turning it into probably the healthiest state financially in the whole of Australia. It is quite a tragedy to see how all that hard work—all that belt tightening that occurred when it had to occur—that put the state back on the straight and narrow and got its finances back in order is being dissipated again. It really is an amazing story. When the state Labor government came to power in Victoria, they were in the strongest financial position in the history of any parliament. In fact, they had a $1.8 billion surplus. In 2002-03 that budget surplus had been whittled away to just $160 million or 0.6 per cent of the state budget. The question is: where has the money gone?

That has to be asked against the backdrop of the Victorian Labor government spending so much money while at the same time increasing taxes. The tax increases that have been occurring are quite remarkable. In question time today the federal Treasurer gave some examples, but let me run through a few more. We have seen some 300 new taxes coming in with increases in fees and charges. The state government is now putting up the cost of just about everything it can lay its hands on, whether it be drivers licences, general fees or fines. The Victorian state government is expecting to get about $100 million more from speeding fines—and that is a topic for another day. One has to raise serious questions about a government which is putting speeding cameras on the safest roads in the state. It can no longer kid anyone when it tries to say it only puts them in accident-prone areas. Everyone in Victoria knows it is a revenue raising exercise and one that the state government is pursuing with an extraordinary amount of zeal.

At the same time, we have seen an increase in payroll taxes, up $210 million over four years. Between 1998-99 and 2003-04 we have seen a 103 per cent increase in land tax revenue and an 84 per cent increase in stamp duty revenue from property. They are staggering increases. But it goes further than that. They have also brought in new powers to apply payroll tax to many franchises and other small businesses, allowing them to be grouped together for payroll tax purposes. This means that businesses are now up for payroll tax on their wages bill of anything over $550,000, whereas in the past there was only a tax on payrolls of big business.

Turning to the latest ongoing saga of the Scoresby Freeway, despite the fact that the Commonwealth was prepared to put up 50 per cent of the money, the state government has now decided to turn it into a tollway because it is not prepared to put up its share. I could list many other ways that the state government has dissipated all that money, whether it be for the massive increase in wages—way above the cost of living—or for the increase in public servants. When you look at the key areas that Labor always talks about, we have not seen that sort of increase in outcomes—for example, government expenditure on health was up by only 3.8 per cent in the current year and on education was up by 2.1 per cent. In other words, it does not even keep up with the cost of living. State Labor, despite all their claims to the contrary, are not even delivering in the areas that they claim to have been so concerned about.

I now turn to the fact that we are seeing a government that is turning on the country. It is clearly beginning to show a strong anti-country bias, as it tries to claw back some of this excess spending. The real tragedy is that this discrimination is not only against the country in general but particularly targeting country areas that did not have a strong Labor vote—and I will give some examples. We have seen statewide examples with drought relief, for example. The state government was very quick to talk about its assistance for farmers prior to the state election, when the drought was hurting so much in the northern parts of Victoria. Now we find that in the year 2003-04 not one cent will be paid by the state government for drought relief. The Commonwealth is picking up the tab. The state, having made all these sympathetic noises prior to the election about how it would look after the farmers, has done absolutely nothing. It is an extraordinary example of a government that has been so two-faced in the way it operated, before the election and after.

I will give another example in country Victoria: the state government promised 55 country towns would get new police stations. What has happened since? The promise of 55 new police stations has been cut back to 10. In other words, 45 of them are not even going to be built. Clearly this shows again that the state government is trying to turn on the country areas, as it desperately tries to work out how to keep some semblance of balance, having blown so much money.

It is doing what all Labor governments are doing: it is back into bank borrowing. For the first time in 10 years, we will see that Victoria's net debt is going to grow. The borrowings for the coming financial year will be some $621 million—almost a 100 per cent increase on the amount it proposed to borrow only 12 months ago. The real tragedy of this is that this is occurring at a time when the economy is travelling well, when Australia has proven that it can weather the storms that are hitting some of the other economies around the world. Yet the state government is running straight back into debt and increasing taxes. There is some growing evidence to show that this state not only is discriminating against the country but is particularly targeting areas that did not return a Labor member. I cite my own area, the south-west of Victoria, where it can be shown quite clearly that the state Labor government is now backing out of earlier promises or refusing to honour obligations that the previous Kennett government saw as perfectly reasonable.

Mr Cox —Honouring the previous government's promises!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Kingston will have an opportunity to speak.

Mr HAWKER —No; honouring the previous government's support for the regions. There are a couple of examples in the south-west. For the Maritime Discovery Centre in Portland the Kennett government put in $1.2 million and the Commonwealth put in $250,000. We now have the situation where the state is refusing to provide any money for the second stage of the maritime centre. The Commonwealth has agreed to provide $330,000, which it will deliver on, but the state has refused to provide anything. Likewise, in Warrnambool, we have the Brauer College all-weather athletics track. It will be the only all-weather track in the whole of western Victoria. The state government is refusing to do anything, yet it professes to be concerned about looking after people in the country and about providing some equity.

As my colleague the member for South West Coast, Denis Napthine, has pointed out, the state government, and Premier Bracks in particular, have talked long and hard about support for a rescue helicopter in the south west. Bracks said back in March last year, `There is a need; there is no question about that.' What has happened since? Nothing. It seems it is good enough to have one in Gippsland and one in Bendigo, but not in the south-west.

And then we look at the story of rail and the move for standardisation. I do not have enough time to go into the detail, but I will say that this is just a total insult to the people in Victoria. The Victorian transport minister, Mr Batchelor, was spruiking about how he had actually ordered the materials to start the standardisation of some of the Victorian country rail tracks. What has happened since? The whole lot has been shelved because the election has been and gone. Whatever way you look at it there is a tragedy unfolding in Victoria. (Time expired)