June 15, 2012  |  Appropriation (2012/2013) Bill 2012

Ben Carroll’s 2012/13 Budget Reply

I am  pleased  to rise to make  a contribution to the debate  on  the Appropriation  (2012/2013)  Bill 2012 – my  first budget reply speech.  I  want  to focus on  the  impact  the bill will  have  on  the Niddrie electorate in particular but also on the whole of Victoria. I intend to focus on jobs, education  and training, which are the key indicators  for constituents of the Niddrie electorate.

It needs to be  stated at the outset that  the state budget provides a  critical opportunity for the government of the day to  highlight what  it stands for: its priorities and its  vision for where it wants to take the state.  In relation to this vision,  on 2 May the Age economics editor, Tim Colebatch, wrote about  the budget. The article states:

  … there was nothing to  answer  the question Victorians are asking: why does  Ted Baillieu want to be Premier? Where does he want to take us?
  At some point, his government is going to have to tell us what  it stands for. The budget  was a missed chance to do that.

In  the  2012-13  state  budget  the Baillieu  government  has  missed a  golden opportunity to outline a positive blueprint  for  the  future  of  the  state of Victoria. Instead the budget highlights a vision which includes no jobs plan  or infrastructure  investment  strategy  to  create  jobs.  What  the  budget  does highlight, though, is  an orchestrated campaign  to reduce funding in  education and training, senselessly hurting  our most vulnerable.  This budget narrows the equality of opportunity  and disadvantages people in Melbourne’s north-west, the constituents of the Niddrie electorate.

A jobs plan is  the  most  important  policy  of  any  government.  In Victoria, unemployment is higher  than the national average. There is no jobs plan in this budget.

Instead  it  targets our most vulnerable and shifts the burden of tough economic times squarely onto the shoulders of working families and vulnerable Victorians. On the subject of jobs, again  in  the Age of 2 May, the economics  editor,  Tim Colebatch, described the budget in these terms. The article says:

  … nor  was there anything resembling a jobs plan, or anything aiming to  get  the economy to fire on all cylinders again.

However,  if you go back to  2009, when Labor was in office in the middle of the global financial crisis, you find that 92 per cent of the full-time jobs created in Australia  were generated right  here  in Victoria. Last  year  the Treasurer promised us  55  000  jobs  a year,  instead  we  are  losing 900  a  week.  The government’s 2012-13 budget  reveals that employment growth  is now forecast  at 0.00 per cent. We must do better.

The Niddrie electorate is a feeder  to  the  local  aviation  industry, which is located at the nearby Tullamarine and Essendon airports. Regrettably Qantas last month announced that more than 400 maintenance jobs will be axed  at Tullamarine airport. This will have a direct impact on my  constituents. Indeed it will have a  direct  impact  on many friends  of  mine who work at  Qantas.  They now find themselves with a very uncertain employment future. We must do better.

As  I  went from door to door in the  recent by-election for the seat of Niddrie there  was  one conversation that kept resonating when I talked to  voters,  and that  was about the  lack  of visible infrastructure  investment by the  current state government. I often heard the comment, ‘Where  are  the next projects: the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Spencer Street station  redevelopment, the County Court redevelopment,  the  synchrotron, the  Geelong bypass, the  Wimmera-Mallee pipeline?’.

When it comes to infrastructure investment the Baillieu government appears to be at a standstill. It has no momentum or pipeline of infrastructure ready to go. A brief look at history will show that  the Kennett Liberal government did move to create the  CityLink tollway and the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Its predecessor, the  Cain government, built  the tennis centre  and redeveloped the MCG  with new light towers  and a new southern stand.  The Bracks and Brumby governments  provided record  smart infrastructure  investments which stimulated the  Victorian  economy and  created  jobs,  such as  the  new  Royal Children’s Hospital  or  the  Wimmera-Mallee pipeline. In the 11 years that  Labor  was  in office an average of  $581 million was invested in health building projects each year.

One and a half years into the first term of this government Victorians are still wondering what are the government’s infrastructure priorities.

In fact if you pick up today’s Age,  you will see that one anonymous backbencher is quoted as lamenting the government’s lack of an economic strategy and saying:

  ‘The government is  firstly still struggling to come to a view as  to what its  key message is and, secondly, it is struggling to communicate it …

That is  from a  government  backbencher  one  and  a  half years  into the  new government.

In its budget overview the government talks up the east-west link, describing it as transformational  infrastructure, but as the shadow Treasurer, the member for Lyndhurst, highlighted in  his budget reply,  $50 million buys  approximately 15 metres of this $5 billion to $7 billion project. We must do better.

In the budget overview the government says:

  Victoria’s future economic growth will be underpinned by a better educated and  skilled workforce, increasing productivity and workforce participation.

This positive statement flies  in the  face of  what the budget actually does to create and  instil  a better educated  and  skilled workforce.  The  Sunday  Age editorial on 27 May put it best:

  If you were to choose just one weapon to fight  entrenched  disadvantage,  the  sort of grinding poverty and  unemployment that passes from  one generation to  another, that weapon would be education.
  … the Baillieu government appears to be targeting those who most need a good  education, but are also at the highest risk of not getting one.

I could not  agree  more.  Education  is  the great social leveller. It provides opportunities for self-actualisation. It provides  pathways  to  jobs, to higher incomes and even to better health. With good-quality education it is possible to transcend  disadvantage  and to choose  your own future.  However,  the Baillieu government is  systematically sabotaging  education  in  Victoria,  particularly educational programs designed to assist our most vulnerable.

Last  year’s $48 million cuts  to the Victorian  certificate of applied learning (VCAL)  program directly  impacted  schools  and  constituents  in  the  Niddrie electorate,  particularly  students  at  Rosehill  Secondary  College,  formerly Niddrie Technical School.  The  VCAL program was  developed  in response to  the Ministerial  Review  of  Post Compulsory  Education  and  Training  Pathways  in Victoria — the Kirby report — which was released in  August 2000. VCAL assists those disaffected from mainstream education with alternative pathways.

Cuts to VCAL have been followed  up in  this year’s budget with devastating cuts to  the TAFE sector. Over $290 million  will  be  stripped  from  TAFE  budgets, costing as many as 1500 jobs. Conservative estimates show that at least 550 TAFE teaching and support jobs will be  lost in the near future. The $290 million cut to TAFE represents a 20 to 40 per cent cut to the average TAFE institute.

In this context it is worth noting that the importance of TAFE is highlighted on page  73 of the Kirby report. The report states that  TAFE provides  support for some  young people who have the poorest education experiences and most difficult personal  circumstances.  This  sentiment  was  recently  echoed  by  the  chief executive of the  Holmesglen Institute of  TAFE, Bruce Mackenzie, who  described the budget cuts to the TAFE sector as an ‘attack on the most vulnerable people’.

I recently received a letter from Ray Griffiths,  the chief executive officer of the  Kangan  Institute, a major  provider of TAFE  in  Melbourne’s north-western suburbs. In his letter he outlined the effect of these budget cuts on the Kangan Institute, saying:

Fifty-two courses with significantly reduced government subsidy levels will be  terminated  as  no  projected  mix  of   student  fee  increase  and  delivery  improvement can be  seen  as sustainable. Regrettably,  many of these  courses  have  served  as  entry-level  pathways  for  disadvantaged learners.  No  new  enrolments will be taken in these course areas from 30 June 2012 with  current  students being taught out until the end of 2012.
In  summary, we  project that  the direct  impact of  the  budget  will  see a  reduction on  Kangan’s  government-subsidised  business  of  around $25 m with  places for 1000+  prospective students no  longer  available in the  short  to  medium term and job losses of up to 175 over the next 18 months.

Last  night many of my colleagues and I met with staff from Victoria University, who should  be  commended for  their  commitment to  providing  opportunities to students living in Melbourne’s  west.  Reductions in TAFE funding will see a $29 million cut to VU’s annual vocational  funding.  These  TAFE cuts will close the doors for skills, training and alternative education pathways to constituents in the Niddrie electorate  at a time when many people are struggling to stay afloat in a tough  labour market. Statewide these cuts  to TAFE are nothing short of a tragedy.

When I first  got  my  hands on the budget papers there  was  one  project I was looking for, and that was funding for  Essendon  Keilor College, my top priority in  the  Niddrie electorate. As many members would be  aware,  in  my  inaugural speech I highlighted  that as an immediate task. Recently in Parliament I called on the Minister for  Education  to  create  a  school environment that sends the message to students that their school matters, their education matters and their futures matter.

Unfortunately  this school  was  neglected in the  2012-13  budget, despite  the Minister for Education himself stating last year:

  … the conditions out  at that  school are  disgusting, they are not safe for  teachers, they are not good for those students …

Since my  election I have visited the school and spoken with  both students  and staff and  reiterated my ongoing commitment to see that  Essendon Keilor College is given the funding it  so desperately deserves. I have seen firsthand not only the  school’s need for  funding but the great commitment the school has  for learning. I intend to keep up the pressure over the next 12 months leading up to the next budget. To this end I welcome the recent remarks  by the Minister for Education about Essendon Keilor College in the Parliament when he said:

  It  is a good  school,  and  it will certainly  be  part of our future  budget  considerations when we are working  up  to  next  year’s  budget  in  terms of  capital commitments.

I thank the education minister for those remarks.

I will finish where I began.

The  state budget was a missed opportunity for the government to highlight  what it stands for, its  priorities  and its vision for  where  it wants to take  the state. Instead  the  budget has  no  jobs plan or  jobs-creating  infrastructure investment  strategy.  What the  budget  does have,  though,  is an orchestrated campaign to reduce  funding in education  and training, senselessly  hurting our most vulnerable and narrowing equality  of   opportunity. The Baillieu government’s response  to rising unemployment, tougher economic conditions and cost of living pressures is to cut programs that provide pathways  to  jobs  and  skills  training  for our  most vulnerable.

Perhaps  it is best that I conclude with the words  of the  anonymous government backbencher quoted in today’s Age newspaper:

  ‘The government is firstly still  struggling to come to a view as to what  its  key message is and, secondly, it is struggling to communicate it …
  ‘If you  don’t get  that right you are going to fail at micromanaging  smaller  issues such as TAFE [cuts]. To me that is a concern’.

The Appropriation (2012/2013) Bill 2012 is a concern for all.