I would like to make some comments in reply to the Governor’s speech, which was made in this house on 21 December last year.
But first I would like to congratulate Mr Atkinson on his being elected as President of this chamber. I am confident he will perform his role with professionalism and integrity. I also congratulate the Deputy President, Mr Viney, on his election.
I would also like to congratulate all members of the 57th Parliament on their election or re-election and wish them well in undertaking their parliamentary duties. I take this opportunity also to pay tribute to the retired and defeated members of the 56th Parliament and wish them well in their future endeavours. I especially would like to acknowledge the contributions of former Legislative Assembly members Rob Hudson, Janice Munt, Tammy Lobato, Kirstie Marshall, Bob Stensholt, Maxine Morand, Tony Robinson, Tony Lupton, Michael Crutchfield, Ben Hardman, Alistair Harkness and Jenny Lindell and former Legislative Council members Jennifer Huppert, Bob Smith and Nathan Murphy for their contributions to their electorates and to the Labor Party over the years.
I know they worked very hard to deliver real benefits to their communities, and they can be rightly proud of their achievements.
I would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution of the former Premier and member for Broadmeadows, John Brumby. He is a person of great intellect, stamina and passion for this state. I am proud to have been a member of his government, and I wish him and Rosemary and his family all the best in his retirement.
Someone else who will be sadly missed from this Parliament, in particular from this chamber, is former longstanding staff member of this house, the late Russel Bowman. I remember Russel as someone who was always helpful; a man who was always amicable and prepared to share a joke with members. He will be sadly missed by all of us.
Since the Governor’s speech Victoria has been presented with fresh challenges that need to be addressed by the government. The flood tragedy that has befallen regional Victoria and some suburbs of Melbourne in the last few weeks will take a great deal of work and resources to recover from. Just two years ago I recall standing here expressing my condolences to the friends and families of those who had lost their lives in the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. I understand that now up to 27 municipalities, 97 townships, 3000 properties and over 7000 people have been impacted in some way by these recent floods. My thoughts and prayers are with all those in the flood-affected communities, and I wish them a speedy recovery.
In returning to the Governor’s speech I thank the Governor, Professor David de Kretser, for outlining the Baillieu government’s policy agenda and legislative intentions for this term of government. I was interested in what was included in that speech and what was left out. I was particularly looking for some insight into portfolios for which the coalition released no detailed policy documents and where all we have to go on is a scattering of media releases released during the election campaign, in areas such as children and early childhood development, aged care and juvenile justice. I will come back to these issues.
Members on this side of the house will be looking to see whether the undertakings given by the Baillieu government during the election campaign, and set out in the Governor’s speech, will ultimately be delivered on and whether they will meet the needs of the Victorian community.
The government promised a great deal, but already it is starting to break its promises, find excuses for delays and hide behind spin and obfuscation.
I will return to this, but I want to focus on what the Baillieu government plans for my electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region. In summary, it is nothing. We are seeing a return to the dark days of the Kennett government when Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs were forgotten. The Premier says he will not be radical, but he has Jeff Kennett, Alan Stockdale, Robert Maclellan and others behind the scenes advising him on how to govern and how to implement $1.6 billion worth of budget cuts. What we can expect is cuts in education, health and other key service areas.
I am very proud to have been a member of the Bracks and Brumby governments, which delivered significant improvements for all Victorians but most importantly for my constituents in the inner and northern suburbs of Melbourne.
The disappointing aspect for me of the change in government is that most of my electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region cannot expect many improvements over the next four years.
The Baillieu government campaigned on a theme of fixing the so-called problems. It has outlined that it wants to address issues in the health system, for example. My electorate contains a plethora of hospitals, including the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Royal Women’s Hospital, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, St Vincent’s Hospital, the Austin Hospital, the Mercy Hospital for Women and the Northern Hospital. They each provide very important services to my local constituents and beyond.
When Labor was elected one of the first things it did was to stop the privatisation of the Austin Hospital. We then got on with renovating, rebuilding and extending more than 100 public hospitals across Victoria.
Thanks to Labor, construction is under way for a new $1 billion Royal Children’s Hospital and the $1 billion Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Centre. We also completed the Royal Women’s Hospital and commenced the redevelopment of the Royal Dental Hospital and the redevelopment of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, we completed the new Austin Hospital and the relocation of the Mercy Women’s Hospital and invested in the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.
In outlining its policy agenda for the next four years the Baillieu government has completely ignored the generalist hospitals in my electorate, particularly the Northern Hospital, which is situated in a growth corridor, and the Austin Hospital. The Labor Party made significant expansions to that hospital, most recently upgrading its mental health inpatient unit and also its maternity service beds.
In an adjournment debate earlier this week I raised the issues of the academic and research precinct proposed at the Northern Hospital and my concerns that that project is not going ahead. The minister is yet to commit funds to that important project. I understand also that the government has failed to commit to further funding for stage 3 of the construction of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, situated at the Austin Hospital. I understand the minister has visited the hospital, but he did not make a commitment in relation to completing this important centre. I will be looking to see whether the two Liberal members of Parliament for the Northern Metropolitan Region, Matthew Guy and Craig Ondarchie, ensure that these important hospital projects get the funding they need to proceed. Mr Ondarchie in particular needs to focus on delivering for the north, as my colleagues and I have done for many years, if he wants to avoid being a oncer.
In the area of seniors and ageing I note that the Baillieu government has made very few commitments. The Office of Senior Victorians has been moved out of the Department of Planning and Community Development into the aged care branch of the Department of Health. I am concerned that the previous Labor government’s efforts around encouraging seniors to live healthy, active and independent lives will be lost in such a big department that has a focus on acute care.
The government has made two commitments in aged care: one, for the acquisition of land for one aged-care home, and two, to extend the electricity concession to seniors, which is a commitment that was matched by the Labor Party. We all know that despite the Premier saying he was going to fast-track an electricity concession there has been no movement on that issue, and that would be very disappointing to seniors in Victoria.
We know the coalition had a history of privatising aged-care facilities during the term of the Kennett government, and I will be watching with a great deal of interest to see what it does in this area. We have an ageing population. In this year we have seen baby boomers beginning to turn 65, and this will create enormous demand for aged-care services over the next four years and into the future. In particular we also have the specific needs of an ageing and diverse community and the need also for services that are ethnic specific and which meet the needs of the whole community.
I am proud that in government Labor made significant expansions to the home and community care (HACC) program, increasing funding by 130 per cent to provide much-needed support to seniors for things like meals on wheels, physiotherapy and home nursing. There is no similar commitment by the Baillieu government to increase HACC services over the next four years, and that is in fact very disappointing.
Coming to education, on the Labor side we have a very proud record of investing in our education system, having had the biggest school rebuilding program in Victoria’s history and having hired over 10 000 extra teachers and support staff. During the 2006 election campaign Labor committed to a $1.9 billion Victorian schools plan to rebuild, renovate or extend over 500 schools; in fact 553 school building projects were funded. It is disappointing therefore to learn that this plan is now in jeopardy and in particular to learn of the cuts to the education sector that this government is seeking to make.
During the last election campaign the coalition made a commitment to complete Labor’s pledge to modernise every public school in Victoria by 2016 and it made promises about pay for teachers, but both these promises have been broken or certainly not delivered on.
I looked at the list of schools for which the Baillieu government is proposing to provide capital funding over the next four years, and to my shock I saw that not one of the hundreds of schools in my electorate will receive funding for improved or new facilities. The only funding it has promised in the next four years is $100 000 towards a feasibility study for a secondary college at Laurimar. It has not even not committed to the construction of the school.
I am pleased that Mr Ondarchie is now in the chamber, because I think he has an important role to play in advocating on behalf of schools and services in his electorate.
It is very disappointing to look at the lack of commitments for the northern suburbs that have been made to date by this government. It will mean that the community of Doreen, for example, will miss out.
A government secondary school in my electorate, Greensborough Secondary College, located in Watsonia, was to be rebuilt. The member for Bundoora in the Assembly, Colin Brooks, raised this issue in Parliament, but the Minister for Education responded by saying that it is not the government’s intention to fulfil the Labor Party’s election commitments. The reason we made these commitments was that we had identified needs in those communities. It is appalling to say to the community, ‘We are going to ignore your needs because they happen to be Labor Party election commitments’. The Baillieu government needs to look at the needs of all schools across Victoria, including those in the northern suburbs, and deliver to those communities.
Other schools that will miss out include Thornbury Primary School, which was expecting an upgrade. Funding for the completion of William Ruthven Secondary College is in doubt, and the new school formed by the merger of Glenroy Primary School and Glenroy North Primary School will miss out on an early years centre.
Coming to the issue of children, I found it quite amazing that the word ‘kindergarten’ did not appear once in the Governor’s speech. The Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development has told us that early childhood education is an integral part of the education portfolio, but it seems that her government has forgotten about it.
During the election campaign the Labor Party made a number of commitments in relation to children and early childhood development. We committed $100 million in capital funding to extend or renovate kindergartens.
We committed $20 million to our children’s centres network and $8 million for learning, play and equipment grants. We also made a range of commitments for children with autism or developmental delays.
It is disappointing that none of those commitments has been matched by the Baillieu government. I hope it sees the light on this issue and provides additional capital funding for children’s services, because we are seeing a baby boom in Victoria and $15 million in capital funding during the term of this government will be completely inadequate. This level of funding will barely upgrade 50 — and that is being generous — of the 1755 kindergartens around Victoria. It is not enough to simply pork-barrel in the marginal Assembly seat of South Barwon; all Victoria’s kindergartens deserve to have their fair share.
In conclusion, in its first three months this government has already shown itself to be hypocritical, evasive, lazy and incompetent. The Premier seems to hate speaking to the media, and it seems that the Deputy Premier is the de facto Premier when it comes to media events. The government has not fixed anything but has shown all the signs that things will get much worse in the future.
The job of governing is a tough one; the Victorian people rightly expect a government that will deliver on its promises and deal with issues and problems as they arise. My constituents expect the government to address their particular issues and needs. Sadly, this government looks set to fail them.