Appropriation Bill (2012/2013)

Mr Wynne (Richmond) – I rise to make a contribution to the Appropriation (2012/2013) Bill 2012. In doing so, I want to firstly reflect on the first two budgets of the Baillieu Government. When you look at the economic circumstances of this state, by any measure – and this is not commentary I seek to make myself; I refer to expert commentary and expert evidence – you see it is in quite severe trouble.

We have seen that 43,000 jobs have been lost in this state against a budget prediction of jobs growth in the order of 50,000 to 55,00o jobs. It is an indisputable fact that the economy in this state is extremely fragile. What is the response of the Victorian Government to this? Further job cuts. There will be further job cuts to the Victorian public service; 4200 public servants will be cut from the workforce. That excludes, as we would all be aware, a number of people who hold contract or part-time positions within the Victorian Public Service. We are seeing a massive slashing of the Victorian Public Service. Let there be not doubt about this. Whilst there is rhetoric that surrounds these job cuts, which suggests there will be no cuts to front-line services, I simply submit to the House that you cannot cut 4200 full-time public service positions and not have any direct impact on front-line services. I do not believe it is possible, and given the context I referred to of contract employees and so forth, over the next few years we will see severe cuts to critical services in this state.

I do not want to reflect for any length of time on some of the themes that came out of today’s question time, except to say that one of the cruellest cuts was the cut to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Whilst the Premier sought to confect an answer about this issue today, saying there will be increases to the subsidy provided to students, the fact remains that there is a cut to the portion of funding that is directed to schools; that is beyond dispute. Frankly, when answering a question today, the Premier simply failed to address what was at the heart of the Opposition’s inquiry.

What does this situation mean in practical terms? Schools use those funds for crucial services, like breakfast clubs, for some of the most vulnerable and some of the poorest students in our community.  Many schools in my electorate are attended by children who come from families on very low incomes.

The breakfast programs that are run at schools are absolutely fundamental to ensuring these young people are properly nourished before being taught the daily school curriculum. Programs like Reading Recovery, camps, and the provision of basic things, like books, bags and other activities, are affected.

We do not want to see students from low-income backgrounds being deprived of things that students whose parents are better off can afford. This is not fair; that is not equal. We think the cuts the Government is making to the EMA are wrong and poorly targeted, and they will affect the most vulnerable students in our community. The Government needs to reconsider this dreadfully cruel act.

During the time I have served in this Parliament, I have not seen a cut as vicious or deep or one that had as much impact as this Government’s cut to TAFE. These cuts will continue to have these impacts as they fold out and are expressed in the next 12 months, as TAFE providers have to come to terms with cuts to their budges of $290 million. These is also a cut in the order of 1500 staff.

Many members would be aware that Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE and Kangan Institute are major institutions in my electorate. These major teaching institutions offer absolutely crucial pathways for many young students who wish to take an alternative pathway to further education and may not wish to take up unviersity degree studies. They may seek to use a TAFE program as a stepping stone towards university. Many programs in teaching institutions have been structured so that you can get a TAFE qualification and, in some circumstances, get a guaranteed place at a university.

This fantastic outcome is being potentially undermined by the sorts of cuts we will see emerge over the next 12 months! We have to understand that education is about providing opportunities for all. These TAFE cuts will deprive many young people, and people of mature years who wish to retrain or follow other career paths, of a way to do that through TAFE. This cut by the Government is reprehensible.

This was echoed most powerfully only a couple of weeks ago. A young woman, who was clearly agitated, came into my office unannounced. She wanted to see me, but she did not have an appointment. She said, ‘I need to see you’, so she came into my office. She lives in Collingwood. I will not mention her name. Her family name is very well known in political life in this state, particularly on the conservative side of politics. She came into my office to express in deeply heartfelt terms just what the TAFE cuts mean to her. She was going to take a TAFE-sponsored Auslan course.

As members know, the Auslan course is a program that teaches sign language to communicate with deaf people. It is a unique program in this state.

Her representations to me were deeply felt. She was deeply hurt that the opportunity to complete Auslan studies was going to be taken away from her. She had seen an opportunity to create a new career path for herself. She is now in the advertising industry but she said, ‘This is not the place I want to be in. I would like to be an Auslan teacher. I would like to be able to teach Auslan and offer my services to young deaf children.’  Can you imagine it, Acting Speaker? This course is being taken away from these people. What a cruel thing to do; what an unfair thing to do. It is unjust to deprieve a good young woman like her. She wants to provide a public service and move her career from where she is in the media industry to follow a different career path.

This cut to Auslan means that opportunity will be taken away from her. That is of deep regret to me; that is a deep shame for this Government. They are the sorts of impacts that will occur because of these TAFE cuts. I will not waste much time talking about how many portfolio initiatives there are for the Richmond Electorate. The answer is zero. There is not one cracker. There is nothing. There is not one dollar. So I will not waste a minute talking about what we in the electorate of Richmond got, because the answer is: a big, fat zero. Can I say –

Mr Watt interjected.

Mr Wynne – The east-west link. The member for Burwood; there is a star! There is a bloke on his way to to the front bench!

There is the hoax of the east-west tunnel. Government members said, ‘Let’s get out there and see if we can create a wedge here with a by-election coming up’. So they got out there with a bit of a hand drill and did a bit of drilling down the middle of the median strip and got the television cameras out there. There is $15 million for a project that will cost at least $5 billion with not a cracker – nothing – from the Commonwealth Government. We on this side will have more to say about this project as it goes on.

In the couple of minutes I have left, I want to touch briefly on what is, needless to say, one of my passions – that is, public housing. What a shameful budget this is for public and social housing. There is nothing in the budget – no increase in funding – for public housing. In fact there is a cut in spending on housing. This is at a time when you have to say that there ought to have been an increase. Social housing investment has dropped by 2.2 per cent from $181.3 million in 2011-12 to $177.3 million in 2012-13. For housing support and homelessness assistance, which is provided to the most vulnerable in our community, there has been – what a surprise! – a 1.5 per cent cut as well, from $226 million in 2011-12 to $222.8 million in 2012-13.

Not to be deterred, the Minister for Housing, in the Upper House, Minister Lovell, is out and about all over the place announcing project after project. Not one of them is State Government funded and indeed not one of them is funded by this Government. She was out in the Mews project in Broadmeadows – the Member for Broadmeadows has advocated for the redevelopment of Broadmeadows – which was funded by the Brumby Government.

Mr McGuire – It is a visionary project.

Mr Wynne – It is a visionary project. The Minister for Housing was out there, strutting around and saying what a great project it is. Yes, it is a great project – funded by the Brumby Government. The Minister for Housing goes around laying claim to every Federal Government funded project in the state. The truth of the matter is that the budget papers speak for themselves. In fact, there is not one new dollar in the budget for the acquisition or provision of new public or social housing. The Government has even lowered the target for upgrading housing down to 1600, which is the lowest figure for the upgrade of housing in more than a decade.

One of the cruellest cuts is that to SHASP, the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program. This program supports some of the most vulnerable in our community in maintaining their tenancy in public housing. The Government will be cutting this program by literally millions of dollars. That will mean 20 front-line staff will potentially lose their positions.

We will leave some of the most vulnerable people – those with serious mental illness and other serious problems – who want to maintain their tenancy with a program that will be cut.

There is nothing in this budget that you could look at and say, ‘Well this is a budget that stands up for the most vulnerable in our community’. There is no new public and social housing, there are vicious cuts to the TAFE program, which provides pathways to training and education for some of our poorest people; and there is that cruel cut to the Education Maintenance Allowance. Shame on this Government!