APPROPRIATION (2014-2015) BILL 2014

It is a good opportunity to rise and make a contribution on the Appropriation (2014-2015) Bill 2014. I will make only two passing comments on the contribution of the previous speaker. One is that the pray-for-rain policy of The Nationals is always a sound public policy position! Secondly, The Nationals actually acknowledged that the $1 billion Regional Development Fund — predicated of course on them winning government again on 29 November — is not $1 billion but is in fact $500 million in this term of government. I acknowledge that the member for Murray Valley clarified that point in his contribution. Sadly his leader fails to do that every time he gets up here and crows about this ‘$1 billion’ Regional Development Fund.

I refer to the appropriation bill and the seat of Richmond. It will not take me long to make my contribution about what is provided for the electorate of Richmond. The reason is: there is nothing — not one dollar. There is not one dollar in this budget for the seat of Richmond. The only money, as best I can ascertain, in the budget is a rollover of $2 million, which is from an underspend on the fantastic move of Circus Oz back to its historic home at the Johnston Street building in Collingwood. It is a wonderful new facility for one of our iconic companies. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of former Premier Ted Baillieu, the member for Hawthorn, who made this one of his projects. I acknowledge the work he has done. It was a policy commitment of the previous government, and I am delighted not only that Circus Oz is back in its historic home in Collingwood but also that the building was opened, only recently.

The only sour point about that is I would have hoped there would be a little bit of bipartisanship on the part of this government when it came to the opening of the Circus Oz building. It was a project that I had championed for a number of years. Sadly, in spite of the fact that Circus Oz twice requested that I be invited to the opening of the building, due to the intervention of the minister’s office the opportunity for me to be at that opening — an important opening — was refused. That says volumes about the Minister for the Arts and her office in that respect. It left a very sour taste not only in my mouth but in the mouths of the very decent people at Circus Oz, who thought there should have been a level of bipartisanship with the opening of that important facility.

I note that the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister for Local Government is here. In relation to the appropriations vis-a-vis Aboriginal affairs, there are some important issues that have to be confronted in that area.

I acknowledge that in this house we have always had a bipartisan position when it comes to seeking to close the gap in outcomes and when it comes to some of the great challenges that still exist for our Aboriginal community. We have had tabled the report on the outcomes for Aboriginal people across Victoria, and there are many disturbing and challenging elements of that, which we prosecuted at a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing. The minister very appropriately acknowledged that much more work needs to be done in that space, particularly around low-birth-weight children, pregnant women smoking, some of the educational outcomes — which have improved, I must say, but there is still a lot more work to be done there — and also the justice system, where the outcomes are frankly going backwards. The overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system in all of its forms remains a significant challenge for this Parliament — not for one side or the other, but for this Parliament — and for the common good. I acknowledge that.

In relation to local government there are two stand-out issues. The first is that Labor entered into a process in a bipartisan way with the Minister for Local Government and indeed with you, Acting Speaker, as the member for Mornington, when you chaired a committee to develop a new proposition in relation to public libraries. It was a good piece of work which was done in a bipartisan way, and I acknowledge your contribution, Acting Speaker. But frankly that great piece of work, which included some terrific proposals for a new and invigorated space for public libraries in Victoria and was a very sound report, received zero funding — not a dollar — in the budget. That is a real indictment — not of you, Acting Speaker, but of the government. When so many expectations were raised and such a unanimous position was brought forward — under the joint leadership of you, Acting Speaker, and my colleague the member for Macedon — that this was not taken up by the government was a real opportunity lost. I hope we have the opportunity to come back and look at that important piece of work going forward.

The cuts to the federal financial assistance grants to local government are a severe blow. The Abbott government has frozen financial assistance grants to local government for the out years — for the next three years. That is a direct cut to the bottom line of local government of $134 million through the out years of the budget. That directly affects the bottom line of local governments and particularly that of small rural local governments, which are very dependent on their financial assistance grants to maintain their financial sustainability. We will be watching carefully the outcome of the Auditor-General’s work and the flow-on effects of these cuts on the provision of local government services in rural communities as we go forward.

I turn now to a number of really very vicious cuts that have been made by this government and indeed by the federal government. Today’s Age tells us about the shocking cuts to adventure playgrounds — $2.7 million is being cut from the five adventure playgrounds on our public housing estates. These are one of the enduring legacies of the Whitlam government, under which five adventure playgrounds were established on our public housing estates. Why? Because these young kids living in high-rise towers had nowhere to play. It was a beautiful development and a beautiful proposition of the Whitlam government which has endured for decades and which enabled kids to play creatively under supervision and have the opportunity to exercise imagination, to build cubby houses, to swing on a flying fox and to just have fun.

And a bit of respite, as my colleague says. Where do those children play now, given this cruel, vicious, harsh cut?

This is shameful. We will fight it, and we will continue to fight it. We will always advocate for vulnerable kids living in those high-rise towers. This is a vicious and unnecessary cut.

Speaking of those sorts of cuts, Acting Speaker, the contracting out of mental health services by the Minister for Mental Health has been an appalling cut to baseline services of organisations working on the ground with the most vulnerable people in our community.

I refer members to St Mary’s House of Welcome in Fitzroy. Many members on the other side of the house have been to St Mary’s and served food at a number of its events, but they have not had the insight to understand that a cut of four mental health staff from that service is going to decimate the service.

Now that the sorts of mental health services needed on site at places such as St Mary’s House of Welcome by people who are living absolutely on the margins of our community — homeless people, vulnerable people, people who are eating out of rubbish bins, people who are living in our parks, people who have nowhere stable to stay, people with profound mental health issues — are going to be ripped away from them, where are these people going to go? How are they going to sustain themselves going forward? The answer is that they will not be able to do so. These people have been devastated by this contracting out, and it will have a huge impact on St Mary’s House of Welcome.

Also affected are the iconic Common Ground project of HomeGround Services which we put together down in Elizabeth Street — the supported housing model — and McAuley House, formerly known as Regina Coeli, a service on Flemington Road, North Melbourne, for vulnerable, homeless women. These are the front-line services supporting the most vulnerable in our community, and through the contracting-out arrangements this government is ripping away those fundamental mental health supports.

I turn also to the performance of the Minister for Housing. She has now had the opportunity of four budgets with which to do something for public housing, but she has been a risible failure. Over four budgets there has not been one extra dollar — not one extra dollar with which to build new public housing. That is her legacy. It is even worse than that. For the first time in living memory a Victorian government will go to an election with a net loss of public housing.

This will be happening for the first time in decades, and that is a legacy of this minister, and it is a shameful legacy. There is no new money for stock — —

My colleague asks how many people there are on the waiting list. There are 35 000 people on the public housing waiting list, including 10 000 in the most urgent need, and this government has done nothing to address that. The shameful aspect of that is that the minister put out a press release about public housing covering the first quarter of this year. It crowed about the fact that in the March quarter there were 35 000 people on the statewide public housing waiting list. She snuck it out, can I say, at about 5.30 p.m. just before, I think, a long weekend.

What the minister did not mention in this release at all was that the housing waiting list for that quarter had blown out by 1111 people. Somehow she neglected in that press release to say, ‘In fact the waiting list has blown out and increased by a further 3 per cent’.

What does this mean? Let me put the human face on this for members. The legacy of this minister is that we have women and children sleeping in their cars. We have only just recently had a woman housed who had been on the public housing waiting list, in urgent need, for more than a year. She was sleeping in her car with her three kids. People may have seen some commentary on that on the Channel 7 news. This woman had been escaping domestic violence. When you talk to this woman, she would ask you to imagine the indignity of trying to hold her family together and to keep her three kids, who are under 10 years of age, at school as she and her kids couch-surfed from house to house, trying to get some form of accommodation for themselves. Imagine the indignity of trying to put together a bit of lunch for your children — to make their play lunch and their lunch to send with them to school — out the front of a Coles supermarket in the car so they could go to school that day and have at least some level of normality in their lives. That is how people are living. That is how this woman had to live, week by week and month by month. She lived in a car park in Coburg. Why? Because she would in that way get access to public facilities: showers and so forth. That was her life. That was the way she lived her life as a victim of domestic violence.

I absolutely commend the Leader of the Opposition on the extraordinary leadership he has shown in the domestic violence area. His speech at our state conference was the finest speech I have heard in more than 20 years in public life. It was a beautiful speech. It held that whole audience enthralled. The leadership he has shown in saying domestic violence is a first-order issue for government is extraordinary.

I have to confess I had not fully understood the scope of this, but in just the last year 27 women and children were killed in this state as an outcome of domestic violence. That is an extraordinary, shameful figure that we as a Parliament have to address. We simply have no option but to address this. When we go home on a chilly night tonight, we should think about the people sleeping rough in Fitzroy Gardens. There are women sleeping out there around that substation. Spare a thought for those people who are doing it tough tonight, because that is a legacy of this government.