MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:56:00):
I rise to speak on the Appropriation (2019–2020) Bill 2019 and in doing so respond to the budget as well. Probably unlike some of our previous speakers, I will give credit where credit is due. I was chastised for the way I did my grading of the budget on budget day. A number of teachers told me that the C+ that I gave the budget was possibly harsh, but listening to the contributions today I would say some people would say that was generous.
I think we have a budget where we are still achieving our AAA rating, and most of the rating agencies have indicated that that credit rating is safe despite a $5.2 billion hole in our state revenue. Also we have seen writedowns, which have meant new measures to protect state revenue—measures that obviously are not popular in this chamber.
Certainly some of my colleagues here, like Mr Quilty, who would like to see no tax whatsoever for this state, would not be happy with the government’s decisions. But I do respect the government’s decision not to use the stamp duty writedown as an excuse to exculpate themselves from honouring those election commitments.
Going to the Treasury briefing last week it seemed that we are growing, our growth is strong and most of the figures are quite good.
I am pleased to see Northern Metropolitan Region mentioned in this budget. As a region that has so many safe seats, both sides of this house quite often ignore it. I happily do touch on Dr Cumming mentioning Broadmeadows, in my electorate, which yet again has missed out on some really basic and urgent upgrades to its station. But I have certainly seen some new schools in my region and some much-needed upgrades to some of our schools.
We are going to see a new campus at the Fitzroy gasworks. We are going to see significant upgrades to some of my primary schools, Brunswick North West in particular. I apologise to Merri Health. I did try and get a significant commitment for the Moreland Road facility, but $300 000 will not go a long way.
I will continue to campaign for Northern Metropolitan Region. It is growing and we need some significant investment. Children are bursting out of schools and we need infrastructure. However, I also would note—and certainly I have had a number of constituents talk to me about it—that we are finally seeing the level crossing come off Bell Street, which is one of the most significant. People are waiting 20 minutes on some of those crossings.
There are some good things in the budget—as I said, satisfactory, could do better but tracking along. On that point, I have raised in this place other ways that we could help with the budget. While I do call for money to be spent in my region—I will passionately talk about that, and I will talk about other areas where I do not think this government is investing enough—how about we crack down on for-profit businesses that take advantage of charitable tax exemptions while not actually performing charitable works?
This was conservatively rated to bring in $55 million; this was by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It would bring $55 million to our bottom line. I would encourage the government to be thinking outside the square and looking at other ways we can ensure we have got the money that we need to spend on the wellbeing of Victorians. I also looked at our modern criminal justice policy. We looked at this and were suggesting new ways for this government to address some of their criminal justice expenditure. The Parliamentary Budget Office said that our policy would save Victoria $216 million. The government are spending $1.8 billion to build extra beds and they are spending $20 billion on trying to reduce the incarceration of women, which I certainly commend them for doing, but we are spending more and more on crime.
We are building more and more hospitals. Our courts are bulging; we are seeing them overworked. We are seeing more and more money being spent on our courts when there are other ways to do this if we do try to think laterally. One of the centrepieces of our policy around this was looking at Spain’s Diagrama youth re-education model.
This is a strong, evidence-based policy proven to dramatically reduce reoffending by addressing the causes of children’s offending behaviour. That does not sound like rocket science; that sounds quite sensible. If we can reduce reoffending, we will not be spending as much and we will not have as many offenders. Spain has been doing this for about 24 years.
Twenty-four years ago Spain had a youth detention system similar to Victoria’s. Today in Spain there is a 75 per cent success rate of reintegrating youth offenders into society without further offending.
We, on the other hand, are spending billions on prisons and there is no real measure to test that success. I will talk about this a little bit later, but I think our performance measures in the budget really need to be looking for outcomes, not public servant pen strokes.
Treating drugs as a health issue, not a criminal one, is something we consistently hear both sides of this house talk about. We cannot keep arresting our way out of the drug war, but we keep trying.
If we were to adopt Portugal’s model, they actually treat drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one. Drug use does not go through the criminal system. Drug use does not go through the courts. It goes through a largely civil system that costs a fraction of the court system. We are rolling out millions of dollars on some of these services, but how are we measuring them? And is this government really being ambitious?
I will just take an example of this. In budget paper 5 we look at perinatal mortality rates per thousand babies of Aboriginal mothers using a three-year average. This is trying to reduce the mortality of babies from Aboriginal mothers. In 2017–18 the mortality rate was nine, and we have set our performance target for this year at 11, so we are going up; we are actually not reducing it.
Is it necessary that we have a performance measure on public hospitals being accredited? We have got a performance measure that 100 per cent of our public hospitals will be accredited. Really? I would expect that. I would not expect that that needs a budget measure. I think our greatest measurement should be futureproofing our state.
To this end I have a parliamentary internship project that is looking at legislating for future population wellbeing, examining the construct and building the framework. Ethan Katz, our intern, is doing some great work in this area. It will look at the importance of legislating for future population wellbeing and may put those measurements into something that the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) could look at.
I certainly note that New Zealand’s budget has been what they would call a wellbeing budget. They are measuring wellbeing. They are measuring the successes of their budget—not measuring whether they have just done what they said they were going to do but whether what they said they were going to do actually achieved something. This is something that I will continue to campaign for over this next term of government. It might be that something like SARC could consider this mechanism and assess new legislation through that lens, not just for human rights but also for wellbeing.
I think there is a bigger conversation about whether what we are spending on really does work. I do not think our budget performance measurements really give us any information on that. Futureproofing our state of course is going to be inextricably linked to the climate emergency. Victorian infrastructure and industry must be audited with new extremes in mind and mitigation plans implemented. More than this, we must be addressing this existential threat of climate change.
The forecasts are compelling and the scenarios are devastating. This is probably the most important question of our time, and certainly it is something that was raised with me during the state election and during this most recent federal election. I am pleased to see that the government has put in $2 million for a climate change strategy, and I will watch that with interest. I am hopeful that in future budgets we will see what we are going to do around climate change.
To return to the specifics of the budget, homelessness is not mentioned. It is not mentioned in the performance measures, so we are not measuring reducing homelessness, even though I know that there probably would not be a single one of us who has not received correspondence about homelessness. There is not a single one of us who has not talked about the importance of it.
Certainly there is a very modest public housing investment. I will be interested to ask how we are going to get 1000 new properties out of $209 million, but I am sure in our committee of the whole we will be able to find out how they are building 1000 houses for such a small amount of money.
This sector is screaming out, and housing, as we know, is linked to poor health and crime. So again, by not spending on housing we will have to spend extra on building prisons instead of homes and on building more hospitals because we cannot maintain people’s health. I think homelessness should be a measurement, and these are the sorts of things that we should be measuring in our budget.
There is $1.8 billion for the prison system, which includes 1600 new prison beds. There is $1.8 billion to build new prison beds, yet only $20 million for rehabilitation services to reduce the rates of offending. Again this seems like a missed opportunity. We know that reducing reoffending is good for the system. We know that we have a 60 per cent recidivism rate here, so if we could cut that, the savings to our justice system would be phenomenal. Wouldn’t that be something we would like to measure in the budget? So out of that money that we are spending, what do you expect to reduce the rates of recidivism?
We are funding 1600 prison beds and 58 treatment beds—58. Two-thirds of the prisoners who are locked up in Victoria have drug and alcohol issues. It very often will be that their drug use has led them to that prison door, and yet rather than spending money on addressing rehabilitation and addressing drug use, we are building more prisons and we are building more beds. Again, with mental health and addiction services, this is a missed opportunity.
We are spending money on the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and not the fence at the top. The government admits that they are not doing enough in the area of mental health, and certainly Victoria has been far behind other jurisdictions in its attention and expenditure on mental health.
This is not just this government; this has been the situation for a decade. I welcome the investment in inpatient beds, the $10 million investment into the Hope Restart facility in Gippsland and the $8.5 million to support Aboriginal Victorians with severe and complex mental health needs.
We have got a mental health royal commission, but we do not need it to tell us some of the urgent and immediate things we need to do to address the obvious shortfalls in the system. In the lead-up to the budget we looked at how an investment of $543 million could save the state $1.1 billion, so that is a $2 saving for every $1 spent. This would involve a range of things but largely early intervention, additional mental health funding that would look at the serious wait times for mental health referrals, increased training for health professionals to identify and support people with early onset mental health, expanding combined mental health and drug treatment services and a new focus on trauma-informed practice.
The Parliamentary Budget Office, as I said, costed this at about $543 million but also noted that it would bring savings of $1.1 billion. I am pleased that the government has listened and we are seeing an expansion of the availability of the drug naloxone. We know this does save lives, and hopefully we will be getting some of the most easy to use nasal spray naloxone out there. This saves lives, and in doing so it saves money.
We are expanding our needle exchange programs. I would hope to see naloxone actually being given to prisoners on their departure from prisons, particularly those with a drug history before they go in, because we know that they are in one of the most at-risk groups. We know that prisoners die at an alarming rate in the first three months of release from prison, so naloxone would go a long way there.
I am very pleased to see that the government is finally funding their commitment to increase the operating hours of the medically supervised injecting centre. This is something that we called for last year. It was something that I felt had been committed to last year, but we will see it, and this will be very welcome to the North Richmond community. It is not all that we need in that community.
We need investment in a whole range of infrastructure in that area, not necessarily expensive infrastructure but infrastructure that brings that sense of community to North Richmond, which is a place that really has been at the coalface of drug use in our community. Finally, with health, I am proud to see that the government has put a significant investment into end-of-life choices care and the implementation of the voluntary assisted dying laws. As well as that we are seeing some great injections of money into palliative care.
I note that Palliative Care Australia recently brought out a report that looked at the effects of assisted dying laws on palliative care. In every jurisdiction where assisted dying laws had been implemented, palliative care funding had expanded and access to palliative care had improved. So again, assisted dying is part of that toolbox and I think it adds to providing far greater choice for people at the end of their life.
I am very pleased to see that a lot of the investment into palliative care is going into our regional and rural areas, which is something that we found when we were looking at the end-of-life choices inquiry. In conclusion, despite much of the criticism, this is not a bad budget. I think there are better ways to spend, and I do think that prevention is a far more cost-effective way of using a budget and of investing. I do not see enough of that, and I will continue to advocate for that.
I will also continue to advocate for proper performance measures, of properly measuring if it is achieving what we want to do. Does spending $1.8 billion on prisons reduce the crime, does it reduce recidivism? Is spending $29 billion on different areas of mental health reducing it? Is that reducing mental health issues? Is that improving our mental health rates? Is that improving our dreadful and tragic suicide rates?
I would like to see our budgets having greater consideration of wellbeing, and I would like to see us working towards different ways of judging the budget, because I do not think that public servant performance measures are adequate for that. On that basis, I will commend the bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Speech given 4/6/19