Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — In rising to speak to the Appropriation (2017–2018) Bill 2017 I think it is probably quite a nice time to do this at this point, because I would actually like to give some credit where credit is due. I would like to congratulate the government on the sale of the port of Melbourne and the infrastructure spending that that sale is facilitating. I compliment them on the Metro Tunnel, regional rail announcements and, on behalf of Northern Metropolitan Region, the north-east link proposal. But this is a long time coming, and certainly Victoria has been bereft of new transport infrastructure really since about 1986, when there was the last substantial spend. For 30 years we have been starved of this.
Looking at the population growth, this infrastructure is well overdue, and I am pleased to see that the government is prioritising. I hope it will continue to do so, because we are looking at 8 million residents of Victoria in the very near future.
So in that vein I would strongly encourage the government to continue with this, and to look at things like the airport link that would not only go to the airport but would link the regional cities, so we would see fast rail to Melbourne via the airport from places like Bendigo, Seymour and regional areas. This will not only help the people living in those regional centres, but it will address, to a significant note, housing affordability. It will look at improving regional living, improving regional jobs and really enhancing a whole bunch of opportunities. We do not want this state to turn into a doughnut where everything falls into Melbourne. We want to see a much broader separation and fast rail out into those regional areas is imperative to that.
I would also like to thank the government for heeding my representations on behalf of Coburg High School, which needed that funding, and also for the establishment, finally, of a school in Docklands — not before time — and in fact by the time it is built we will need another school in Docklands. I welcome the strong investments in mental health, family violence, homelessness, specialist courts and social enterprises.
But that said, I would suggest there are some other ways in which this government’s fiscal management could be enhanced, primarily by adopting evidence-based policy. It would come as no surprise to you, Acting President, or to anyone in this chamber, that I would like to note that a medically supervised injecting centre would save this government millions of dollars in emergency response and health sector costs alone. The amounts of $406 million for urgent mental health and $78 million for substance abuse are significant, but there was no real investment in dual-diagnosis facilities, and we know those two issues go hand in hand. As the Coroners Court has recently revealed, 67 per cent of people who died from an overdose in 2016 also had a clinically diagnosed mental health condition. We would be much better spending that money together. We would be much better investing in dual-diagnosis programs of which we have seen a small rollout in Victoria, but we need to significantly improve that.
The government announced $360 million in spending to strengthen youth justice facilities. Much of this could possibly have been avoided by simply adopting evidence-based policy, rather than pandering to the media. Despite what my friends to my right may have us believe, youth crime is actually decreasing year on year. The number of children sentenced in the Children’s Court has halved since 2008–09, but what we do know is that a cohort of 180 children and young people — that is, 1.6 per cent of youth offenders — are committing a quarter of all of those offences in this state. So it comes down to 180 young people. I would have thought that we could have reached them quite proactively. In looking at the figures, if you just take 4 per cent of the government’s youth justice facility spending announcement of $360 million you could employ one full-time caseworker per child, literally, to work with that child on an individual basis. Now I am not suggesting that is the answer, but it is an example that highlights how much more effectively we could be spending our money.
In Spain they are doing almost exactly this and demonstrably better outcomes are being achieved there: where upon reception each child sees a psychologist daily, who draws up an individual program for each child; where a good day is not one without a violent disturbance but where the children have learned well and made progress; and where the knowledgeable and educated staff who run the centres are called educators.
It costs $2000 a day to hold a child in juvenile detention in Victoria. Significantly less money than that could be spent far more intelligently to reduce recidivism in this state. Education would be a good start. Now $628 million to ‘build the education state’ is a positive thing. It is largely being targeted at school upgrades — and possibly, after hearing the contribution from Ms Bath, not enough at asbestos removal — and some IT equipment. But education spending should also be outcome-focused. Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in maths and science, which are the engine rooms of our future. An education state should not just be about gymnasiums, but it should be about improving outcomes, particularly in those science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.
As a member of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee this year I have had the opportunity to look at the budget in a far more detailed way than I had in previous years, and probably more than many of my colleagues in this chamber who would not have had that opportunity. I think what I found lacking was that there did not seem to be a road map. There did not seem to be a road map to where the state was going; where the state was going to find its future prosperity. What was its future? In the face of a changing economy — and we have certainly seen, as others have noted, the decline in traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries and an increase in the service sector — it will be the innovative and the intelligent businesses that will be the lifeblood for our future prosperity. Supporting a strong and diverse small business sector now will drive those jobs and industries into the future. For that reason I support the reduction in payroll tax for regional small businesses and the small reduction in payroll tax for the rest of our small businesses. This should be central to our economic agenda. The small business sector is where our future should be lying and where our future focus from government should be. We need to invest in science and technology as the drivers of our future economy. We need to encourage progressive industries and reward creative initiative and innovation in Victoria.
I did not see a lot of that in the budget. I did not see that in the performance measures set out in the budget. Look at robotics and 3D printing and where that will be taking us. I know we have some great innovative companies working in these areas of manufacturing in Victoria, but we are still lagging behind the rest of the world, and this budget does not give me much confidence or optimism that this is where we are focusing.
I suppose this is not surprising, but the planning seems limited to election cycles. There are some qualitative and quantitative measures in the budget. I do not think a lot of them are really going to answer the questions: is that good value for money, and does that expenditure achieve what we wanted it to achieve? I think we can do a lot better in setting up those performance measures and setting up for a future, not looking at two years time, one years time or four years time. For example, we should be directing our programs and services to regions where they are most needed. We know from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office that somewhere around 50 per cent of all prisoners come from 6 per cent of postcodes, so we should be targeting a lot of those supports and services into those areas, and we are not. The budget does not show that.
I would also like to note that the government is forgoing, I would suggest, millions of dollars, principally in land tax, by permitting non-charitable organisations to claim charitable status to which automatic tax exemptions apply. Commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities, but they are not. One example is that in 2016 Catholic Church Insurance, based in Melbourne, which underwrites property and workers compensation for the Catholic Church in Australia, generated $13 444 000 in profits. It is a large insurance company, except without the company tax and except without the land tax. I would not have thought insurance is your typical charitable activity, and I would even expect AAMI and GIO to agree. Catholic Church Insurance is tax exempt, and with respect to Victorian taxes it is exempt from land tax, payroll tax and stamp duty. Taxing these types of businesses is common sense. This is done in Montreal, it is done around Canada and in many jurisdictions in Europe as well, and I think we should also consider it here.
As I have highlighted previously I would also urge this government to tax and regulate cannabis. Colorado, a state very similar in size to Victoria, generated $200 million in tax revenue in 2016. This proposal would also reduce pressure on the criminal justice system. Currently Australia arrests 66 000 people each year for personal use and possession of cannabis. That is conservatively estimated to be $80 million per year in court costs. It just makes good economic sense, and it is not a novel concept; it has been done before in many jurisdictions.
So in making this brief contribution I would like to see more future planning in our budgets. We are not looking at an ageing strategy. Every other state has a strategy for what we are going to do about an ageing population. That is not found in this budget. As I said at the beginning, I commend the government for some of its expenditure and certainly for the work it is doing on family violence and, to a degree, on homelessness and in other areas and on infrastructure, but I believe it could do better. I certainly would like to see greater performance measures in the future.