Skip to content

$83 Billion in spending, Zero accountability

Share Article:

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

SAve article:

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (15:29):It is interesting to hear the member for St Albans’ enthusiasm for the Main Street level crossing removal, given that it was initiated by the Napthine Liberal government and it was funded by the—

A member: You did nothing on it.

Mr MORRIS: It was funded by the Liberal Napthine government. I was there and I was involved and I know exactly what happened. It was a Liberal project so do not try and claim things you did not pay for. Now, back to the subject, and I mean, the thing I did not say about that is of course the difference with the Main Street —

A member: It is not even called Main Street.

Mr MORRIS: Main Road, I beg your pardon. I have Main Street in Mornington and that is why I am saying that. The point about the Main Road level crossing was it was done properly. It was not stuck up on stilts over 8 metres in the air. But we did work in other seats, and we did work in Labor seats that we could never win—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Richards): Through the Chair, please.

Mr MORRIS: and I will come to that in a minute.

Members interjecting.

Mr MORRIS: We are here to talk about appropriation bills. We are here to talk about bills that have already passed, and I think there are probably two things wrong with that statement.

The first is that we are talking about two bills, and the second thing is that we are debating bills that are long gone. And I will take those two points separately.

The first point is that we are dealing with the Appropriation (2021–2022) Bill 2021 and the Appropriation (Parliament 2021–2022) Bill 2021. The take-note motion deals with those two bills.

Now, it is unusual to debate two bills together, but it is certainly not unheard of to debate two bills together, particularly if they are materially related. But I think the problem I have with this process, and the process we are engaged in now, is that it conflates the debate on the government program for the year and the debate on the resources for the Parliament. 

Parliament is not and should not be beholden to the government for the resources it has available to it, and the former Treasurer, now the Leader of the Opposition, certainly recognised that fact when he determined as Treasurer that the depreciation moneys would not need to be paid to Treasury and sought for them to be returned for investment in this precinct. He made them available to the Parliament, and that initiative has allowed a huge amount of work on what, let us face it, was a building that was rapidly falling apart.

That was done so that the Parliament to that extent had control of its own destiny, and I think if we are debating the appropriation bill and the Parliament appropriation bill together, we are going to conflate them. I have not heard a lot of the debate this afternoon—not that it is been running all that long—but I do not know how many references there actually have been to the Parliament budget and in fact how many members who will speak this afternoon actually realise that the Parliament budget is part of the discussion.

The second point I wanted to make is about the process the government is following in terms of this budget and has progressively followed in the time it has been in office.

Every year we see the budget process diminished. Every year we see the opportunity for the Parliament to exert authority over the funding of the government reduced. And I think it is important to remember that with the last government, like successive governments from both sides before it, the process was: the budget was brought in on Tuesday, the Treasurer spoke, it was adjourned and the Shadow Treasurer responded on Thursday, so everything was done in the same week.

The debate at the end of that day was then adjourned for two full weeks, and that allowed the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) to examine the budget from one end to the other. Every minister appeared. When the budget came back on for debate, all the transcripts were available, all the ministerial presentations were available and all the questions that had been raised were able to be taken into consideration. 

As we have recently been reminded, that is exactly the process the commonwealth follows, except of course they have Senate estimates, which is an even higher hurdle in terms of transparency.

But under this government we have a one-day budget sitting and then we all go home. The following week we have a two-day sitting where the document is debated, it is guillotined, it is through and that is it. And the point I think is that there is absolutely no scrutiny.

At some point in the future, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee gets to have a look at the budget, but it is an academic question. The budget has passed. 

The budget has passed without any consideration in detail, with no committee stage, and as we now know, it does not need to pass the upper house either. So it is done and dusted—through the guillotine without any examination at all. Nothing that is uncovered in terms of the PAEC examination of the budget can be introduced into the debate before the bill is passed. 

Now, I know there are some who argue, ‘Well, why does the Parliament need to get involved anyway because it is the government that is spending the money?’. It is called accountability. It is about accountability.

The budget, those two bills, the Appropriation (2021–2022) Bill and the Appropriation (Parliament 2021–2022) Bill, authorised expenditure of $83 billion of taxpayers money and, as I said, the only Parliamentary authority required was a second-reading, superficial debate to cover the issues in the broad—no consideration in detail, no committee stage, zero scrutiny and zero accountability.

I do not care how good a job PAEC does—and, frankly, with the hearings I have seen in the last couple of weeks, they are not doing much. Whatever sort of a job they do, and they are not doing much—

Members interjecting.

Mr MORRIS: And I am looking at one of the people that is not doing much now, I can tell you—absolutely no idea what it is supposed to be doing. But regardless, even if they did a good job, which is against the odds, the bills are passed. The thing is over. It is done. It is a total farce.

The process is a total farce, and I know I am talking about process, but process is important. Process is about scrutiny, process is about transparency, process is about accountability, and the fact is that with this budget there is no transparency and there is no accountability, but the government is spending $83 billion with virtually no oversight.

Now, turning to portfolios in which I have an interest as a shadow minister, I just want to touch on a few points. Firstly, with the local government portfolio—and while there are a number of issues in that portfolio that are worthy of exploring, unfortunately time does not permit—I did just want to focus on the Growing Suburbs Fund.

The Growing Suburbs Fund last year was $75 million. This year it has been slashed to $50 million. In other words it has suffered a one-third cut. Last year, and entirely appropriately, in my view, the applicability of the fund was expanded from simply the interface councils to the peri-urban councils as well, and that is entirely appropriate, I think, because they need that support.

So last year the peri-urban councils’ grants were a little over $20 million, which left around about $55 million available to the interface councils. This year of course there is only $50 million available—full stop. So the interface councils, the councils that are growing the fastest in the state, the councils that are under enormous pressure from population growth—clearly there has been a change in that in terms of COVID, but they are still growing quickly—the amount of money that is available to those councils will be significantly reduced.

Of equal concern in terms of this fund, perhaps of more concern, is the blatant pork-barrelling that has been going on with it, and it is consistent pork-barrelling. The Growing Suburbs Fund last year was two rounds. In the first round, 79 per cent of funds went to Labor seats—79 per cent of funds went to Labor seats. In the second round, not content with that, 79.5 per cent of funds went to Labor seats—79.5 per cent of funds.

Ms Ward: We do have a lot of seats.

Mr MORRIS: So almost $4 in every $5 in the fund went into Labor seats.

Ms Ward interjected.

Mr MORRIS: It may come as a surprise to the member for Eltham, but you do not have 80 per cent of the seats in this house. You would love to, I am sure, but you do not have, and you are going to have a lot fewer in 2022, I can tell you that.

The interesting point was that not only was there some very specific targeting in terms of local government areas, there was particularly specific targeting in terms of areas within local governments.

So if you take, for example, the Mornington Peninsula shire, there are three seats. Two, Hastings and Mornington, are quite a lot closer to Melbourne and experiencing pressures—nothing like the Caseys and so on that are growing as rapidly as they are, but still significant pressures.

Yet of the three seats in the Mornington Peninsula shire, one seat received grants: not Mornington, not Hastings—it was Nepean. $6.55 million—9 per cent of all the funds available in the Growing Suburbs Fund—went into one highly marginal Labor seat. So do not tell me this is not a pork-barrelling fund; it is an absolute pork-barrelling fund.

Now, a couple of points around the ageing portfolio, which while nowhere near as blatant, were of concern. Last year there was an initiative called the ‘Elder abuse primary prevention, health service response and early intervention initiative’ which, according to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee questionnaire, is a program which was lapsing but has been continued. It has got a new name, but it is the same program.

The difference this year, though, is that last year it was $6.7 million a year and this year it has been cut to $1 million a year. Now, the minister at the hearing said, ‘Oh, no, no, it’s been split up; it’s gone to other portfolios’. There is no evidence of that in the response to the questionnaire. The department says it is the same program, but it has been cut by 85 per cent.

Secondly, there is an output called the ‘Aged support services’ output, and that supports a range of services that enable older Victorians to continue to go about their daily lives. It is not glamorous, but it is very, very important to the people that are affected.

Last year there was $124.4 million provided, and it is on target to be pretty much all fully spent. For no reason that could be given, this has been cut to $108.8 million, so it is basically a $12 million cut. Yet we have no idea what actual services that are going to be cut will be affected.

So I do identify those two issues as of concern in that portfolio. I do not think time will permit me to talk about the housing portfolio, but of course we have the hearing for that next week, so no doubt there are a range of issues that will be able to be explored.

I just wanted to turn to the cost blowouts that we are all very much aware of, and when you look at the list, there are 33 projects that have exceeded their anticipated cost by $10 million or more, 21 of those by more than $50 million and 15 of those by $100 million or more.

There are cost blowouts of $26.678 billion, depending on where you round the numbers, on total projects of $26.2 billion. It is just complete and utter incompetence.

And that is one of the things that concerns me about this whole budget. Again and again and again we see examples of complete and utter incompetence. We have got the West Gate Tunnel, which was supposed to cost $500 million and will cost $5.5 billion—just a lazy 1000 cent blowout.

It is traditional to talk about initiatives in your own electorate and projects that are going to be undertaken in your own electorate, but unfortunately apart from a couple of sewerage installations, there is nothing in Mornington, so I do not need to worry about that.