As a former high-school English teacher it’s always struck me as odd that many of the most influential works of Western fiction contain whole chapters or sections that add little or no value, bore the reader to tears, and seem completely out of place.
In Les Miserable, for example, Fantine spends an inordinate amount of time in the first half of the novel aimlessly (and quite tediously – at least for the reader) frolicking with her friends, soon to be deserted. This has nothing to do with the substantive plot and, unsurprisingly, has been cut entirely from the stage show.
The Brothers Karamazov (if Dostoyevsky hasn’t been cancelled completely, after apparently condoning Russia’s war with Ukraine from the grave), Great Expectations, and Robinson Crusoe – often credited as being the very first English novel – are all exemplars of this genre.
Tuesday’s Victorian Budget, also a work of fiction – albeit certainly not a great one, followed in this auspicious tradition.
It contained an entire chapter devoted to attacking the Federal Government, entitled ‘Victoria’s Economic Recovery Despite Insufficient Commonwealth Support’.
The chief charge against the Federal Government is that it has failed to adequately support the infrastructure agenda of the Andrews Labor Government; the so-called Big Build.
Now, as a parochial Victorian I’ll always push for the best deal for my state. Yet this charge is deeply disingenuous and mischievous; designed to damage the Federal Coalition in the midst of an election campaign.
In fact, the recent Federal Budget contained $4 billion to build the East West Link in Melbourne. This is a vital road, notwithstanding the actions of the Andrews Labor Government – seven years ago – in ripping up the contracts signed by the previous Coalition Government, costing taxpayers $1.3 billion in the process. Infrastructure Australia continues to say it is a ‘high priority’.
Currently, the Eastern Freeway, which I travel most days from my electorate in the city’s eastern suburbs, ends in a T-intersection at Hoddle Street in Clifton Hill, causing daily traffic mayhem. The East West Link would entail a road tunnel connecting the Eastern Freeway to CityLink, and Melbourne’s West, significantly easing congestion, reducing travel times, improving safety, and getting trucks off inner-suburban streets.
What’s more, given there would be significant private investment, and an ongoing pledge from the Federal Government to fully fund the government side, this would be a free road for the Victorian Government.
But such sensible, economically credible, and evidence-based policy is anathema to the financial vandals currently ensconced on the Treasury benches in Victoria’s Parliament.
The new budget papers show Victoria’s operating deficit is rising to $17.6bn, more than 50 per cent higher than previously forecast. Debt is rising to $167bn, more than New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia combined.
Victoria’s predicted debt to GST ratio of 26.5 per cent puts the profligacy and financial mismanagement of even the former Labor Governments of John Cain and Joan Kirner in the shade.
A key driver of Victoria’s record debt and deficits is waste on major projects, making the Victorian Government’s attacks on the Commonwealth not only disingenuous and partisan, but also stunningly audacious.
Over the period of the Andrews Labor Government approximately $30bn has been wasted through blowouts on major projects. That’s almost $4,500 for every Victorian man, woman, and child. This is largely the result of poor, secretive, and politicised planning processes, as the Auditor General says.
This money could have reduced taxes for Victorians struggling with the cost of living, as inflation and interest rates rise. Instead, Daniel Andrews has increased taxes 42 times since promising he’d never do anything of the sort.
This money could have fixed Victoria’s health crisis so that women no longer have babies by the side of the road, made endemic ambulance ramping a thing of the past, ensured a record 89,000 people would actually be able to get elective surgery, and stopped Victorians dying while on hold to triple-0.
Yet Andrews is unfazed. An eager convert to the progressive fantasy of modern monetary theory, when confronted with evidence of his appalling wastefulness he arrogantly proclaims, ‘things cost what they cost’.
Even the piece of fiction published by the Andrews Labor Government on Tuesday can’t obscure the fact that, for Victorians, that cost is far too high.
Dr Matthew Bach MP is the Victorian Shadow for Transport infrastructure, Child Protection, Youth Justice and Youth Affairs.
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