If only money could grow on trees.
Victoria could plant a vast forest stretching to the horizon, visible from the moon, and green enough to supply all Glasgow’s UN COP26 carbon credits for 1,000 years. It would hold a ‘wow factor’ beyond our imaginations – beyond our boldest dreams. But a dream it is. And such a shame because Victoria needs those trees right now to do some monetary magic.
Despite the breezy sentiments delivered by the Victorian government this week in the 2022-23 State Budget, the reality is not so lofty, and certainly not so magical.
In his Budget Opus 8, Daniel Andrews has handed Victoria its biggest net debt, $167.5 billion by July 2026.
A guffaw and throaty chuckle can only follow such a pronouncement given Labor’s financial predictions rarely hit the mark. As such, Victorians should expect to hit that beefy target sooner rather than later.
Why wouldn’t it? On Time and On Budget are hardly top-line endorsements on the Premier’s calling card. Take for example the Suburban Rail Link. The 90 km rail line around outer Melbourne was announced by him during the 2018 election at a cost of $50 billion. Within three years, that figure had already more than doubled and is now heading towards $120 billion.
Not convinced? Take the 2014 $5.5 billion West Gate Tunnel Project. It’s now closer to $12 billion.
Getting the drift?
So, when the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, and the Premier & Co. stand and applaud themselves for such great financial folly, don’t mind me when I fail to clap. Hurrah! won’t escape my lips, nor will Bravo…
The Victorian Budget looks backward to go forwards because, of course, the problems were all the fault of that little virus that escaped Wuhan in 2020, purchased around the world tickets, landing at all destinations.
The Victorian health, ambulance, and hospital crisis, of course, didn’t exist before Covid. It’s a new post-Covid phenomenon, just ask Dan.
That’s why the 2022-23 Budget needs to spend big on 7,000 new health workers – including 5,000 nurses. One ponders then, the eye-scratching brawl that will be Albanese and Andrews when both potentially claw for nurses to achieve their mighty promises. How else will Albanese get the nurses he needs for nursing homes – and how else will Andrews get the staff he needs for a hospital system in mayhem?
The dust will surely fly.
As for the additional 1,900 teachers and 500 police nominated in Pallas’ pitch, one wonders if they will all be required to be fully vaccinated? Given teachers, and other state-paid employees, are currently being sacked for not meeting the mandate, such lofty recruiting numbers may be a tougher task than thought.
That said, the police will need every booster shot they can get – given they will be put to task making the Premier’s money. Speed cameras and on-the-spot fines will be vital to filling the coffers. The Premier would, in fact, rather like it if Victorians sped a lot, given he’s factored in a 16.4 per cent revenue jump in the next financial year to $716 million in 2022-23.
It is possible to see how that might happen. Firstly, thousands will hit the accelerator for a quick-as-possible escape from the state – joining the 40,000 other economic and Covid refugees. And secondly, when regional roads are so bad that many are on 40 km/hr limits, it’s easy to go over the limit on a far-flung country road. Cha-ching.
He might just make his many millions after all.
And if Victorians don’t speed, then the Premier shall find other ways to make the coin that the money trees don’t provide.
This includes a 14.2 per cent jump in land tax, an increase of $603 million, $1.5 billion in stamp duty, and $1.1 billion in payroll tax, up 17 per cent. Already Australia’s highest taxing state – the Premier, it seems, wants to hold that crown well in place.
His burgeoning bureaucracy is a big bill. The rise and rise of the bureaucracy is unstoppable under Andrews It’s the state-sanctioned souffle to beat all souffles. Public sector wages are already costing $37.3 billion, up more than 10 per cent this year, and set to keep growing by more than 7 per cent hereon.
It’s an extraordinary figure and hardly music to taxpayers’ ears.
But like violins on cue, one can clearly hear the words from the mouth of, now independent, MP Adem Somyurek, who, on February 9 in the Victorian Parliament this year, described walking into a government department as, ‘Like going to a state conference of the ALP. Looking at a list of departmental heads…people high up…is like looking at a Labor Party branch list.’
So welcome to Victoria 2022 and the Budget that beckons money tree planters to come from afar.
By November, Victorians will hear even more promises, and another round of cha-ching.
What Victorians never hear is ‘sorry’.
For this is what the Premier should be saying after a disgraceful Covid period where curfews reigned supreme, businesses were shut down and people died unnecessarily.
It will take more than money trees to turn this state around.
Bev McArthur is Liberal Member for Western Victoria and Shadow Assistant Minister for Scrutiny of Government.
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