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In Parliament


Budget Papers 2019-20

   Thursday, 20 June 2019
Mr T SMITH (Kew) (14:27:06): It is my pleasure to rise on the take-note motion for the 2019–20 Victorian budget. I will begin my remarks in a number of my portfolio responsibilities, particularly public housing. There has been very little growth in public housing over the last two decades in Victoria. According to a Productivity Commission report, public housing has remained at or around 65 000 units since 1997. Since that time Victoria’s population has grown by 1.46 million people, but the number of public housing properties owned by the director of housing has only increased by 89. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services states that in 2016–17 alone only 123 new public housing properties were constructed, but 106 were sold off, meaning only a net gain of around 17 homes. A recent Productivity Commission report found that Victoria spent the least of any Australian state on social housing. The commission said that Victoria’s expenditure equated to just $82.94 per person compared with $173 in New South Wales. For your interest, the national average in 2016–17 stood at $166. Victoria’s per person spending on social housing has also fallen each year since 2014–15, down from $95.92 per person. There are about 80 000 people in Victoria on the public housing waiting list, including 25 000 children, and I think all of us in this place would seriously regret those numbers and hope that they could be alleviated as quickly as possible. Labor has been in power for the best part of the last 20 years. Therefore why has it failed to increase our public housing stock in that time? I think that is a very important question that we should consider in this budget and over the forward estimates, because homelessness is rising, it is a scourge on our society and all of us in this place need to do all that we can to increase the public housing stock but also be considerate of those who are most needy in our society, which leads me to my next point. There was an opportunity recently to increase the public housing stock by rezoning the site of the former Corkman hotel into social or public housing. There was an opportunity to ensure that those crooks that demolished that historic pub could not make a cracker from their crime. Equally the state could have compulsorily acquired that site in Carlton abutting Melbourne University. Yes, it would have cost the state some money, but at its current undeveloped value that would be substantially less than the profit that the developers would have made with a 12-storey building in that part of Melbourne. Why did the Minister for Planning not use his significant powers to compulsorily acquire that site? Well, he said that he had to, if he was of a mind to acquire the site, acquire it at its highest and best value. Well, given that it is the planning minister that sets its usage and indeed its highest and best use or value, I found those comments rather curious, particularly as the planning minister set the controls for the site in question on 18 October last year and he provided an opportunity for a 40-metre tower. Now why did he not maintain the interim controls which provided that the former Corkman pub would have to be rebuilt in its entirety, as he told this place on a number of occasions, as he told the people of Victoria from 2016 on, as no doubt he told his mate, the member for Burwood, who was acting for the crooked developers who knocked over the site with no regard whatsoever—

Ms Green interjected.

Mr T SMITH: Well, it is a fact, member for Yan Yean. If you cannot accept that fact—and you are not the sharpest tool in the shed, so it doesn’t surprise me—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Order! Member for Kew!

Mr T SMITH: But, no, no—

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Order! Member for Kew! Order! I will take the point of order in a moment from the member for Yan Yean, but member for Kew, you should direct your comments through the Chair, and what you did say was reflecting fairly poorly upon the Chair. So I would ask you to apologise for that.

Mr T SMITH: I would never say that about you, Acting Speaker. It was regarding the member for Yan Yean.

Ms Green: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the Chair is aware that the member for Kew just made an extremely insulting comment about me, and I ask for it to be withdrawn. Further, I think it is pretty much below the belt for him to be allowed to make reference to the member for Burwood, which is why I interjected, when he is away ill this week.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): I will ask the member to withdraw the comments that the member took offence to.

Mr T SMITH: I withdraw the comments that were made with regard to the member for Yan Yean. However, further to the point of order, Acting Speaker, if the member for Yan Yean is seriously suggesting that I cannot draw the house’s attention to a matter of significant public interest—and also a matter of fact—that the member for Burwood, before he entered this place, acted as a lobbyist for the two dodgy developers that knocked down the Corkman, then pardon me for just pointing out some simple facts on these matters.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Thank you, member for Kew. I am quite happy to rule on the point of order, and there is no point of order at this stage, so I will ask you to continue with your contribution.

Mr T SMITH: Thank you, Acting Speaker, your wise counsel in these matters is always greatly appreciated. So we have a situation where a pub that had stood on that site since 1858 was knocked down by two crooks, and poor old planning minister in his usual befuddled state did not know quite what to do about it. I implored him to either rezone the property, compulsorily acquire it—do something! But his response to the—

Ms Settle: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, this is a debate on the budget. This does not appear to have any relevance to the budget.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): On the point of order, I will not uphold the point of order at this point. The contribution on the budget is incredibly wideranging, and I will ask the member for Kew to continue with his contribution.

Mr T SMITH: Thank you, Acting Speaker, and I am appreciative of that truly insightful ruling. As I was saying about that site and that complete debacle for our planning scheme, indeed the rule of law when it comes to the protection of heritage buildings in this state got completely thrown out the window and there was no tangible response from the Andrews Labor government, which is of great concern to all of us that care about heritage buildings and particularly about ensuring that planning rules are adhered to. The punishment for these characters has not been—

Mr Dimopoulos: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member is required to be truthful and factual in his contribution, and when he said that there was absolutely no response from the Andrews Labor government in the affair of the Corkman pub, that was an absolute lie. The government took action against the developers—a $2 million fine and a whole range of other things covered by the Minister for Planning in this very chamber.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): I am quite happy to rule on the point of order. I do not uphold the point of order. There in fact is no point of order. What the member for Oakleigh is raising is a point of debate rather than a point of order, and I would ask for the member for Kew to continue.

Mr T SMITH: Thank you, Acting Speaker. The member for Oakleigh suggested that I had lied then. It is disorderly to impugn another member of Parliament, and I ask that you ask him to withdraw.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Thank you. I will.

Mr Dimopoulos: I withdraw.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Thank you, member for Oakleigh.

Mr T SMITH: Thank you, Acting Speaker. So we have had no action whatsoever on the Corkman, and now we move to a grave issue of public policy that this government has again done nothing about, which is the cladding crisis. Now, this budget has only $160 million to remove cladding from hundreds of affected properties around the state, which are deathtraps for those that live in them. This is very concerning because people should be safe in their homes and these people have bought these properties in good faith. They have done absolutely nothing wrong. People misunderstand my criticism of this government with regards to this issue. Cladding has been a permitted building product for years in multiple jurisdictions. I hold no former planning minister in this state responsible for this current crisis, but we have a crisis. We have had one for some years now—five years—and there has not been a tangible response from this Labor government to fix it. What we need is a fund to assist people to remove this very, very dangerous material from their properties. I have been contacted by people from all of Victoria, whether it be in Frankston South, in Kew, in South Yarra, in Hawthorn. People who have mortgaged themselves to the hilt, have done the right thing, entered the property market only to find that the property that they have just purchased in recent times is now worthless because they received an order from the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) instructing them that they must at their own cost remediate this most dangerous material. I just think that is completely unfair. I had constituents of mine, the Excells, in Kew, come and see me. Mr Excell is caring for his wife, who is very unwell. They put all of their life savings—they retired—into this property, only to receive an order from the VBA and Boroondara council to suggest that not only is their property particularly unsafe but they will bear the cost of removing this cladding. The planning minister has said time and time again that he is waiting for a report from the cladding task force. Well, enough time has been spent on this; we need some action. We need some action, because people’s lives are at risk, particularly in those hundreds of properties that are at the higher scale of risk, and we need a response from the Andrews Labor government on this. We have had no response whatsoever in the time that the current planning minister has been in office. We have had an audit undertaken that is ongoing, as I am advised, but again no action to remove the cladding from private properties—$160 million to get rid of cladding from the public realm, from public properties. And I note that the minister’s office at 8 Nicholson Street was one of the first buildings to have its cladding removed—and I am sure that that pleases the minister no end—but the people who have bought in good faith need assistance from this government and they are not getting any. If I could turn to some local issues: the North East Link will be devastating to the Koonung Creek Reserve in North Balwyn, to the Boroondara Tennis Centre, to Freeway Golf, to Belle Vue Primary School in my electorate. The expansion of the Eastern Freeway that will occur in conjunction with the construction of the North East Link will be hugely detrimental to the livability of those suburbs, and it is my great worry that Koonung Creek Reserve will be destroyed forever. We need an east–west link, and I note that the commonwealth government—and my good friend Josh Frydenberg—has put $4 billion on the table to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of extra cars that will be channelled down the Eastern Freeway after the construction of the North East Link will still end in a T-intersection at Hoddle Street, and so—

Mr Taylor interjected.

Mr T SMITH: I note the member for Bayswater behind me is chirping. He would do well to reflect on his position on this important road, because his constituents are sick of getting to the end of the Eastern Freeway at a T-intersection.

Members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Order!

Mr T SMITH: I want to get through this, Acting Speaker, so it is all right. Members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Order! Members! Member for Oakleigh!

Mr T SMITH: So with the 1 minute that I have left, I would implore this Labor government and indeed—how would I describe the member for Oakleigh? He is a difficult individual at the best of times, but the Kew High School STEM centre is of supreme importance to my local community and indeed the community in Ivanhoe, where a lot of the students live. The Labor government promised last year $8.7 million for a STEM centre. The budget contains barely $1 million for generic upgrades. They matched my election promise last year. I call on them to make good on their promise to fund a STEM centre at Kew High School. This government is a government that is obsessed with class war, and I would hope that the great kids and teachers at Kew High School are not being punished because they are deemed to live in a so-called wealthy suburb. This government might reflect on its mantra to govern for all Victorians—

Mr Dimopoulos interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): Order! Member for Oakleigh.

Mr T SMITH: not just those that it thinks it needs to please. I want to see a STEM centre at Kew High School as quickly as possible.

Mr Morris: On a point of order, we have had two different moods in the chamber. When this side has been speaking there has been constant interjection. When the government side has been speaking there has been silence from this side. If we can continue with silence when both sides are speaking, that would be good, but I suspect this side may become much noisier much more quickly if the constant interjections from the government side continue.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Spence): I thank the member for Mornington for what probably was not a point of order, but I do hear what he is saying. I cannot direct people to not start interjections, and that becomes particularly difficult when they are being baited by the member on their feet. However, I do appreciate the sentiment of what the member is saying.