This week, Rod highlighted that a tax on electric vehicles is simply illogical. A tax will undoubtedly inhibit the uptake of sustainable and environmentally-friendly vehicles; a set back for Victoria.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (14:27): I rise today to speak on the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2020. Over the past few weeks we have heard over and over again that this budget is the dressing for Victoria’s wounds, that it is the force that will drive all Victorians onwards and upwards out of this pandemic. We all hope so.
This year has been extremely tough. We started the year with catastrophic bushfires that saw many families lose their homes, Gippsland wiped out and the tourism industry destroyed. This was followed by the pandemic that has destroyed industries, left thousands unemployed and put many people out of business. For casual employees and those in the gig economy, this time has been particularly devastating, with no sick leave, no holiday pay and no annual leave to lean on. This year has simply been one full of hardships that no amount of sugar-coating can restore.
I am a believer in fairness. It is for that reason I believe we need to be realistic and acknowledge that this budget is a step in the right direction. There are winners, however, and there are losers in this budget. I think it is pertinent to touch on both. Firstly, this budget is a major win for Victorian schools. I am thrilled that of the 123 schools across Victoria that will receive funding for much-needed upgrades, a significant portion are located in the Eastern Metropolitan Region. A total of eight special schools and 24 primary and secondary schools in Eastern Metropolitan Region will receive a combined sum of over $252 million to enhance their facilities and improve the learning outcomes of thousands of students.
On the other hand, a disappointment of this budget is the tax on electric vehicles. I believe the introduction of a tax on electric vehicles will discourage the uptake and will send the wrong message to potential buyers. This financial disincentive will stall efforts to reduce emissions from the transport sector. This seems counterintuitive and a backwards response to climate change. Electric vehicles are responsible for significantly lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional vehicles. Electric vehicles powered from renewable resources produce very low emissions—from a CO2 intensity of 6 grams per kilometre compared to an average new car with a CO2 intensity of 184 per kilometre. Because of this, electric vehicles are a critical factor in significantly reducing our carbon footprint and meeting global goals on climate change.
Climate change is an issue that must be addressed in all aspects of policy. We know that there will be significant environmental benefits to accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles across Victoria. Only recently we bore witness to devastating bushfires. These bushfires directly affected around 80 per cent of Australia’s population, destroyed over 13 million hectares of land and killed over a billion animals. We know that the increased occurrence and severity of bushfires is closely linked to climate change. We also know that the transport sector is Australia’s third-largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only would there be significant benefits with respect to emissions, but cleaner cars on the road would have a remarkable impact on the quality of the air we breathe. Vehicle air pollution has been estimated to cause over 1700 deaths per year in Australia. Increasing the uptake of electric vehicles is the first step to avoiding such deaths.
With this information in mind it seems absurd that the government is willing to risk slowing electric vehicle uptake by introducing a tax at this time. Australia’s market for electric vehicles is already behind those of other developed nations, with electric vehicles accounting for only 0.6 per cent of new car sales in Australia in 2019. Countries such as Norway and New Zealand have successfully introduced rebates or tax credits for new purchases of electric vehicles and provided financial support for charging stations, discounts on parking fees, preferential parking spaces for electric vehicle drivers and access to express lanes on freeways. I believe Victoria should be exploring these very positive incentives for electric vehicles that may help us to more quickly and fully realise the benefits of clean transport.
Road funding reform is much needed. I support the notion of a road user tax that acts to discourage the use of private vehicles, reducing emissions and traffic in the process. However, this electric vehicle tax comes at the wrong time and in the wrong place. I believe more needs to be done to address Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions. This begins by supporting new technology that reduces our carbon footprint, not taxing it. I do congratulate the government on the new electric bus fleet, and I call for a bold plan to extend this to the commercial passenger vehicle fleet in the coming years.
It comes as no surprise that what I wish to mention next is one part of the budget that I support wholeheartedly—that is, the investment in rail. Over the past weeks it has been revealed that only 30 per cent of normal public transport patronage levels has returned. This means, as we continue to open up, more cars than ever will be hitting Victoria’s congested roads and clogging up our roadways. This comes at a cost. Reshaping the way Victorians think about and perceive public transport is essential for increasing public transport usage, reducing road congestion and reducing emissions. I am glad the government has committed $2.2 billion to get the Suburban Rail Loop off the ground and up and running with stage 1.
The Suburban Rail Loop is a fantastic project and will transform the way we Victorians commute. I will note that I will be about 106 when it is completed, though. It will connect our hospitals, universities and the retail sector and create new employment opportunities. However, everyone knows that going downhill is easier, and stage 1 should start at Doncaster; it simply makes sense. Doncaster is a booming hub and is seeing major growth with large apartment blocks going up and a $100 million expansion of Doncaster Westfield progressively unfolding over the next few years. Do not let the Andrews Labor government be the next government to let Doncaster down. Add Doncaster to stage 1, and get the job done.
Another great investment is the Geelong fast rail. This project is set to received $2 billion, and I hope that we will see a reduction in travel times and happy regional passengers in the near future. This brings me to the next generation of trams. Just the other week I rose to highlight that the free tram zone was not the cause of congestion on Victorian trams; rather, I mentioned that the inaccessibility and lack of capacity of Melbourne’s ageing trams was the source of the problem. I am extremely pleased that the government is delivering 100 next-generation plans to better connect and enhance Melbourne’s tram network. More importantly, these trams will be more accessible, have increased passenger capacity and will be manufactured in Victoria for Victorians. Furthermore, the investment in new tram maintenance facilities in Melbourne’s north-west will better maintain Victoria’s tram network. Ultimately public transport is better for our health, roads and environment, and I applaud the government for continuing to invest in public transport. However, I look forward to the day trackless trams finally hit Victorian roads, as we know it is the way to go—Mr Chris Lowe’s electric bus.
It is absolutely necessary that this government bolster our health response. This means investing in more beds, nurses and doctors. We can never have too many. I am particularly happy to see that this government plans to implement minimum staff-to-resident ratios for private aged care. To ensure this the government is dedicating $40 million to train more personal care workers and nurses and $28 million for resident support.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that it is essential that we invest in the latest technology in medical science and in local hospitals. In addition, I am pleased to see the Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully will receive $4.5 million to accelerate the hospital’s expansion. Those who have been in the Angliss Hospital will know that this building is dated and that population growth has seen patient numbers continue to increase. This expansion will benefit both patients and staff in the near future. Sadly, Maroondah Hospital’s plea for additional funding has been left unheard. This hospital is a major provider of specialist mental health services in Melbourne’s outer east, particularly in the Eastern Metropolitan Region. While Maroondah has recently gained a new emergency department, this does not assist the hospital’s other departments to improve and enhance patient outcomes.
Moreover, COVID-19 has demonstrated that our mental health support and facilities are inadequate. As members of this house we have a duty to improve and support services available to those suffering from poor mental health and mental disorders. As the government has acknowledged, there are deep cracks in our mental health system. Eight-hundred and seventy million dollars towards mental health support services and $47.8 million towards critical early intervention is a step in the right direction, but $492 million to deliver 120 mental health beds in Geelong, Epping, Sunshine and Melbourne simply does not cut it. We need more. People who need mental health support are across Victoria, and this budget should reflect that. I have strongly advocated for additional mental health nurses and support workers for people suffering homelessness or who are on the brink of homelessness. That belief extends to all of Eastern Metro. I strongly believe that investing in Victorians’ mental health is one way that we as elected representatives will save lives. I urge this government to consider the need for additional support in other Eastern Metropolitan hospitals and health providers to improve overall community health outcomes and wellbeing.
This brings me to the social housing blitz. During my time inquiring into homelessness on the Legal and Social Issues Committee we discovered that Housing First must be the top priority of this government. Housing First means that mums and bubs are off the streets, not sleeping in their cars, and they are in the safety of four walls. Housing First means that the 25 000 individuals who were experiencing homelessness across Victoria on the last census night are in secure accommodation that is livable, comfortable and safe. I am thrilled that this budget includes $5.3 billion for 12 000 homes to be built throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria. The creation of 2900 new affordable and low-cost homes to assist low-to-moderate income earners will enable these individuals to live closer to their workplaces. The creation of 2000 new homes for Victorians living with mental illness will reduce the pressures and anxieties of these individuals and enable them to focus on their mental wellbeing.
However, not included in this budget is the replacement of old public housing units. As Mr Hayes has previously pointed out, there are hundreds of existing public and social housing that are currently in unlivable condition. Furthermore, what does this $5 billion mean for Eastern Metropolitan Region? What is the government doing for the families of Eastern Metropolitan Region suffering from inadequate or insufficient housing? What is the government doing for the mums sleeping in their cars? What of those fleeing domestic violence with nowhere to live? I wholeheartedly welcome the government’s announcement of additional social and affordable housing to start addressing Victoria’s homelessness crisis. Yet we must do more to fix this homelessness crisis in Victoria, and that comes down obviously to fixing our existing housing, creating additional housing and ensuring better management of the entire housing system. To conclude, this budget is on the right track, but there will always be room for improvement.