Melbourne Press Club Address – Daniel Andrews

Melbourne Press Club – 16 October 2012

As we approach the half way mark of the Baillieu Government’s term in office I want to give you some thoughts on their achievements and more importantly detail some of my priorities for the next two years and beyond.

Today’s not about launching a manifesto or a ‘Fightback’ type document – rather it’s a chance for me to give you a clear sense of the things I think are important.

When it comes to political Leaders and their Parties, the Victorian community can give no greater gift, bestow no greater honour and entrust no greater responsibility than the right to govern.

It’s an extraordinary thing really – the right and responsibility to lead the State and the obligation to work hard to make Victoria a stronger and a fairer place.

If like me you have faith and belief in the power of Government to empower people and communities, to drive opportunity and the realisation of potential then winning government is everything.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that despite winning office and achieving a majority in both houses, something Labor enjoyed for just four of our 11 years, Mr Baillieu and his team have so little to show for nearly two years in power.

I think there is a growing dissatisfaction with the Premier and his performance.  Published polls point to it.

But it’s as much about feel as it is about numbers.

Victoria was a leader in Australia – exerting an influence economically and in policy terms that confounded the apparent strength of other resource rich States.

There was for a time a very strong momentum, a tangible energy and vitality in ideas, investment and innovation surrounding our State.

I think much of that momentum has gone.

It survived the Global Financial Crisis, endured prolonged drought and natural disasters but it has succumbed to the inertia and indifference of this Government.

So the Parliament is tight, the contest is tight.

It’s therefore not unreasonable to ask what are my priorities?

I want to give you 5 key priorities today. All are important to me and all will be a focus of my team over the next two years. 

First and foremost, jobs.

Employment gives purpose, opportunity, meaning and dignity. Nothing is more important to Victorians and nothing is more important to me.

Under Labor, Victoria was the engine room of Australian jobs. In 2009, 92% of all new full time jobs were created in Victoria. Across our term in office, 683,000 jobs were created – 100,000 of them in 2010 alone.

Things are a little different today.

The term ‘crisis’ is often used – but regardless of the descriptor, we have lost 11,500 full time jobs over the last 2 years, the participation rate is down and key indicators like youth unemployment have never been worse – 18.3% last month.

We have gone from leading the nation to being pushed right back in the pack. I think we can and must do better than that.

That’s why my team have been working hard to develop a jobs plan – touring the State listening to business, industry associations, Unions and ordinary hard working Victorians.

We’ll be making announcements about the first part of our plan for jobs and investment later this year but today I want to make it clear that jobs growth is a priority.

I also want to make it clear that I’m not for a moment blaming Mr Baillieu for the high Australian dollar that’s burning a hole in the competitiveness of our manufacturers and I’m not blaming him for Eurozone financial uncertainty or the sluggish demand in the retail and property sectors.

I’m also not saying that a State Government can necessarily fix each of these problems.

But I am saying – I’ve never seen anyone solve or properly respond to a problem they refused to acknowledge.

If you refuse to accept that industry, communities and indeed households across Victoria face real pressures and challenges then you’re unlikely, I think unable to assist them.

Next, a steady and regular flow of infrastructure investment. 

I’ve attended quite a few openings in the last two years – openings of projects commissioned by Labor in government.

The point is this – soon Mr Baillieu will run out of Labor ribbons to cut. He’ll have to come up with a major projects agenda of his own.

And don’t be fooled, simply ‘evaluating’ tenders for the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, or adding a floor  to the Box Hill or Bendigo Hospitals or merely ‘proceeding’ with the Regional Rail Link does not amount to a fresh infrastructure agenda.

One infrastructure project that has been topical is the proposed East West Link. Mr Baillieu thinks the business case is strongest for the Eastern section of this road.

I think a second river crossing; an important redundancy for the West Gate Bridge and a link direct into the Port is a stronger project.

Stronger when you consider the productivity benefits and stronger when you acknowledge that funds are of course limited.

The price tag for the entire project is astronomical – some $12 to $15 billion.

A back-up for the Westgate which currently handles more than 165,000 vehicles a day as well as the significant commercial and residential growth in the West makes the case compelling.

‘West – East’ is the way this project should be viewed.

If congestion at Hoddle Street is a priority – why has the Government scrapped the Hoddle Street Study? It was very important when you consider that about two thirds of traffic coming off the Eastern Freeway travel into or South of the City – not across it.

This is an interesting debate for many reasons.

For instance, months after first talking about the project and boldly committing some $15 million for soil testing and geotechnical works – terms designed to inspire confidence and the perception of action, the Premier is still unable to answer even the most basic questions.

When will it start? When will it finish? What route will it take? How much will it cost? Who will pay for it? How many cars and trucks will use it every day?

These are simple and basic questions.  A few million dollars and a post hole digger parked down on Alexandra Parade do not pass for an infrastructure plan – not now, not ever.

So why no major projects or infrastructure agenda?

Well, it’s clear to me that on infrastructure this Government is not being run by Ted Baillieu. It’s being run by the Department of Treasury and Finance. I don’t want to offend the good people who work there.

But make no mistake, Treasury have never seen a spending proposal they liked or a revenue generator they didn’t.

Despite the fact that Treasury advice to Ministers is written on green paper it’s almost always a red light to new spending.

To be fair that’s their job.

But it’s also the job of the Government to balance that conservatism with the need to actually govern.

Lethargy and indecision is not leadership. Hiding under your desk is just hiding under your desk.

Starving the constructors of this State of a pipeline of infrastructure is bad for our economy, bad for confidence, bad for jobs and bad for skills. It’s also ultimately bad for value – every one of the projects we need escalates in price every month the Government delays.

A return to consistent infrastructure spending with long term certainty and independent analysis is a priority for me.

I’ll have more to say about this quite soon.

Thirdly, ‘improving’ and I emphasize that word ‘improving’ services.

State politics is not quite roads, rates and rubbish as Local Government is sometimes unkindly described, but it’s principally about delivering services.

Despite the glib promise to ‘fix the problems’ we have seen little improvement and instead significant decline.

Just look at our health system. A veteran health bureaucrat once described health policy to me as essentially like juggling 3 balls – the budget bottom line, the elective surgery waiting list and emergency department performance.

Well far from juggling these 3, the Premier has dropped each.

56 of the 81 health services that have tabled annual reports have reported deficits this year. We are performing less elective surgery than under Labor – the waiting lists are nudging 50,000 and our Emergency Departments are like an episode of MASH.

Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics are all saying that budget cuts and inadequate funding are placing the system and patient care under enormous and unprecedented pressure.

I can tell you what’s happening in the Health Department right now – senior officials are begging David Davis to get more money out of Ted Baillieu. To make sure patients can get the care they need.

My priority is to deliver policy that will improve services and be honest with those who use them.

To do anything less is to fail the key responsibility of any State Government and worse still, it’s to take Victorians for fools.

I’m not interested in cheap jack claims about ‘fixing’ everything.

Instead I intend to do the hard work to better understand the challenges we face and then develop the plans essential for improvement. 

Fourthly, investing in skills for industry and for individuals.

Vocational education and training is essential to growth and prosperity. Helping Victorians secure the skills they need to in turn secure the job they want is important.

Not everyone has the opportunity or inclination to attend University – what’s more that pathway alone will not meet the needs of industry or consumers.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Government has cut so deeply into TAFE.

These cuts mean around 2,000 staff will be out of work, many courses are gone, fees have been massively increased, campuses are closing and so are pathways.

These cuts will disenfranchise thousands of students, young and old. They will now be prohibited, by cost or geography, from obtaining the skills they want, the skills our economy needs.

The Australian Industry Group was right when they noted that “the reduction in money for programs will have an impact on uptake and quality”.

Consider, for example, the students of outer Eastern Melbourne. The Swinburne Lilydale campus will shut its doors – a student from Yea will now have to complete their Swinburne studies as far away as Hawthorn.

Swinburne Croydon, at the gateway to the Yarra Valley, has cut winemaking classes.

It makes no sense.

I was recently at Lilydale meeting with students and staff. One young student approached me and made a simple but profound point. She said to me, ‘all I want is a future’.

Cutting TAFE is wrong, especially when nearly one in five young people who want a job can’t find one and when many sectors are crying out for more skilled staff.

That’s why skills attainment is a priority for me.

Labor will continue to assess the impact of these cuts – the full extent of which will not be apparent until the beginning of the 2013 Academic Year.

Fifthly, fighting for fairness.

I believe we cannot be a stronger Victoria unless we are a fairer Victoria.

Fighting for fairness takes many forms. It can be voting against regressive changes to Equal Opportunity laws, making sure a person’s postcode doesn’t make it harder for them to survive their cancer, investing Workcover surpluses in safer workplaces instead of plundering the scheme, or it can be supporting families who face tough challenges every day.

For instance families with children who have special educational needs.

Some facts.

It is estimated that 5 to 10% of the population is dyslexic. Autism Spectrum Disorder cases grew over 30% between 2008 and 2010. 10% of children are considered developmentally vulnerable.

Yet there exists no compulsory module on special needs education in basic teacher training in Victoria.

Recently I met with a mother and her son, he has dyspraxia – a neurological condition that affects speech, fine and gross motor skills or movement and coordination.

Dyspraxia also affects memory and of course confidence. It’s frustrating and debilitating for the child and those who love them.

We spoke for an hour or so about the challenges her son and their family face every day. It was very moving. Perhaps I had a soft spot for him – like my youngest, his name is Joseph.

As our conversation, an appeal for help, continued it became clear to me that our education system is not simply failing to adequately support Joseph, his parents and siblings, but in many ways the system makes dealing with Dyspraxia harder.

In recent months I’ve held a number of forums and meetings about better support for children with special needs.

I want to develop a realistic policy that will improve the support they can expect. I need to better understand the issues involved for kids like Joseph and I intend to. We can do more and we can do better for the estimated 1 in 5 families just like his.

It’s all about fairness and that’s why it’s a priority for me.

To conclude.

If you want to make Victoria fairer and stronger I think it’s essential to have a plan, I think it’s essential to have a strategy but most importantly Ladies and Gentleman – I think it’s essential to have a go.

It’s not good enough to simply occupy the office, you have to use it to drive change, reform and opportunity.

Jobs, infrastructure, improved services, skills attainment and a fight for fairness – these are my priorities.

Why – because my parents taught me and I’m teaching my kids that the decisions governments make really do matter, that without support many never get the life opportunities they are entitled to.

That when governments fail to invest and even worse, take away, we all pay a price.

I would not cut EMA or Reading Recovery or make it harder for young Victorians to get skills.

I would not ignore unemployment or dither while the challenges mounted.

I would not ask a parent to choose between buying food and paying their child’s VCAL fees.

I would not cut hundreds of millions of dollars from our hospitals and then pretend it didn’t affect patients.

That’s not the sort of Premier I want to be.

Over the next 2 years I’m determined to give Victorians a real choice. To do the hard work, to listen, to develop the plans and policies that make us a stronger and a fairer State.

Ladies and Gentleman politics and policy are not a hobby for me – it’s what I do, it’s what I’ve done my whole working life.

That’s why I’m determined to give Mr Baillieu a red hot run for his money – not merely to defeat him, but to win the precious right to govern.

Thank you for your kind invitation to address you today.

Published on October 16, 2012