Photo Courtesy: Janusz Molinksi
This is my 2nd Reading in opposition to the Victorian Future Fund Bill 2023, which is little more than a vehicle for this government’s neoliberal agenda.
SECOND READING – VICTORIAN FUTURE FUND BILL 2023
I rise to speak in opposition to the Victorian Future Fund Bill 2023, which is little more than a vehicle for this government’s neoliberal agenda. This bill relies on using the sale of public assets and public land to service our debt – well, at least a small portion of the debt. It will lock in future privatisations and sell-offs and has little purpose other than reassuring the ratings agencies that the government has a plan to manage its debt. Most of the debt this bill is designed to address was incurred by doing exactly the kind of work a government should be doing: looking after people in a time of crisis. During COVID this government was not afraid to spend big to do the right thing, like freezing rents and banning evictions, housing the homeless and supporting our essential workers. But now the Labor government is turning its back on good government by preparing to carve public services and public assets up and sell them off to cover a debt.
The bill legislates for the new Victorian Future Fund and outlines what moneys are to be put into the fund and what it can be spent on. Firstly, funds will be credited from what the bill calls the ‘VicRoads modernisation’, which is simply a roundabout way to describe the privatisation of the licensing and registration functions of VicRoads. This sets the scene for the fund to be fuelled by future privatisations, and we know there will be more, because this Labor government has overseen the biggest privatisation agenda in this state since the days of Jeff Kennett. It has sold off the Port of Melbourne and privatised the land titles office. Just like the Kennett government, it is slashing thousands of public service jobs, and it is selling swathes of public land to the private sector, including desperately needed public housing land.
Today we can still see the effects of the rampant privatisation of assets during the Kennett era. Electricity prices have skyrocketed, the building and construction sectors are in disarray and our health system is in crisis, all of which stem from Kennett’s carve-up and sell-offs. I can only imagine what this Labor government is locking us in for by 2050. This government likes to hide the full extent of its privatisation program by dressing it up in language like ‘modernisation’, ‘renewal’, ‘redevelopment’ or its favourite, ‘public–private partnerships’, but make no mistake, what this government is doing is pushing ahead with a neoliberal approach to the function of government where key public assets are sold off and government functions are outsourced to the private sector. It has relied on investing in public–private partnerships where public money is handed over to private companies to make profit from building assets and providing services to the public. So many of the government’s major projects rely on the government paying developers to build infrastructure that will funnel profits back into the developer’s coffers, like the West Gate Tunnel toll road or the privatised housing in the ground lease model.
Public services should be kept in public hands. A good government would be investing in its public sector and in really high-quality public services like education, health, transport and housing. We know that privatisation always leads to higher costs for essential services, poorer quality services and lost revenue that can no longer be reinvested into public services. Filling the future fund with the proceeds from privatisation is a kneejerk reaction and a short-sighted way to manage government debt. The bill also provides that proceeds from the sale of public land will also go into the future fund. Just like public services, public land is a precious asset that should be protected and kept in public hands, but this government has repeatedly made the short-sighted decision to sell it off to raise money in the short term and then years later has found itself in need of more land for public infrastructure and public services.
Take for example our housing crisis, which the government says will be solved by increasing supply, but to increase supply you need to find somewhere for the new homes to go. This government is currently signposting its plans for a major housing package to increase supply, and while those of us not in government are still in the dark about these plans, they are likely to involve taking planning power away from local government and centralising it within the minister’s office to fast-track new housing projects. However, this government has a public asset within its control that it could use to address the housing crisis now: public housing and public land for more public housing. A good government would be utilising this public asset by building thousands of new public homes on public land, creating the affordable housing we desperately need in a crisis, but instead this Labor government is carving up public housing estates for privatised housing and giving precious public land to the private sector. And now it is preparing to sell off even more land for the purposes of this future fund.
There are currently 146 parcels of land being prepared for future sale. This is land that could be used for public services or public housing, and once public land is sold off it is lost forever.
I would also remind this government that this is not their land to sell off. While they might think public land is an asset to be disposed of because they hold the title to it, this land actually belongs to our First Peoples, who have never ceded sovereignty over the lands that were violently taken away from them during colonisation. In the middle of a treaty process in Victoria which recognises the harms of the past and the present and moves towards true self-determination and justice for First Peoples, any attempt to further dispossess First Peoples of their land risks undermining the whole process. To honour the treaty process public land should be kept in public hands until treaties are completed. This land must not be further stolen from our First Peoples until treaty protects land rights and First Peoples have a say over what happens to their land. Legislating that the future fund will be credited by the proceeds from future public land sales only locks in further dispossession of First Peoples.
The government’s spin on this bill is to call it a future fund, but if we are really concerned about the future then the fund should be directed to addressing the material challenges facing Victorians, and right now the most pressing issue is the housing crisis. A key reason we are in a housing crisis is because this Labor government has abandoned public housing.
There are fewer public housing dwellings in Victoria now than there were when this government took office, and we are on track for even less as the demolition of public housing and its replacement with private housing continues. Imagine if we dedicated the billions of dollars going into this fund to the provision of public housing – we could well be on the way to addressing the housing crisis and solving homelessness once and for all.
We know that the initial money in the fund will come from the $7.9 billion privatisation of VicRoads and from the ongoing sell-off of public land, but because this is an investment fund, the government will take this initial deposit and then choose various ways to invest that money. There is little in this bill to govern how or where this money can be invested, which means there is nothing to stop the government from taking the public money in the fund and investing it in harmful industries like fossil fuels. It is incredible that in a climate crisis it is even possible for a government to take public money and invest it in things that make the climate crisis worse, like the oil and gas industries – but it is.
While we are not prepared to support this bill in its current form, the Greens have prepared amendments to address its flaws and turn the future fund into something that can be used for good. Our amendments would change the purpose of the fund to be for building more public housing, preventing proceeds from the sale of public land being credited to the fund, at least without first securing permission from the First Peoples’ Assembly and checking whether the land is suitable for new public homes, and prohibiting the fund from investing in companies engaged in fossil fuel activities.
This Second Reading was delivered on 20th June, 2023.