Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Grievance debate

Opposition performance

Opposition performance

Vicki WARD (Eltham) (16:16): I do hope that I receive a bit more enthusiasm from my colleagues than the previous speaker had from his. I certainly will not be relying on canned laughter, canned applause or canned cheering, because I know on this side of the house we are united and working together towards the common goals and good work of our state.

There are a few things that I grieve for, and I will get to that, but I tell you one of the first things that I do not grieve for and that is being in government for 3002 days. It is wonderful to be in government, and it is fantastic to be in a government that is in its third term, continuing to do amazing things for this state. We are building on the wonderful things that we have done. We have got ambitions for this state, and we want to build and we want to create things. We want to create and build things that are actually a part of this state – that are not out there for private investment to capitalise on and to milk the pockets of Victorians. We want to bring down the cost of living and we want to bring down the cost of energy, and we will do it through many different mechanisms, including the State Electricity Commission.

What I do grieve for is a Liberal Party that continues to be wedded to privatisation. I have said this before in this place: they are so consumed with old ideologies, they are so bogged down with ideas of the 1970s and the 80s that we have seen do not work. They just do not work. I have said it before: it is just such a shame, and I do grieve for this lack of imagination, this lack of ambition that those opposite have for this state. Because there is nothing that they have promised this state in the last eight years that has engaged this state, that this state has wanted to vote for. Instead they are wedded to the sugar hit of instant cash that has cost Victorians year after year after year – privatisation that lines the pockets of the 1 per cent and takes from the pockets of average Victorians.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Member for Gippsland South! Member for Gippsland South, you are not in your allocated seat.

Vicki WARD: Kennett sold the SEC in 1994 after putting it in front of the privatisation hit squad during the 1992 election. The spin at the time claimed that it was laden with debt and needed to be sold –it was dragging the state down. The sale would mean better and cheaper energy for Victorians. There will be some of my generation who will remember, ‘It’ll be competitive. The markets will compete against each other. Your prices will go down. You will never have cheaper energy. It will be fantastic. It’ll be such a boon.’ And it was rubbish. It was yet another thing that Jeff Kennett got wrong, because here we are with energy bills that are bigger than ever.

Let us note the true state of affairs, because never let the facts get in the way of storytelling or a story to the camera, wherever that might be. Let us not talk to the Speaker and let us not talk to the people around you – let us talk to ‘the people’. Let us note the truth, however, about the state of the SEC. In the last year of its operation it paid $995 million in interest and a $191 million dividend to the state government and it had a profit of $207 million. Yet we flogged it off. He flogged it off.

Since then prices have increased, workers have been sacked, energy companies have made huge profits and power bills have skyrocketed. I know those of us on this side of the chamber, who have actually gone to our communities and helped them with the power saving bonus, know how much that has meant to them, because we know how difficult energy prices are in communities. It is absolutely shocking.

Another thing that has come with privatisation of course has been the erosion of workers rights. People do not have the same job security in energy companies that they had with the SEC. They do not have the same channel of training, of apprenticeships. They do not have that security that the SEC gave them beforehand to know that every day there was going to be a job. They knew when they were working. They knew what they could count on. They knew how to plan their future, because they knew they had a good job.

Private multinationals have charged Victorians $23 billion for energy – $23 billion, far more than what Kennett flogged it off for when it was sold. That is $23 billion that should have been invested in energy infrastructure, and we know that has not happened. We know the investment has not happened, and it is a continual game of catch-up. We have got coal stations being sold because they are so badly managed. The deterioration of this asset is so bad that they are going. We have to step in. We have to intervene. We have to do something about it to give us energy security as well as cheaper energy, and this is what we will be doing with the SEC.

So I grieve that the Liberals have not learned since this disastrous experiment brought about from Jeff Kennett’s ego and his hubris. They continue to want to privatise – for example, that amazing idea that they came up with last year to privatise our waste management systems. How good was that? What a great policy. The jokes that came from that waste management policy gave us a lot of fun on polling booths in the lead-up to election day and on election day. A lot of comments were made about –

Pauline Richards interjected.

Vicki WARD: It was a sweet gift, absolutely, member for Cranbourne. ‘Sell, sell, sell’ – that is their mantra. It is not about improving services, it is not about improving infrastructure, it is not about creating opportunities for Victorians, for average Victorians. They are not about people, and I grieve for that, because that is why we are here. We are here to be for people. They are not ready to be in government, something the people of this state clearly recognised last November and in November 2018 and in November 2014.

Pauline Richards interjected.

Vicki WARD: 3002 days, member for Cranbourne. They voted for a party that believes in creating opportunities for the people of this state, not cutting them down, not selling them off. They voted for a party that will bring back the SEC, that will revive government-owned energy, and they voted for a Labor government again. People like it; they like it when government owns things. They like being a part of that. They like the pride that it gives them knowing that what they are paying for is owned by the people of this state, and this is one of the reasons why they embraced what we wanted to do so much. I cannot tell you how many positive comments I had in pre-poll and on polling day, as I know everybody on this side of the chamber did. They loved the idea of an SEC coming back, because they do want to have that pride.

I will talk about Garry, who spent most of his long working life with the SEC. He lives in Greensborough. Garry said that the SEC meant:

A job for life. Something you don’t see nowadays.

Garry talks with such fondness about working for the SEC, about what it meant for him, his family and their stability, but also about what it meant to be a part of a workforce that was working for the people of this state, not for the profits of a private company. It was something that gave those workers real pride to know that they were working for the benefit of Victorians.

The SEC meant a family and it meant community, and the wider community knew this. It gave working-class communities stability rather than relying on the gig economy or an exploitative employer. The SEC will be 100 per cent renewable, and it will create 4.5 gigawatts of renewable energy projects. And we have got a plan. We have got a plan to create 59,000 jobs, including 6000 opportunities for apprentices and trainees, and we will drive down power bills through our world-leading energy targets. The SEC is a critical part of this plan, and it continues our strong record of delivery in driving down cost-of-living pressures for Victorian families, all the while making us the nation leader when it comes to renewable energy.

This is something to be very proud of. This is something I am proud of and I do not grieve for, but I grieve for those opposite, who do not have the imagination, who do not have the ambition for this state to see these things realised and to understand the potential of what we have got here. It means thousands of new jobs for the next generation, work for electricians, engineers, mechanics, maintenance workers, welders and geoscientists, and like those opposite, we want to make sure that it is Victorian kids who are first in line, not the first to have their futures flogged off. The SEC will help deliver this government’s nation-leading renewable energy and emissions targets, hitting 95 per cent renewable energy by 2035 –

Danny O’Brien interjected.

The SPEAKER: Member for Gippsland South, you have been warned.

Vicki WARD: and net zero by 2045, creating these jobs and increasing our gross state product by about $9.5 billion. To do that we are delivering a $424 million energy and training package which will help workers upskill and give workers the skills that they need – again, us investing in people because that is what Labor governments do. Since Victoria’s energy was privatised we have experienced a chronic shortage of workers in trades. There is not one person in this place who has not experienced this. There is not one person in this place who does not know that there is a skills shortage and how much this affects the economy of our state. Highly qualified, highly paid workers working not for profit but for people. To train these new workers we will establish an SEC centre of training excellence to coordinate and accredit courses in clean energy, connecting with our TAFEs, registered training organisations, unions and the industry as well as adding clean energy to our VCE vocational major. How good is that.

We know what the future looks like. We know how we can help our kids grab that future. We are empowering our kids to do it because that is what we care about. It is not about flogging things off and taking opportunities away from our kids; it is about giving it to them, absolutely taking it to them. We are creating cleaner energy as well as more jobs. We are not selling Victorians out. We want our kids to have opportunities, and part of these opportunities will of course be our new tech schools. This is why we are investing $116 million to open six new cutting-edge tech schools, giving students a head start in a hands-on profession.

Pauline Richards: What a contrast.

Vicki WARD: What a contrast, member for Cranbourne. Our tech schools are a vital part of the pathway for young Victorians from school right through to a rewarding career, offering taster classes to years 7 to 10 and helping students decide what they want to do next, helping these kids articulate to their parents what these jobs of the future are actually going to look like, because their parents do not know – we do not know – but our tech schools help them have that conversation and help them understand the exciting possibilities that are ahead of them. Again, something I grieve that those opposite just do not understand, they do not engage with – they are not there to help kids to give them that hand up, to show them what can be, to show them the possibilities. They just want to flog it off because, you know what, flogging stuff off makes your bottom line look good, and it also makes your job easier, because you do not actually have to deal with those problems, you do not have to manage those problems, you do not have to govern – because of course the party that believes in small government really does not want to govern. They do not believe in government. They want to flog it off.

The six new tech schools that Labor is delivering will support around 62,000 students across the state, preparing local kids for the future with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths. Our tech school program offers specialist programs to all secondary schools, and we are encouraging under-represented groups such as girls and regional, rural and Aboriginal students to pursue the highly qualified and highly paid jobs of the future. Our tech schools are an important part of this work. We are building on the tech schools that we have already built. They are in Ballarat, Bendigo, Casey, Geelong, Latrobe Valley, Monash, Whittlesea, Wyndham and the Yarra Ranges, and of course I have got one in my community, as do you, member for Yan Yean. We love Greensborough. We love the tech school at Greensborough. And where is the tech school at Greensborough built? The tech school at Greensborough is built on the TAFE college that they closed. They wanted to sell it off. So look at that: we have got a TAFE that has reopened, and there is a tech school on it that is creating amazing opportunities for our kids. Fantastic teachers there are engaging with kids and getting them to do these amazing workshops. They do out-of-school programs, they have makers markets. They are doing stuff that is showing kids how to monetise their ideas, how to monetise their ambitions and see the possibilities of what their brains and imaginations can create. Of course that is something that those opposite cannot engage with, because there is no imagination.

There is no imagination, and that is the greatest of tragedies. To not have an imagination for what this state can be, what your kids can be, is devastating. The people of this state know that, and that is why we were elected. We were elected because they know that we have this imagination. They know we have this ambition. They know how much we care about our kids, how much we care about their future, and they voted for us for this very reason.

Students at local schools can continue to dive into topics like robotics, advanced manufacturing and coding through the prism of solving real problems. They have been able to meet with employers and talk to them and with businesses and understand what these businesses need, what their problems are, because, unsurprisingly, 16-year-olds are pretty smart and they can solve some of the problems that you do not know how to fix. They have amazing minds that are open to all possibilities, and our tech schools grasp those. They help those kids explore their open minds and the things that pop into their heads that they know that they can create, and that they know they can do something amazing with. This is a beautiful part of the SEC story. These kids will be able to feed into this. They will be trained in ways that we will not even understand to be able to create these opportunities. (Time expired)