Victorians have their say on the state budget

By Lachlan Abbott and Nicole Precel

Victorians react to the 2023 state budget.Credit: The Age

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Premier Daniel Andrews has been telling Victorians for months to prepare for a tough budget.

Now, the day has arrived. Here’s what the Victorians we spoke to had to say.

The second property owner

Leigh Powell, a small business mentor and strategist from East Brighton, says his holiday home on Phillip Island would be hit by the broadening of the tax on multiple properties.

East Brighton resident Leigh Powell was philosophical about changes to how second properties and holiday homes were taxed. Credit: Justin McManus

“The state government’s raised considerable debt for its COVID-related support programs. That has to be repaid. I don’t have any doubt about that,” he says.

The 69-year-old says “it would be silly” to expect things would go on as normal after the pandemic without a change to how people contribute to tax.

“Is it reasonable for one of the things to focus on people who have some capacity to pay? And is it likely to be the case if someone has a second, third or fourth home? I don’t think it’s an unreasonable cohort to seek from,” he says.

He says if the change resulted in additional charges in the thousands it would hurt, but “that’s the way it is”.

Powell says if it was a substantial increase in tax, then it may have people questioning whether they want to keep the property and pay the luxury tax of having a holiday home.

“I’m sympathetic to the fact that there’s a lot of people who are doing it very tough,” he says.

Powell had hoped large building projects would be trimmed temporarily to pay off pandemic debt and wanted more funding for domestic violence support and mental health services.

The small business owner

Anthony Cheeseman, from Cranbourne East, employs about 25 people and supports another 20 local NDIS recipients at two social enterprise cafes in Melbourne’s south-east, with a third on the way in Broadmeadows.

He had low expectations for this year’s budget given he thought “Victoria was going to be in further debt than a lot of countries”, but had hoped small business could get direct support as inflation remained high and costs continued to rise.

Anthony Cheeseman owns several social enterprise cafes.Credit: Jason South

“We, as small business people, are expected to take the brunt of that,” he says. “I can’t put my coffee up $1.50.”

Cheeseman had also hoped social enterprises such as his would receive greater support to employ more young people with disabilities and mental health challenges, but was already disappointed pre-budget after hearing WorkCover premiums for businesses would increase.

Although he did like the treasurer’s mention of a focus on better health in the workplace as part of the government’s $776 million package for mental health services.

He described Tim Pallas’ ninth budget on Tuesday as “a typical Labor budget when your back is against the wall” that did little for his small business.

“There’s not much there for us, really,” he says, adding he saw nothing little relief for households and businesses from rising prices.

“Nothing in the budget will change the cost of living.”

The patient

Stuart McLean once worked in the insurance industry, but is now between jobs awaiting hand surgery after being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis – an autoimmune condition that means he can no longer type or drive long distances.

After an eight-month wait, he hopes to get plastic surgery at Dandenong Hospital soon, helping him regain hand function and relieve pain. But, having waited more than a year for a hip replacement he received 18 months ago, he knows Victoria’s health sector is stretched.

“It’s frustrating,” he says. “There’s also a wait to get in to see the specialist, then they put you on the list.”

Berwick man Stuart McLean is waiting for hand surgery after a debilitating health condition forced him to change jobs.Credit: Darrian Traynor

McLean, who lives in Berwick, expected this year’s budget would cut spending to tackle the state’s debt, but hoped maintaining funding for health, education and roads would be prioritised.

On Tuesday, he said the budget was a failure, particularly given 40,000 fewer patients were expected to receive elective surgery this year than originally forecast.

“If this is the case I could be waiting another 12 months, in pain daily and taking medications with significant side effects, just to be able to function,” he says.

“The blowout in waiting times attributed to COVID-19 should’ve been squarely on the Andrews government’s radar. Clearly the suffering of people unable to afford private health cover is less important than many flippant programs this government continues to push.

“I am not happy, but it is beyond my control … this government has lost their way.”

The family

Abdullah Altintop and Zeyneb Gokler are raising two kids in Melbourne’s outer north. The Wollert couple took advantage of the government’s kindergarten overhaul last year and their four-year-old daughter, Safiye, now attends for free two days a week. But, they say it’s not enough to help Zeyneb return to work as a midwife at the Northern Hospital.

With six-month-old Salih now part of the family, Abdullah says he also still wanted to see more invested into education to help his children in the future and suggested direct payments to parents could help squeezed family budgets.

“Anything that … takes pressures off mums and dads is very helpful,” he says.

Zeyneb Gokler and Abdullah Altintop with their children Safiye, 4, and six-month-old Salih.Credit: Jason South

After the budget was released, the couple were disappointed, particularly with cuts to public servants, and thought there was limited further childcare help.

“It could’ve been better,” Abdullah says. “I don’t think they have balanced the right areas.”

However, they said it was “fantastic” to see $50 million spent on greater access to public fertility care, having used IVF themselves and incurring significant out-of-pocket costs.

Abdullah says it was good that nine new public schools for Melbourne’s fast-growing suburbs included one in Wollert, but he wouldn’t be sending his kids there because he was concerned with the broader public education system.

The international student

International student Jashanjit Kaur arrived in Australia from India in February last year to study a master’s of professional accounting and business analytics at La Trobe University.

She says finding accommodation was a huge issue for international students, and she wanted to see some extra support and relief in the state budget to support students. She says the purpose-built student accommodation options were too expensive and small for her.

International student Jashanjit Kaur.Credit: Luis Ascui

“Not having a rental history in Australia, we get zero priority,” she says.

Kaur also says cost of living pressures meant she often skipped meals.

On budget day, while she celebrated the government’s push to eliminate period poverty, she was “a bit disappointed” when it came to the impacts of the budget for international students.

She worried an increase in tax for people with second properties could mean rental hikes.

“Eventually, that will be passed on to [us],” she says.

Kaur also worried that the 4000 people losing public service jobs could mean international students were squeezed out of other industries and the chance of sponsorship may reduce.

“That would be a loss for us,” she says.

The commuter

Like many in Melbourne’s outer west, Pearl Singh relies on her car to get around. The 46-year-old Truganina mother of two drives regularly to work at Newport train station roughly 25 minutes away.

As a commuter, she particularly wanted suburban arterial roads – such as Sayers Road – to be widened to support western population growth. She also noted nearby Tarneit West and Truganina train stations had been promised for years, but were yet to materialise.

Pearl Singh from Truganina relies heavily on her car to commute, as public transport in the western suburbs is limited.Credit: Paul Jeffers

When asked to describe this budget in a word on Tuesday, Singh says: “Believe me, you don’t want to hear that.”

“There isn’t anything about commuters,” she says. “The only thing they mention is about the V/Line … nothing about roads in metropolitan Melbourne.”

Despite $650 million for the Melton train line, Singh was particularly critical that there was no significant funding for transport infrastructure around Truganina.

“We are the ones who go to work every day, and we are the ones who are never looked after. We’re always ignored with our transport,” she says. “It’s very frustrating … Honestly, we all worked our arses off through the pandemic, and we’re going to pick up the bill.”

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