Matthew Guy uses budget reply speech to attack Victoria’s response to the pandemic
The Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy, has delivered a budget reply speech focused on attacking the government’s response to the pandemic, without announcing any new policies ahead of the November state election.
Guy characterised the premier, Daniel Andrews, as an “arrogant and unchecked” leader, who would send Victoria “broke” as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns, cost overruns on major projects and record debt levels.
“What we are living today is the handiwork of long-term Labor and a long-term premier. A man whose ego says, ‘I need to be here longer than Bracks’ – his ego says, ‘I need to be here longer than Kennett’,” he told parliament’s lower house on Thursday.
“A man motivated by a bronze statue of himself and not motivated by fixing the many problems he and his government have caused.”
Guy was referring to the statues outside Treasury Place, awarded to Victorian premiers who had led the state for 3,000 days or more. If Andrews wins a third election in November and serves until next May he will qualify for one, though he has said he has given no thought to the matter.
The speech criticised the government’s response to the pandemic, including failures in hotel quarantine and decisions to close playgrounds, impose curfews and separate metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria at various stages.
“While this horror played out and people were dying … the government’s focus was, of course, on itself. Covid management to this government was about PR management first and health second,” Guy said.
He repeatedly referred to the government as a “one man show” and “Dan show”, in an apparent reference to the daily press conferences held during the state’s second wave of Covid-19.
“That hectoring voice, it’s driven us all mad for far too long. We all want to change the channel,” Guy said.
Treasurer Tim Pallas’s eighth budget, handed down last week, committed $12bn to repairing the healthcare system, which the government says has suffered as a result of Covid-19.
The budget also outlined a path to a modest surplus in 2025/26, though debt will rise to a record $167.5bn in the same financial year.
Guy said Victoria was on track to have the equivalent debt to New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia combined.
“Now that’s a special kind of recklessness. Who would have thought that in 2014 when the government changed and Labor came to office, and debt levels were around $20bn, that we’d be genuinely looking at putting another zero on that within two terms of office? And let’s not believe the lie that it was all for Covid,” he said.
While not unveiling any new election promises, Guy repeated commitments outlined earlier this year, including a commitment to no longer impose lockdowns, fix the state’s healthcare and mental health “crisis” and slash hospital waiting lists, cut the cost of living and build an infectious disease hospital.
He has previously said the initiatives would be funded by reining in over-spending on the government’s infrastructure projects.
Asked what he made of the speech, Andrews told reporters outside parliament: “I’m not here to respond to the leader of the opposition and his politics.”
He said he will outline the government’s “positive, optimistic plan” for Victoria in the months before the November election.
“Victorians at that point will have a very clear choice between those who build and invest and get things done – our Labor government – or an alternative, which is people who, whenever they get a chance, cut the things that matter most. Hospitals, schools, auditing projects – just a fancy word for all the building that’s been going on grinding to a halt,” Andrews said.
“My job is to govern and then to put a positive plan before the community and that’s what I’ll do.”