Victorian public expenditure – effect on Cities outside Melbourne

In the previous article about ‘integrity and accountability on Victorian public expenditure for 2016/2017’, I said there were only a few ways to keep actual expenditure in line with budgeted projections.

  1. Don’t spend planned expenditure,
  2. Work to receive higher tax and grant revenues, and recover debts
  3. Work to sell more fee-services, or
  4. Sell State assets for more than you expect.

As a diversion, the fourth item is contentious if proceeds from sales of revenue-producing assets are spent on recurring expenditure of questionable value. E.g. sell a port and spend funds on more public service salaries and fringe benefits, including unbudgeted police numbers (to supposedly to protect citizens from destructive waste; often caused by poor policy-making by the State in the first place).

If we allow our State to use this flawed approach to cover poor management, we are indeed irresponsible citizens.

Concerning the Victorian budget for 2016/2017, I also inferred that if planned expenditure was purposely unspent because of unplanned or over-expenditure in other areas, then most likely promised benefits to local government areas (LGAs) would suffer.

Some friends asked me what this might mean in their various LGAs. So, I thought I’d look at three, Whitehorse, Maroondah and Mornington Peninsula, to investigate the figures.

Mornington Peninsula was to receive funds for refurbishment of the Portsea Life Saving Club (estimated at $1.5 m), improvements to police stations in Sorrento and Rosebud (no dollar allocation), and an upgrade on the Mornington Primary School ($5 m).

I wonder if local members Neale Burgess and Martin Dixon organise to regularly check whether these budget amounts, approved by our Parliament, flow through to the electorate in a timely manner. Or, do they just accept that Treasury and Finance Ministry bureaucrats, on political advice, will hold back payments to balance the books?

This thought begs another question, “Is there a process to align the real needs of LGA with State government budgeting processes?” To disallow powerful centralised political interests from jumping the queue! Alignment could substantially reduce politicking and pork-barrelling, with vastly reduced wasted resources, and increased well-being and flourishing of all Victorians.

My assertion is that democracy demands that budget priorities must be formed at decision-making levels closest to citizens.

Colleagues at Peninsula Voice tell me two big issues on the Mornington Peninsula are domestic violence and freely available meth-amphetamines. Accepting their comments to be true, I’m surprised that the State government did not allocate identifiable funds for the Mornington Peninsula under their goals of ‘action on family violence’, ‘community safety’, and ‘record boost for health’.

Another diversion! It would be interesting to know what beliefs, values and talents of individuals in the City could be built upon to eliminate dynamics of violence and risk-taking. What powerful, latent community assets lie within community groups, local business, and education and health organisations?

Is there any scientific evidence, rather than anecdotes and spin, that wilful use of the State’s ideological power, or marketing power for profit, or seductive media will ever solve these destructive problems, which curse genuine efforts to bring about well being and human flourishing?

Do we need to put our faith and trust in a logic that transcends the market economy and ideological political processes?

What logic and values frameworks actually cause sustainable well being and human flourishing? It must be a logic and framework strong enough to overwhelm causes of violent waste and destruction among relationships. It must exist! Otherwise there is no reason to exist!

Over decades, I’ve seen it working among mature families and communities. I’ve seen it in organisations and sporting teams. It’s like a spirit beyond the talents of the most talented. Surely, this logic and these values could be built upon!

Back to the budget, you still have to ask why Ministers d’Ambrosio, Foley, Hennessy, Hutchins, Mikakos, Neville and Richardson, and their respective policy committees, cannot justify 2016/2017 budget funds to Mornington Peninsula to solve these wasteful and destructive issues.

Hopefully, it’s not because local Parliamentarians are in the Opposition. That would be a mockery of public trust!

This Victorian budget allocated funds to Maroondah under ‘Education State’ ($17.9m), which I think is for regeneration of Melba Secondary College, and $10m for a new Breast Cancer Centre at the Maroondah Hospital precinct under the ‘Record boost to health’ goal.

Are scheduled payments for these projects up-to-date? These are big-money projects. Are contractors who are committed to Maroondah benefiting from the work?

Community journalists could seek assurances from the local Councillors and Parliamentarians on these points; and, share the information on their blogs.

Whitehorse benefits through a capital budget allowance of up to $20 m for upgrading of Box Hill Hospital, to reduce elective surgery waiting lists. Again, community journalists might enquire from elected Councillors and Parliamentarians Angus, Clark, Ryall and Watt how this project directly feeds into the well being and human flourishing of Whitehorse citizens.

As I write this report, I wonder how citizens of Cities can build and maintain sustainable pressure within the political process to hold parliament and bureaucracy accountable for the promises they make.

One possibility lies with journalists – functioning as guardians of the peoples’ public interest and  watchdogs on the activities of government.

Sadly, in Australia there is a growing concentration of professional journalists into the ABC and News Corporation. A very senior person in the Herald Sun once said to me ”Rupert’ doesn’t tell you what to do. But why would you work with News Corporation if you didn’t buy into what he is on about?’ Also, journalists are exiting the call of public interest, to join State structures as media communications experts; ‘spin merchants!’ Is it possible this is ‘our’ money being used to tell us lies?

Margaret Simons of the Centre for Advancing Journalism (CAJ) goes further. She informed a meeting I attended that citizens of Cities are ‘the Fifth Estate’, who need to hold professional journalists accountable to their traditional ‘Fourth Estate’ responsibilities. CAJ are even teaching people to become the Fifth Estate.

For this to happen, we, the citizens, must act! We need to question the ethical framework under which professional journalists are working. Do they conscientiously follow the MEAA code of ethics? If they do, we need to actively engage and encourage them to act according to that framework. We should also encourage their independence from unethical demands placed on them by corporate managers in  media organisations in which they work.

But, this means committed community journalists need to work under the same ethical rigour. We need to network with and complement the efforts of independent, ethical professional journalists. Or, is it the other around?

A final diversion! You’ll notice an inferred value underpinning this article. The assets to improve well-being and human flourishing of the people in Maroondah, Whitehorse and Mornington Peninsula lie within the people themselves. We do not believe the State can ever be a panacea of our problems.

Resources to build well-being and human flourishing in Cities need to be prioritised by community leaders within the Cities, not through ideological programming by a State government. This assertion, if acted upon in Cities, would reorient how State governments plan, facilitate and give resources to meet the prioritised needs of the Cities.

Even Adam Smith would agree it’s almost feudal to allow enormous resources to be focused on the urbanisation of Melbourne through convergent networks of media, business, advertising, entertainment and sports, gambling and politics; to suit their perceived economic needs and market forces.

This takes us back to the question, “Is there a process to align needs of LGAs with State government budgeting processes?” More, it speaks to placing the power for planning back into the hands of community leaders. These plans would then feed into State budgets.

This would force State parliaments to focus on those things that State governments should focus on. It would cut ideological use of public expenditure in areas ‘feed them cake’ major events, and ‘band-aid’ panaceas for myriad problems.

Despite my diversions, this article is pointedly asking questions about ineffective use of scarce resources through our budgeting processes. May informed conversation and agitation continue! Community journalists become involved; whatever the cost!


About Bob Simpson

Bob is project manager of The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP). He believes that ethical and independent journalists are vital to the continuing freedom of Australian citizens. You could argue that In recent decades media organisations have subtly subverted journalism to their own private commercial interests, and away from an integrated sense of fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australian society, especially for the disempowered. AMEP aims to change general media narratives towards greater fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australia.
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