Victoria’s debt is expected to continue to soar after Tuesday’s state budget but Daniel Andrews has defended his government’s plan.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says his government’s budget is about “patience” not “politics”, with the state’s net debt expected to sit at $101.9bn by the end of the financial year.
Tuesday’s budget saw more than $12bn go into health in an attempt to fix and support the sector, but saw Victoria’s debt sink further into the red.
That state’s debt is expected to grow to a massive $167.5bn in 2025-26, though Mr Andrews defended the borrowings as a necessary move in a post-Covid world.
“The governor of the reserve rank, head of the federal treasury and every credible economist around the world said, ‘look, you need to use your budget and balance sheet to protect household budgets and business balance sheets’. So we had to go and borrow,” Mr Andrews said on Wednesday.
“If you hadn’t have done that then we literally would have made the worst of times so much worse again. That would not have been an answer.”
But one shining light for Victorians was a projected operating surplus of $650m by 2025-26.
Mr Andrews said this predicted figure was part of the government’s plan to “stabilise” those borrowings.
“Bringing stability and, in some ways this is the most important point, a surplus. A $650m in the 2025-26 year,” he said.
“You’re not only in a better position to start servicing the borrowings you had to make, but also to start paying that down.”
The Premier was questioned on the likelihood of this surplus being delivered, with the budget papers saying the risk to Victoria’s economic outlook were “greater than normal” and the forecasts were subject to a “higher degree of uncertainty”.
Mr Andrews acknowledged there was “tragedy” and “uncertainty” all across the world, but expressed hope that the $650m surplus projection would come to pass.
“Treasury in my experience, particularly Victorian treasury, are conservative in the way in which they try and forecast,” he said.
“More often than not their sense of what the future will hold, we’ve actually done better than that.
“We could have gone even further and had larger surpluses, but that would have meant we didn’t invest in the healthcare and health staff that Victorians need.”
But the Victorian Liberals actually argued on Tuesday there was a $2bn cut to the state’s health funding in the budget.
“Victoria has a healthcare crisis and Labor is ripping $2bn from our hospitals, aged care system and mental health services,” Liberal MP Georgie Crozier said.
“It’s black and white in the budget, the only person cutting health funding is Daniel Andrews.”
But Mr Andrews said the same level of investment in some health protection services was no longer needed after they received more funding during the height of the pandemic.
“Once everyone’s vaccinated and you’re in a different phase of the pandemic, well if you were to keep funding them (certain health services) you’d be taking money away from surgery, you’d be taking money away from employing more nurses,” he said.
“That wouldn’t make any sense at all, unless of course you were playing a political game. If the politics were more important to you than the patience.”
Originally published as Daniel Andrews says state budget is about ‘patience’ not ‘politics’