‘Sexist’ or a ‘green shoot for women’?: Victoria’s pandemic-busting budget


“There’s a women-in-construction strategy, $5 million to get more women there, $5 million for women in TAFE training programs, a women-in-transport strategy … $6.5 million to find and train women as surveyors; it almost looks sexist,” he said.

The first budget in which the disproportionate toll on Victorian women of the pandemic was named and directly addressed was “the ladies’ day budget … the Oaks Day budget”, he quipped. Mitchell welcomed his guest, seasoned campaigner Tanja Kovac, with the opening gambit: “It’s sexist by definition, isn’t it?”

I think it’s sexist to roll out the same kind of stimulus package that does not address the particular harm this recession has caused women.

Danielle Wood, Economic Society of Australia president

Kovac, chief of staff to the late minister for women, Fiona Richardson, and now the chief executive of Gender Equity Victoria, was nonplussed. “Is it sexist to want to have a 35 per cent lift in gross domestic product to the state? That’s what gender equity delivers you,” she shot back.

“That’s from the International Monetary Fund; it’s what they’re telling governments all around the world that they need to do: if they close the gender gap, they’re going to get a 35 per cent lift in gross domestic product.” That wasn’t sexist, Mitchell agreed, in what became a friendly interview.

For Kovac as well as community and corporate women’s advocates, academics and economists who have argued for gendered programs such as those included in this budget – steps to help relieve the extra burden of care, job creation in female-heavy industries and upskilling for women to enter new ones and subsidies to keep older women employed – this budget is “a start”.

On Kovac’s maths, over four years the total expenditure on gender equality measures is “still less than 1 per cent”. Still, it is better than things looked just months back when, as the state’s woes multiplied, advocacy groups got the message that women’s economic insecurity was nowhere near top of mind for Treasury.

She believes the “wave of rage” unleashed over the lack of a significant boost for childcare funding and investment in the care sector generally in federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s second budget, and the dismissal of criticism for this, helped to focus Victorian minds on action.

According to ABS figures, in the six months to September more than 6 per cent of Victorian women lost their jobs, while just under 4 per cent of men became unemployed; men lost 70,000 jobs, about 39,000 fewer than their female counterparts.

While celebrating gender-specific solutions, experts including University of South Australia Emeritus Professor Rhonda Sharp, author of the framework for Australia’s first gender-responsive budget strategy in the 1980s and a former UN adviser, and Dr Leonora Risse, a labour economics and gender equality specialist at RMIT University, say gains will only be meaningful if a “gender lens” stays.

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“Statistics are pretty clear that women are hardest hit in terms of job losses in Victoria. There is no doubting the evidence. We know what industries are the highest employers of women and what industries were most affected by the lockdown,” Risse says.

“We also know from time-use studies that women take on more of the caring responsibilities on average, so if you’re concerned about how you restore the economy and make sure [you support] workers whose jobs aren’t there any more, and their capacity to join the workforce has been suppressed, to design policies that accommodate those people requires a gender lens.”

Even if you focus solely on the worst-hit industries, “you would be thinking about female workers in the interests of the economy”, Risse says. “It’s an extremely logical investment … to allow the economy to operate more efficiently and more productively.”

Sharp describes this budget as “a green shoot for women, not the full flower. It needs to be institutionalised”, if for no other reason than “women’s labour force participation in the post-war era has been the biggest single cause of economic growth”.

Women’s workplace participation will be “the long tail concern of this recession”, says Grattan Institute chief executive (and national president of the Economic Society of Australia) Danielle Wood. “We’ve seen so many women leave the workforce, and I think there is a real risk some of those women won’t come back or won’t come back soon,” she says.

Free kinder and some before- and after-care in 2021 would help some women back, but “we still need the Commonwealth government to act [on childcare support] if we’re going to make serious inroads.” It was “almost pointed” that the state chose to act on wage subsidies for older women and some childcare relief, areas of federal responsibility that the October budget was attacked for overlooking.

“[Victoria’s] feels like it was a budget for the times, for this recession, and that addresses the areas of most acute need,” Wood says. “It’s interesting that when you have a budget that tries to address some of the underlying issues, the big issues that have faced women [during the pandemic], that that’s called sexist.

“I think it’s sexist to roll out the same kind of stimulus package [as for previous recessions] that does not address the particular harm this recession has caused women.”

There are “still plenty of hard hats going on in this budget, and rightly so”, she says.

“We know the housing construction sector will take a big hit, so it’s absolutely right for the government to invest in social housing. The Property Council called it a hard-hat and high-vis budget – there is plenty in there for that sector.”

Economist Angela Jackson, of Equity Economics, says gender-responsive budgeting, a feature of Australian federal budgets installed by prime minister Bob Hawke but abolished during Tony Abbott’s term, has become “the norm” internationally for its proven economic impact and is supported by the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank.

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The lens applied to last week’s budget has been “strong and is to be welcomed but now needs to be embedded into the process”. Policies such as skills education and tutoring support are particularly useful.

“One of the things that is really strong in the literature is if you’ve got a poorly developing four-year-old, your chance of participating in the workforce is greatly reduced,” Jackson says. “We know female participation in the workforce is heavily impacted by the development of kids. If they’re not doing well, they will tend to cut back their hours or drop out altogether.”

She urges the federal government to offer similar policies: “Women have an important role to play in the family, yes, but also in the economy.

“They are a really good source of potential economic growth. But they need to be supported in that. The thing to remember is if men and women aren’t doing well, none of us are doing well. We’re part of a community, and women have been badly affected by this virus and the economic fallout,” Jackson says.

On some issues, for example reducing male suicide and educational attainment, a gender lens that focuses on male workers may be required. “But if we don’t support women in the recovery, everyone will suffer. This is about addressing the problem as it stands,” she says.

“If a woman gets back into work, other jobs are created around her: male or female jobs. It isn’t sexist to understand and to address that.”

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Trump says he’ll leave White House peacefully; Victoria’s 28-day virus milestone, officially coronavirus-free; NSW train delays; Biden faces test over sharing Trump’s secret calls; Nation braces for severe heatwave; Shopping centres added to South Australia virus alert list


People who attended certain shopping centres are certain times need to monitor for symptoms and get tested, South Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has said.

“Even mild symptoms, so feeling a bit down or tired, a slightly itchy nose, scratchy throat, a bit of a headache even, a bit of an upset tummy,” Dr Nicola Spurrier said.

“Anything at all and you’ve been in this locations, get tested.”

The Kilkenny Arndale shopping centre last Sunday from 11am to 11.30am, or Sunday, November 15, from 11.30am to 12.30pm.

Port Adelaide Plaza on Friday November 13 from 6.40pm until 9.30pm, or Sunday November 15 from 3pm to 3.30pm.



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‘Disastrous’ or a smart move? How Victoria’s case for an electric car usage tax stacks up | Environment


The Victorian government has proposed a new road usage tax for electric vehicles, mirroring moves in South Australia that some critics are saying could dissuade prospective buyers.

The tax would look to charge motorists 2.5c a kilometre for electric vehicles, while a 2c/km charge would be applied to plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Victoria’s treasurer, Tim Pallas, announced the new charges as part of the lead-up to the release of the state budget, saying he hoped the tax would create a “fairer system” for taxing road users.

But some critics have said the new tax flies in the face of the global movement towards zero emissions, and would potentially discourage people from taking up the new technology.

The Electric Vehicle Council’s chief executive, Behyad Jafari, told the Guardian the decision was “disastrous” and the government needed to rethink its approach.

“Australia is going to become the first country in the world to discourage people from buying electric vehicles by adding a new tax on to them.”

So, what are the arguments against this tax, and how do they stack up? We break it down for you.

Why do people think it’s a bad idea?

Simon Holmes à Court, a senior adviser to the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University, said that although transport reforms were inevitable, this particular reform and its timing was a “terrible idea”.

“Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world with the electric vehicle transition.”

Electric vehicles have only 0.6% market share in Australia, according to the Global EV Outlook, compared with 2.6% globally and 4.9% in China.

Potential customers currently need to pay a luxury tax, a stamp duty and GST. Unlike in some countries, such as the US, there are no subsidies for electric vehicles in Australia.

“We already have a significant tax take on electric vehicles that we don’t see in other countries, which goes a long way to explaining why Australian uptake is so far behind the rest of the world.

“We disincentivise, rather than incentivise.”

With the addition of a usage tax, Holmes à Court said electric vehicles would become more expensive in Victoria.

“A lot of people are holding out until they can afford it, and by putting this extra tax on top Victoria has just kicked it further into the future.”

According to the NRMA, hybrid cars start at about $26,500, but pure electric vehicles start at around $47,500. Buying used is also a challenge due to the small number of electric vehicles on the road in Australia.

Do fuel excises really pay for our roads?

Pallas said in presenting the tax that the money made would be invested in improving roads. But some experts doubted that the tax would, whether directly or implicitly, go towards fixing roads.







An electric car charging station in Canberra. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

“If fuel excise funded roads, we’d be driving on gold plated roads by now,” said Holmes à Court, explaining that fuel excise had not directly gone into roads since 1959.

He said it was a tax like any other tax, such as wine excise or income tax, and that there was no specific connection between fuel excise taxes and investment in roads.

“It’s a myth,” Jafari said, pointing out that it was not the state government that collects fuel excise taxes.

“Fuel excise is recovered by the federal government, and you have the state government saying it wants to tax this, so they’re not making up for lost tax revenue today. It’s more of a tax grab by them.”

Is this a tax for the future?

Uptake is fairly low right now, but many believe that electric vehicles will eventually make up a majority of cars on the road. With a road usage tax already in place, the state government will then be well placed to take advantage.

“This is about introducing a tax now, when there is almost no constituency,” Holmes à Court said.

From a budgetary perspective, he conceded the tax made some sense, but said there were more challenges from an environmental perspective.

“If you’re a treasurer, this is a smart move. If you’re an environment minister, this is dumb. You are slowing down the transition to electric vehicles by putting them out of reach of more Australians.”

The government anticipates that the tax will bring in $30ma year. However, Holmes à Court believes the tax could bring in “a couple of billion a year” by the 2030s.

Introducing the tax then could prove more difficult than doing so now, according to Jafari, who said that to some degree, the government was motivated to introduce it because they do not anticipate much pushback.

Isn’t this about fairness? Shouldn’t everyone pay their fair share?

A report by Ernst and Young released earlier this year found the opposite. The report said electric vehicles each provided a net benefit of $8,763 to the economy over a 10-year life span, and that they directly contributed more to government revenue that petrol or diesel-based vehicles.

So, in a sense, advocates argue that owners of electric vehicles are already pulling their tax weight, without the introduction of a usage charge.

Marion Terrill, the transport and cities program director at the Grattan Institute, said the call for fairness had more weight than other arguments, but people still needed to consider the environmental impact of the vehicles.

“This argument needs to have injected into it is a consideration that you’re contributing to lower emissions than would have otherwise been the case.”

Terrill also said the issue with the tax was less about focusing on the wealthy and more about how the tax would affect those on the margins and in two minds about purchasing an electric vehicle.

“I think price increases will affect people at the margin, people thinking ‘Oh, will I or won’t I?’ A price increase is likely to affect their decision.”

The impact on uptake was a point Jafari returned to often, saying that adding more charges onto electric vehicles would put people off from making the switch.

“This actually has a harmful impact on equity. If you want to make something accessible to people, you make it cheaper not more expensive.”

What about an alternative?

Terrill and the Grattan Institute suggested an alternative tax should instead look at congestion, arguing that if the goal was to address costs and emissions, a tax on electric cars would miss the mark.

“What I find disappointing about this proposal is that it doesn’t address congestion … which we know to be a very significant cost on the community – there’s a significant productivity opportunity there.

“It would allow you to delay building new infrastructure because it helps to spread out usage across the day, and it would encourage people who can be flexible about when they travel or how they travel to do so.”

Other ideas, such as taxing vehicles based on weight (and potential damage done to roads) or a tax based on distance travelled, have been tossed up.

But Jafari argues that because such taxes are far more wide reaching, they’d be far more difficult to sell to the public.

“The government has just decided it’s too difficult for them, because it’s always difficult to explain new taxes,” he said. “The only reason they’re pursuing electric vehicle taxes is because so few people are driving electric cars.”



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‘Tech loving geeks’ confused by Victoria’s electric vehicle tax


Electric vehicle owners like those at Girl Geek Academy could be charged more in tax than some high-end hybrid vehicles, according to the Electric Vehicle Council, the national body that represents the electric vehicle industry in Australia.

For example, a $108,000 Lexus RX450H hybrid would attract a fee of $2.41 for every 100 kilometres travelled (5.7 litres per 100 kms fuel economy, at 42.3 cents a litre of fuel excise). In comparison, Ms Moran’s Nissan Leaf would be charged $2.50 per 100 kilometres.

New research from the University of Queensland surveyed 500 households about their attitudes towards road user charges and found that if a 2.5 cent per km EV tax was introduced, consumers saw this as being equivalent to a $4,500 increase in the vehicle’s purchase price.

Victoria will start taxing electric vehicle owners for every kilometre they drive.

This acts as a disincentive, research author Dr Jake Whitehead said. “You get less uptake because there’s a decrease in their willingness to pay this higher price.”

Introducing EV taxes risked pushing Australia “even further into the wilderness” in terms of uptake, and was incompatible with mid-century net zero emission targets, he said.

Mr Whitehead made it clear that his preliminary findings had not been peer-reviewed, but he had released them given public interest on the topic this week.

Behyad Jafari, the chief executive of the Electric Vehicle Council, said Australia would be the only country to tax EV users, while comparable countries offer generous incentives.

The weekend’s tax announcement was already having an impact on the market, he said, with the council hearing from dealerships that EV orders had been cancelled.

VicRoads estimates the average distance travelled by light passenger vehicles is 13,100km a year, meaning that on average EV owners would pay an additional $330 a year, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle owners would pay $260 a year.

The NSW Government is looking into recommendations from the independent NSW Review of Federal Financial Relations, including that the state phase in a “fair and nationally compatible” road user charge, with electric vehicles as a potential pilot.

A Victorian government spokesperson said the tax would ensure all motorists paid a fair share for record investments in the roads network.

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What the AMA boss thinks Victoria’s COVID-19 priorities should be now – 3AW


As Victoria records a major COVID-19 milestone, with no active cases for the first time since February, the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association says our attention should now turn to two areas to ensure there aren’t major future outbreaks.

Associate Professor Julian Rait says it’s “certainly a very fine hour” for the state.

He says Victoria’s medical system has “always been ready”, but there are two areas where we can and must improve to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We need to make sure that our quarantine procedures are up to scratch, and that our contact tracing works,” he told Neil Mitchell.

“By all accounts there’s been some improvements around contact tracing, particularly around the IT systems.

“Also, we hopefully have quarantine procedures sorted, so that … as has been suggested, we’ll have the workers living in with the various overseas travellers and not actually circulating in the community as much.”

Professor Rait says he’s confident an effective vaccine will be available soon.

“While other countries might need it more desperately, I think when it does get to Australia it’s going to be quite sufficient to really reduce the severity of it,” he said.

Press PLAY below for more.



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Victoria’s Loy Yang A power station to have 200MW battery operational by 2023, owner AGL says


The Loy Yang A power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley will be home to a new 200 megawatt (MW) battery that can provide electricity to the grid during times of peak demand, its owner has said.

Energy giant AGL plans to start construction mid to late next year and have the battery operational in 2023.

It will form part of an 850MW battery system the company is developing across four sites, including a 250MW battery at the Torrens Island power station in South Australia.

AGL general manager major projects Lucy Martin said batteries were an important part of Australia’s shift towards renewable power.

“With solar and with wind, when the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining, like on a day like today, then we need to have that capacity to be able to buffer the supply,” Ms Martin said.

She said the battery would also support the grid during times of peak demand during summer or when Loy Yang A capacity was reduced during maintenance.

AGL general manager major projects Lucy Martin says batteries are an important part of Australia’s shift towards renewable power.(ABC Gippsland: Jarrod Whittaker)

Battery welcomed

The Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the announcement was a major win for the Latrobe Valley, home to the state’s coal-fired power stations.

Earlier this month, the Government announced it would build a 300MW battery at Moorabool near Geelong which should be operational by November 2021.

“This announcement comes just weeks after we announced that Victoria is building the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest battery [at Moorabool],” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Victoria has a Renewable Energy Target of sourcing 50 per cent of its power from renewables by 2030.

Environment Victoria (EV) said the announcement showed in the future electricity would come from wind and solar and be supported by batteries.

“But that is clearly where the world is moving, and Victoria and Australia are no exception.”

‘Number of construction jobs’

AGL said it was still determining how many jobs the battery would create in the Latrobe Valley, but that most of the positions would come during construction rather than the operational stage of the project.

But Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Gippsland organiser Steve Dodd said the region needed the jobs.

“[There’s] going to be a number of construction jobs, first up, and then there’ll be some operational and maintenance jobs,” Mr Dodd said.



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Victoria’s proposed electric car road usage tax gets mixed reactions


The Victorian Government’s plans to tax electric vehicle owners a road usage fee could discourage people from taking up the new technology, an industry group says.

The new tax was announced by Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas yesterday, in the lead-up to the release of the State Budget.

A 2.5 cent/km charge would apply to electric and other zero-emission vehicles, including hydrogen vehicles, and a 2.0 cent/km charge would apply to plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles.

“We need to recognise we have to put in place appropriate arrangements as we move to more electric vehicles and low-emissions vehicles on the network,” he said.

The Victorian Government hopes to introduce the new tax in mid-2021.

Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) chief executive Behyad Jafari, who represents the industry in Australia, said the tax would have a “detrimental impact on the uptake and availability of electric vehicles in Australia”.

“Our market’s already behind a list of other developed nations, with less than 1 per cent of vehicles sold in Australia being electric — and [the tax] is only going to do more harm to that.”

However Adrian Dwyer, the chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA), a think tank that has called for road user charges for electric vehicles, said the tax would help ensure roads were paid for as more people transitioned away from petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Currently, roughly 42c per litre on petrol and diesel fuel goes to the Federal Government.

“Right now we raise about $11 billion per year through fuel excise, and that’s in terminal decline with the greater fuel efficiency of vehicles,” he said.

“As those dollars go, the money’s going to need to come from somewhere to pay for roads.”

Mr Dwyer also rejected the idea the new tax would push people away from electric cars.

“I think it’s pretty clear that if someone’s buying a $180,000 Tesla, they’re not going to be disincentivised by a couple of hundred bucks a year on road user charges,” he said.

“That would just be demonstrably untrue.”

South Australia only other state to tax electric car users

The tax would make Victoria the second state to announce a tax on electric car users. South Australia announced a similar measure this month.

Mr Pallas said the Government expected the charge would raise about $30 million per year.

“This is essentially the Government making it a fairer system so that everybody pays their share of the wear and tear that they all bring in place,” he said.

But Mr Pallas said the revenue would be “more than offset” by $45 million in the next Budget for measures to encourage electric car use, such as the creation of more charging stations.

Mr Dwyer said transitioning to a “pay for what you use” approach was important to ensure governments continued generating revenue from road users.

Traffic slows on a freeway
The Greens say a reform of road tax is needed.(Reuters: David Gray, File photo)

But the Victorian Greens opposed imposing a road usage tax specifically on electric car users.

“This is a lazy tax that squibs the wider reform of replacing fuel excise with road user charges,” transport spokesperson Sam Hibbins said in a statement.

“Placing a standalone tax on electric vehicles without wider reform will act as a disincentive for cleaner air and lower emissions.”

Mr Jafari also acknowledged the need for road tax reform but said encouraging electric vehicle uptake should come before looking at new taxes.

“No-one’s against the idea of talking about road funding reform — it’s really just about timing,” he said.

“And at this very early time for electric vehicles, while the rest of the world is providing support to encourage uptake, this is the wrong time for Victoria to be taxing them and discouraging people from buying them.”



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Victoria’s COVID-19 State Budget is a chance to help Melbourne’s outer suburbs catch up, experts say


Essential cleaning kept Katie Lindsay Fuimaono’s head above water during Melbourne’s second wave.

She had been nearly a year into expanding her maintenance business, based in Point Cook in Melbourne’s west, to include concreting when the pandemic hit.

“We tried really hard to save the concrete side, but even coming out of the wave we found that we just had to let it go,” Ms Lindsay Fuimaono said.

Letting the fledgling side of the business go also involved letting staff go.

Ms Lindsay Fuimaono, her husband and their three remaining staff were among more than 3,700 people kept afloat by JobKeeper in the 3030 postcode, on Melbourne’s south-western fringe.

“It didn’t feel real,” she said. “No-one ever saw this coming either. It was hard.”

In suburbs like Truganina, there are concerns infrastructure development is well behind population growth.(ABC News: Gemma Hall)

As Melbourne entered its second lockdown in July there were 7,303 JobKeeper applicants in the CBD — the most of any postcode in Victoria.

Next in line, with between 3,000 and 4,000 JobKeeper applicants each, were five postcodes forming a ring around the city’s fringe — taking in Truganina, Dandenong, Werribee, Craigieburn and Cranbourne.

These areas, which already had high levels of financial and social disadvantage, are where experts say targeted assistance in Tuesday’s State Budget is needed to help cushion the impacts of the pandemic.

The big issues on the other side of COVID

Melbourne’s Interface Councils group — which represents the 10 councils on Melbourne’s fringe — is calling for spending on local infrastructure projects and boosts to social services in those areas.

“There’s a lot of projects already in the planning stages, so having the money to actually get those started, that will increase job opportunities and business opportunities,” said Karen Egan, a spokesperson for Interface Councils.

Karen Egan stands on a verandah with her hands clasped in front of her.
Karen Egan represents outer suburban communities with large numbers of residents on JobKeeper.

“We’ve had the greatest losses of jobs, also the greatest impacts on businesses and we’ve got the most reliance on JobKeeper.

“Coming out of post-COVID, there’s going to be significant issues.”

Ms Egan said there was already a shortfall in the availability of community and health services.

Demand for those services had only been made worse by an increase in family violence and mental health issues during the lockdown.

The availability of health and community services is an area of concern shared by National Growth Areas Alliance executive officer Bronwen Clark.

“Vulnerable communities in the outskirts of Melbourne really need access to family violence support,” she said.

Bronwen Clark standing outdoors wearing a pink jacket.
Bronwen Clark says families need help with hospitals and family violence support services.(ABC News: Nicole Asher)

“So we’re calling for Orange Door hubs [a free referral service for family violence victims], for example, to be placed in the north and south-east of Melbourne,” Ms Clark said.

“We need a hospital in Melton — the population in Melton is bigger than Ballarat and has no hospital of its own.”

The National Growth Areas Alliance is also keen to see spending go towards co-working spaces, so people can continue to work from the suburbs where they live after working-from-home restrictions are lifted.

“Between three and five people working from home in the outer suburbs would like to continue that way, at least part of the time,” she said.

“They’ve also been shown to be the home of the industries and the people who’ve kept Victoria running during the pandemic.

“Further investment in the transport and freight and logistics infrastructure that’s needed is really crucial when it comes to supporting people to get working in the neighbourhoods.”

A unique opportunity to play catch-up

With population growth slowing due to closed borders, transport and logistics expert John Stanley said there was an opportunity in this Budget for infrastructure and service spending to catch up in these areas.

“You’ve got municipalities growing 3 per cent per annum and faster over [the past] decade, which adds a huge number of people to your population base, but the expenditure hasn’t anywhere near kept up,” Professor Stanley said.

“One of the benefits of COVID will be that’s it’s given us an opportunity to play that catch-up without also having to struggle at the same time with the growth that would otherwise have occurred over the last 12 months and the next 12 months.”

People walking in a suburban park on a sunny day next to water.
The pause in population growth after the pandemic means councils can catch-up on infrastructure, Professor Stanley says.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

Professor Stanley has spent years consulting governments on infrastructure planning, including for the development of a long-term land use strategy Plan Melbourne.

He said there were two main areas where spending was needed in this year’s Budget: local public transport, and the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods, where people can get everything they need close to home.

“My expectation is that there’ll be a very small increase in funding for bus services in the State Budget in the outer suburbs and I think that would be an opportunity missed,” Professor Stanley said.

“Local bus services should be running at at least a 20-minute frequency. That means about 55 services a day. There would be very few parts of outer Melbourne that would be anywhere near that.

“If you were to spend an extra $200–300 million in capital terms it’s worth about $4 billion, which is peanuts relative to what we’re spending in heavy rail and in major road projects at the moment — but the returns to the local community would be very significant.”



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Victoria’s contact tracing system was overwhelmed, Finkel says


Dr Finkel told the inquiry on Wednesday Victoria would have benefited from having a digital system earlier during the second wave, even as the owner of Cedar Meats blamed the health department for failures that exacerbated its big outbreak.

Cedar Meats owner Tony Kairouz, speaking publicly for the first time about one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks, deflected any blame to the state health department, claiming its response was “complex and inefficient” and failed to conduct on-site tests or communicate properly with his company’s multicultural staff.

‘Has to be better’

Dr Finkel said: “I’m enthusiastic about the benefits of having a fully digital end-to-end platform going forward. So having that at an earlier stage would have been better.

“I really can’t speculate what would have been the outcome if we had it earlier,” he said, but the complete digitisation of test information “has to be better”.

Dr Finkel heard reports of “overlapping decisions” and cases being lost or duplicated, as Victoria’s paper-based system became “overwhelmed” during the peak of the state’s second wave in late July and August, when more than 700 new cases a day were being reported.

“The other advantage [of a digital system] is you don’t lose track of what’s going on and you don’t lose cases, and you get data reports,” Dr Finkel said.

However, he cautioned the inquiry that he had entered in “the middle of the firefight” and his focus was on improving the system, not investigating what went wrong.

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed and yes Victoria was overwhelmed,” Dr Finkel told the inquiry.

“It all comes to preparation and there’s no question the Victorian system was overwhelmed and cases just weren’t being managed end to end, some were lost, duplications occurred.”

Big improvement

He said the contact tracing system had now significantly improved and “the system has now settled down” into what he called “a best practice management structure”, a point made in his most recent report.

Separately, Cedar Meats’ Mr Kairouz told the inquiry they were not told about a case until April 27 and their factory was closed on May 1.

He said he was never made aware of a case in an employee on April 2.

Mr Andrews has previously said the April 2 case told health authorities he never attended work while infectious and so Cedar Meats were never notified.

“We were totally in the hands of DHHS,” Mr Kairouz said.

He praised the hard work and diligence of departmental officers but said that in hindsight, staff should have been tested before being sent home, as wrong contact details and language barriers added to “a lot of confusion”.

“In the early discussions with DHHS, Cedar Meats strongly advocated for all staff to be tested on-site before they were sent home on that Friday, May 1,” Mr Kairouz said.

“We knew how difficult it would be to communicate with 350 people of such diverse backgrounds and language barriers once they had left the business.”

The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian president, Julian Rait, raised concerns about the culture within the DHHS.

“I think culturally there is a flaw in the department,” Dr Rait told the inquiry.

“Open disclosure and honesty is what’s expected of medical professionals, quite properly, and it’s not something that’s basically been modelled by the department at all.

“They have instead decided to, sort of, be very defensive and keep their imperfections to themselves.”

Former President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Mukesh Haikerwal also told the inquiry GPs were told not to test close contacts of positive COVID cases who were asymptomatic.

Mr Haikerwal said he would test anyone who is the direct contact of a positive case, regardless of whether they symptoms.

“Put me in jail, but that’s what I’m going to do. It’s really important that people get tested now,” he said.



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Victoria’s top health bureaucrat Kym Peake resigns following coronavirus hotel quarantine inquiry


The head of Victoria’s health department has resigned “to pursue other opportunities”, less than two months after facing the state’s hotel quarantine inquiry.

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) secretary Kym Peake came under fire at the inquiry for refusing to accept blame for the ill-fated program, claiming it was not solely her department’s responsibility.

Ms Peake told the inquiry the program was run across multiple government departments despite evidence at the inquiry stating the public health administration body was in charge after the program was established.

During two days of at-times heated questioning, Ms Peake said it was a “matter of profound regret” that Victoria experienced a second wave.

“Kym Peake, who has served in the role for the last five years, has decided to step down from the position to pursue other opportunities,” the Government said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

Ms Peake announced her departure in an email to DHHS staff on Thursday, and referenced the “enormous collective effort” of recording consecutive days without coronavirus cases.

“You know that I believe in depth of leadership and the importance of new perspectives. This is how we will continue to maintain the hard-won gains against the virus and ensure we build back better,” she wrote.

“After deep reflection, I have decided to leave the Department. I do so knowing I leave it in incredibly capable hands.”

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DHHS secretary Kym Peake tells the inquiry she profoundly regrets not being able to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.

Ms Peake’s resignation comes a month after the head of the Department and Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, quit his role.

She was one of several politicians and bureaucrats, including the state’s Chief Health Officer, asked to provide additional evidence to the inquiry last month.

The wait for the documents meant the final findings will be handed down before December 21, instead of the original deadline of November 6.

Instead, an interim report handed down last week made recommendations for the resumption of the state’s hotel quarantine scheme.

Ms Peake revealed to the inquiry that she did always pass on issues in hotel quarantine to then-minister Jenny Mikakos, an issue that the interim report of the Coate inquiry highlighted.

Deputy to take over secretary role

A man in a suit standing in front of a purple background.
Professor Euan Wallace will take over the role on November 17.(ABC News)

Ms Peake’s contract at the top of DHHS was due to expire soon.

“Ms Peake has led significant reform that has touched the lives of many Victorians including the relief and recovery from recent bushfires, the establishment of the mental health royal commission, and the delivery of many of the recommendations from the family violence royal commission,” the Government statement said.

“We thank Ms Peake for her dedicated service to Victoria and for her tireless commitment throughout the pandemic and her time with DHHS. We wish her well for the future.”

The deputy secretary of DHHS, Euan Wallace, has been appointed the new head of the department.

Professor Wallace will start in the role from Tuesday.

The Government said Professor Wallace had been jointly responsible for case management, contact tracing and outbreak management whilst serving as deputy secretary.

“Prof Wallace is a widely respected leader in the health sector and is well placed to lead the department through its next phase of pandemic response and recovery,” the statement said.

He had been serving as deputy on secondment from his role as CEO of SaferCare Victoria.



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