Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has refused to bite when repeatedly asked how much the seven-day COVID-19 lockdown will cost the state.
Liberal MP Richard Riordan used the opening minutes of a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing to demand Mr Pallas reveal details about Victoria’s imminent restrictions.
“You’re going to announce a lockdown in one hour – have you got money in the budget for it?” Mr Riordan asked on Thursday.
Before Acting Premier James Merlino’s announcement that Victoria would enter a seven-day lockdown from midnight, Mr Riordan asked whether he would be able to buy a takeaway coffee and what assistance businesses would receive.
The parliamentary committee’s deputy chair said Victoria’s snap lockdown in February this year cost the state about $1 billion.
“The one thing Victorians can be assured of is that we will stand with them and support them,” Mr Pallas said.
“How and in what material terms – we will ultimately have to make a decision about that. Let’s hope that the federal government are prepared to act in concert with us.”
Liberal Democratic MP David Limbrick asked Mr Pallas whether his statement made last week that Victoria had a “renewed sense of freedom” had aged well.
“Nobody’s pointing a finger of blame around how we seeded from South Australian quarantine the pandemic back into a community that was effectively free of the virus,” Mr Pallas responded.
“Am I disappointed that where we were a week ago is not where we are today? Yes, I am. But this dance will go on until we’ve got to a point where every Victorian has got vaccinated.”
Liberal MP James Newbury said Victoria’s debt level stood at $156 billion, the largest of any state or territory, and asked the treasurer who was footing the bill.
Mr Pallas said domestic banks had purchased 33 per cent of Victoria’s debt, while domestic asset managers had bought 23 per cent.
The rest of it, he said, had been purchased by international asset managers, central banks, sovereign wealth funds, the Reserve Bank, and other domestic governments.
Meanwhile, the treasurer said 243,000 jobs had been created since September, roughly half the new jobs across the nation.
By comparison, Mr Pallas said, NSW had created 61,200 jobs in that time.
“The Victorian economy is the best-performing economy in the nation at the moment,” Mr Pallas said.
He said the Victorian government was introducing “modest” and “targeted” tax reforms on high-value land holdings and purchases.
Mr Pallas said this would ensure those who had “done well” during the pandemic would contribute their fair share to Victoria’s economic recovery.
The introduction of a windfall gains tax from 2022 on rezoning decisions would ensure the community shared in windfall profits along with property developers, he said.
Victoria’s payroll tax-free annual threshold is also set to increase to $700,000, up from $650,000 during the last financial year.
Mr Pallas also said roughly 50 per cent of all Victorians would experience mental health problems during their lifetime.
To address this, the Victorian government had invested $3.8 billion in “transforming” mental health support.
More than $167 million would be set aside for the continued roll-out of three-year-old kinder, making it available for every local government area in Victoria.
Mr Pallas said the Victorian government had removed 46 level crossings and was on track to meet its target of 50 level crossing removals by the end of 2022.