I want tonight to be a positive statement, a hopeful call to arms about our future.
Our future as Liberals and Nationals. Our future as Victorians.
But first: I can’t ignore the COVID elephant in the room.
No doubt, we are all currently going through a very difficult time, the most difficult in our lifetime and probably the most difficult time we’ve faced as a State, perhaps as a nation, since World War II.
COVID has turned our lives upside down and inside out in ways we never could have imagined.
Small businesses in our high street – thriving, employing people one day. Forced to close the next.
International travel banned. Our state borders slammed shut.
Personal liberties stripped away and our freedom of movement – even the freedom to leave our own homes at night – lost to the stroke of a Labor bureaucrat’s pen.
In March last year when we saw those images of drones policing their citizen’s movements in Wuhan, China, who could have imagined that our future would be so similar?
In fact, on some measures, it’s been worse.
By my count, today greater Melbourne racked up our 206th day in lockdown since the pandemic took off in February last year.
For some parts of Melbourne, which were locked down even earlier, today is lockdown day number 229.
Exact comparisons are difficult, but by most counts that places us among the most-locked down places in the world since this pandemic broke out.
Melbourne once claimed a special status as one of the sporting and cultural capitals of the world.
Now our great sporting events have been cancelled or poached by other states.
Our galleries are shut.
Our theatres empty.
Our live music venues have fallen silent.
We’ve gone from the world’s most liveable city to one of the world’s most locked down cities.
Surely that’s a record that even Daniel Andrews can’t be proud of.
Now, there’s no doubt it has been an incredibly difficult time for policy-makers, seeking to manage this pandemic.
But for all the allowances we might reasonably make, you can’t escape the fact that the Andrews Labor Government has scored an F for Fail in dealing with it.
206 days in lockdown and counting – the most of any state – those numbers don’t lie.
Neither does the tragic reality of 801 deaths from Victoria’s avoidable second wave.
Now, after 18 months of sacrifice and suffering.
Instead of a plan to support us, a plan to get us out of lockdown – all we’re hearing are threats, lectures and blame.
Instead of a plan to get our state open and keep our state open, we get panicked decisions on the run.
Instead of a proper plan and sensible measures to tackle COVID effectively – the Andrews Labor Government has created further hardship.
While the rest of the world is opening up again, we have entered a seemingly endless loop of lockdowns and restrictions.
John Howard famously coined the phrase ‘5 minutes of economic sunshine’ to describe the very brief period between Labor’s ‘recession we had to have’ and the next round of Labor taxes and turmoil.
Well Victoria had just 8 days of COVID-free sunshine between our 5th and 6th lockdowns.
And even as Victorians are getting vaccinated in increasing numbers, the Premier is now crab-walking away from agreed National Cabinet targets to re-open our state and take back our lives.
Seeking to snatch away hope from Victorians just as it seems to be within our grasp.
That’s Andrews Labor. No plan to get us out of COVID. No plan to get us out of lockdowns.
No plan to get Victoria Back to the Top. No hope for the future.
What we all desperately need right now is hope, and a clear plan for the future of our state.
And that’s what I want to talk about tonight.
About the Liberals and National’s plan to get us through COVID.
About our plan for the coming election.
And about our plan to get Victoria Back to the Top –
Where we belong.
First – on COVID.
Over the last 18 months, my team and I have unashamedly held the Andrews Labor Government to account for their failings in mismanaging the pandemic.
That’s what good Oppositions do and I make no apology for it.
My role is Leader of the Opposition, not Cheerleader of the Opposition.
There are some in the media – and even more on social media – who “Stand With Dan”.
I don’t stand with Dan. I stand with Victorians.
And when Dan’s toxic combination of arrogance and incompetence hurts Victorians – as it has – I will call it out.
That is why we have exposed the failings in hotel quarantine and tracking and tracing which saw Victoria’s second wave and 801 tragic and avoidable deaths.
We’ve rightly questioned their inconsistent and erratic curtailment of our liberties, like the curfew with no basis in science or public health.
We’ve stood up for our students, who have had their schooling so disrupted that not a single term has been completed without interruption since last March.
We’ve called out Labor’s cruelty, like the ban on playgrounds which takes away a little joy our children have left at this dark time.
And we’ve stood up for our family and small business operators who have had their livelihoods crushed by Andrews’ Labor’s lockdowns but received only a pittance – if anything at all – in support.
Importantly, like a good Opposition, we’ve also proposed alternatives – our Plan – to get Victoria through COVID, and to the other side.
We all know – vaccinations are our way out of this.
Yet, the latest data shows that Victoria is lagging badly on that statistic, and we won’t get to the 80 per cent target until almost five weeks after New South Wales.
Just last week New South Wales delivered 300,000 vaccinations through state-run hubs.
Victoria just 187,000.
If vaccination is State of Origin, then Labor is letting the Big ‘V’ down.
That’s why our Plan is to speed up vaccinations.
At the moment, millions of vaccine doses are sitting idle while the Andrews Government instead spends millions of dollars promoting itself.
So we are calling on Andrews Labor to redirect advertising money away from government spin, and put it into getting more Victorians vaccinated.
The Government should open more vaccination centres in our towns and suburbs – take the jabs to the people.
They should open up vaccine bookings until the end of the year in all state-run hubs.
And they should prioritise vaccinations for teachers, early childhood educators and students to get our schools open and our kids’ education and mental health back on track.
The shadow pandemic of mental health harm for our young people has been one of the most tragic aspects of Labor’s lockdowns.
We know how much damage is being done to our kids.
Calls to Kids HelpLine up 68 per cent.
Presentations at hospital emergency departments for suicidal thoughts and attempts is up.
So, tragically, is the number of youth suicides.
Getting our kids back into school – not just the classroom but the support provided by friends, teachers, sport and creative arts – is essential to rescuing many of our young people from the very dark place they’re in today.
It’s a part of our plan which we need Labor to take up – not for the sake of political credit but for the sake of our next generation.
We’ve been saying for months that the Government should introduce rapid testing as a key screening tool to minimise the current lockdown and avoid future lockdowns.
The rest of the world uses rapid testing. New South Wales uses it.
So too should we.
We should use rapid testing in our schools, at major events, at airports and at other places as part of our plan to allow us to safely re-open.
Most importantly, the Government needs to rebuild trust in the community by supporting families and businesses to make the right call –
Not by bullying them with threats.
All this does is turn Victorian against Victorian, and crush hope.
I know sometimes it seems like COVID will never end.
But I assure you, it will.
We must learn to live with COVID, but I am confident that if we do this – as we all know we have to – that we will get to the other side.
We will get our lives back.
We will take our lives back
And it must happen sooner, rather than later.
But from my perspective, that is only half of the challenge we face.
Next November – just 15 months away – there will a state election.
Our task – the Liberal Nationals’ task – is to provide Victorians with the hope for a brighter future after COVID.
To provide a clear alternative to the directionless and compromised Andrews’ Labor Government.
And to provide a clear Plan to Get Victoria Back to the Top.
To do this, we need to understand where we are now, where we want to take our state and the consequences Victorians face if the Andrews Labor Government is re-elected.
The facts speak for themselves.
Labor have been in Government in Victoria for 18 of the past 22 years.
Daniel Andrews himself was elected to Parliament in 2002, and he’s been Leader of the Labor Party since 2010.
Labor and their leader are tired, obsessed with spin, and they treat Victorians with arrogance and contempt.
Does anyone believe that will get any better if Labor is re-elected?
Labor’s record over the past eight years speaks for itself, and not just on COVID.
Under No Plan Dan
There have been 39 new or increased taxes – on jobs, on small businesses, and on the family home.
This, after Labor promised, promised, not to increases taxes when they were first elected.
Under Labor you are paying more taxes on your car, on your trip to work in the morning, on your parking, on your home, even on the cost of putting your bins out.
Because when Labor runs out of money they always come after yours.
Under No Plan Dan
Hospital elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by nearly 30 per cent in the past 12 months alone
And ambulance waiting times are the worst in six years, with some patients shamefully forced to take taxis to get to hospital.
It is tragic and unacceptable that Victorians are dying because they are being failed by Labor’s hospital and ambulance crisis.
Under No Plan Dan
More than $4 billion is being spent each year to service Labor’s record $156 billion in debt – much of it racked up before COVID – that’s enough to employ an eye-watering over 35,000 additional nurses or teachers.
Just think of the good they would do.
Under No Plan Dan
Labor’s first order of business is spin, public relations and their own political self-interest
For example, over that past two years they’ve spent some $2 million of taxpayer’s money on party-political polling and focus groups while cutting funding to the anti-corruption watchdog.
Under No Plan Dan
Small business and the hard working people who run them are seen as the enemy – rather than the essential friend who keeps our economy going and employs so many of our fellow Victorians.
And who could forget that under No Plan Dan
- Every major infrastructure project is late and massively over budget
- Melbourne is no longer the world’s most liveable city
- And our cherished reputation as the sporting and cultural capital of the country has been trashed with the loss two years in a row of the AFL Grand Final, two years in a row of the F1 Grand Prix, and even the Australian Open Tennis is now at risk.
Victoria used to lead the nation.
Indeed, we were once its capital.
Our hard working pioneers overcame droughts and depression to build a state that was the envy of Australia.
We’ve produced war heroes, sporting legends, world leading business leaders, artists, scientists, manufacturers and farmers.
Now – all that is under threat.
Victorians simply cannot afford another four years – 12 years in total – of Andrews’ Labor arrogance, deception and incompetence.
But friends, we know that simply holding Andrews Labor to the fire for these failings isn’t enough.
Victoria desperately needs a plan to overcome these wasted years.
To rebuild Victoria and get us back to where we belong. To get us back to the top.
So as a Party, as a Coalition, we now turn our attention firmly to the election.
To ensuring that we provide Victorians with the credible alternative Government they deserve.
To give Victorians a vision to vote for.
To do that we need to be clear-headed about our objective, and about how to achieve it.
At the election, we will be asking people who have voted Labor four elections out of the last five to vote Liberals and Nationals.
So while voters are less rusted on to political parties than they have been at any time in recent memory, this is still is a big ask.
But it is achievable.
Remember that many of those former Liberal voters who voted Labor at the 2018 State election came back to our Party just six months later at the 2019 Federal election.
Call them the Forgotten People or the Battlers or the Quiet Australians.
These are the people who decide elections.
So while we cannot expect Victorians to magically change their political views overnight, we can be confident that Victorians will give us a fair hearing.
But when they listen to us what will they hear?
As Liberals and Nationals will we be talking to ourselves and about ourselves?
Or will we be talking to these Victorians about the things that matter to them?
If we want Victorians to entrust us with their vote, we need to be talking about and addressing the mainstream issues that they care about.
Regardless of where those issues sit on the perceived political spectrum,
We need to play in the middle of the ground.
That’s where Victorians are.
That’s where we are.
That’s what our Plan to get Victoria Back to the Top is all about.
- It’s about providing families the stability they need to plan for the future.
- It’s about reducing hospital and ambulance waiting times – so that patients aren’t left in limbo.
- It’s about ending Labor’s wasteful spending – so that taxes stop going up and up, in order to keep your cost of living down.
- It’s about helping small business- the engine room of our economy and the glue that binds so many communities – through our Local Business Action Plan – to support economic recovery and create more jobs.
- And it’s about diversifying our economy and prioritising education and training – to protect job security and wages, and give more opportunities for young people to kick start their careers.
The idea that health and education are somehow ‘Labor issues’ is one that I reject.
The Liberal Party – and the Nationals – we are parties for all Victorians.
Every Victorian has a stake in the quality of education their child receives at school – so we will have a plan to improve our schools and better equip our children to seize the opportunities in their future.
Every Victorian worries about what it will mean for them or their loved ones if they can’t get the hospital care they need when they need it – so we will have a plan to fix Labor’s hospital waiting list crisis.
The Liberal Party is not a party of protest, we are a party of government.
If we are to return to government, we must and we will demonstrate to Victorians that we can be trusted to make important decisions across the range of issues that affect their lives and their State.
Over the past few months, we’ve already announced significant new policies to help achieve this, including …
- Taking Victoria’s payroll tax on small business from the very worst in the country to the very best, helping small business to get ahead and employ more people
- We will repeal Labor’s new stamp duty slug on family homes and small businesses;
- Our Zero to Landfill initiative will use Energy from Waste technology to create new sources of reliable electricity, boost recycling and put downwards pressure on energy bills.
- And just this week we announced one of the most significant energy infrastructure upgrades in Victorian history with our Western Victoria Transmission Project. This will enable an extra 1800 megawatts of renewable energy into our grid to keep the lights on and prices down.
- And in order to learn the lessons from Labor’s failed pandemic response, we will institute a Royal Commission to seek the truth that eluded the Coate Inquiry. Not as a witch-hunt but as a means of truly discovering what went so wrong so that Victoria may be better protected in the future.
So over coming weeks and months and in the lead up to the election we will release many more policies that speak to the concerns of the mainstream Victorians who decide this state’s political future.
I am under no illusion – the election will be a tough battle for us, despite the abject incompetence of Andrews’ Labor.
Right around the country, every incumbent Government has been re-elected since the start of this pandemic – regardless of their political colour.
So we’ve got a mountain to climb.
But climb it we will.
The Liberal Party has always been the party of aspiration, the party of opportunity, the party of reward for effort
We are the party of individual responsibility, and the party of choice
We are the party of small business, and of the family
We are the party of quality public services, an environment that is nurtured for future generations and the party that seeks to govern to enhance your life, but not to run it.
And these values are just as relevant, just as universal, no matter where you live in Victoria. From the plumber in Point Cook, to the corner-store owner in Box Hill, to the professional in Hawthorn, to the nurse in Carrum, to the young family who’ve settled down in one of our great regional towns
Or to the farmer in Gippsland or the Western Distrcits – or anywhere in between
These are mainstream Victorians who share our mainstream values and aspirations.
These are mainstream Victorians the Liberals and Nationals seek to represent.
And let’s be frank, at times in the past, we’ve not always shown that we are as focussed on those mainstream values as we should be.
Victorians deserve a government focussed on them.
Their aspirations. Their hopes for the future.
Their security, their prosperity, their freedom.
In order to win the next election
In order to get Victoria Back to the Top
We’ve got to be mainstream – and we’ve got to stay there.
Now, I know that delivering on this approach will not necessarily be an easy task.
I know it won’t be as simple as just making a speech or two, or lobbing up in a couple of pubs in Footscray or Dandenong (when they are finally allowed to re-open)
It is going to require commitment and dedication on our part, and a laser-like focus on talking about the mainstream issues which Victorians care about.
My commitment to you this evening is this: we will stay the course on this.
We owe it to the people of Victoria … to provide them with the genuine, credible alternative government they deserve.
And I am confident that if we do that
We will win the election next year
And then we will Take Victoria Back to the Top – where it belongs.
Friends – in conclusion
I know that these are dark days for Victorians
But even in lockdown, we can look around and already see the flowers starting to bloom.
This means that very soon, it will be Spring –
The season of hope.
The season of new life.
And with that hope in my heart, I am very confident that brighter days are ahead.
For our Liberal and National parties.
And for our State.
So together, let’s get Victoria Back to the Top!