MELBOURNE, AAP – The Victorian opposition has pledged to bring the state budget back to surplus by 2026 if it wins next year’s election.
“It should not be a difficult aspiration,” Shadow Treasurer Louise Staley told reporters on Monday.
“Other states are absolutely heading towards balancing their budget in that timeframe.”
Ms Staley said the Liberal-National coalition would overturn the state’s deficit in five years through sustained economic growth, lobbying the Commonwealth “aggressively” for a greater share of the GST, and a reduction in government “waste”.
“The alternative to that aspiration is to constantly run budget deficits, out into the never-never,” she said.
Last November, Treasurer Tim Pallas unveiled a big-spending budget, intended to drag the state out of its coronavirus-induced recession.
He forecast a $23.3 billion budget deficit in 2020/21, with net debt expected to blow out to an unprecedented $155 billion in 2023/24 – about 28.9 per cent of gross state product.
The state’s deficits are then projected to reduce to $13 billion in 2021/22, $6.7 billion in 2022/23 and $5.9 billion in 2023/24.
The forecast prompted international rating agencies Moody’s and S&P to lower their credit rating for Victoria.
Ms Staley said the more debt the state accrued, the less money it would have for roads, schools and hospitals.
“My comments today are all about having a sound fiscal balance that allows Victorians to get the services that they demand,” she said.
Ms Staley also reiterated the opposition’s commitment to construct the East West Link if elected in 2022, despite her reservations about “cost blowouts” on the government’s existing infrastructure projects.
The proposed tunnel, from the end of the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill to CityLink in Parkville, was dumped by the Labor government immediately after the 2014 state election.
“We have demonstrated as a Liberal-National government in the past that we can deliver infrastructure projects without cost blowouts and that’s what we’ll do again,” Ms Staley said.
“The people of the east deserve that road built, they deserve to get out of that car park that is the T-intersection of the Eastern Freeway.”
The Victorian Greens slammed Ms Staley’s plan to return the budget to surplus, saying it would mean “services gutted and jobs destroyed at a time when communities need them most”.
“Victorians should have an opposition prepared to push the government further and faster on climate action, job creation and addressing inequality,” leader Samantha Ratnam said in a statement.
“Not one hell-bent on taking us backwards with discredited austerity politics.”
Her deputy Ellen Sandell said the opposition would introduce “Kennett-era austerity, right when people are still suffering”.
Victoria’s 2021/22 budget will be handed down on May 20.