Channel
Nine’s veteran state political reporter David Broadbent undoubtedly
pulled off the scoop of his career last night when a major security
breach saw the 6pm bulletin reveal the key figures from the 2005-06
Victorian budget, which wasn’t meant to be made public until 3pm this
afternoon.

It wasn’t quite a repeat of Laurie Oakes’s effort
with the 1980 Federal budget, because Broadbent wasn’t leaked the
entire budget. But he got some documents and figures through phone
calls, and by late yesterday afternoon Nine was telegraphing its
punches with promotions and interviews Broadbent did with ABC 774 Drive
presenter Virginia Trioli and her 3AW rival Derryn Hinch.

He
also directly contacted the government seeking confirmation of the leak
at about 5pm, which gave an outraged Treasury time to sprint to the
Supreme Court and seek an injunction, which was granted right on 6pm
but not conveyed to the news desk until after the story had gone to air.

Treasurer
John Brumby was devastated last night, but the government regrouped,
lifted the injunction and then proceeded to massage the message,
leaking additional material to the newspapers. Brumby this morning
declared he was very happy with today’s coverage in the papers, so it
might work out well for the ALP spin machine.

He also claimed to
ABC Radio’s Jon Faine that some of the figures were wrong, but these
were minor points relating to the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the
lifting of the land tax threshold.

State political reporters stopped feeling sorry for the government when they read this story on page 11 of today’s Herald Sun.
It included a commitment to direct speed camera revenue to road
spending and all the details of the 25% cut in drivers’ licence fees
for those that have no demerit points – a small minority of the
population given that Victorians pay more per capita in road fines than
any other people in the world.

This was going to be one of the
centrepieces of the budget, and Bracks sheepishly confessed on radio
this morning that “it was announced in the paper this morning”. So much
for contempt of parliament and the sanctity of budget information.

Bracks
was caught out by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell this morning as the Premier
floundered when asked if the directing of traffic revenues was on top
of normal road funding. It isn’t and the claimed hypothecating of
traffic fines revenue is just a political ruse.

The Age was also given three budget leaks which were all packaged up on page 4:

  • Bonus to stay for first home buyers;
  • an increase in funding to private schools so Victoria is no longer the smallest spender of the states; and
  • seed funding for a third rail line to the industrial hub of Dandenong

The Australianwas
given the detail of the new scales in Victoria’s revamped land tax
regime, but Bracks was kidding himself when he claimed Victoria now has
the most competitive system in Australia. The top rate remains at a
punitive 4% a year – meaning if you own a $10 million block of land you
give the government the entire value of your property over a 25-year
period.

When the top rate is only 1.4% in NSW and 1.8% in
Queensland, it’s obvious that the Victorian government is still running
the most punitive land tax regime at the top end of the scale.

We
haven’t seen too many more duplicitious efforts than John Brumby
claiming a $1 billion cut in land tax over five years in last year’s
budget and an $800 million cut over five years in today’s budget.

The
fact remains that Victorian land tax revenue will still more than
double from about $400 million in 1998-99 to more than $900 million
this year, next year and the year after that. So, something that has
more than doubled has also been cut by $1.8 billion. Go figure.

Peter Fray

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