Latest Victorian state government fire sale plan put on hold

The Victorian state government’s pitch to privatise the births, deaths and marriage agency to private investors has been banged on the head after a public outcry.

The Age reported last weekend that treasurer Tim Pallas had met with some private investor firms to “gauge their interest” in running some of the registry’s services.

When this became known, the backlash was almost instant.

Comments in The Age described it as a “fire sale” and labelled Mr Pallas as the “worst treasurer ever”.  One even said: “What’s next? A reverse mortgage on Parliament House?”

Billion-dollar debt

There has been speculation that the move was prompted by the state government announcing in its 7 May Budget statement that it was carrying $2.2 billion in debt or a daily $25 million interest bill.

However, once public resistance to the move was voiced, the government swiftly backpedalled, up to a point.

Premier Jacinta Allen said the government would not be privatising the service, but was considering a “joint venture”.

“There is always work the government is doing to look at how we improve service delivery for local communities, and a joint venture arrangement is one way that we can achieve that partnership,” she said.

No fine detail

Ms Allen declined to discuss any further details, including how these arrangements would be delivered and any reassurances that fees would not escalate.

Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt slammed the idea in the Herald Sun.

“The records we rely on to prove our existence are too important to be left in private hands,” she said.

“No-one should be making a buck out of officially recording the significant moments of people’s lives.

“The management record of privateers looking after our digital data now lacks appropriate rigour so imagine the potential for critical errors.

“I cannot express my disdain at the foolishness of this proposal … We will oppose this stupidity and campaign to divulge its risks and shortcomings.”

Shopping around

It’s not the first time the state government has shopped around a department.

The state government entered a joint partnership for VicRoads with Aware Super, Australian Retirement Trust and Macquarie Asset Management.

The consortium paid $7.9 billion for the deal.

In 1016, it also leased the Port of Melbourne to a private consortium for 50 years in a $9.7 billion deal and the Victorian Land Titles Office was partly privatised in 2018 for more than $2 billion.

Much of the state’s ‘public’ housing stock has been transferred to private developers as well. The state has demolished many public housing sites and gone into partnership for rebuilding with developers for only a few extra properties. At one point 446 housing units were demolished only to be replaced by 540 private and 500 social housing units, an increase of just 54 social housing units. Clearly, a lost opportunity to use those 540 private units for social housing.

Housing in shambles

Kerrie Byrne, a long‐time public housing tenant and former community sector worker who is part of the Save Public Housing Collective, told The Guardian public assets were being handed over to developers.

“The winners out of these projects are property developers. Meanwhile, public housing is being left in a shambles. All over the state, public housing tenants are living in unsafe, unhealthy conditions, with mould and leaky buildings a frequent problem,” she said.

It’s certainly a turnaround for Labor.

In 2022, then premier Daniel Andrews campaigned during the state election period that Labor would put assets back in public hands by reviving the old SEC with the slogan “power for people, not profit”. He promised it would deliver cheaper energy and speed up the transfer to renewables to replace the state’s largest coal-fired power plant, Loy Yang A.

However, an analysis by The Age found the proposal had failed to meet even a fraction of its targets and costing estimates had blown out. And now it seems they are scrambling for money anywhere they can.

Do you think governments should sell off departments? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: More above-inflation healthcare costs hitting older Aussies

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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