Appropriation (2015-2016) Bill 2015 (State Budget response)
07 May 2015
WALSH (Murray Plains) — I listened with interest to the contribution of the member for Ivanhoe. For four years he banged on about the Heidelberg West police station, but today he made not one comment about it. From my recollection it is not funded in the budget. Obviously he is a lion in opposition and a pussycat in government, because he is not sticking up for his community when it comes to the Heidelberg West police station. He should hang his head in shame.
Looking at the budget information papers, a picture tells a thousand words. Given that I have only 15 minutes to speak, it is good that a picture tells a thousand words. The Rural and Regional Budget Information Paper has a map on pages 2 and 3, and it is fairly bare when it comes to regional Victoria. The Melbourne Labor government would hate the fact that we in government introduced these information papers and maps, because it means the Labor government has to continue them, but they show up just how little it has done for regional Victoria. As the member for Gippsland East has said, Gippsland East is just the index. There is nothing else there. That is how much the government thinks about the eastern part of Victoria.
There has been a lot of publicity about all the trains being bought for regional Victoria, but according to the budget information papers they are only running between Geelong and Melbourne. There will not be trains to Shepparton, Echuca, Swan Hill or Traralgon; they will run up and down the Geelong to Melbourne line. They will not service all of regional Victoria. That picture in the Rural and Regional Budget Information Paper tells a thousand words.
Looking at the map on pages 12 and 13 of the Putting People First Budget Information Paper — a good title — there are obviously no families in country Victoria because they do not rate on the map. The government does not care about families in country Victoria.
Mr Nardella interjected.
Mr WALSH — The member for Melton can groan all he likes — —
Mr Nardella interjected.
Mr WALSH — Don Do-Nothing, the member for Melton, is what everyone calls him out there.
There is nothing for country Victoria on that map. Shepparton is not on the map. Going through the budget papers, you see that the major funding for Shepparton is the ongoing funding for the courthouse, which we committed to in a previous budget and started building. The biggest issue in Shepparton, which is the hospital, receives only $1 million for planning. It must be in the contingency — that mythical bucket that is off to one side that may or may not ever happen. The editorial in the Shepparton newspaper today talks about the possibility of an arts centre with funding from Labor's pale imitation of our Regional Growth Fund, but it does not mention the hospital when it comes to those particular issues. It was the key issue in Shepparton, as I understand it, but there is absolute silence when it comes to hospital funding. My understanding is that the $1 million for planning also involves the Rushworth hospital, so it is shared around. There is very little for country Victoria in the budget.
We have had the Premier doing his press clips, and I will do mine as well. In an opinion piece for Stock & Land, Peter Tuohey, the president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said:
This week's state budget was overwhelmingly disappointing for farmers and regional Victorians.
But overwhelmingly — it is a budget that fails to deliver for regional Victoria.
And on water infrastructure it was a dry run.
There were no pipelines for Wedderburn or Mitiamo and no Werribee irrigation district upgrade. Again, the Victorian Farmers Federation has condemned this budget for doing nothing for country Victoria.
Budget paper 3 outlines the service delivery of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. I note that the government is too ashamed to put the word agriculture in that department title because it is not committed to agriculture at all. If members look at this budget paper, they will see that there is 11.9 per cent in the output funding for the agriculture part of that department. There is a 61.4 per cent reduction in the trade funding. Agriculture is the single biggest exporter from this state, with $11.4 billion worth of exports going out of the state last financial year. There has been a reduction in output funding for the department that helps drive all that and a major reduction in the trade part of that department's portfolio which helps develop those markets and does that extra work. If members go to budget paper 5 and look across the forward estimates, they will see a reduction for the agriculture department all the way through there. Members opposite should hang their heads in shame. Quite rightly they do not have the name agriculture in that department title because as far as I can understand they are phasing it out.
If members go to the specifics, they will see a lot of talk about helping farmers and health issues for farmers. One of the key things that helps farmers, particularly through adverse periods involving drought, flood or industry downturn, is the Rural Financial Counselling Service. That service has been in place for some 25 or 30 years. There is only one year's funding for it in the budget. There is no commitment into the future. There is no asterisk or contingency for it; there is just one year of funding.
One of the very successful programs run by our government was the fox bounty program. There is only one year of funding and no contingencies for that program in the budget. There is no funding for the wild dog bounty program and no funding for an aerial baiting program. There is no real commitment to helping the farmers of north-eastern Victoria and Gippsland to control wild dogs. As everyone knows, wild dogs have a major impact on our small native marsupials. There is no commitment to making sure we deliver a good environmental outcome there.
If members go to the budget paper 4, which deals with state capital programs, they will see there is effectively no capital for the agriculture portfolio. There is no money for the Grains Innovation Park at Horsham and no money for the almond centre of excellence in Mildura. The horticulture centre of excellence at Tatura does not even seem to rate anymore.
Even worse, if members go to budget paper 5, they will see that the fire services levy is going up. Peter Marshall will be rubbing his hands together with glee because he knows the money will be there for his big payoff for the wage increases firefighters will get as a result of the election outcome. Do not talk about the Treasurer being a good negotiator; he has already signalled to Peter Marshall that the money is in the budget to fund those big pay rises in the future. It will come at the expense of farmers in Victoria.
When it comes to the water portfolio, for which I am the shadow minister, page 211 of budget paper 3 shows that all the water efficiency programs are being wound up. There is no money for water efficiency into the future. The cynic in me says that this government does not want to have water efficiency because it wants an excuse to turn the desalination plant on. It does not want people to be efficient with water because it wants the desalination plant to be turned on to justify its existence into the future.
The ironic part of this debate was the comment made by the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water when she sacked all the water authorities in Victoria. She said they did not focus enough on climate change. Water efficiency is something that should be in everyone's mind, but there is no funding for it into the future. In that particular press conference she talked about taking water from the desalination plant to put in lakes in northern Victoria. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my whole life. To, in effect, build a south–north pipeline to take desalination water to the north defies logic. An important question is: who would pay desalination prices for that water? Would it be the people in northern Victoria who would start paying for the desalination plant? I am sure they would not be very happy about that. Would it be Melbourne water customers who would pay for it so that the water could go to northern Victoria? I do not think the minister thought through that particular strategy very well.
The funding in the environment and water portfolio shows that sustainable water projects are only funded for one year. The Gippsland Lakes project is funded for one year. Riparian land management is funded for only one year. I read with interest the press release about the budget from Environment Victoria CEO Mark Wakeham. He praises the budget. He is obviously happy with only one year of funding for these particular projects. That is not the line he took with us when we were in government in terms of what he wanted to see by way of an election commitment. Environment Victoria is obviously a pussycat. It is a bit like the member for Ivanhoe — loud in opposition but a pussycat when his mates are in government. Environment Victoria is rolling over and praising what is a very poor budget decision for land management in Victoria.
Also interesting is that while all these things are only being funded for one year, the government is increasing dividends out of the water authorities. It is cutting environmental programs for water but increasing dividends out of the water authorities across the forward estimates — —
Mr Nardella interjected.
Mr WALSH — The member for Melton should look at the facts. The government claims to care about the environment, but it is reducing programs and short-term funding them while increasing revenue out of the water authorities through dividends. I do not understand how that adds up.
When I go to budget paper 4 on the state capital program, I am reminded of a 1982 classic movie called We of the Never Never. It was nominated for five Australian Film Institute awards and won one. I think the Treasurer will probably win an Academy Award with his classic It's All in Contingencies. It will be a great movie because everything is in the never-never. It is all out there somewhere in the future. The Murray Basin rail project is a classic of that particular never-never funding. There was $220 million in last year's budget, funded by a coalition government. It is now going to be stretched out, and it will be a long time before it will ever happen. That is something the Victorian Farmers Federation has been very concerned about.
In the couple of minutes I have left, I will talk about my own electorate of Murray Plains. I know the Minister for Roads and Road Safety does not necessarily know what the electorates are named here in Victoria. The minister should have a very good idea of the map of Victoria, but he obviously does not. Again, if we are talking about the never-never, we can talk about the Echuca bridge — something that we put into forward estimates and which has received only $500 000 in this budget because the rest is 'TBC' — that is, to be confirmed.
Mr Nardella — We're funding it. You had four years.
Mr WALSH — I hope one day the member for Melton will make sure that happens, because I think that will be a long time into the future.
If we look at that map of country Victoria again, we see there are two schools in my electorate that desperately need funding. They are the Kyabram P–12 College — there is no mention of Kyabram P–12 in the budget — and the project, started by Labor, of the merger of Echuca West Primary School, Echuca South Primary School and Echuca Specialist School. It is something we gave money for the detailed planning of, but there is no mention of capital and no little dot for that school that says it is in contingencies. It is something that desperately needs to be funded in my electorate.
The Premier made much of Victoria being the education state. Obviously a fair bit of Victoria is not in Victoria, according to the Premier, because there is not much funding for education in the future once you get outside Melbourne. Looking at the supposedly new Regional Infrastructure Development Fund in the legislation we are currently debating, I feel sad that once the projects that we funded — the drag strip in Swan Hill, the pioneer settlement heartbeat of the Murray project and the Koondrook wharf — are finished there will be no more funding. Our regional development in Victoria will effectively go north of the Divide because the focus of this particular government is very much on Melbourne, and its view of the world is that regional Victoria is actually Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. It does not even mention the Latrobe Valley as being part of regional Victoria. That is the sad part of its definition of regional Victoria. There is very little in this budget for country Victoria and there is a reduction in funding for agriculture and water.
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