Regional Development

Regional Development Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) —1 rise to lead the debate for the coalition on the Regional Development
Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015. When you think about regional development, often you
think about decentralisation, one of the words that used to be used in this area. It has been talked about for decades
in Victoria. You can go back to the time just after World War I and the soldier settlement scheme, where great
tracts of land were carved up for returned soldiers. Farming was one of the first decentralisation or regional
development programs put in place in Victoria. There have been some very good successes with that and some
not-so-good outcomes with those programs. If you look at the communities of Mildura, Robinvale, Shepparton and
Tatura, you realise that those former soldier settlement blocks arc now vibrant communities producing a lot of
wealth and employment for Victoria.


Over the decades both sides of politics when in government have talked about regional development and the
various ways in which government can encourage it across Victoria. The debate has always been around how you
best get value for taxpayers dollars with the programs a government runs. From the point of view of the coalition,
when in government, it determined that it was important to get leverage from government investments. It was about
taxpayers dollars generating additional investment, whether it be from the community or private enterprise, and
most importantly that creates jobs as well.


In my time in public life and in business in Victoria, I believe that the Regional Growth Fund that the coalition
government established in its term was the best model for a regional development program. It assisted country
communities in their public infrastructure tlu-ough the Local Government Infrastnicture Fund, and it helped
businesses to create employment. The former government also provided funding through the Putting Locals First
Fund, the Local Government Infrastructure Fund, the developing stronger regions program and the resilient
community program. The former government made 1426 targeted finding decisions over the last four years, which
was a total investment of nearly $500 million into 1800 projects, and that leveraged another $2 billion worth of
investment.


If you think about the return on investment there, for every dollar invested by the government another $3 of
investment was secured. That is a very good rate of return. The coalition created something like 23 000 jobs across
regional and country Victoria, 6000 of those being direct full-time jobs, nearly 12 000 being indirect jobs and about
5000 being construction jobs, which particularly helped funding.


I am sure that during this debate members on this side of the house will mention what happened in their electorates,
because they are very proud of this fund. If you think about it, you realise that regional development should be for
all communities across Victoria, not just the major regional cities, whether it be Berriwillock in the electorate of the
member for Mildura, or Bendigo or Ballarat, they all deserve assistance with any regional development package
that might be provided.


The keys to the former government's Regional Growth Fund and particularly the Local Government Infrastructure
Fund, was that money was given to local governments so they were able to make the decisions about how it was
spent. They did not have to go back to a higher authority somewhere in Melbourne to apply that funding. In
addition, councils could use that money as their contribution to get additional grants. One of the things the former
government looked at in developing this policy was that our smaller country communities quite often do not have
enough money to make the local contribution for particular grants. The Local Government Infrastructure Fund
provided an opportunity for local governments to bulk up their contribution to apply for a larger grant and a better
program.


I place on the record the support provided to the then Deputy Premier's office by Clay Manners over the time it
developed and implemented the Regional Growth Fund. Clay was a policy director at the Victorian Farmers
Federation for a number of years. Being a Victorian I might be biased, but I think he has probably been one of the
two pre-eminent agricultural policy people in Australia over last two or three decades. He has a good understanding
of what is needed by industry and communities and of how you can get leveraged investment out of these funding
programs. He helped with the design of this program, and he worked in the former Deputy Premier's office making
sure that it was implemented with the intent we believed it should have. He made sure we got those good outcomes
for our regional communities.


It may be a poisoned chalice, because sometimes incoming governments do not like to keep on the departmental
staff of outgoing governments, but I would like to put on the record that the staff of Regional Development Victoria
(RDV), whether it be the staff in Melbourne or those out in the regions, went that extra mile in the development and
implementation of the Regional Growth Fund, working with communities and businesses to ensure that their
applications and submissions met the criteria and delivered a good outcome not only for the taxpayer but also for
particular businesses over that time.


If you go to some of the subsets of the program we had in government, there was the Energy for Regions program.
Gas is an energy source that is more cost effective than electricity for large businesses that have to do a lot of
heating, whether they are running boilers or running milk evaporators, or whether they are hospitals, which also
consume a lot of energy. The previous Labor government said it could not provide any more gas. It said it had
provided gas to all the communities in country Victoria it was possible to provide it to. Labor had actually given up
on trying to extend the reach of that provision into the future. With a lot of work by departmental staff and a bit of
imagination from a number of people, the coalition government's gas program has delivered some great outcomes.


Between 2012 and 2014, works started on connecting Avoca, Huntly, Whittlesea, Bannockburn, Warburton,
Wandong-Heathcote Junction and Koo Wee Rup to the natural gas network, and that is delivering a good outcome
for those communities. The other part of the program, which is where the innovation comes into it, is that the
former government put some of the Regional Growth Fund money together with some money from the
Murray-Darling Basin plan — a bucket of money from Simon Crean, formerly a Minister for Regional Australia,
Regional Development and Local Government — to bulk it up to $85 million to go out to market and look at
innovative ways of delivering gas to those communities.


Last September a contract was signed with Brookfield to supply gas to Lakes Entrance, Orbost, lnvermay,
Heathcote, Marong, Terang and Maldon. With that extra money from the commonwealth out of the
Murray-Darling Basin plan, Swan Hill, Kerang, Robinvale and Nathalia will also receive compressed gas, and that
will give them gas at an equivalent price to the towns that are hooked up to the grid. That will be reticulated
through those towns, but there will be a mother tank at the edge of town that will be tilled up, and a truck will be
brought in at intervals when a refill is needed. That will enable those towns to have reticulated gas in the way they
would if someone built a pipeline over 200 or 300 kilometres, which would be necessary to get out to those
particular towns.


There has been some very good innovation in this area. It was something the previous Labor government said
could not be done, and it is something the current Minister for Regional Development has talked about scrapping.
On coming to government, Labor was going to tear up the contract on this project, but to the credit of the Weekly
Times, Chris McLennan at that newspaper blew the whistle on the government, alerting us to the fact that that
contract was going to be torn up. He wrote a major article saying that was going to happen, and that forced the
government into backing down and saying it was going to proceed with this project.


That is the Energy for the Regions part of it. Earlier I briefly mentioned the Local Government Infrastructure Fund
part of it. That enabled people to fix up their kitchens in country halls, and build new playgrounds and facilities. As
I said, they quite often built that money up into larger grants. I will refer to some of the really great outcomes that
particular program delivered across country Victoria. I again mention the town of Berriwillock in the electorate of
the member for Mildura. In that community local government infrastructure money from Buloke Shire Council,
money from the Country Fire Authority, which is building a new fire shed in Berriwillock, and money out of the
Putting Locals First Fund bulked up the funds from the program to build a new fire shed with a large meeting
room, kitchen and fantastic community facilities that never would have been built if any one of those programs
were done in isolation. It replaced four existing buildings in town, including the hall, with this lovely new building
that is multipurpose and multiuse, will be used into the future and has really put the heart back into the community
of Berriwillock.


There is a similar example in the electorate of the member for Gippsland South with the Yarram district hub.
Money was put together to create a facility where there is child care, preschool, and maternal and child health all
coming together in one hub. Again, without initial fimding from the Local Government Infrastructure Fund and
Putting Locals First Fund to max it up, that sort of outcome would not have been able to happen. 1 know the
previous member for Gippsland South, Peter Ryan, is very proud of that project. It is something he fought for over
a number of years during his parliamentary career.


The last example, which is another very good one, is in the electorate of Ripon in the town of Donald. Again,
money out of all those finds and federal money was put together to have a new childcare centre replace the
kindergarten that was falling down and had possums in the roof all the time. This is now a fantastic facility in the
community of Donald because of this program and the way it could be leveraged.


On Sunday I had the opportunity to spend a number of hours at the convention centre at the Regional Victoria
Living Expo. It is the fourth year that program has been run, and it is a great opportunity particularly for local
government and the economic development units of local government to have a stand at the expo, which is paid for
by Regional Development Victoria, to showcase the wares of all the different communities across country Victoria
in order to attract people from Melbourne, particularly professional people with skills, to come, live and work in
those communities. Last year about 10 000 people went through the Regional Victoria Living Expo. I do not know
the final numbers for this year, but I know that by Saturday night they were up to over 5000. On the Sunday a lot of
people went through there, and there was a lot of positive feedback from those who had stands and were getting
really serious interest from people who want to relocate to country Victoria. That is a great outcome. The
disappointing part is that, as I understand it, the new Labor government has made no commitment as to whether
that expo will continue. The feedback I get is that it most likely will not be continuing into the future, which would
be very disappointing.


From a business point of view, the leveraged investments I have talked about are significant. I want to highlight a
few from around Victoria that have delivered great outcomes for those communities and the Victorian economy. In
no particular geographic order I will start in Mildura, where you have got the investment that was made with Olam,
a large almond processing plant. The company received assistance for road, power and water infrastructure to
enable a development that saw a $60 million investment in an almond processing plant.


For those in the house who do not know much about the almond industry, it is our fastest growing horticultural
export industry in Victoria. Last year the export of almonds was worth in excess of $380 million to this state. We
were on track to have the almond centre of excellence based in Mildura, because over 70 per cent of Australia's
almonds are produced there. The disappointing thing is that that centre should have been in Mildura, but
unfortunately it was won away by South Australia because the new Labor government did not put money on the
table to have it established in Mildura.


Another important investment is in the electorate of Shepparton. Various programs out of the Regional Growth
Fund enabled a package of $22 million to be put together to assist SPC to stay in Shepparton and make sure all
those jobs at SPC were kept there. As I understand it, new product lines and other innovative facilities are starting
to be built now. I look forward to SPC getting those new products to market.


The other business in Shepparton, which is an exciting one that benefited from the Regional Growth Fund, is the
Pactum Dairy Group plant. A new dairy plant has been built there principally to process and package ultra heat
treated (UHT) milk. It was interesting to be on a trade mission to China last year with Bega Cheese in Chongqing.
Bega Cheese is utilising the spare capacity of that Pactum plant to pack UHT milk, which is now being sold in
Chongqing in a deal with a Chongqing trading company. It is going straight into their supermarkets in Bega's
brand. The important thing with overseas trade is making sure we have our brands in their markets so that we can
capture value and continue to own that value into the future rather than supplying product into their particular
brands. The Pactum plant received money from the Regional Growth Fund to assist with that, and from memory it
was about a $35 million investment by the Pactum Dairy Group.


In the electorate of Lowan, for members who love Peking duck, I indicate that the majority of Peking duck that is
consumed in Victoria and even Australia comes from Nhill. An upgrade there was enabled by money from the
Regional Growth Fund. From memory they are processing about 90 000 ducks a week now. It is a great facility.
The other part of that facility and a story that a lot of people do riot know — is that a large community of Karen
people has moved in and adopted Nhill and is making a great contribution to the Nhill community.


In the electorate of Ripon, True Foods is a food business that relocated from Melbourne to Maryborough. It
employs a significant number of people there now. In excess of 100 jobs have been created in Maryborough
because True Foods moved up there. It is very happy with its move. It has a stable and reliable workforce and has
achieved a great outcome for Maryborough and True Foods.


Turning to the electorates around Bendigo, there is money that assisted Hazeldene's Chicken Farm with its
upgrade. We know the chicken industry is under a fair bit of pressure in Victoria as to where it can get to build
chicken sheds. There arc opportunities in some of the larger broadacre areas north and west of Bendigo where
chicken sheds can be built, but you need a processing plant probably within I V2 or 2 hours of those sheds. It was a
major expansion of Hazeldene's Chicken Farm that was enabled through assistance from the Regional Growth
Fund.


The South-West Coast electorate saw investment go into the Midfield Meat Group. I notice that yesterday the
Minister for Planning made a decision in relation to a particular application down there, which will lead to a good
outcome for everyone. But when the grant to get the Midfield Meat Group upgrade going was given, there was a
fair bit of controversy about that. I am glad to see that the new government has actually taken ownership of what is
a fantastic outcome there. There is a new dairy processing plant to provide milk to the Chinese market into the
future.


If you think about Geelong and Cotton On, you realise that it is an Australian company with a great success story.
Five hundred jobs were created at Cotton On in Geelong with assistance from the Regional Growth Fund. If you
travel round towns now, you see a lot of retail outlets for Cotton On. It is a real success story — an Australian
company that had some assistance from the Regional Growth Fund.


I am getting near the end of the list, but there is a lot of good news. Some other examples of companies that
received assistance in Gippsland South are Devondale Murray Goulburn at Leongatha and Burra Foods at
Korumburra, both of which are dairy processing plants. If anyone has not been to the Burra Foods plant at
Korumburra, 1 suggest they go along. The expansion plans they have are to supply the Chinese market. They have
equity partners from Japan. Japanese investors have invested in that business, but it is principally aimed at
supplying the Chinese market. It is a really great business, which again had some financial assistance for
infrastructure to expand its operations.


In the electorate of the member for Gippsland Fast the example I will give is Patties Foods. It is another business
that received assistance for infrastructure, particularly around drainage. That money allowed the business to
expand. It is one of the major employers in Bairnsdale and is a great local business. It has now gone corporate; it is
now listed on the stock exchange. it supplies quite a few of the well-known brands in the pie and cake business.
The other business that got assistance in that area was Vegco, which is a large vegetable and salad processing plant.


I turn now to my own electorate and the Kagome business in Echuca. It is the principal tomato processing plant in
Victoria. It received several grants, particularly to enable it to put in a beetroot processing line. Because the beetroot
processors in New South Wales were closing down, Kagome was given an opportunity to process beetroot, run the
plant longer and create longer term employment for staff there. The company has also introduced carrot processing.


The message I wanted to get through is that whether it be large regional communities or smaller country
communities, over the last four years nearly every community has had some benefit from the Regional Growth
Fund. The previous government wanted to make sure that we had the criteria and the rules set up to enable both
small and large communities to get a share of money to help them grow. Whether it be Berriwillock, which is a
small community, or whether it be Bendigo, Ballarat or Beaufort, each should have the opportunity to have its
community grow through whatever regional growth fund is put in place by whichever government is in office at the
time.


What we are debating today is the Regional Development Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015.
I think the number of projects I have mentioned and the number of projects that other members on this side of the
house will discuss in relation to their own electorates as they make contributions on this bill will demonstrate the
success of what has been in place. I hope with the bill that is before the house and the changes that the government
is proposing that we can all stand here in another three or four years time and talk about how equally the program has been delivered across all of Victoria and not just into key regional communiites.   The challenge for any government when it creates these sorts of programs is to make sure it delivers for everyone right across Victoria.

I notice that both in the lead up to the election and in his post election speech, the Premier made a commitment to govern for all  Victoria.   I hope, particularly with this regional development program, that this is the case.  I hope there will be opportunities for communities in not only Labor seats but also coalition seats right across Victoria.   We should make sure there is a good outcome, whether that be for community infrastructure or for business to create jobs into the future.  The coalition will not be opposing this piece of legislation.  However, as I said, we will watch with interest to make sure it actually delivers right across Victoria.

 

 

 

 

 

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