Health Education Parliament Regional and Rural Victoria

Appropriation Bill 2018 - Budget Reply

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:57:16) — I rise to make my contribution on this year’s budget. From the point of view of regional Victorians this budget gives them a very, very raw deal. The state budget should be about how people are actually better off. It should particularly be about helping those in the community who have difficulty helping themselves.

I do not think the statement about a raw deal could be any more true than it is for the students, the families and the teachers of the Echuca Specialist School. There was a vision in Echuca for an education regeneration project where the Echuca South Primary School, the Echuca West Primary School and the Echuca Specialist School would all come together in what is now called the Echuca Twin Rivers School to the west of Echuca. The specialist school actually gave up some Building the Education Revolution (BER) money a number of years ago at the insistence — some would say at the bullying — of the regional office that they would get a better deal in the future. That has just not materialised —

Mr T. Bull — It didn’t happen?

Mr WALSH — No, it just has not materialised. It is a disgrace. The Echuca Specialist School is all portables in what was a car park. Every time it rains, the sewerage runs backwards into the playground. It is a disgrace. Of all the schools I have ever been to, this would be the worst example of a school that needs a rebuild. Yes, there was money two years ago to shift the Echuca West and Echuca South primary schools to the new Twin Rivers school, but there was no money for a specialist school. I brought the three school councils and the principals down here to meet the Minister for Education two or three years ago to walk through these issues, but tragically that school has missed out on its funding.

An article in the Riverine Herald claims that:

School council president Scott Morrison said the funding snub was an even worse smack in the face because the school had declined previous funding to fix their current premises on departmental advice the money could — and would — be used for their new school.

A number of years ago they were advised to give up their BER money so they would get a better deal in the long term, and I am afraid that better deal has not materialised. ‘Disgraceful’, ‘shameful’ and ‘unforgivable’ are just a few of the words used by the school community to describe the news delivered by the Andrews government.

‘I would like to ask Premier Andrews where his government’s moral compass is,’ Mr Morrison said.

‘Because if they have one it seems to be pointing in the wrong direction’ …

I think that is exactly right, that the Andrews government’s moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction. Mr Morrison said:

We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable and deserving kids here. This school services a huge area from Cohuna to Kyabram and it’s the only option for parents with special needs kids.

I’m astounded by the inequity and can’t believe the government has turned its back on these deserving students.

In the budget there is $1.3 billion for new education initiatives and there is $27 million for a new academy in Melbourne for the brightest students, but there is absolutely nothing in this budget for the Echuca Specialist School students. Fourteen million dollars is needed to build their share of the new Echuca Twin Rivers School. As I said, they are in an old car park with portable buildings that leak and, as I said also, the sewerage runs backwards when there is a major rain event because there is a drainage issue and a sewerage issue — and that is in their playground. As Scott Morrison, the president of the school council, said, if the Andrews government has a moral compass, it is certainly pointing in the wrong direction when it comes to this school.

The other thing in my electorate that I would like to touch on briefly before I get on to my agriculture and regional development portfolio is the Swan Hill hospital. It is a major regional hospital that services a radius of something like 150 kilometres around Swan Hill, and a population of 40 000 to 50 000 relies on that hospital. Again, there is no funding for that particular hospital. It did have money when we were in government. Again, with a Labor government in place that particular hospital is not getting any money. There is a no‑show from the Premier. Premier Andrews does not appear to want to take his cheque book past the tram tracks of Melbourne. Again that is something that has missed out badly in my electorate.

Briefly, as the shadow Treasurer responded, Victoria has a whole heap of new taxes, despite Premier Andrews’s commitment on the eve of the 2014 election that there would be no new taxes in this state and that there would be no increase in taxes. He looked down the camera to Peter Mitchell and solemnly said, ‘I make that promise … to every single Victorian’, that there will not be new taxes, there will not be increases in taxes. We know all the new taxes and increases that we have had. A particular issue for regional Victoria, for both households and businesses, is the tripling of the coal royalties that happened a couple of budgets ago. There was a $253 million increase in the coal royalties, and we have seen the flow‑on effects, with Hazelwood closing early because of that increase in the coal royalties, the significant increase in power prices and the fact that instead of being a net exporter of power to other states Victoria is now a net importer of power on 70 days a year.

There was the increase in the coal royalties, the change to annual property valuations, the increase in stamp duty on cars, the vacant home tax, the point‑of‑consumption gambling tax, other new stamp duties and the increase in the fire services property levy. We know what is going to happen if the Andrews government gets its way with the fire services and the United Firefighters Union and the increases that will be there. There is the new city access tax for the West Gate tunnel. That list goes on.

I suppose from a country point of view most country communities do not want a lot out of government. They want schools and they want hospitals — they want those basic services that everyone expects to be well managed by the state government. They look towards Melbourne and they see the cost blowout in projects. We all hear about the billions and billions of dollars for projects. One of the reasons they are billions and billions of dollars is that there has been a $25 billion blowout in capital projects, particularly those projects around Melbourne. Echuca Specialist School cannot get $14 million to build their new school, but somehow we have got a $25 billion blowout in capital projects — and a whole list of capital projects. It just defies logic that this government cannot manage those projects better.

On the agriculture portfolio, if you go to budget paper 3, it talks about the performance indicators for the department of agriculture or what there is of the department of agriculture that we have here anymore. One of the key objective indicators is to lift the value of agricultural production and the value of Victorian food and fibre exports. If you look at the numbers over time, you see that the numbers have flatlined. There has not been a significant increase in the value of exports over the life of the Andrews government. That is effectively because they are not investing in agriculture anymore. If you go through the budgets, the Food to Asia program that was funded in our last budget when the Liberals and Nationals were in government has lapsed now, and the funding for export promotion is significantly less than it was in the past. I obviously watch the press clips by the current Minister for Agriculture. I can hardly recall her visiting any of our research institutes, and I can hardly recall her talking about the excellent research capability we have in this state. The minister appears to be more interested in talking about dogs, cats, puppies and puppy farms rather than talking about agriculture and the things that actually drive the economy here in Victoria, particularly the regional economy.

In the budget there are no new initiatives for research and development in agriculture at all. There is no funding for biosecurity beyond 2019. It defies logic, because biosecurity is just so important. If we were to have a foot‑and‑mouth outbreak in this nation, it is estimated that it would probably cost the economy something like $50 billion, but there is no funding for biosecurity beyond 2019.

If you think about the Food to Asia program that I just talked about, one of the key recommendations that came out of the working groups in the development of that Food to Asia program was actually upgrading the railway lines here in Victoria. Out of that came the Victorian funding and then subsequently the commonwealth funding from our federal colleagues for the Murray Basin rail project. There is no new money to continue that work on the Murray Basin rail project. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being in Mildura with Peter Crisp, the member for Mildura, where we said that if we were elected we would put another $80 million in to do the level crossings and to do the passing loops on that particular project so that you could get the 24‑hour turnaround for freight trains out of Merbein to Melbourne, something that Kenny Wakefield up there aspired to do for a long time because that actually gives him efficiency for his trains over that time. That would then pave the way for passenger services to Mildura to be returned in the future.

If you think about local government and what is in the budget for local government from a regional point of view, one of the most successful and sought‑after programs for rural councils when we were in government was the country roads and bridges program, with $160 million over four years, effectively $1 million a year for each of those rural councils to help them fix their roads. There is a poor imitation of that in the current budget. There is two years of funding, with $50 million each year, not $160 million over four years. But the rules have changed, so now regional councils can also qualify for that particular fund.

Members probably remember the debate in this place a while ago when one of the Andrews government’s regional road programs was used to fix up a bridge in Mulgrave, in the Premier’s own electorate — and one probably in the member for Lara’s electorate, just north of Geelong. A bridge there was also fixed up under their regional bridges program. Yes, there is a small sprinkling of crumbs off the table back into the budget for country roads, but the criteria have changed, so not many rural councils will actually get the money they need over that particular time.

The Andrews government has made a lot of noise about its regional assembly process. In my area there is the north‑east Victoria regional assembly. Their top priority was to have a cross‑border commissioner. They had been talking to the government for probably the last 18 months or two years about a cross‑border commissioner. The minister actually said that she was going to do a business case around a cross‑border commissioner. Again, I joined our member for Mildura in Mildura to announce that if we were elected to government we would actually have a cross‑border commissioner and we would allocate $1 million a year to make sure that commissioner had the resources to do their job well and we would base it in Mildura, which has a tri‑state cross‑border issue.

The air‑conditioning company Deville’s has issues with New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria in running its particular business. What do we see in this year’s budget? Finally there is some money for a cross‑border commissioner: $300 000 in the first year and $500 000 in the second year. Then what is in the forward estimates? Zip, zip, zip — there is no money there in the long term for a cross‑border commissioner.

There is hardly enough money to get it set up and there is certainly not a commitment to actually base it in a regional town or a regional city where cross‑border issues are to the fore. This will be some bureaucrat in Melbourne who probably will not leave Melbourne and who may get a few emails from regional Victoria, but will probably do very, very little about solving cross‑border issues. It just defies logic that, after a regional assembly where people gave their time to come and do workshops, to come and write on butcher’s paper to identify their priorities and identified a cross‑border commissioner as their top priority, the government gives them a slap in the face with a pittance of money, no long‑term commitment and no commitment to put it in regional Victoria. It defies logic to me how that could ever work.

I suppose one of the concerns that I have about the budget is with the environment part, a new performance indicator from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, where they now set a target where they want to actually preserve 5000 hectares of native vegetation on private land. This is not about what is happening on public land. This is not about the fact that I do not think either government has ever managed public land well. This is actually putting a performance indicator on the department so that in the forward estimates they will actually make sure there are covenants put over an additional 5000 hectares of private land for native vegetation.

We know what a vexed issue native vegetation is. We know the challenges that farmers have around getting one tree taken out of their paddock so they can actually use the modern big equipment they have now. But now we have a department with a performance indicator saying that they are going to go out to talk to farmers and they are going to effectively make farmers lock up another 5000 hectares from native vegetation. That issue is a major concern to me, and I think it will be a concern to a lot of people in regional Victoria.

From a budget point of view it is extremely disappointing — a raw deal for country Victoria. The Premier has not taken his chequebook past the end of the tram tracks of Melbourne.


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