This year has been another difficult one for regional Victorians.
Just as our communities were getting back on their feet, coming off two years of some of the harshest Covid lockdowns in the world, many towns and regions across the state were inundated with the recent floods.
What was shaping up to be a great year for many crops has been ruined, either by those floods or one of the wettest rain years on record.
This includes towns such as Rochester – a community which is recovering after enduring two one-in-100-year flooding events in the past 11 years – and where more than 90 per cent of housing was flood damaged.
This has been devastating to watch, but the Australian spirit shone through as communities banded together, working around the clock to save homes and businesses, and then again to begin the clean-up.
Primary producers are also watching with bated breath as the threat of Foot and Mouth Disease looms over Australia, and spreads throughout nearby Indonesia.
In the south-east of the state, our Gippsland communities are facing the threat of mass job losses as the Andrews Labor Government continues its stealth war on Victoria’s sustainable timber industry.
This vital, long-term industry contributes more than $7 billion to the state’s economy but is being sacrificed so Labor can influence inner-city voters.
In August, we began to see the real impact of Labor’s 2030 covert war on native timber, as supply to mills began to run out, with workers becoming collateral damage as they were laid off.
We have also seen Labor’s neglect of the Latrobe Valley, as this government rushes Victoria into plans for renewable energy that will only see increased pressure on Victoria’s electricity grid and its already unreliable power.
This means job losses for Valley workers, higher electricity prices and energy supplies at risk in peak periods for all Victorians.
People took their concerns to the polls in November, and it was a bittersweet moment for The Nationals, as the electorates of Shepparton, Morwell and Mildura voted for a party that puts regional Victorians first.
But in metropolitan areas, our Liberal partners were unable to make headway.
All 11 of our Members of Parliament – new and returning – will bring a strong voice to Spring Street for their communities and for regional Victoria as a whole.
My colleagues Emma Kealy, Tim Bull, Danny O’Brien and Tim McCurdy all achieved a swing towards them in their respective seats of Lowan, Gippsland East, Gippsland South and Ovens Valley.
I also congratulate Emma Kealy, the Deputy Leader of The Nationals and the returned Member for Lowan, for her outstanding leadership during our state-wide campaign.
Joining the party room are five new and exceptional local champions.
In Euroa, Annabelle Cleeland succeeds our former Deputy Leader Steph Ryan.
Jade Benham, Martin Cameron and Kim O’Keeffe all achieved exceptional results to win their respective independent-held seats of Mildura, Morwell and Shepparton.
In the Legislative Council, Melina Bath has been returned for the Eastern Victoria Region and will be joined by Gaelle Broad for the Northern Victoria Region.
Brett Tessari, our candidate for Bass, achieved an outstanding result in a seat that The Nationals have not contested since 2006.
We must also acknowledge the contribution and tragic loss of Shaun Gilchrist, our candidate for Narracan, and send our respects to his family and friends.
The Nationals now cover Victoria from border to border, and we are the only party solely representing regional Victoria.
Labor has said it is doing what matters, and we’re here to ensure they’re doing it for all Victorians, and not just the inner-city.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year, I look forward to working with our communities across Victoria in 2023 and into the future.