The year started with smoke blanketing a vast swathe of our state.
Images of Victoria burning were beamed into households across Australia – the scenes were scary and the loss of life, livestock, wildlife, and property was devastating and horrific.
The scars it’s left on lives and livelihoods, the landscape and communities will be felt for many years to come.
This disaster also showcased what it was to be a Victorian – strength, mateship, resilience and unity.
We saw fodder donated from across the country.
ADF choppers became a familiar sound in the skies as supplies were delivered to farmers and their livestock, while food, clothes and daily needs were offered to local people in one of the most astonishing fundraising efforts of our time.
During the worst crisis, we witnessed the very best of our community.
Once the smoke had cleared and we began to gather the pieces, we were faced with something that we had not encountered before – a silent, deadly and destructive enemy – COVID-19.
The pandemic has impacted all Victorians. Some lost jobs, we endured months of separation from family and friends and the everyday rituals that we enjoy in normal daily life. Whatever the circumstance, our lives changed like never before.
The Andrews Labor Government made mistakes in its handling of the crisis that has cost more than 800 lives.
My thoughts will be with those families this month as they endure their first Christmas without their loved ones.
The loss of life must be acknowledged. There are still so many questions the Andrews Labor Government refuses to answer on the failures in contact tracing that led to the virus getting out of control.
These families deserve the truth of what went wrong, what mistakes were made and who made them.
2021 will be a year of healing, growth and recovery.
We need to rebuild our economy, our livelihoods and our communities. In November, The Nationals released a COVID recovery plan that detailed policies and initiatives the Andrews Labor Government should implement to assist in recovery.
Some of these initiatives have been picked up and implemented by the Victorian Government, including $200 regional travel vouchers which will help to boost local economies and spending in our local small businesses as they work to get back on their feet.
The Andrews Labor Government’s second wave has come at a huge cost to our economy.
Daniel Andrews will take out an eye-watering $155 billion debt to pay for his mistakes and to cover Labor’s cost blowouts on major projects.
While I recognise investment must be made to stimulate the economy, we must make sure that the money reaches all corners of the economy. As it stands, too many people have been left behind in the 2020-21 State Budget.
Support must be extended to regional communities.
Labor’s funnelling money into cmetro project cost blowouts at the expense of regional Victoria. Less than 15 per cent of the spend on road and rail will go into regional Victoria – outside of Geelong.
Despite there being a swathe of shovel-ready projects which could begin creating jobs now, Labor’s allocation of funds does not address the short-term jobs crisis our state is experiencing, with the new jobs its Budget has promised only beginning to come online from 2023-24.
While the recovery will be long and it will be tough for many, I have no doubt that Victorians possess the strength and determination required to restore our state as the most liveable in the nation and Australia’s economic powerhouse.
I hope you all have a well-deserved festive break and look forward to working with you in what I pray will be a prosperous 2021.