Speeches | June 22, 2017
Budget Papers 2017–18
Victorian Parliament - 22 June 2017 - Ms KEALY - I rise today to add my contribution in response to the 2017–18 budget. Again, unfortunately we say it is an exceptionally disappointing and hollow budget for the people of western Victoria and my electorate of Lowan. We see more and more new taxes being introduced, we see a government that brags about a surplus, and we see a region that has not been given any investment at all. I will go through the details of that further along in my contribution.
Most importantly, the element that really annoys the people of my electorate when they do not receive any funding is to hear the Treasurer bragging about the billions of dollars being poured into Melbourne, but more taxes imposed on country people, with that money being either put into the people of Melbourne or into a surplus. They do not even count — that is how people are feeling at the moment in the Lowan electorate.
It does not matter which portfolio area you look at, we have been underdone and certainly have not got our fair share. When we look at health, education, roads and police, and when we look at some of the wider initiatives of the government, whether it be around family violence or the Ice Action Plan, we are not getting our fair share in far‑western Victoria. We are not getting our fair share in country Victoria, and rural and regional Victoria. The people I represent are sending a clear message to me, which I pass on to the government: it is simply not good enough. We are sick of this city‑centric government refusing to understand that you need to invest in country Victoria to ensure the whole state can grow and thrive and, in some cases, survive.
I would like to go through the different elements of the budget. However, there is not a lot to be said because there simply were not a lot of announcements in relation to the Lowan electorate. When we look at health, there was absolutely nothing for the Lowan electorate. I note that we have 17 hospitals and three bush nursing centres in Lowan. Our staff do a fantastic job, whether they are the paramedics, clinical staff, nurses, allied health professionals, doctors, support staff, cleaners or the people who are in environmental services and cook delicious meals out our way for our patients. They are doing a fabulous job, but we did not see any money for these facilities in this budget.
Most disappointing was that there was not a line item in the budget for the Wimmera cancer centre. Our community desperately needed an additional $1 million for the Wimmera cancer centre, and people were in tears in my office when that money was not announced in the budget. It took a concerted public campaign and extensive lobbying of the health minister, who had made the promise to dying cancer patients that if the money could not be raised the government would find it. Then for it not to be delivered was a bitter blow to many people.
I am very, very pleased though that after extensive lobbying, after a big petition that was supported by the community, after fantastic work by the Wimmera Health Care Group Foundation, we did finally see the funding announced. I am pleased that finally the government saw sense, that the minister saw sense and delivered that money.
I would like to make special mention of Don Johns. Don was chair of the foundation for a long time. He really was a big push behind raising money to ensure that the local community had access to the cancer care that they deserved. Unfortunately Don passed away a week ago; he was diagnosed with cancer only a week beforehand. Knowing that the Wimmera cancer centre will now be built, given his short battle with cancer, knowing the enormous amount of work he did for that cause, we will make sure that it makes a big difference to the people in our community. I commend Don for all the work that he did. I made mention of his efforts yesterday in Parliament, and I look forward to paying tribute to Don’s incredible contribution to the Wimmera region at his memorial service tomorrow.
When we look at education, there were some announcements for primary school funding, but it was limited to just maintenance funding that was expected to flow anyway. We did not see the significant investment that we needed to see in Warracknabeal Secondary College. They are $2 million short of the necessary funding to move their whole campus from their current site to be co‑located at the new education precinct with the primary school and special development school (SDS).
Before the last election The Nationals committed to an $8 million project. Unfortunately we have only seen this government put in $4 million for the secondary college and $2 million for the SDS. It is simply not enough, and this school community is really concerned that they will not be able to create an education precinct on the one site. We need to see that additional funding flow, and I urge the education minister to reconsider.
Baimbridge College has undertaken some master planning and there is a desperate need for key investment in that school in Hamilton. In regard to the Dimboola Memorial Secondary College — to which, again, a pre‑election commitment was made by The Nationals before the last election — we still have not seen any money flow for that school, and it desperately needs an investment and an upgrade so that the students in Dimboola can have access to the educational facilities they deserve and so that the school can best support the local teachers, who do a fabulous job.
We got nothing in regard to new announcements for police. The Horsham court precinct desperately needs to have a master plan. We need a linkage into the police station. We need to have more mediation rooms. It is simply unacceptable that a family violence victim has to sit basically next to their assailant before their court hearing. We need to have private areas in that facility, and again to see that overlooked is extremely disappointing.
On roads, I hear over and over again how damaged our roads are, and today a Victorian Auditor‑General’s Office report was tabled around maintaining our state‑controlled roadways. There are absolutely no surprises in there: our roads are getting worse and worse. Primarily the reason pointed to is funding, and the Auditor‑General actually outlines that.
When you look at roads in our region, they are absolutely falling apart. They are key points of transport for people to get to work, go to the local footy and netball, go and visit their friends, do their shopping, go to hospital or go to school. You cannot possibly expect people to have to go through tyres throughout the year, the cost of which they cannot claim through any VicRoads insurance scheme.
I hear time and time again, ‘I have blown out two tyres’, ‘I have damaged my rims’ and ‘I cannot make a claim because it is under $1500’. This is for people who can least afford it, people who might be on their P‑plates, people who are unemployed or have a low‑paying job. These are the people who usually do not have the flash rims on their cars. When they blow out a tyre or two and damage rims they cannot afford to go and replace them. They are then without a vehicle. There is limited public transport in our region, and so they do not have any alternative.
Unless we see a significant investment in our roads, things will not change for these people, who are doing it tough simply because our roads are not up to scratch and we have seen hundreds of millions of dollars cut out of the VicRoads budget over successive years.
We also, disappointingly, have not seen the return of the country roads and bridges program. Recently there was a survey of local government areas and the key concern amongst all councils across the state was the condition of the local roads. This is absolutely no surprise, given that the government has scrapped the country roads and bridges program, a vital program that provided $160 million over four years, so $1 million a year to every council to ensure they could keep their local roads up to scratch and to ensure that they could also prioritise investment in their local bridges, something that is very important in my electorate. We have the most extensive road network in the state and we also have the most bridges in the state, so cutting that funding hurt our region more than any other area of Victoria.
I would like to just point out that this is not something new. We have seen minimal investment in regional Victoria year on year under the Andrews government. We heard the Treasurer today even pointing out and skiting about how great the jobs growth is in regional Victoria. Unfortunately it is not the case in my part of the state. The further away you are from Melbourne the less you get from this city‑centric government.
We have lost in excess of 2000 full‑time jobs in north‑west Victoria. Some of this is due to a simple lack of investment and a lack of business confidence to grow and thrive, to put on an additional person, to take that punt of being able to attract professionals to the region and to grow their business by opening up another store, by adding on another function or by putting in more mechanisation so they can manufacture more perhaps.
As a case in point, today we had the very sad announcement that the Hamilton mineral sands separation plant is closing as of October this year. There are estimated to be 120 jobs lost in Hamilton. If you look at an outer Melbourne area, that is equivalent to about 1400 jobs in a community. There was a precursor to this announcement back in March, almost three months ago, when there was an announcement that there would be a suspension of this plant. It has now gone into caretaker mode until 2021. In terms of support, since that suspension was announced, you would think there would be something in the budget to show some sort of investment to create new jobs, to look at perhaps some additional road crews coming out to fix our roads, to invest in our hospital and our fantastic educational facilities in Hamilton, but all we saw in this year’s budget was a boat for the Hamilton State Emergency Service (SES) unit. That boat is very important to the Hamilton SES. It will support our vital SES volunteers, including Craig Munro, who does a great job with the Hamilton SES, but it will not create one new job in that community. Hamilton is crying out for support.
We have seen job losses in the Latrobe Valley. We have seen job losses in Heyfield. We have now got job losses in Hamilton. It is time for this government to step up and provide the opportunity for jobs growth in these country communities but also to invest in infrastructure so we can exhibit to the business community that this is an area worth investing in, that this is an area that we believe in and that we believe there will be a future.
Of course all of this comes back to how we manage our population going forward. I think I have a bigger interest in population growth evening out across the state than anyone else, given I have got the biggest electorate, which is about 40 000 square kilometres, one‑sixth of the state. The challenge is, as population grows in Melbourne — and we know it is increasing by about 92 000 people a year — only 8000 people go to rural and regional Victoria. As Melbourne gets bigger my electorate is going to get bigger too. There could be a time when you have one electorate which represents a quarter of the state and you have only got one voice behind it.
If we do not see balanced population growth in this state and a recognition of the contribution our country communities make, whether it be through agriculture and the enormous amount of gross domestic product that our regional communities contribute to the state, whether it be the fantastic supports we have in relation to providing good educational opportunities and making sure that people can get the health care that they need at the time that they need it, we will not close the gap on some of the differentials. In my part of the state unfortunately we are top of the list when it comes to obesity, when it comes to diabetes and when it comes to cardiac health and poor cardiac outcomes. It is because we are not getting that investment. My concern is that if we do not reverse this population trend of everything focusing on Melbourne, then we are only going to fall further behind in country Victoria. This city‑centric government is absolutely killing country Victoria.
I would like to make quick mention of the family violence support and safety hubs. There is only one hub for the western Victoria region of the Department of Health and Human Services to cover about a quarter of the state. It is unacceptable for someone who is escaping a violent family situation to have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get support. If I can move across to my shadow portfolio of mental health, in this budget we saw a cut in acute mental health beds. This is something that we simply do not need. We have gone from 192 000 acute mental health beds when we were in government to 153 574 this year. That is a huge cut. The Australian Medical Association put out a media release that day and came out with a scathing statement, saying:
Today’s budget does not go far enough, the funding for mental health will not make the difference that is desperately needed.
Too many Victorians are unable to access the health care that they need. AMA Victoria was hopeful that today’s budget would address these widespread inadequacies; it does not …
In terms of access to drug rehabilitation, we have seen cuts in access to the number of residential rehab beds. We have seen cuts to the number of commenced courses of treatment expected, whether it is community treatment or residential drug treatment. It is simply not good enough. This is why the drug crime rate is escalating. People who are hitting rock bottom should be supported to get the assistance they need to break their addiction. This government’s Ice Action Plan is an absolute dud and needs to be revised, because it is not working at the moment. It is clear that only a Liberal‑Nationals government will bring Victoria back to the whole state it needs to be.