Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee: sustainability and operational challenges of Victoria's rural and regional councils
22 August 2018
It is a pleasure to rise and speak today on the report tabled by the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee Inquiry into the Sustainability and Operational Challenges of Victoria's Rural and Regional Councils. I particularly wanted to reference page 83 of that report, which gives some examples of state government cost shifting to local governments around rural and regional Victoria. Also of course we know it is an issue with the federal government as well. The report specifically talks about health services as being one of the areas that local governments often find they are required to pick up when state or federal governments have not funded them.
I particularly want to point to one example in my own electorate, a service which has been picked up by Benalla council, and that is the funding of our outreach worker. We have a wonderful person, Ivan Lister, who has been mentioned a number of times in this house both by me and my predecessor, Dr Bill Sykes, as being someone who has done some of the most powerful work you could possibly imagine across my area. Ivan in one form or another has been working as a rural outreach worker for 15 years, but every couple of years we face this inevitable battle of trying to find him funding. The state was funding him, but that was dropped. He then had some funding from the primary care partnership, but that was dropped. Now Benalla Rural City Council is funding him two days a week, but the reality is that Ivan works seven days a week.
If I go along to the cattle sales at Euroa, Ivan is there. When I go to the football on the weekend, Ivan is there. I run into him everywhere around the community, and he works in a very quiet but powerful way. He goes directly out to people on farms and helps them deal with the repercussions of floods, of droughts, of marriage breakdowns, of fires and of depression, and he connects them into services. It is the most powerful model that I have seen, because country communities fundamentally reject somebody who they do not feel understands their challenges, and Ivan is at heart a farmer. He is someone who grew up in rural communities and has lived there his whole life, and people really respond to that.
I have written to the Minister for Mental Health seeking funding for Ivan in an ongoing capacity, because we do need to pay him for the work that he is doing. I have letters of support from the primary care partnership, from Benalla Health and from Benalla council. The whole community wants to see Ivan's role properly funded. I plead with the Minister for Mental Health, at a time when seasonal conditions across my area are becoming really, really tough, to find just a little bit of funding to ensure that Ivan's role continues and continues as a permanent role. I just cannot emphasise how important I believe the work is that he does.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine who is a filmmaker got in touch with me. She was looking at doing a documentary around men's mental health and wanted to make sure that she profiled someone in a rural setting. I put her in touch with Ivan, and they now have a wonderful friendship. Ivan is now one of five men who has featured in the new documentary that Genevieve Bailey has done which premiered in the last week or two at the Melbourne International Film Festival. He told his stories of the people he works with. I went to the premiere of that a couple of weeks ago. Ivan was there, and at the end there was a panel discussion, and the audience were asking, 'Ivan, who funds you? How are you funded?'. There was disbelief that someone that does this work is not deemed worthy of ongoing and permanent funding and that he has to continually scrape to find dollars to be able to do what he does.
There is no doubt in my mind that the work that Ivan does has saved many, many lives over the course of the millennium drought and in the years since, and it is heartbreaking when he comes to me and says, 'I knew that person was having difficulties, but I just couldn't get there'. That has happened in recent days, so I would urge the government to find funding for Ivan.