Regional and rural infrastructure funding
24 June 2015
June 24, 2015
MS RYAN (Euroa) — I also rise to contribute today to the debate on the matter of public importance proposed by the Leader of The Nationals that this house takes note of the Andrews Labor government's neglect of rural and regional Victoria. Deputy Speaker, I must say that I am quite disappointed to see you in the chair; you are a lot more fun when you are on the floor of Parliament.
I was motivated to come to this place to represent the communities where I was born and raised because I saw the contemptuous way the Brumby government treated country Victoria. When Labor was last in government country people felt pushed aside and they felt ignored. Four years on, it gives me absolutely no pleasure at all to stand here and say that very little has changed.
In this coming financial year just 2.9 per cent of the state's total infrastructure spend will be spent on projects in rural and regional Victoria, and that is being felt across the regions. If you remove major regional cities such as Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat from the equation, the figure is even more stark. For the Labor Party, regional Victoria means only Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. If you go outside those cities, you will find very little. How can this government lay claim to governing for all Victorians when it is so obviously and so unashamedly focused on Melbourne? Regional Victorians are being neglected by the Premier.
In recent weeks we have seen that many of the projects Labor has laid claim to in a rather transparent and vain attempt to pad out its credentials in regional Victoria have in fact been projects started and funded by the coalition when we were in government. The Murray Basin rail project — I see the member for Mildura is in the chamber — is a vitally important project to the future of this state and a project that under the coalition was ready to go. Under the coalition, and thanks to the dedicated efforts of the member for Mildura, we committed $220 million to that project and we delivered the first $30 million in funding in July 2014. Here we are almost a year on and neither the Premier nor the Treasurer, who is at table, have put their hands in their pockets for a single extra dollar for that project.
Projects that would deliver additional investment and jobs across my electorate of Euroa are languishing. I have spoken many times in this house about a number of them. A substantial capital investment is needed to rebuild Rushworth hospital, Benalla College and Seymour College. We need better, faster and more reliable passenger services on the north-east rail line, and Broadford needs a new Country Fire Authority station.
But there is one project that I would particularly like to highlight today, and that is the planned upgrade of Benalla Airport. Last year Benalla Rural City Council made an application for funding under the coalition's $20 million Regional Aviation Fund. It was applying for funds for necessary improvements to secure the World Gliding Championships, which will be taking place in Benalla in January 2017. It is my understanding that in January next year there will be a pre-event competition there. Unfortunately the council made that application too late for it to be assessed by the previous government. Upon coming to office Labor scrapped that program — it scrapped a $20 million investment in regional aviation. Labor's failure to invest in regional Victoria is jeopardising an event that will support local jobs and provide an important injection of funds into north-east Victoria. Urgent action to address this is needed now. It is not needed next year, it is not needed the year after that; it is needed now.
I would like to also mention Shepparton. The coalition's $75 million commitment to rebuild the Goulburn Valley hospital in Shepparton has been thrown on the scrap heap by this government. For this coming financial year Labor has allocated a miserly $1 million to Goulburn Valley Health. A point that perhaps many people in the Shepparton electorate are not aware of is that that $1 million is not for just the redevelopment of the Goulburn Valley hospital in Shepparton but is also for the redevelopment of Rushworth's hospital.
The Shepparton community's request for additional passenger rail services has fallen on absolutely deaf ears. What is the government's plan? It is not to provide additional funding. They are just going to review it. They will just do another plan.
We have seen an absolute parade of ministers visit Shepparton since the election. They are happy to come and talk, they are happy to play nice, they are happy to talk to the Independent member for Shepparton, but they are not bringing their chequebooks with them, are they? In fact I have noted with quite a lot of interest that the priorities of the member for Shepparton seem to be almost a mirror image of the commitments the coalition made to Shepparton prior to the election.
The only difference is that, unlike those opposite, the coalition was actually going to fund those commitments. Progress in Shepparton has been set back years because of this government, and it is an absolute disgrace.
In the area of education, this government says it is making Victoria the education state, that it is governing for all; but it is ignoring the educational needs of almost 25 per cent of the state's population. Not a cracker has been spent on schools north of Wallan and west of Beaufort. Not only has nothing been spent; there has been nothing committed. Country communities know we cannot fix everything in one go, but we want to see some balance. We want to see a government that will at least pay some attention to the needs of regional Victoria.
During the coalition's four years in government it made investments in education across regional communities. We got the ball rolling in Benalla, Seymour, Kyabram, Horsham and Wodonga. The coalition before the last election made commitments to more than 100 schools in regional Victoria. Labor has funded almost nothing outside the metropolitan border. I find it truly concerning that this government can find $30 million to renovate a ballroom in Melbourne's CBD but cannot find the money to provide decent classrooms for students in Seymour and Benalla.
When it comes to health, less than 4 per cent of new hospital capital funding in this budget is being invested in facilities in regional and rural Victoria, with just one health service receiving funding in this year's budget. The Bush Nursing Support Fund, which provided targeted funding for capital and infrastructure upgrades at the 22 bush nursing hospitals in regional Victoria — including Violet Town, Nagambie and Euroa — has been axed. Bush nursing services play an absolutely pivotal role in Victoria's rural health system, but it is a role that Labor clearly does not value.
There is a lot more that I could touch on. For example, there is country roads funding. The government has announced its Towards Zero safety strategy. That is an ambition I applaud to reduce the road toll. However, if you are going to reduce the road toll, you need to invest in country roads. You cannot cut country roads funding and expect to lower the road toll.
While there has been a severe lack of money across country Victoria there has certainly been no shortage of reviews. We heard the Leader of The Nationals mention earlier that, on average, this government has commissioned one new review every three days. When this government wants to avoid an issue, when it wants to duck and weave, when it wants to delay funding, what does it do? It announces another review. We are up to almost 80 so far. In fact you would probably be hard pressed to find something this government is not reviewing. We have a review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management, a review of vocational education and training funding, education funding, WorkSafe and the Transport Accident Commission, medicinal cannabis and a review of a minister. But my favourite is a review of Regional Development Victoria. It must have been doing its job too well, so it is being reviewed.
Under Labor what has happened to Regional Development Victoria? Labor has dismantled the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund. For the record, and in honour of the former member for Gippsland South, I will inform the house of the impact the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund had over the past four years. The $500 million invested in our term of government delivered almost 1800 projects and leveraged more than $2 billion worth of investment in country Victoria. I am proud of that, and I am proud of the impact in my electorate.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member's time has expired.