Last week in State Parliament the hottest topic of debate, both inside and outside the Chamber, was the Port of Melbourne sale. Although some may think it has little to do with East Gippsland, that’s far from the case – it is in fact very important to East Gippsland on a range of fronts.
Perhaps the most important point is the sale of the port will generate an estimated $7 billion and between 40-50% of container exports come from rural and regional Victoria, which has 25% of the state’s population.
So it is very unfair that all that has been offered by this State Government from the $7 billion port sale is a $200 million agriculture fund – this is just 3% of the expected port proceeds and massively short changes country Victoria. Of further concern is that from this “farmers’ fund” as the government has referred to it, some of the first projects announced from it were several road and bridge upgrades between Geelong and Melbourne.
These included the Avalon Road Overpass on the Princes Freeway, the Corio Quay Road Bridge and three bridges over rail spur lines in the area.
I am fairly sure the majority of people from rural and regional Victoria would not see this as fitting within the criteria of an agricultural “farmers’ fund”. When questioned on this in Parliament last week, the Minister’s response was that it was a fund that had “wide application”.
It is simply funding urban roads projects that should be addressed under the roads budget and when these projects are funded there will be very little left for our farmers or rural areas, so while the paltry 3% was a slap in the face for country Victoria, it appears as though it will actually be a fraction of that after these metropolitan roads and bridges are financed.
East Gippsland is home to dairies, meat producers, vegetable growers, timber operations and food manufacturers. Primary industries like these are not only strong economic contributors to East Gippsland, but Victoria as a whole - and a lot of the value is in export markets.
How do Victoria’s exports get to their overseas markets? Often it is by a container that departs from the Melbourne Port. It is our gateway to the world. Melbourne’s Port, very literally, has been built off the back of Victoria’s farmers and manufacturers.
The Port has been critically important in our past, and it will remain absolutely critical if we are serious about continuing to grow Victoria’s potential as a food and fibre State
Recently we have seen the Port stevedores warn that if there are any extra costs associated with handling goods at Melbourne Port, ultimately these will be passed back to producers.
That’s why it is so important that the State Government gets a really good deal for all Victorians if it proceeds with selling off this long-term lease.
That’s why my Nationals colleagues and I remain very concerned that the deal being proposed for the lease is just not good enough.
The Government is yet to provide all the details, so last week The Nationals used our numbers in Parliament to send the Port lease legislation to a Legislative Council inquiry.
The Coalition is not opposed to the sale of the port, but it has to be a deal that benefits all of Victoria.
The disappointing aspect from a local point of view is that when the Minister for Water was in the Macalister Irrigation District recently turning the first sod on upgrades that were ironically funded by the previous Coalition Government, she had the perfect chance to say the next stage of the MID could be funded under this program.
It is after all a critical agricultural project. However all she could say was it “could be considered” through the new agriculture fund. So the urban road and bridge projects can be guaranteed from this fund, but the MID – a real agricultural project – can only “be considered”.
The Victorian Farmers Federation management supported this 3% agricultural farmers’ fund of which much is going into city roads, but I have been contacted by members who are very unhappy that such a deal – which short changes rural Victoria – has been supported by the group.
This is simply a dud deal and to put it into context - the paltry amount being offered to regional and rural Victoria is the same as the budget for the St Albans level crossing removal project in Melbourne’s western suburbs - around $200 million.
The people who built the Port, provide between 40-50% of the container exports and who represent 25% of our state’s population are getting around 1-50th of the funds – and even then they’re going to city projects.
Because we successfully forced the Government to send its port lease legislation to an inquiry last week, it will now be thoroughly examined and scrutinised. Members of the public, including councils, businesses and concerned individuals will also be able to have their say and make a submission to the Committee.
Anyone who is interested in doing this can get more information from my office.
August 17, 2016