This State Government’s continued ignorance of rural and regional Victoria was highlighted in Parliament last sitting week.
I participated in the debate and wish to use this column to highlight some of the points I made with excerpts from my speeches, as follows:
As I sit here today, representing one of the biggest electorates in the state and we are weeks off the end of a four year term – we have not seen the Premier or Deputy Premier.
Neither – unless they flew in under the radar - has been to Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Orbost, Maffra, Stratford, Omeo or Heyfield at any time in the past four years.
The fact neither was at Heyfield during that town’s period of uncertainty over the future of the mill and its employees is nothing short of a disgrace.
However, I want to start off with a local issue, the Bairnsdale Secondary College. The Minister has used weasel words to the school community.
Following the election, both myself and the school council invited the Minister down – in good will – to visit the school and discuss the serious issues.
These included the constant inundation every time it rains heavily, when the library and classrooms are flooded and mould sets in – making them unusable. After hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs, it then rains again and the same occurs.
I understand the Department has a report indicating it is the design of the building and maintenance is not going to solve the problem long term. The school committee and the parents on behalf of their kids simply wanted a chance to show the Minister the situation.
Now what was the response? When asked on local radio in 2015 he said he would visit ‘when his diary permitted'. In response to another later approach he said he would visit when ‘his schedule permits' and then in May 2016, it was in the 'near future'.
Well here we are more than two years after that last promise - and more than three years after saying he would come when his diary permitted - and no visit.
We have announced we will provide the $15 million to complete the school.
While on schools, this government appears hell bent on pursuing the Safe Schools program in all our schools, the contents of which reveal it is a radical social agenda.
Parents are rightfully complaining its resources include messaging that gender is fluid and that male and female toilet use are a matter of individual choice.
It is a political gender program and we will scrap it and replace it with a real proper anti-bullying program that teaches respect for all – a clear and simple message for our kids.
I move on to roads funding. On coming to government, Labor cut the Country Roads and Bridges program that benefitted our council rural roads and its own budget papers revealed it also cut the roads asset and maintenance budget. Our roads suffered.
When it finally replaced the country roads fund with a cheaper imitation, one of the first projects was in the Premier’s electorate of Mulgrave! The only thing ‘country’ close to that was the Mulgrave Country Club. The excuse - it’s an important route for rural drivers.
We have announced we will fully reinstate the Country Roads and Bridges Program.
Now, if I can jump to the present and we sit on the cusp of a serious drought if we don’t get rain soon. Our farmers are starting to really struggle as I’ve outlined previously in this House.
Can we please have someone from government down to talk to these people? Only then can you understand the hardship and provide support. Where is the Premier, the Deputy Premier or the Agriculture Minister?
With this dry period we are also facing a serious fire season. It is time to stop the war on the CFA volunteers and show them the respect they deserve. The resignations and sackings of many quality long serving people is appalling. Every government for decades, Labor and Coalition has supported the CFA without question, but not this one.
Getting on to a few wider state-wide issues. Surely what is the biggest ‘doozie’ of this term was the cancelling of East West Link when we were told it would not cost ‘a single cent’.
It was $1.3 billion - that could build 70 new schools – and here we have no money from this government for the Bairnsdale Secondary College. To put that into perspective, because $1.3 billion rolls off the tongue – it is one thousand, three hundred million dollars.
We then had the red shirts saga, which the Ombudsman labelled an artifice. Now let’s explain what this not often word means – its definition is a crafty trick used to deceive others.
This isn’t the other side of politics saying this, this is the Ombudsman and not only was the use of the $388,000 a rort, Labor spent over $1m trying to stop her investigating in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court - all which the government lost.
The government went from saying ‘nothing to see here’ to paying it back and saying sorry. Well a robber can’t give the money back and just say forgive me. It is worth noting the Ombudsman said she investigated every party, and only one party did this.
We also had the sale of the port lease where 10 per cent was to be spent in country Victoria – that was $970m, but this government put it into general revenue and spent it.
The youth justice system is in disarray and we have a crime wave. Crime well up in Victoria when in NSW it is in major decline – why? Attempted murder and manslaughter is up 42 per cent, burglary and break and enter is up 33 per cent and assaults are up 17.2 per cent.
Compared to NSW, Victoria’s murder rate is up 6.9 per cent while in NSW it has decreased by 41.8 per cent; vehicle theft is up 7.6 per cent while in NSW it has fallen by 12.8 per cent and robberies are up 33 per cent, but over the same period in NSW are down 27.5 per cent. Car-jackings were unheard of before this term and home invasions have ballooned.
Now some might say this is no concern to country folk, but let me assure you it is. I have had several parents and grandparents who have sent their kids off to Melbourne for school and work who worry about their loved ones, and for good reason.
I have been asked many times, why are we not recognising this and doing something. People are asking, what the hell is going on in this state.
Then we have cost of living – the massive increase in power prices.
Labor tripled the brown coal royalty rate in the 2016 Budget and with Engie facing an $87 million tax bill, it closed Hazelwood, and many hundreds of jobs lost. This should have been a staged closure.
We were told at the time that this would result in bills rising by no more than 4 per cent or 85 cents per week. This proved to be a lie.
Here are some local examples of hundreds. David Lucke’s Fresh Food Market, a fantastic local family-owned business, copped a power bill rise of 35 per cent increase in its new contract. That is an increase of around $2500 per month, taking the monthly bill to $9500.
Due to a lack of confidence in power security over summer, they were also forced to install a $30,000 generator. So much for the 4 per cent.
Then there’s the Bairnsdale RSL. Its new electricity contract will see it paying an additional $75,000 to $85,000 a year. One major Gippsland vegetable grower had a bill increase of just on $1m. How can this absorbed?
In relation to the RSL, I raised this in question time and the Premier said he would ‘contact the RSL and work with them in good faith’. Well here is what happened. They received call and were offered a dollar for dollar grant. Can you believe the response to help them in good faith was to ask them to spend more money?
Time permits me from going on, but these are just some reasons why this government has lost the faith of country Victorians and should be replaced.
Before finishing I should also mention what a Labor Greens Coalition would mean for our region. Bye-bye to the Orbost, Omeo and Buchan Rodeos, hunting and the Greens even want a four-day working week. God help us should that eventuate.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018