Have your say on Autism
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, has encouraged the local community to have their say as part of an inquiry into services for people with autism spectrum disorder.
Mr Bull said the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee was considering the adequacy of existing services as well as those to be provided through the NDIS.
The Inquiry will provide up-to-date information in a range of areas, including:
• Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in Victoria;
• The availability and adequacy of services provided by the commonwealth, state and local governments across health, education, disability, housing, sport and employment services;
• The adequacy of services to be provided under the National Disability Insurance Scheme;
• Evidence of the social and economic cost of failing to provide adequate services; and
• The projected demand for services in Victoria.
“I encourage any locals touched by autism to make a submission to this Inquiry,” Mr Bull said.
“It’s important the Committee hears a wide range of views through public hearings and submissions, to gain an in-depth understanding of the issues and how services could be improved.”
Mr Bull said the location of public hearings had not yet been announced, but public submissions could be made until March 18, 2016, online via http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/fcdc/article/2846
Swift’s Creek P-12 receives Christmas blow
Swift’s Creek P-12 College has been dealt a blow by the State Government, having been advised via telephone on the eve of Christmas of the planned removal of four portable classrooms (30% of the school’s facilities), one of which is the school library.
The reason provided for the removal was due to the government policy of having all asbestos removed from school buildings by 2020.
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull said “no one would argue with the basis of the policy to remove asbestos from our schools, but to have a school told it is losing 30% of its buildings, without consultation, is not acceptable. Especially when it has done all of its planning for next year”.
“The policy was about removing asbestos, not removing all buildings containing asbestos without replacement and leaving schools without essential facilities.
“When this policy was announced it spoke of providing replacement facilities, but Swift’s Creek has been told this is not an option as its enrolment numbers do not warrant replacement buildings.
“However, this is a decision that has clearly been made in Melbourne as anyone who visited the site would know these buildings are utilised and needed.
Mr Bull said the school council has every reason to be upset with this decision, as the classrooms earmarked for removal include the school library, VCE common room, exam centre and VCAL room.
“The school council is supportive of the asbestos removal, however, they don’t believe it should be done at the expense of student learning outcomes and nor do they believe students at the college are under immediate threat from asbestos, which has been in the school buildings for many years.
“Swift’s Creek P-12 has a great record of student achievements and punches well above its weight when it comes to student outcomes, so the structure of this should not be decimated on the eve of a new school year.
“When announcing the original policy the Victorian Education Minister said, ‘you can’t get a first-rate education in a second-rate classroom’. I would argue that you can’t get an education without classrooms at all.
“I would hope the Minister reconsiders this decision to remove classrooms from the school and if it is to be done, they should be replaced with new buildings.”
Gippsland East sporting clubs receive a boost
Sports and active recreation clubs in the Gippsland East electorate will receive funding as part of the first round of VicHealth’s 2015-16 Active Club Grants program.
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said the grants aim to increase or maintain participation in physical activity by funding essential equipment like bats, portable goals, uniforms and balls.
“This funding is vital to helping many more Victorians get the recommended 2.5 hours per week of moderate physical activity,” Mr Bull said.
“As well as the physical benefits of preventing illnesses, getting active helps maintain mental wellbeing, keeping us alert and resilient against the stresses of modern life.
“Research also shows that sport builds community pride and loyalty and offers people the chance to get involved, providing them with a positive sense of self-worth.”
The following clubs were among a total of 262 across Victoria to share in more than $746,330 worth of VicHealth Active Club Grants:
• $3,000 – Bairnsdale Field Archers Incorporated
• $3,000 – Bairnsdale Hockey Club
• $3,000 – Bairnsdale Soccer Club
• $2,974 – Bairnsdale Tennis Club
• $2,990 – Heyfield Bowls Club
• $2,393 – Heyfield Tennis Club
• $2,960 – Maffra Hockey Club
• $2,990 – Mallacoota Halls and Recreation Reserve
• $3,000 – Mallacoota Inlet Bowls Club
• $2,850 – Metung Swan Reach Cricket Club
• $3,000 – Orbost Women’s Hockey Club
• $3,000 – Paynesville Football Club
• $2,750 – St Mary’s Nagle Cricket Club
• $9,898 – Gippsland Lakes Yacht Club
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said VicHealth was proud to continue to support local sporting organisations, particularly in more disadvantaged areas of Victoria.
“VicHealth is committed to addressing the rising obesity levels in Victoria and as part of this, we want to make physical activity participation part of everyday living,” Ms Rechter said.
“Sports and active recreation clubs are a terrific way to get involved in the community, meet new people and keep active for good health. Previous rounds have shown us that these grants encourage people to try new activities, support them to join their local club or continue playing their favourite sport.”
Fire access tracks will be inspected
The Minister for the Environment has advised she will ask Departmental staff for specific advice on the condition of East Gippsland fire tracks after being questioned by the Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, in Parliament this week.
Mr Bull said he was pleased with the Minister’s response, which he said was likely to reveal a considerable amount of maintenance is required.
“I stressed to the Minister I was not raising the matter for political purposes as this has clearly not happened overnight, but for community safety reasons. It followed a recent tour of some fire tracks just north of Bairnsdale with a concerned resident and experienced bushman.
“We travelled along, or attempted to travel along fire access tracks located in the Asset Protection Zone (APZ) just north of Bairnsdale. These APZ’s are the areas nearest to public assets (population centres) and are to be given the highest priority.
“There were many tracks in the APZ north of Bairnsdale that were inaccessible and had not been maintained with sections washed out and overgrown and certainly not a track you could take an emergency vehicle down responding to a bushfire.”
Mr Bull told Parliament a recent report by the Inspector General for Emergency Management (IGEM) highlighted the need for fire track maintenance for rapid responses.
“There has been a lot of media around more fire-fighting aircraft for this summer, but based on what I was shown, it appears one of the most basic and important fire protection measures is being overlooked.
“Fire fighters have explained to me the lack of maintenance on fire access tracks is becoming one of the biggest impediments to successfully fighting fires and rapid response.
“Recent fire events have shown what can happen when fires are left to burn and conditions change.
“In recent events, decisions were made to put remote fires on a watch status, waiting for the fire to come out. However, when it came out, it was in conditions that made it unstoppable and homes and assets were lost.
“It has been recognised by IGEM that where possible, rapid responses are required to attack fires early. That is why the basic fundamental of clearing tracks and ongoing maintenance needs to be done, particularly in APZ areas.
“Each year Victoria allocates a large budget to fighting what are now called ‘campaign fires’ when they are out of control and I believe more of this budget could be put into prevention in this important area,” Mr Bull told the Legislative Assembly.
In her response, Minister Lisa Neville, acknowledged East Gippsland is a fire prone area and once she has received the information on the state of the tracks, she would provide further information.
Mr Bull thanked the Minister for her response and said he was aware there were budget pressures, but hoped some more funds could be allocated to this prevention work, which in some cases may avoid the massive costs of a major fire event.
Local plea for Highway upgrade answered
The Princes Highway just west of Cann River will be reconstructed at a cost of $1.6million, State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said today.
Mr Bull, who has raised the matter several times in Parliament after the road surface deteriorated badly earlier this year, this week received confirmation the work would be completed by April 2016 out of VicRoads’ routine maintenance budget.
“This is a big relief for the many who have contacted my office and allowed me to make a compelling argument in relation to the impact this was having on visitors to our region, some of whom have been avoiding the road for the latter half of this year.
“I first raised the matter some months ago after receiving a number of complaints that speed restriction signs were being placed more often and for longer periods in this area due to the road surface breaking up.
“These signs should be used in a temporary capacity as they have been in the past, while the surface of the road is initially temporarily repaired, then properly repaired.
“It is certainly good news that we have an upgrade planned for this area. I will now seek to achieve an outcome where appropriate temporary improvements are made for the peak season holiday traffic and a guarantee all the problem areas in this stretch will be addressed.
“While statewide roads maintenance funding was slashed in the May state budget by 20%, it is pleasing to know this project has been funded.
“Unfortunately, in responding to my representations, the Minister stated it was unlikely the 80kmh speed restriction would be lifted until when this work is completed in April next year.
“There still remains much more to do and I would hope that come budget time next year the government reinstates the money for roads maintenance and re-introduces the Country Roads and Bridges Program that provided $4 million directly to East Gippsland Shire for roads.
“It was axed in this year’s Budget and needs to be reinstated. This additional roads funding was making a difference in East Gippsland and if restored, we will be able to get more projects underway on our roads network,” Mr Bull said.
Caption: State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull was in Cann River this week viewing the problem section of the Princes Highway that will be the focus of road works early next year.
Lakes and Orbost police concerns raised
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, in parliament question time today, sought answers from the Minister for Police over the lack of police numbers in Orbost and lack of provision for additional officers around the Gippsland Lakes holiday destinations over the Christmas period.
These are issues that have been raised with Mr Bull by local community groups.
In relation to Orbost, Mr Bull was asking why the complement of 12 officers in Orbost had been as low as three at times. With massive holiday crowds on the Princes Highway in the coming months, he sought a guarantee local numbers would be boosted.
“This is a huge geographical region to cover and the only route for those holidaying at Mallacoota and Marlo or just over the border at locations like Merimbula.
“In relation to Lakes Entrance and the Gippsland Lakes, my question was on the back of having raised this matter with the Minister a month ago and not having had a response.
“My concern was based on the fact that at a location like Lakes Entrance the population swells from 6,500 to over 50,000 and my advice is they are not being allocated any additional police numbers outside New Year’s Eve and in fact the roster of 17 officers looks like being depleted through maternity and other leave.
“Despite the previous government putting on an additional 1,900 police, in the past 12 months the total number of sworn-in officers in Victoria has dropped from 13,151 in November last year to 13,142 in September this year. So we have had a reduction of nine officers while our population has grown.
“The Minister says additional custody officers will free up police but 12 months into the term of this Government we have none in these roles while police numbers have dropped.
“It is also worth noting none of these custody officers will be assigned to Orbost and Lakes Entrance if and when they do finally come into service.”
Mr Bull said it was disappointing the Minister had not responded to his previous question in the allocated one month timeframe and today has avoided answering the question again.
“Not once in his response did he mention Lakes Entrance or Orbost, which does not fill me with a lot of hope, but what we need to be assured of is two things:
• That Orbost will have its full complement over the Christmas period, and
• Additional police will be provided to Lakes Entrance and the Gippsland Lakes region for the entire holiday period, not just New Year’s Eve.
“Our local officers do an outstanding job, but they do need support in peak holiday times,” he said.