Nats say on-shore gas inquiry must visit Gippsland
The Nationals have called on the Melbourne Labor Government to ensure a committee inquiring into on-shore gas visits Gippsland and holds public hearings after supporting the Inquiry’s establishment in the Parliament this week.
Nationals Eastern Victoria Region MP, Melina Bath, who is a member of the Upper House committee tasked with the review, said she had called on the committee during its first meeting last night to ensure it visits country areas to hear from those likely to be most affected.
“This is a very important issue for Gippsland and other parts of the state and it would be wrong for Labor to allow the committee to be stuck in Melbourne when the impacts of this industry would be felt in regional Victoria.
“Just as the The Nationals in Coalition Government instituted a moratorium on on-shore gas development, including fracking, and commissioned an extensive public consultation campaign, we believe it is important that this parliamentary inquiry both visits the areas and hears from the people that may be affected,” Ms Bath said.
The Nationals Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said it was important that the Victorian Government take a cautious and conservative approach to this issue.
“The important thing is that we ensure that nothing occurs under Labor that would threaten our land or water resources, a position we have always had,” Mr Bull said.
“We also believe that the inquiry should also consider onshore conventional gas, not just unconventional gas, but Labor and the Greens opposed our amendment to broaden the terms of reference."
The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O'Brien, said The Nationals’ position on on-shore gas is very clear.
"We strongly believe that landholders deserve the right to say no to onshore gas extraction activity on their property, if it ever proceeds, and we will not support any activity that harms our state’s water or the environment,” Mr O’Brien said.
"Victoria’s agricultural industries are the lifeblood of our regional communities and are too valuable to jeopardise.”
The Nationals Member for Morwell, Russell Northe, said the Greens were playing politics with the inquiry, circulating amendments to the terms of reference just minutes before a vote and without consulting other parties in the Council.
“If they were serious about these amendments they would have distributed them weeks before, not minutes, before the vote.
“The Greens are more interested in playing politics on this issue, rather than supporting communities that are concerned about the issue,” Mr Northe said.
Minister invited to visit hockey association
The State Sports Minister has been invited to East Gippsland to meet with the East Gippsland Hockey Association and discuss the prospect of a new synthetic hockey pitch for the region.
In inviting the Minister, State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said Hockey Victoria has recently released its Strategic Facilities Master Plan that identifies Bairnsdale as a preferred site for a synthetic pitch.
“The local association has been advocating for this facility for some time, particularly in the past 12 months, and that led to a Coalition commitment of $1.2 million to build the facility pre-election and the previous Sports Minister, Mr Drum, inspecting the site with association representatives.
“Unfortunately this commitment was not matched, so I have now invited the new Sports Minister down to meet with the Association and visit the site and gain a full understanding of the proposal,” Mr Bull said.
East Gippsland is one of only two regional Victorian Hockey Associations without a synthetic hockey pitch facility. It has just on 500 members across seven clubs and has worked actively, particularly of recent times, with the former State Government and East Gippsland Shire.
“I understand hockey Victoria has briefed the Minister on this plan, as has Sport and Recreation Victoria, so he will be aware of the project.
“I am also aware the local association and Hockey Victoria are currently looking at a ‘Pitch usage and management plan’ for this proposed facility.
“Given the rapid advancement in all of these areas, I have requested the Minister meet with me on site with the local association and he now has one month to respond to this formal request, which will provide an indication of his interest.
“I am also aware the Local Sports Foundation is keen to meet with the Minister and would be happy to facilitate this discussion as well,” Mr Bull said.
Hands off our CFA volunteers
State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, has expressed his support to ensure volunteer fire fighters remain on the board of the Country Fire Authority (CFA).
This follows a United Fire-fighters Union (UFU) recommendation to a government inquiry to remove volunteer fire-fighters from the CFA board.
Mr Bull said this board is responsible for one of the world's largest volunteer organisations, with volunteers making up 97% of the CFA.
“To not have representation on the board when you make up 97% of the membership is ludicrous.
“In an area like East Gippsland our volunteer firefighters play a very important role in our community and in some of our smaller townships are the heart and soul of those communities.
“They are not only active in fire periods, but in many cases play a number of other important roles in country communities.
“The UFU wants the volunteers on the board replaced by its members, but I would see this as a huge slap in the face for the many rural and regional volunteers who are the backbone of the CFA.
“In light of this claim, it would be timely for either the Premier or the Minister to guarantee volunteer positions will remain on the CFA board to ensure volunteer’s voices are heard,” Mr Bull said.
“Unfortunately this has not been forthcoming and I would hope the Government will not bow to the Union which turned out in force on election day to hand out how to vote cards for the now government in a number of seats.
“I would encourage all of our local volunteers to make sure the Andrews Government hears their views on this matter,” Mr Bull said.
Maffra Hospital needs attention
For the third time this year, the need for funding of the Maffra Hospital Master plan has been raised in State Parliament after the Health Minister earlier this year said she would visit when “in the vicinity”.
State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said “I think it is pertinent, months after she made this comment - in response to my initial invitation to visit - to ask when she might be planning to be ‘in the vicinity’ of Maffra.
“Unfortunately it is typical of a range of issues right across all of rural and regional Victoria where there is simply no interest being shown by this Government,” Mr Bull said.
“Having met with Central Gippsland Health Service representatives just before the election to look at the condition of the hospital and see the need to get the upgrade process started, the Coalition committed the $75,000 required.
“It is not a lot of money in the scheme of things. We are not seeking funding for the upgrade itself, this is simply to get the planning done on what is in parts, a tired facility.
“The staff does a great job providing a high quality of care and they deserve appropriate conditions and this is the first step in the process to achieve this.
“It is disappointing that we cannot even get past first base and get money for the planning work, or even a visit to look at the situation.”
Mr Bull said it is projects like this, on top of cuts to funding streams specifically for rural Victoria that was causing concern to rural MP’s across the state.
“We have seen the abolition of the Country Roads and Bridges Program and Local Government Infrastructure Fund that provided money directly to rural councils, the Country Football Netball Grants is gone as is the Wild Dog Bounty and Regional Living Expo to name just a few.
“We’ve also got just 2.9 per cent of the new government’s infrastructure projects in the regions, the state’s agricultural output budget has been cut by 12 per cent, the regional development output budget has been cut by 24 per cent and the road asset management budget has been cut by 10 per cent.
“This is a Melbourne Labor Government that is not giving any love to rural Victoria,” Mr Bull said.
Parliament told of Memorial progress
Construction of the Victorian Timber Workers’ Memorial is underway in Heyfield
State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, today updated Parliament on the progress of the Victorian Timber Workers’ Memorial being constructed in Heyfield.
Mr Bull said having visited the town regularly over the past few weeks it was pleasing to see the project being advanced and had no doubt it would provide a fitting place of commemoration for those family members and friends of those who lost their lives.
“It is important to acknowledge the great support from within the community and the industry to bring to project to fruition and I was delighted that the previous State Government was able to contribute $65,000.
“Cr Malcolm Hole was also a strong advocate and the support of the Wellington Shire Council was important.
“This project will see the establishment of a permanent memorial for Victorian timber workers who lost their lives working in the industry.
“I look forward to its completion and it will no doubt provide the perfect place for families and friends to visit and reflect,” Mr Bull told the Parliament.
Gippsland Lakes fund gets 12 month reprieve
Coalition MPs committed pre-election to a four year extension to the Gippsland Lakes Environment Fund. The new Government today announced a one year extension.
Gippsland East MP, Tim Bull, today welcomed the State Government’s 12 month commitment to the Gippsland Lakes Environment Fund, but expressed concern over the fact the new government has provided only one year of additional funding.
“As is well known, the previous government committed $10m over four years back in 2010 and made a further four year commitment pre-election,” said Mr Bull, who has raised the importance of the fund continuing in Parliament three times already this year.
“The program was funded until June this year under the previous commitment, so it is unfortunate we have had to wait until just weeks before this ran out to have this short term extension.
As a result, in recent weeks we have seen resignations of executive members, who have moved on to new jobs, due to the uncertainty. This could have been announced months ago,” said Mr Bull.
“In responding to a question I raised in Parliament last sitting week, the Minister indicated a new management plan will be formulated by the middle of this year. I would hope that its release will come with an announcement of further financial support beyond the 12 month period announced this week.
“Despite being silent pre-election on the Gippsland Lakes Fund, the new Government has now said it is committed to protecting the health of the system, which I certainly welcome.
“This provides a level of optimism for ongoing support, but we don’t want to wait until Budget eve next year to have the certainty needed for staff and program operators to continue their good work.
“The Minister herself has also acknowledged the great work being done by the current Committee and they have undertaken many important projects in the areas of research, education and investigation, so it is clear the structure does not require major change.
“Many of these programs need continuation, particularly in the areas of monitoring and research, to have a longer term benefit and that is why a commitment beyond 12 months is required sooner rather than later.”