Minister queried on road funding cuts
With the Labor Government’s own Budget papers showing a 40 percent cut in roads maintenance funding over the past two years, and our roads in shocking condition, it has been asked to release its re-sealing program for the East Gippsland area this financial year.
Local Nationals MP, Tim Bull, said he was hearing the parlous state of the Budget meant the only major re-sealing that was to be done this year was in the flood impacted regions in the north of the state.
“At a time when our roads needed massive investment, they received another cut from a government that is broke and a Premier who has walked away and left a wreck behind him.
“I know Regional Roads Victoria (RRV) has a forward works program, so I have asked Minister Melissa Horne, apart from routine maintenance, what is the re-sealing budget for this year and what roads are scheduled for re-sealing.
“This will reveal what the road funding cuts mean on the ground,” he said.
Mr Bull said it was only last year that now Labor Minister, Vicky Ward, said concerns over the condition of country roads was an ‘imagined fantasy’ a comment that showed how out of touch Labor MP’s were.
“Hardly a week goes by when I am not reminded of the difference in road conditions from those who have come down the Monaro Highway. They tell me the road is perfect in NSW and on crossing the border it has craters and broken surfaces at regular intervals.
“I have some sympathy for the staff at RRV as they are getting smashed with complaints and have a government that has cut their funding enormously.
“When you go into the level of debt we have in Victoria, greater than Qld, NSW and Tasmania combined, you want something to show for it. You want to be able to say, ‘we have incurred debt, but we are well placed as a state’.
“However, we have record debt and are left with a roads, housing, health and mental health crisis to name just a few of the problems,” Mr Bull said.
Monday, 30 October 2023
Wind farms must respect fishery
State and Federal Government Ministers have been asked to avoid any Bass Strait offshore wind farm proposals that will impact on the Lakes Entrance commercial fishing industry.
Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, with Federal MP Darren Chester, has jointly written to Federal Climate and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, outlining the sector’s concerns and Mr Bull last week raised the matter in the Victorian Parliament with State Ministers.
“What needs to be understood by the decision makers is, any windfarm development in the eastern end of the proposed zone will significantly impact on critical commercial fishing grounds and should be avoided at all costs.
“I think the two industries can co-exist and there are some areas of this windfarm zone footprint that would have a far lesser impact on fishing than the eastern end of the zone and that is where wind farm development should be focussed,” Mr Bull said.
Chairman of the Lakes Entrance Fishermen Limited (LEFL) Board, Bruce Hammond, said the organisation and its members were keen to engage with any wind farm proponents with the aim of protecting key grounds.
“The commercial sector has for decades faced ‘spatial squeeze’ from the expanding oil and gas industry and cannot afford the loss of any more prime areas,” he said.
Mr Bull told Parliament the Lakes Entrance fleet was crucial to not only East Gippsland, but also to the local economy, and reminded MP’s that Australia was a net importer for seafood, so it needed to protect its home-based sector.
Monday, 23 October 2023
“My concern is that there has been a real lack of consultation with this sector, and it was disappointing to read a government directive that advised proponents not to consult with them at this stage.
“I have asked the State Minister who is responsible for commercial fisheries, to come to East Gippsland and meet the licence holders with me.
“Mr Dimopoulos is new to his portfolio, and I expect will have little knowledge of commercial fishing, so it would be a good fact-finding process for him to better understand the issue.
“Of interest is that he is also Minister for Tourism and, while there are areas along the Gippsland coastline that would have little visual impact, off Lakes Entrance is not one of those, and this also needs to be a consideration.”
Mr Bull reinforced that he believes the industries can co-exist, but communication needs to be improved and a commitment received that key fishing grounds will be protected.
Buffet must be retained
Calls for buffet facilities on V/Line rail services between Bairnsdale and Melbourne have been renewed.
Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, told Parliament last week, it was a basic amenity, and it would be an embarrassment if a simple provision that was available to passengers 40 years ago, was lost.
“I travelled to Melbourne recently on the train and was lucky enough to have one of the increasingly rare services that have the buffet car, and it was well used and appreciated.
“The irony is that some train travellers are not wanting the old N class carriages that have the buffet facilities replaced by the new VLocity carriages, as they will lose it,” Mr Bull said.
Shadow Minister for Public Transport, Matthew Guy, said Gippslanders are travelling some of the longest distances in Australia without a regular rail buffet service, which shows the government’s disregard for country travellers.
“The Liberals and Nationals believe Gippslanders deserve a proper buffet service on VLocity trains as well as reclining seats, sunshades and, at minimum, the same service that diesel hauled trains provided.
“We should not be going backwards in the services we offer,” he said.
Caption: Nationals MP Tim Bull, with Shadow Minister for Public Transport, Matthew Guy, discussing the importance of having buffet facilities on all V/Line rail services on the Bairnsdale line.
Monday, 23 October 2023
Timber worker compensation blasted
Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull has blasted the State Government over what he says is a woeful timber industry compensation package.
“It is clearly a package that has been put together to fit under a budget rather than provide a reasonable and fair outcome,” he told State Parliament this week.
Mr Bull said there were three options presented to harvest and haulage contractors – the first is to enter into a contract to work with the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA), the second is to surrender the contract and receive compensation, and the third to continue on standdown payments until 30 June 2024.
“It appears the entire package has been put together by people who do not understand the industry and there are several examples.
“For those who want to consider continued work with DEECA, they have to put in an application to do so, but the Labor Government has provided no information on such things as what the remuneration is, what the work is, or where the work will be?
“How can they possibly make a decision on proceeding with this application process without even basic information like whether the income will cover their machinery loans.
“On the matter of compensation, the offer is paltry. The Government is offering just 30% of the contracted rate for 2023-24 contracted volume, pro-rata from the date of the agreement.
“This is 30% of one year. As a starting point, they should be offered what the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishermen were offered – three years of their average income.
“Then we have the situation of machinery compensation.
“At one point of the document the Government says it will pay the difference between the 2020 market value of a piece of plant and current value, which on face value is fair due to the depressed market for timber harvesting machinery.
“However, when you read on it states it will not compensate on machinery that is more than 10 years old, despite it still being valuable, and then says, ‘The Department reserves the right to pay less than the full difference to meet the available budget for the package’.
“This confirms the compensation parameters have been budget driven rather than driven by fairness. It is hard to accept when the previous Premier told us that what was needed for a fair exit would be provided,” said Mr Bull.
“What the Labor Government has in effect done, is created a glorified grant stream where harvest and haulage contractors are competing against each other in a capped pool for the limited funds available.
“Another situation that highlights the callousness of this, is that the government has said that for redundant employees it will provide the opportunity to participate in training over 10 business days - but this will not be at any cost to the State and the current employer has to pay.
“Labor is forcing them out of work and now asking current employers to pay for retraining of staff. You would have to be kidding.”
Eastern Victorian MLC, Melina Bath, also raised her concerns in the Upper House of Parliament this week, joining the growing chorus for fairer supports.
“Like my other Nationals’ colleagues, I have been working with the impacted timber industry families for a long period of time and the process has been an unpleasant one. However, to be made offers that fall well short of what is needed, shows them no regard and in many ways is disrespectful.
“This needs to be sorted out within weeks, so these hardworking families can make informed decisions about their futures,” she said.
Mr Bull said one positive was that when asked in question time on Thursday, the Premier Jacinta Allen, committed to meeting with the Australian Forest Contractors’ Association (AFCA) to discuss the details of the package.
“This commitment is good, but the package needs to change significantly as, in its current form, it falls well short of even the most basic of expectations and the Minister needs to revisit this immediately.”
Caption: Gippsland East MP, Tim Bull, with his Nationals colleague, Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, discussing the woeful timber industry compensation package, presented to harvest and haulage contractors.
Friday, 20 October 2023
Labor leaving Victorians out in the cold
The Victorian Labor Government has refused to extend the domestic firewood collection period despite being aware of the huge shortfall in domestic firewood availability, largely due to its decision to close Victoria’s native timber industry.
In a question to Parliament, Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, asked that consideration be given to allow Victorians broader access to the resource, which not only provides heating and cooking for some, but would also support the cleaning up of our forest floor fuel loads in preparation for the hot and dry summer predicted ahead.
Mr Bull said his approach to the Environment Minister was prompted by the high volume of people who contacted his office who were unable to access affordable firewood through commercial contractors that were having to source wood from interstate due to the timber industry decision.
“The domestic firewood collection season fills the gap in the market and provides public access to designated collection areas for households. Under this program, households can access up to two cubic metres of wood per day (16 cubic metres per household per financial year) from our native forests, which also helps reduce fuel loads.
“Opening up additional firewood collection areas and extending the collection period would assist many householders who rely on this resource.
“There are a large number of East Gippsland households reliant on solid fuel heaters as their primary source of heating.
“We need a guarantee from the Minister that access to firewood will be maintained now and into the future, but judging by the response, they clearly had no idea the timber decision had any impact on firewood.
The Victorian Forest Fire Management website states, ‘The Victorian Government is undertaking a review into the management of firewood collection in public forests for domestic purposes.’
“This review must guarantee Victorian household’s access to free firewood in Victoria, with the view to expand availability when commercial supplies dry up,” Mr Bull said.
Caption: Nationals’ Gippsland East MP, Tim Bull, is concerned about the ongoing supply of firewood for households, in the wake of the early closure of the Victorian timber industry.
Monday, 16 October 2023
Deer control concerns at Lake Tyers
Images of euthanised deer laying in waters of Lake Tyers have surfaced, raising environmental and compliance concerns, with administrators of the State Government’s deer culling program, believed to be responsible.
Nationals’ State MP for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said while he supports control efforts of the invasive pest, the fact their bodies are being left to decompose in the pristine waters of our lake system is an absolute blight on contractors and the government department tasked to oversee the program.
“Locals to the area have sent me photos of multiple deer floating in the water as well as laying on the banks of Lake Tyers, which is not good enough,” Mr Bull said.
The Department of Environment’s own guidelines specify that target animals will not be controlled near waterways, walking tracks or public roads. This is further supported by the Parks Victoria website affirming that, shooters will avoid shooting animals in wetlands or waterways.
“I have been informed that Parks Victoria’s engaged contractors are shooting the feral deer from the water which, while offering a clear line of site for shooters, means they cannot be left where they fall on the water’s edge.
“I’m also advised carcasses are being left to rot on the waterside at Bemm River and on the Snowy River by Parks’ contractors undertaking control activities.
“Lake Tyers is a renowned fishing hot spot producing trophy quality bream and flathead. Various competitions are held locally attracting fishers to the region and of course there’s a number of popular swimming locations.
“This is not the welcome our visitors should have,” he said.
Caption: Images of euthanised deer pictured in the waters at Black Fellow Arm in Lake Tyers.