It gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak on the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech.
The overall plan of the Andrews Labor government over the next four years was well articulated by the Governor in delivering her speech. I will speak to a number of those government agendas later on and about the range of goals and challenges that my electorate faces, but firstly I would like to say how delighted I am to have been re-elected to represent the Shepparton district.
I thank all those who supported my campaign, all those who advised me and did so much work and all those volunteers who undertook so many tasks, including manning every polling booth throughout the district on election day. There were so many difficult days at pre-poll, with weather ranging from 40 degrees plus to cold and wet on other days. The election was quite a surprising one for me.
When I stood in 2014 nobody saw me coming. It was a very short election. I was not taken seriously, and it was a bit of a surprise. This time around everyone saw me coming and there were many candidates. We had the National Party standing again, the Liberal Party, a Labor candidate, the Greens and various others who stood in the electorate. I have to say it was great to see so much competition.
I think it is fair to say that one of the real takeaways for me in the election was that in my electorate people wanted positivity. They wanted a positive campaign. In the face of very negative advertising on television and negative advertising in newspapers particularly focusing on the Shepparton education plan—a plan that this government has really stood up and pulled together for our electorate in the face of circumstances where we have four secondary colleges in Shepparton and Mooroopna that have been under-performing for a variety of reasons and not able to deliver the standard of education that young people in my region deserve—it was incredibly disappointing to see that issue used in such a negative way. But can I say that I take it as an absolute endorsement for the future of the Shepparton education plan that I was re-elected with an increased majority, given that was a major issue.
There were other negative aspects to the campaign that were used, but I have to say again that I think the fact that people wanted to see positivity, they wanted to see a vision and they wanted to see why you are there and what you want to achieve, was just such a wonderful thing really. It sort of restores your faith in human nature and to some degree in democracy and politics because people are really wanting to go forward. They are not wanting to immerse themselves in a lot of negativity, so it was a hard-fought campaign but one that I certainly learned a lot through.
The Labor candidate, Bill Heath, was an outstanding performer at pre-poll and everywhere else, with all his children lined up handing out for him. I would have to say that those young people are probably future politicians, presumably for the Labor Party.
Nickee Freeman for the Greens was an enthusiastic and wonderful member of the campaign team too. I congratulate everyone for their efforts, and indeed the Liberal candidate put up a really good showing. Unfortunately for the National Party theirs was not as good, and in fact they had a reduced result.
Let me say that it is my intention to do my very best to live up to the expectations of the Shepparton district electorate. I want to continue to achieve really important goals for our region and more particularly to ensure that we have a voice that is heard by the Victorian government and the Victorian Parliament.
I regard it as a great privilege to have been re-elected with that increased majority. I take my responsibilities seriously. In my speech on election night I said that as an Independent I regard the community as my party, and it is the community that I listen to, that I consult with and that help me to form my views on issues that I raise in this place. There were many issues that I raised when I first came to this place. The Shepparton district had been neglected for a long time. There had been a lack of investment over a very long period.
The four main issues that I came with and on which I stood were, first, better passenger rail services for the Shepparton district. The trip to Melbourne—a long-haul trip from Shepparton through Seymour to Melbourne—has been a fairly tragic circumstance for a very long time, but I am very pleased to say that during the last four years we achieved an investment of $356 million over two budgets to achieve massive works on the Shepparton to Seymour part of the line. That will involve new track work, passing loops, extended platforms and stabling at the Shepparton station. All these things will get us to a point where we will—and we have a commitment from the government—be ready for VLocity trains and up to nine services a day. So it is very pleasing that I have been able to persuade the government to invest in the Shepparton district in that way in relation to public transport. Another big issue was the Shepparton bypass. That continues to be an issue.
The Shepparton bypass is part of the greater duplication of the Goulburn Valley Highway, where it takes off from the Hume Highway up to the Victorian border at Tocumwal. The Shepparton bypass is the next stage of that development, and it has been on the agenda for well over 10 years. It is a $1 billion-plus project. It is obviously a federal and state responsibility, but we got funding two years ago in the state budget for a business case and some early works, and I am very disappointed to say that after that amount of time we still have not seen a business case. We are going into budget time in the state, we are going into a federal election and we do not have that important business case that gives us the opportunity to leverage and advocate for the Shepparton bypass. I urged the government in my adjournment speech just last night to get to work on whatever needs to be done to make that happen.
Goulburn Valley Health is our major regional hospital. It is a hospital that serves southern New South Wales and a large part of northern Victoria in the area that my electorate occupies. It had been underfunded for many years. There had been master plan after master plan but no action in relation to getting the work done that was needed. I am pleased to say that the first stage of Goulburn Valley Health was funded in the second budget in the last government. Now $170 million has led to two huge cranes presently in the sky in Shepparton, which is fantastic to see. The first tower is going to be rising out of the ground very soon. The emergency department is currently being extended. The new dialysis unit is just about built. It is truly a wonderful thing to see that happen, but of course we always want more.
The second stage is an even bigger stage, and it incorporates a cancer centre. We are one of the few regional centres in Victoria that does not have its own regional cancer centre. We have some oncology chairs. We can get treatment for oncology there. We have to travel for any radiotherapy. We have to go to Bendigo, Albury or Melbourne, and for people who are unwell to have to get in a car and travel long distances just for a short amount of treatment and then travel home feeling unwell, it really is a burden that the isolation of country living imposes on them, and this is an opportunity for this government to address that. So the second stage of Goulburn Valley Health still requires a whole lot of other parts of the hospital to be developed. The first stage is only about half of it, and the next stage is equally important and incorporates a lot of other aspects and services and the cancer centre.
We need a mother-baby unit in Shepparton. There is no doubt that we have seen a lot of investment in early childhood during the past four years in a whole range of areas, and certainly in education and early childhood our Shepparton education plan is providing an early childhood integrated hub at the Mooroopna Primary School, but we have significant disadvantage in our region, and to address that we need to be able to provide facilities for young parents when they leave hospital. These days when you go to hospital and have a baby you are likely to be out within 24 or 48 hours. In my day you had the luxury of a week, and in my mother’s day they put you to bed for six weeks—amazing!—but things have certainly changed. When you were in hospital a bit longer, you were given a lot of opportunity to develop your connection with your baby, to learn to do a whole range of things, including promoting breastfeeding. Now we have some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Victoria in our region and we have high rates of teenage pregnancy. Our need for a mother-baby unit is critical, and I do hope that throughout the course of the next four years we are successful in achieving that goal.
In relation to education—this is such an opportunity for me to go on at length about many of the things we need in our district, and I cannot help but absolutely do that—we recently had a motor vehicle accident outside the Kialla West Primary School. It is on the major highway into town. The Minister for Education, who is at the table, came with me and visited the school and is aware of the issue. Studies have shown that probably the only way to address the problem is with an underpass, and I call on the government to look closely at this issue and how we might be able to advance a safe crossing for children. It is on a major highway, with trucks going up and down—it is the main route to Sydney and Brisbane. It is an unusual place for a school in a way, but it is there, it has grown up there, and we do need to do something about it.
My long‑suffering husband is a 40 years‑plus paediatrician in Shepparton. When he started out there he was on one in two weekends, one in two nights. It has been a very long, hard journey, and I have to say that at this point in his life I have just made his life a whole lot harder by coming to Parliament. I think some of the things he was expecting to do have been turned on their head by that. He continues to work in the neighbourhood schools, at the Rumbalara Aboriginal community health service, as a paediatrician, providing services to those groups in particular.
He has identified, as have the principals of the primary schools in our region, that we need to address the needs of children who have suffered various forms of trauma. The Neighbourhood Schools project has done that. It has been about 60 per cent funded through the school equity funding that came through during the last budget, but it is an opportunity to have trained therapists in the schools who work with those children. A recent article in the Guardian really set out very nicely how important that therapeutic work is in the schools and how well young people respond to it.
We face many challenges in the Shepparton region, and not the least of those is drought. At the moment, while we are not a drought‑declared area, we have absolutely got drought conditions. I am pleased to say that in discussions with the government there are plans, hopefully being put in place, that will lead to some alleviation of the stress associated with that. During the past four years we have been able to maintain an excellent relationship with the Minister for Water in relation to water issues, and I congratulate her on her holding onto this portfolio. I do not know whether anyone else wanted it, Minister, but we are very grateful that you have such a good knowledge of water, that you understand the Murray‑Darling Basin plan and that you are so supportive of irrigators in our north.
The situation brought about by the water shortage is something that everybody is talking about at the moment, and I have to say it is a real concern to us that there are not knee‑jerk reactions in relation to this. To propose that there suddenly be changes to a plan that is now well underway, where Victoria has largely delivered what it needs to deliver, is really very concerning. Lifting the cap, increasing the take—these are not things that should be looked at lightly, and they simply should not be done. It is a difficult situation for a state Labor government, I am sure, to have to deal with a federal government that might see things differently, but I would urge the Victorian government to maintain its strong position on the Murray‑Darling Basin plan and the steps that have been taken so far.
We live in a very diverse community, a multicultural community. We have the highest Indigenous population outside of Melbourne. The challenges that we face I think we face very well. We have community coming together to work together to try to find solutions, and I hope to continue to work with this government to achieve even more.