I am very pleased to rise to speak on the take-note motion on the budget papers that is before this house tonight.
I am also happy to be able to say how pleased I was for my electorate with the 2016–17 budget.
For a long time, through successive governments and successive budgets, the Hume region of north-eastern Victoria and particularly my electorate of Shepparton district had not been receiving an equitable share of state investment, particularly when it came to investment in major infrastructure.
I note that in this budget the Hume region, of which Shepparton is a part, received the third-highest spend out of the five regions.
My constituents and I are delighted that the principal spend in our region was the funding for the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health. That is $169 million for a project that has long been waited for, so I thank the government for listening to us. I and many constituents of my electorate have lobbied long and hard for funding for the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health. This is a project that my community has long been advocating for, and whenever a minister came to town we showed them our hospital. We have had the Minister for Health visit on a number of occasions; the Treasurer visited and went through; and of course the Premier came to announce the pre-budget election commitment of $169 million.
The redevelopment includes a four-story tower with three new operating theatres, two additional new wards, an extended emergency department, a refurbished maternity unit and a special care nursery that will be new, as well as expansion of dialysis and medical imaging services. It should be noted that our hospital currently has 11 cubicles in its emergency department. It will be getting something like 30, which is just what it needs. The redevelopment is anticipated to commence in 2017 with completion in 2020, and of course by that stage we will be lobbying for the funding of the second stage of the hospital.
I would like to speak about public transport. In May last year the Minister for Public Transport announced that a Regional Network Development Plan would be established to discover and plan for public transport needs in regional Victoria. We have now seen the results of that review, and it takes a systematic approach to deal with longstanding, chronic inadequacy on many regional public transport routes. I am pleased to note that we have an additional rail service from Melbourne to Shepparton commencing in January 2017. This will be an extension of a Melbourne to Seymour service. It represents a small but promising improvement in the current three train arrivals and four train departures at Shepparton station. We still have very long way to go to achieve the services that Shepparton deserves and needs and which are enjoyed by other regional areas, such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley. Indeed even Seymour, a town of around 6000 people, has 20 services a day to Melbourne. It is these services that Shepparton really needs to be connected with, and we need some significant creative thinking around how that should best occur.
But more than this, Shepparton is a major regional city in a major transport corridor. It forms part of the inland highway route between Melbourne and Brisbane and connects the Hume Highway, Goulburn Valley Highway and the Newell Highway to the Queensland border. It is instructive to understand that a large proportion of the New South Wales rice and cotton crops are trucked to Shepparton, where they are stored for warehousing and ultimately delivered to the port of Melbourne for export. It is quite galling in some ways to stand here and hear the Minister for Public Transport talk about 28 new services for Bendigo on top of all the other services that Bendigo already has. Shepparton would certainly appreciate many more, and I will be lobbying very hard and long to ensure that we get the services we need. We need about $90 million spent on our tracks and infrastructure between Shepparton and Seymour to get them to a state that in any way equates to what our region deserves.
In education there was an announcement from the School Pride and Sports Fund, and again with pleasure I note that out of the 15 schools that received a share of $16 million three of the schools are in my electorate and three are on the border: Congupna, Harston, Invergordon, Undera, Waaia Yalca South and Zeerust. With this funding small local community schools that are very often the hub of the community and centre of life for those communities will have an opportunity to make some real improvements to their school environment.
On the topic of education, I would like to remind my parliamentary colleagues that the Hume region, including my electorate of Shepparton district, has some of the lowest school retention rates in the state and is desperately in need of support in this regard. Shepparton in particular has the largest Indigenous population in country Victoria and the largest new arrival community, the great majority of whom are refugees rather than skilled migrant 457 visa-holders. Actual numbers of Indigenous and refugee residents is way ahead of Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics, particularly the refugees, most of whom are making their way to Shepparton as secondary migrants from capital cities. They already form more than 10 per cent of the population according to the local ethnic council. This is placing a great strain on our schools, health and welfare services and the local job market. Shepparton is a tolerant and accepting community that has so far absorbed and nurtured these new arrivals, and it serves as an exemplar of good practice in this regard, notwithstanding that state and federal government support has been very limited. The significant Gonski funding into our region last year was very well received, and it recognised the significant disadvantage in my electorate.
There remain many things that are needed in my electorate. These include funding for the neighbourhood schools project. This project is based in three of the most disadvantaged local schools in Shepparton. It identifies children at risk, many of whom have suffered significant trauma and are desperately in need of trauma counselling. The three schools have combined to provide a share of funding for the training of four trauma therapists and their subsequent engagement across the schools to treat these young children, who have been identified as suffering from trauma because a range of things. Many are refugees. Others suffer from dreadful environments where family violence is rampant. Also many of these children are clients of the Department of Health and Human Services, and many are also Indigenous.
It is essential that the children in our community are given the best chance in life to get ahead and I will be pleading with the government to look hard at this project and find the additional funding needed to support it. It is well known that intervention that occurs earlier in children’s lives will lead to better outcomes.
The Better Together alliance has also benefited from funding. This project is a collaboration between the principals of four senior secondary colleges. They are looking to share resources and share professional development. They have been able to appoint an assistant principal as a coordinator between the four schools in the hope that they can continue to attract more funding to achieve better outcomes for our secondary students.
The Shepparton bypass remains an item on the agenda for ongoing funding. There has been a lot of discussion around this and the fact that it is a project that requires substantial federal funding as well as state funding.
I would like to touch on the issue of payroll tax. I note that the government is increasing the payroll tax threshold from $550 000 to $650 000 over four years. This is barely in keeping with inflation. I have to say that, as a former partner in a small business, this tax is very regressive and mitigates employment creation. The threshold is easily reached when the major input for practically all small businesses is the wage cost. It actually holds back progress and expansion, as once the threshold is reached a large payment to the state is triggered so most businesses try to survive under the threshold. Ten staff on an average wage will easily see the threshold reached. Successive state governments have grappled with this issue and I would like to suggest that this government seriously consider using the significant revenue stream from stamp duty on property sales to begin offsetting this much-unloved tax.
Every year we have seen stamp duty increases deliver a bonus to the revenue bottom line. I ask the government to start putting it to work to start addressing the payroll issue. The higher the threshold, the more business we will attract to the state and the more expansion of existing small businesses will occur. More jobs will be created and more general tax revenue will follow.
I have also had the benefit of being on the Family and Community Development Committee over the past 18 months. We have just completed and tabled before this Parliament the report of the inquiry into abuse in disability services. That report has identified a number of areas where government support will be required.