Budget Papers 2017-18
I rise to respond on the motion to take note of the 2017–18 budget, and I am very pleased to be doing so.
After years of neglect by consecutive governments I am happy to finally see some investment and attention being given to the Shepparton district.
I can assure you, Acting Speaker Carbines, that the people of my electorate are very pleased.
In 2014 I stood for election because I, along with many others who are now my constituents, were frustrated. We were frustrated because we were being forgotten. We watched as our neighbouring communities of Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley shared in the wealth that came with being marginal seats and being considered the four major regional centres.
Shepparton is the fifth largest regional city in Victoria. I am pleased to see some of the government’s beneficence now appears to be extending to our area. It was fantastic news for our community last year to hear the budget announcement of close to $170 million for the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health. It appeared a big ask for this government to follow up additional significant investment in the Shepparton district in the 2017–18 Victorian state budget, but I am very pleased to see that this is what they have done.
It is good news to see a commitment to an upgrade of the Shepparton rail line between Shepparton and Seymour. With $43.5 million announced for this work, which includes the stabling of trains at Shepparton and a passing loop near Murchison or Nagambie, we will be well on our way to being ready for further increased services.
Build it and they will come. No city knows this better than Bendigo, which used to have a train service similar to that of Shepparton. The increased services, speed and provision of V/Locity trains saw a dramatic increase in rail patronage, which continues to grow in Bendigo. The extension of the 4.31 p.m. Seymour service through to Shepparton, introduced in January this year, has been very popular, with up to 70 people remaining on the train through to Shepparton daily. This month an additional return service to and from Melbourne has been introduced on Saturdays and Sundays. Additional services on those two days are also welcome.
With the introduction of more faster and better train services between Shepparton and Melbourne we are confident that our region can grow and prosper. I am pleased this government has heard my advocacy on behalf of the Shepparton district, particularly our All Aboard campaign, and has seen fit to fund a tranche of works for rail that will form part of a much larger project. Planning commenced over a year ago following on from the earlier work of the regional network development plan.
Moving on from rail to other transport needs, I welcome the $10.2 million announced in the state budget for the Shepparton bypass project. This is another longstanding project for the Greater Shepparton community, one which my constituents have been lobbying for for more than 20 years. Residents have done everything asked of them by governments, even going back to the drawing board and breaking the project down into smaller, manageable chunks just to fit budget plans. But year after year their proposals have been left on the cutting room floor, until now. In his take-note speech on the budget recently the Minister for Roads and Road Safety acknowledged the importance of this project — our region is a major centre for good agricultural production and roads are an important conduit for produce through to the port of Melbourne. This funding will likely be used for planning, land acquisition and preconstruction.
Unfortunately there was no funding for this project in the federal budget, but it is clear that the construction of the Shepparton bypass will only be achieved with joint federal and state funding. We will continue to lobby our federal colleagues for their share of this road funding to ensure the project is seen through to completion. That means right through to the New South Wales border. The entire project, mainly in my electorate, will ultimately require funding for two river crossings and approximately 36 kilometres of duplicated highway to take it through to the north of Shepparton. These works are part of the duplication of the Goulburn Valley Highway through to the New South Wales border that will include removing the notorious Tocumwal bends as the final stage after the Shepparton work is completed.
I am also pleased to say that planning approval has just come through for the Shepparton Art Museum. This is going to be a state-of-the-art museum built on the banks of our local Lake Victoria, and it will be an amazing contribution to our arts and cultural precinct. I welcome the funding that will get these major projects going. We now want to see action and shovels in the ground.
But there is much more to be done. In the 2014 election I also stood for the need to improve opportunities for our young people. A cursory look at education figures for the Shepparton district shows a stark mismatch in outcomes for our young people. We have students who do all that is required of them to complete their secondary education yet who somehow are not job ready when they leave the school grounds for the first time. It has been a discussion point for some time, and our community has been seeking ways to address this. I am making every effort during my current term in Parliament to visit most of our primary and secondary schools and to advocate on their behalf.
I used my contribution to the grievance debate in March 2016 to talk about the disparity in educational outcomes for students in rural areas compared to their metropolitan counterparts. I also drew attention to the falling enrolments and the below-average outcomes that our four senior secondary colleges in Shepparton and Mooroopna were attaining. I was therefore very pleased when the Minister for Education took up my invitation to visit Shepparton and announced the government’s intention to develop a strong plan for the future of education in the Shepparton district, something which I believe has never been more important.
The $1 million for the development of the 10-year Shepparton education plan will be used wisely by a team invested in creating the best possible outcomes for our children. We are now working on this important issue and visiting other schools. We have been to the Bendigo secondary college, Templestowe secondary college and recently to Dandenong High School. They all indicate very different models of education, so we are taking the opportunity to really consider hard what will be best for community. With a focus on local input, we look forward to this plan addressing our region’s particular issues and attracting substantial funding for rollout in future budgets.
While the secondary schools will be the initial focus of the 10-year plan, our primary schools were not forgotten in this budget, with six to share in more than $4.5 million worth of capital funding. Ardmona Primary School received $90 000. This is a little country school in the centre of the Ardmona fruit farming community on the outskirts of Mooroopna. It faces its fair share of challenges, and many of the children who attend the school have special needs. The school is in need of basic repairs and upgrades, and this funding will go a long way in improving the physical environment for teachers and students alike.
It was also clear to me when I visited Bourchier Street Primary School, again with the Minister for Education, in April that several of the buildings were in need of substantial repairs. The principal was keen to undertake renovations to enable a very old-fashioned block to be renovated to provide open-plan teaching areas that would enable the adoption of more modern teaching methods for the children. The allocation of $1.407 million should go a long way in allowing the school to achieve its ambitions.
I could say similar things about the other schools which received funding, but time really does not allow it. It has been such a long time since the schools in my electorate have seen this kind of investment. In fact in the six years prior to this only $600 000 had been allocated to schools in the Shepparton district, and half of that funding was last year. There is no doubt that school buildings are important. A comfortable and attractive environment will not only promote pride in the school but also attract good teachers and contribute to the children’s overall positive experience of school and learning.
The Shepparton district has many valuable organisations providing services to its community. The Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project was established in recent years and undertook 1000 conversations with members of the local community for the purpose of pinpointing issues facing our young people and identifying where resources might be best spent. In this budget $3 million has been allocated to fund the lighthouse project over three years. The project is a collective impact initiative using advocacy, partnership and collaboration to address educational, social and economic disadvantage. It already has about 340 volunteers, with many going into the schools as mentors for our children, often doing the most basic tasks like reading to them. Many of the children come to school with practically no language skills. We expect to see some innovative and substantial work from the lighthouse project.
The budget announcements also include a specialist family violence court in Shepparton as well as free public wi-fi in the main area of town. More generally, our regional businesses will benefit from the 25 per cent reduction in the payroll tax rate across regional Victoria. I am grateful for the support demonstrated for the Shepparton district in the 2017–18 budget. It has been an honour to represent my electorate and advocate and receive funding for the projects I have outlined.
The Shepparton district started from a very low base, and there is still so much more investment our community needs, but this government investment has proven to be a stimulus for reinvigorating private investment in our town. It is great to see so many buildings going up and so much confidence now in private industry. In this week’s Shepparton News there is an article about a business that remodels and restores old cars which moved from Deniliquin to Shepparton. It is a really large business that does this for people right across the country. Similarly, a small piping company that has existed in Shepparton for a very long time has now expanded dramatically to provide all the pipes for the Connections Project. It has also manufactured pipes and sent them to the Ord River where another major irrigation scheme is underway. It is great to see these local businesses having the confidence now to invest and move forward.
We still need funding for many projects like passenger rail services, the bypass and the second stage of Goulburn Valley Health. Shepparton also needs a dedicated mother-baby unit, it needs a cancer centre and it needs funding for the Munarra Centre of Regional Excellence. The Shepparton district has the highest Indigenous population outside Melbourne. The Rumbalara Football Netball Club was an initiative of the local Indigenous community led by elder Paul Briggs. It has been the home not only of the sporting teams but also of many broader projects supporting the Aboriginal community, including transition programs for young people as they move into employment. Funding for the Munarra Centre of Regional Excellence would allow the community to capitalise on the social and cultural commitment that has already been demonstrated. The vision is a bold one: to have a purpose-built centre in Shepparton to foster the sporting excellence of Indigenous people from across Australia. The $200 000 announced in this budget contributes towards a business case for this venture and is a welcome first step.
We need a drug rehabilitation centre in our region. Odyssey House has a proposal currently before government. I am pleased to say that a planning permit has now been granted via VCAT for a proposal such as this on a farming property out of town. There is a great need in our region — like all regional centres — for drug rehabilitation centres to be provided and often to be provided in local communities and close to people’s homes.
Regional communities across the country are facing continual challenges to their survival. In my electorate and the surrounding areas security of water supply is a major issue. Recent studies have shown that the rollout of the Murray-Darling Basin plan is having a devastating impact on our local communities. The Goulburn-Murray irrigation district alone is losing up to $500 million a year in production due to the loss of water from the consumptive irrigation pool. The socio-economic studies that we have done show that up to 1000 jobs have been lost, and we anticipate that up to 2000 could be lost by the time the plan is rolled out in full. We appreciate the government’s support for advocacy on water issues to ensure our ongoing economic security.
Some people said that the experiment of having an Independent would be a failure and that it would not work, but I am pleased to say that I have been able to work with the government of the day to achieve some amazing investments in our region, and I intend to continue doing so. I commend the budget to the house.