Budget papers 2018-19
I rise to respond to the 2018–19 budget, and I am very pleased to do so.
I have been proud to advocate for major investment for my electorate since entering Parliament after what was years of neglect of the Shepparton district by consecutive governments.
When I decided to stand one month before the 2014 Victorian state election I, like so many others, was entirely frustrated by the lack of understanding of the needs of our community.
We were tired of receiving grants across a range of areas but never the big investments that we really needed to progress as a region.
For years work had been underway preparing master plans for the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health. They stood neglected on the shelves of the CEO’s office with little prospect of being turned into reality. We aspired as a community to a redeveloped hospital serving the needs of our region. We hoped for a chance to be able to build an outstanding and inspirational Shepparton Art Museum on the edge of Victoria Park Lake. We bemoaned the lack of investment in rail services to our region over such a very long period. Many of us were very concerned about the high levels of disengagement of young people, evidenced by poor school attendance and high youth unemployment. The duplication of our highway to the Victorian border was not advancing, and we were very keen to see work commence on the Shepparton bypass. Today I am pleased to say that a significant investment is now underway in relation to all of these aspirations for our region.
In relation to rail, for many years the people in my community stood by while regional centres like Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley were heavily invested in to the extent that in 2014 most of them had 20 return rail services a day to each of these cities. Shepparton is the fifth largest city in Victoria, but we had been ignored and no real investment had occurred in our rail. This left us with railway tracks that are old and not fit for purpose for fast trains and with a classic fleet that is way overdue for replacement; really you only see them in old movies these days. So our community wanted to see and had been calling for years for improvement to our rail services, and they felt like their pleas had been falling on deaf ears.
November 2014 showed that the Shepparton district was no longer prepared to be ignored. In the last budget a commitment of $43.5 million was made to commence works to improve the rail service by facilitating the building of a passing loop between Shepparton and Seymour, as well as providing stabling for more trains at the Shepparton railway station. This work is now well underway and should be completed by the end of the year. It will result in the fifth service being introduced shortly thereafter.
However, the absolute jackpot came in this year’s budget, with the government announcing a $313 million commitment towards the works that need to be undertaken between Shepparton and Seymour to bring the infrastructure to a level that will enable nine return VLocity train services each day between Shepparton and Melbourne. This is a huge win for the Shepparton district and will be transformational when it rolls out. Not only will it provide that connectivity to Melbourne, but it will also bring more people into our town. They will come to the universities, to our TAFE college, to the new Shepparton secondary school that is being built, and also to contact and use the health and medical services that we hope will be put in place with the rollout of the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health that is now underway.
The investment in our rail service will also, I expect, have a significant impact on tourism in our region. We have so much to offer — delicious farmgate produce, award-winning wineries and the beauty of our Goulburn and Murray rivers, not to mention the impressive collections at the Shepparton Art Museum and the about-to-commence new Shepparton museum on the banks of our lake, to which the government also contributed a welcome $10 million. I have often wondered how many tourism dollars we have lost as a result of the inadequate public transport system afforded us for all these years. The opportunities this investment will present to our community are most welcome, and I seriously look forward to seeing those VLocity trains coming up and down the tracks to Shepparton, bringing people in to see all the wonders of our region.
I was shocked before entering Parliament to start to understand that there was a high level of youth disengagement. After entering Parliament I came to realise the extent of the neglect of our education system in my electorate. I had been aware of the low numbers of people completing their secondary education in our region — they were simply not job ready when they did leave school — and it became clear that our region was well below state averages across a range of indicators.
I used my first grievance debate in this place to decry the discrepancy between rural and metropolitan outcomes for our young people. How could it be that previous parliamentary representatives of our region had not seen what was happening and done something about it? This was a fatal flaw in the representation which had been provided to our region and was something I was not prepared to tolerate. I have advocated loud and long and worked very hard with the government of the day to achieve an investment in our children’s future. The Shepparton education plan is the outcome of that advocacy, with $1 million allocated in last year’s budget to commence work on the plan and a further $20.5 million allocated in this year’s budget to begin design planning and early building works for a new secondary college in Shepparton that merges the existing four secondary colleges. The funding also extends to the establishment of an integrated children’s centre in Mooroopna along the lines of the Doveton College model.
We have undertaken a great deal of work to get to a point where change is about to happen. It has not been easy and change will always be challenging for a community, especially seismic change of this nature when it comes to the new secondary school. We need to get it right and we need to provide our children with the educational opportunities they deserve in schools which show that they are worthwhile and deserve better than they have been getting.
Our local advisory committee has visited many schools in Victoria to look at their models and to try to construct an outstanding school that will service the needs of our diverse communities in the greater Shepparton region. I see it as my job to identify the needs of the community, take my advocacy to government and demand to have these shortcomings addressed. I am so pleased that we have the Shepparton education plan underway, with plans for our new secondary school moving forward and the focus now shifting to the needs of primary school students and then of course children in early childhood.
There is much work to be done in our community from an educational point of view. We have high levels of disadvantage, a multicultural community with many new arrivals and the highest Indigenous population outside of Melbourne. These impact in many ways on the outcomes that we can achieve. Knowing all of this will help inform us when we are putting together a new secondary school that meets the needs of our community. We want the changes that are being made to address the particular needs of our broad community but also those subsets within the community that have special needs. I am hopeful that our community working together will be able to achieve an outstanding education precinct that will be visited by others throughout Australia, because it is an educational showpiece. Of course the breadth of this project will require ongoing funding, and I will be looking to government to commit to future funding for the remainder of the works that will need to be done to roll out this secondary college.
For the first time in many years we have received substantial investment in many of our primary schools to bring them up to a higher standard and provide better facilities for our children. In this year’s budget it was pleasing to see that one of our small and most disadvantaged rural schools, Ardmona Primary School, received an allocation of $500 000 to build on the $90 000 in last year’s budget in order to undertake significant maintenance and repairs to bring the school to a standard that its students deserve. When it comes to education it is not just about bricks and mortar, it is about what goes inside them. Our Neighbourhood Schools project, which has come from the community, has been partly supported by government. It needs more funding and there is a long way to go, but it is an outstanding project that is identifying disadvantaged young people in primary school who are not able to function at the level they should and providing them with therapeutic services on a weekly basis to address those needs, giving them a chance as young people in our community.
GOTAFE is an important institution in our region, and in Shepparton it plays a pivotal role in education. There is no doubt that TAFE colleges have faced a lot of challenges over the years, but they remain important providers of education in many areas, including in my electorate. I would also like to mention the government’s commitment to making a suite of 30 TAFE courses free. In areas such as the Goulburn Valley this enables courses to be made available to students in fields in which employers are looking for employees. It also provides educational opportunities for young people who would otherwise simply not be able to afford the courses on offer. I have heard many stories of young people not going ahead with the tertiary aspect of their education because they simply could not afford it, and quite frankly that is simply not good enough. For instance, with the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health there will be a huge need for more nurses, business administrators and other trained staff. Our TAFE college and university can target their courses to produce the young people we need within our region to provide that workforce for the future.
In relation to roads I can say that in last year’s budget $10 million was made available to undertake the planning work for stage 1 of the Shepparton bypass. This is an important project which will link the Goulburn Valley Highway to the New South Wales border, and ultimately it will be a dual carriageway. It is an important transport route that carries many trucks daily. The first stage also requires the building of a second bridge over the Goulburn River just north of Shepparton. This is something that has been desperately needed for a long time to enable trucks to pass above the town without going down our main streets. It will also provide much better access for emergency services. Having only one river crossing can be very dangerous for emergency services when they are in hurry to get to certain things.
In this year’s budget $20 million was provided for two roundabout upgrades on the Shepparton alternate route at New Dookie Road and Old Dookie Road, and that is also very welcome. That route experiences heavy traffic and a lot of trucks pass around the edge of the town between factories, farms and orchards. While there was no funding for the much-needed Shepparton bypass in this year’s budget, I look forward to progressing this project as the planning works are undertaken and finalised.
The Shepparton district has the highest Indigenous population outside of metropolitan Melbourne. I was very pleased that the government, which had funded a business case for this project in last year’s budget, saw fit to provide $23 million for the Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence to be built within the sporting precinct at Shepparton. This is a project which has been conceived by the Indigenous community and worked on collaboratively by the Greater Shepparton City Council and the Rumbalara Football Netball Club, with the Aboriginal community led by elder Mr Paul Briggs. The aim is to provide a centre focusing on Indigenous education, sporting excellence and cultural development. This will be a potential showpiece in regional Australia. The allocation of $400 000 for the Barmah visitor centre is also welcomed and will provide jobs in the Aboriginal community.
In terms of the budget more generally our regional businesses will benefit from the reduction in the payroll tax threshold across regional Victoria. Changes such as these do have a significant effect and were welcomed broadly by the businesses community in my electorate. They have the potential to bring more businesses to our region when people see the benefits that will accrue to them by setting up business in regional areas.
There was also funding in the budget for a jobs procurement office for Shepparton district. And with so many works going on and with such government investment in the region, having this jobs procurement office will be of great benefit to many of the smaller businesses who perhaps do not know how to access the opportunities that are there for them.
I am grateful for the support for my electorate in the budget. It is going to be significantly transformational across many areas — connectivity and educational outcomes are probably two of the main things that Shepparton has lacked for a very long time. But I must say that there is much more to do. There is unfinished business in respect of a number of the projects I have referred to as well as others funded in previous budgets. Much more investment in our region is required after so many decades of neglect.
The life of a local member of Parliament is a busy one, and we hear constantly about the needs of our community as we go about our electorate. It has been a great honour to hear of the needs of the community and the needs of the people who live and work in the Greater Shepparton district and to have the opportunity to advocate on their behalf. I commend the motion to the house.