I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance. I will say from the outset that I do not support the matter, not really because I am throwing my towel in with the government on this but rather because I am totally tired of the party politics that goes on during MPIs. I think they are unproductive, and it is for that reason I have long been advocating that we have general business on a Wednesday afternoon—general business where we get to introduce bills, where we get to debate petitions, where we get to debate motions that are relevant and up to date and that are brought on by members, that relate perhaps to their electorate, that perhaps relate to regional Victoria, rather than just the bit of mud-flinging that seems to go on in this place on Wednesday afternoons.
I will nevertheless speak to the budgetary issues that have been raised. There is no doubt that the state budget is facing increased challenges, partly due of course to the bushfires and to the totally random impact that we now have with us of the coronavirus on not only our economy in Victoria and the whole of Australia but globally. We are really seeing very significant issues around that. I say that that necessitates this government continuing to look after the most vulnerable in our communities, to look after those people who have been impacted but also to continue to invest and complete projects on time and on budget, as it must.
My electorate, Shepparton district, has been in the midst of a very long-awaited overhaul over recent years, and there has been a lot of spending in the region to deal with issues that my community had been calling out for for a very long time. Health, education, transport, infrastructure investments cannot be allowed to stall midstream just because the Treasurer has said he is going through the budget with a fine-tooth comb and needs to cut. This is simply not a time to cut. This is a time when we even have the federal government looking at an economic stimulus for the whole of the country. This is not a time to start cutting back, to pare back projects that might be underway. It is very important that projects that have been started are completed and that people have confidence in the state and in our economy.
In Shepparton, for instance, we have got the Shepparton Art Museum. That will be completed in December. This is going to be an outstanding art gallery in regional Victoria—dare I say ‘the most’ to you, Deputy Speaker, sitting there from Bendigo. It will certainly be the most modern and truly outstanding. It is great to see that up and going. We have got the first stage of Goulburn Valley Health just being fitted out now—a five-storey building being fitted out now to serve the needs of our community. The master plan for stage 2 is underway at the moment, and it is so important that stage 2 occurs and that we get the infrastructure and the investment in health in our community so that people in our communities can be looked after there.
We have got the Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence, money dedicated to our Indigenous community to create opportunities for further education broadly and with many ideas of what will actually be able to go into that to advance our local Aboriginal community, which of course is the largest Aboriginal community outside of metropolitan Melbourne. But there is much more that we need. We are waiting on a business case for the Shepparton bypass. We have long advocated for a mother-baby unit for our region to help those young mothers and families who are not coping immediately after the birth of a child. This is something really important for our community.
Because of all the projects that are happening in Shepparton we actually have traffic problems, can you believe, and we need something like $11 million in this Victorian state budget to deal with major intersections along the way to the new Shepparton Art Museum, the new hospital and the new secondary college that is to be built. On the issue of education, of course the Shepparton Education Plan is being rolled out. Greater Shepparton Secondary College has commenced according to plan, and we are awaiting an announcement of $100 million approximately in the budget to commence the building of that new school to open in 2020—something that I believe the state government is very committed to. These are all very important projects. They all take money, and that money needs to be spent.
I often talk about water, and I often say that it is not about money or a budgetary bottom line, but the reality is that our agricultural community contributes so much to the wealth of not only this state but the whole of this nation. It is essential that regional communities are invested in so that they can continue to contribute to the wealth of the nation and to produce food. It is interesting that in times like this we will be starting to think about food security, when borders could be challenged more and more. When we see production in China being reduced dramatically and stopped in some areas, then we understand that what we produce in this country could become critical and that not only might we want to be exporting but we might indeed need the produce we have just to support our own people. So we are very important in regional Victoria, and again we do not have enough opportunity to debate and discuss that in this place.
Water policy is of course fraught in so many ways. There is the Murray-Darling Basin plan and the inflexibility in the rollout of that. There are the transitions that are going to have to occur in our regional communities because of climate change. We are seeing that in the dairy industry. We are seeing predictions that if our temperature increases by 1.5 degrees by 2040, it will become untenable for our dairy cows to actually be out in the open in paddocks all the time. They will need to be under cover. They will need to be fed under cover. They are currently milked under cover. This will change the nature of a dairy operation. It will be more expensive to provide the infrastructure that is needed, but these are all changes and transitions that we are all having to face.
We are facing the loss of water in our region as water is being pulled down the Goulburn and Murray rivers to service foreign-owned, huge almond plantations further down beyond the Barmah choke. That is having a very significant impact on our region and it is also having a very significant impact on the Goulburn River and on the Broken Creek. The banks of those rivers are being eroded beyond all belief, and yet the Murray-Darling Basin plan was put in place largely out of the damage that was seen to the Coorong back during the millennium drought. While that was well intentioned, I am sure it was never intended that we would have to damage our own environment upstream to deliver water down there. These are really important issues that need addressing.
The flood plain harvesting we are seeing in the north of New South Wales and Queensland at the moment is horrifying in the sense that the first flush is going into dams—dams like Cubbie Station—rather than running down our rivers to the sea at least once. Surely at least that first flow should have gone down our rivers, but it has not.
We have had something like eight water ministers in nine years. I am not sure of the exact figure, but you can see why this is such a troubled area when we have those issues. On a smaller local level we have something like the Murchison nursing home—currently empty, likely to be closed, with attempts being made to keep it open. The local neighbourhood house has nowhere to go as the liquidator sells it off. It sells off the nursing home, sells off the neighbourhood house and sells off the medical practice of a small community in a regional area. It is just an example of the hollowing out in so many other small communities that is occurring as I speak. These communities need to be supported because they do form the backbone of that whole rural economy.
We are seeing terrible threats in relation to regional media. We have seen the closure of AAP, which employed something like 180 journalists nationwide, which supported not only our major print and online media organisations but many of the smaller ones. The Shepparton News has relied on AAP constantly, and it has since the 1970s, for much of its news. The impact of that will be really very hard-felt, and people are feeling very sad about that loss in the face of other losses and in the face of what has happened with the ABC. We have lost Radio Australia, located in Shepparton—gone. The ABC is under pressure in so many ways. There is much more I could say, but I would say this is not a time to cut. This is a time to spend.