I rise to speak on the Regional Development Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015.
As a relatively new member of this Parliament, it has been very interesting to hear all the contributions to the debate on this bill and in particular on the history of the bill.
It seems that the provision of funding to regional Victoria in the long distant past was very fragmented.
Further, it seems that as a result of the 1999 election when Mr Kennett was swept from power, largely because of the neglect of regional areas, some attention was given to putting in place a specific fund for regional Victoria.
My understanding is that while it was in 1999 that the Regional Growth Fund was first established, it was in 2002 that the legislation was passed to put in place an organisation to look after and see to the proper funding of that fund. I will refer to the second-reading speech of Mr Brumby, a former Minister for State and Regional Development in this Parliament in 2002. He is recorded in Hansard as having said:
… the government is proposing legislation to establish Regional Development Victoria — the very first time in history that country Victoria will have a dedicated body with the specific role to facilitate the coordinated delivery of government programs, services and resources in rural and regional Victoria.
Regional Development Victoria will be a practical, no-nonsense body that gets on with the job, working alongside local councils to put projects on the ground and create local jobs.
Then later, talking about the nature of Regional Development Victoria, he said:
The bill creates a new statutory body that will work in partnership with regional Victorian communities, business and all levels of government to attract new investment and generate jobs.
Regional Development Victoria will ensure there is a strong and coordinated focus on regional Victoria across all state government programs, services and resources.
That seems to have been the case. After listening to all the speeches that have been given in this debate, it appears that numerous programs that have been outlined have benefited rural Victoria. I certainly did not have that framework in my mind before I came to Parliament. As a member of the Shepparton community, and having been there for 35 years, I could see that things were happening in certain local areas, that occasionally there was funding for this and funding for that, and similarly that things were happening across the state, but it is interesting to hear the detail of the many programs that have obviously taken place across the state since that fund was put in place. It is a truly dedicated fund to benefit regional Victoria.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and many others have spoken highly of many of the programs that have been rolled out in their particular areas. I reviewed a lot of the projects from the period 2002 to 2014, and it has clearly been a very successful program. There does not seem to be a lot of bureaucracy involved in it. The people who work for Regional Development Victoria are located in our regions, we can contact them directly and we have a sense of accessibility that I believe regional people often do not feel. So that has been a terrific thing from the local point of view. During the last decade, during the worst drought we have ever suffered, this fund also provided lifelines in regional Victoria by providing funding for programs that stimulated and gave some sort of hope to communities that were going through really difficult times.
As we proceed to pass this legislation it is important that we keep in mind how funds are distributed. There is a lot of discussion in this Parliament about inequity that has occurred at various times since this fund was introduced. In relation to rural Victoria, the distribution of funds should be about equity and fairness. Figures show that some areas have been favoured over others, and I am sure that is not the way in which it was intended that this fund should operate. It is so important the funding across the state is distributed on an equitable basis and does not favour marginal seats, does not favour Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat, and does not favour government seats. The good intentions shown at the establishment of this fund should be reflected in a sense of fairness and equity. On that basis I support the bill.