I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Interim) Bill 2020, the Appropriation (Parliament) (Interim) Bill 2020 and the State Taxation Acts Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill 2020 before us today. At the outset I would say that I am supporting these bills.
The coronavirus has engendered a health and economic crisis which will have such a detrimental effect on our state, even down to my electoral district of Shepparton. I fear not only for the health of so many in my community but also for our ability to survive as a region because of the economic downturn that we have been told we will certainly face and the impact of which is already becoming apparent in our community. We have always stood strong in difficult times. With Anzac Day approaching it reminds us of how people have suffered in the past and been honoured for the work that they have done as time has gone on, and we will be doing that again on Saturday in such a different way.
The government must fulfil its role in ensuring that our economy continues in a functional manner that we can rely on going forward, and while that is a statewide and nationwide issue, I do come back to the electorate of Shepparton district to just highlight some of the government funding projects that are required and can be continued with. In that sense I talk first of all about the Shepparton Education Plan, which is now well underway—a transition of four schools into one school, Greater Shepparton Secondary College. The Shepparton high school has just about been completely demolished with a view to building the new secondary college. That is a project that the community needs, has worked hard to achieve and will need to continue, and of course substantial funding from government sources will be required to achieve that.
Infrastructure in our community has been most welcome in recent years. We have seen the Shepparton Art Museum, stage 1 of Goulburn Valley Health and huge investment in rail works, which are about to commence between Shepparton and Seymour. All these projects need to be continued. But another nation-building project that is awaiting a business case and could very well be on the agenda for the sorts of government projects that will need to be rolled out as we go forward is the Shepparton bypass. That is part of the duplication of the Goulburn Valley Highway to effectively join the Newell Highway, joining the port of Melbourne to Brisbane, and is a very important part of the freight infrastructure of our whole country.
Goulburn Valley Health has enjoyed the building of the first stage of its hospital. The acceleration of that project to bring it to almost total completion by the end of next month has been amazing. A project that may have taken another six to 12 months to complete will be completed in a much shorter time, bearing in mind that the new emergency department is currently being set up as an intensive care unit. But the new wards in the new five-storey building will be ready for patients if they are needed for treatment of this COVID-19 virus. These are very important projects that serve our community, and there are further stages of them which the government needs to address and should address, especially in an environment where it will be these government spends, these government projects, that serve our communities and that will stand them in good stead for the future. They do need to be addressed.
I draw attention to the fact that there is a dispute out there in the world of agriculture as to whether we have food security in Australia. Whether we do or do not, there are a few fundamental facts. One of those facts is that we have the smallest rice crop ever in Australia this year; it is currently being harvested. That is because of drought and because of water shortages across the Murray-Darling Basin. The need to import certain wheat flours to make bread, to make pasta is out there. It is on the agenda. There is no doubt, as I see it, that there is food to feed people.
But there are some food products that are missing that can be so easily produced in the food bowl of this nation, and that is the Murray-Darling Basin, the southern basin. We do not actually eat cotton. Water in the northern basin has been used for product for a very long time. That largely constitutes cotton. It is time for that water to be made available to farmers in southern New South Wales and northern Victoria to grow the grain products that we need. The Minister for Water here in Victoria has called upon the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to make water available for that to happen. The Victorian Environmental Water Holder has made a small amount of water available, but the availability of water is pivotal to the production of food as we go forward, and it needs to be addressed. At a time when there are so many things happening, when so many issues can simply get lost, water availability is something that in Australia will always be an issue, and that relates to food production.
It is not only about food for Australia, though. It is not just about feeding ourselves here in Australia. The whole of the Pacific relies on food product from us, on raw materials, on grains and other products. We are hearing from the United Nations that there may well be a famine as COVID-19 rolls on, so it is our responsibility as a food-producing nation to produce the food that is needed to export to the world as well, and we have always done that. We have exported a very large quantity of most of the food that we have produced. I cannot stress strongly enough, coming from a highly agricultural and horticultural area, the need to ensure that those areas of industry are supported and go forward. I am aware that others do wish to speak, and I will finish on that note in support of the bills.