I am very pleased to rise and speak on the Appropriation (2022–2023) Bill 2022 and the Appropriation (Parliament 2022–2023) Bill 2022. In delivering his speech to the Victorian Parliament the Treasurer first of all turned to thanking the health workers in the state of Victoria for the outstanding work that they have done—doctors, nurses, paramedics, so many healthcare workers. He thanked them sincerely, and I want to echo those thanks, especially to those in the region that I represent, in the Shepparton district, across all the hospitals—Goulburn Valley Health, Nathalia, Cobram, Numurkah and so many other health services—where people went to work every day. They did not stay at home and test out sourdough recipes, they did not do a whole range of other things that people did in their early lockdown stages or on the continuing ones; they just showed up to work. They had to make arrangements for their families to be cared for, they had to make arrangements for homeschooling, and they showed up to work. And not only did they do the work that they were rostered to do, they did so much more. For so long hundreds of workers were furloughed out of the hospital system as the virus went through those healthcare facilities, but they showed up and they did the work. So to them I think we owe so much, and it is great to see that this budget, the Victorian state budget 2022–23, really recognises the importance of health across the whole spectrum.
As chair of the Pandemic Declaration Accountability and Oversight Committee I have heard about the mental health impacts that the pandemic has had right across the board. I think it was really good to hear the chief psychiatrist for Victoria say that everybody—everybody—has been impacted in some way in relation to their mental health by the pandemic. It is really very timely and wise that we should all consider that in the way we think, the way we behave, the way we look after ourselves and in the way we look after others. So to see a budget that has dedicated a very large sum of money to the improvement of health services in this state is welcome.
Going down to a local level, I am so pleased to see that the Goulburn Valley Health mental health service has received $163 million to completely rebuild its mental health service, and to add to that, an extra 15 beds so that we should end up with about 35 or 36 dedicated mental health inpatient beds in the region. I can tell you that Shepparton and the region actively took part in making representations to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
So many people from our region attended in Shepparton at a number of the consultations that I went to and told their stories—not only patients but nurses, doctors and a whole range of people who are impacted by that. I can truly say that there has been a very worrying trend in our region in relation to mental health and complaints about not being able to get timely mental health service access when it is needed, and that has been around for a long time. There is no doubt that it has been more severe during COVID, and we have seen a worrying trend in young people taking their lives in our region. It has been written about in the Herald Sun. It is something that we really want our community to focus on, to look at and to advocate for services for. That is certainly what I have done, and I think that the expansion of Goulburn Valley Health by this new service will be outstanding.
In addition to that we also got funding—which was very, very long in coming, might I say; the plan was conceived in 1997—for what we then called a mother-baby unit and is now called an early parenting centre. There is $25 million in this budget to build a dedicated early parenting centre with 10 beds that will provide a broad range of services to families of very young children, so whether it be the fact that you have had to leave hospital after 48 hours and you need ongoing support and residential support, a facility that could accommodate that, or whether it be a range of other problems that might develop in the early weeks and months after taking a new baby home from hospital—sleeping, ill-health issues, even postnatal depression in parents. And it is not just women, it is men too. It is about being able to build the mental health services into that range of services and of course forming strong partnerships with many of the services that we still have in the region. We have great plans for that. It has been an advocacy piece that has gone on for so long, and so many people have stood by it. The Goulburn Valley Health Foundation has $1.5 million that has always been kept and has remained there for this particular facility to ensure that we could put it with whatever government gave us one day to make a truly outstanding facility. So the foundation and everyone on it is to be congratulated for holding that money, investing that money and seeing it grow to the point where we will now be able to use it on a facility that really will service the needs of our community. We know that we have very low breastfeeding rates in our community, a lot of teenage births in our community—really a range of risk indicators for parenthood that often lead to disadvantage if the appropriate services cannot be hooked in at an early stage.
I am also just so pleased to see that the Verney Road School received an investment of $24 million in its upgrade. That is our special school, and last year $1 million was allocated for a feasibility study for that school. It was originally built for about 70 students. It has had about 200 plus in it, and it has a waiting list. So to relocate that to the old Wanganui secondary school and to refurbish that building as a purpose-built facility for those special needs children and young people will be an outstanding outcome. They will have so much more space. They will have classrooms, play areas, ovals—so much more by way of facilities than they previously had on what was a very small, contained site.
We have been given an investment of $250 million for 12 VLocity train services for both the Shepparton and Warrnambool lines, and I think those of us who travel on train from time to time—and many travel regularly on regional trains—will have seen that the upgrade of the line has been taking place. There have been platforms lengthened at Mooroopna and Nagambie. There has been a passing track, a very long passing track, constructed at Murchison so that there will be the capacity for trains to pass, and particularly, as it is also a freight line, to deal with those sorts of trains. This was a campaign that started before I was elected and was very much a part of my election campaign and advocacy on an ongoing basis, and it truly came from the community. It is fantastic to see that it is rolling out and that we are getting to the point where now we can truly expect to see nine VLocity trains a day each weekday in and out of Shepparton—a train approximately every 2 hours, depending on timetabling. So it is just an extraordinary uplift from what we had and what we have now to what we will see.
The Goulburn Valley Highway intersection at Graham Street in Shepparton is now an incredibly busy one, and there was funding put in by the government to see that upgraded. That will need lights. On the corner is Goulburn Valley Health, and the investment it has already had in the build of the new five-storey tower, the emergency department and a whole range of other facilities and upgrades that have occurred there have made it a very busy place. Traffic management there is essential. With the addition now of the mental health service it is a significant upgrade that will again create that sort of traffic pressure that does need to be dealt with. There is much more that needs to be done at Goulburn Valley Health. There is a stage 2. There is the need for a cancer centre. There is a proposal for a clinical school, which the federal government, the National Party, had committed to, and I am not sure whether that will continue or not.
Also we have in Shepparton a sport stadium that desperately needs upgrading, and there is a great desire to see that happen so the region can capture the benefit of the Commonwealth Games in 2026. Shepparton was disappointed that it was not named as one of the hubs for the Commonwealth Games, and it was clearly named as a possibility for a range of benefits from the Commonwealth Games. We have the facilities for a range of sporting events to take place there in Shepparton and across the region—Nagambie with international rowing and we have hosted international BMX events in our region, so we have definitely got the capacity—and with more investment the upgrades that can happen to that sporting centre will enable our region to participate much more significantly in the Commonwealth Games when they come.
The bypass—the famous Shepparton bypass that I have spoken about for eight years now—still has not eventuated. The Victorian government finally did a business case about 18 months ago, and since then that business case has sat on the desk of the then Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, the former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. Where it is now I do not know, but we will be trying to track it down and will continue with our advocacy to see that important investment in our region take place. It is not just for Shepparton, it is part of the national highway system, and it is incredibly important that we have a highway that takes us from Melbourne through to Brisbane on the route that includes the Goulburn Valley Highway.
Our future is very much governed by water, agriculture and horticulture, and it is disappointing when you do not see the investment generally in agriculture that is needed. I look to the whole issue around water. It was touted as a major issue in our electorate during the recent federal government election campaign. It remains an outstanding issue of concern in the region because of the lack of planning, the lack of security, that farmers feel in relation to their ongoing commitment to the sort of farming that they would like to do in the region, and while there has been much change and much water given up, it does remain a major issue, with that stocktake of water to take place in 2024 and the absolute knowledge that the water is not there.
So what does that mean? Under the present federal legislation it means that the water can be bought back, and we in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district have the best high-security water available. We remain very concerned about that and concerned about who our federal water minister will be. Who will be appointed? We hope that it will not be another Queenslander, someone more interested in resources than in water, coming from an area where flood plain harvesting is just continued on and no water comes down the Darling River except in major floods.
There is much to be done and many changes to be made. Food security, with the knowledge that that is of major importance to our communities, has to be at the forefront. We are hearing worldwide now of grain shortages, potential for food shortages and potential for famine. We have a responsibility here in Australia in relation to that. Good management means we can produce large amounts of food, not only for ourselves but also for export. We have recruitment issues that are really critical across regional Australia, and quite frankly, it surprises me that we have not been able to address them up until now. But I do hope that with the releasing of and the different look at the way that infrastructure funding may now be spent across the whole of this country Victoria is not ignored. There may well be opportunity for much more investment not only in the cities but in the regions—projects like the bypass, like our roads, like so many things that do need more investment and some imagination and some vision. I hope some of these things will be looked at and that the people who understand and know about these issues will be heard so that good policy can be put together in Canberra to deal with these issues. I look forward to being a part of that.