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28 May 2019

State Budget 2019 Reply

Today I rise with a heavy heart, because today I talk about a real lack of funding that we are seeing for regional Victoria. What a shame that under the Andrews Labor government we are seen as a forgotten part of our state. The whole of the region has been forgotten. Particularly down on the south-west coast, my part of the world, we as Victorians are trying to understand how a Premier who has said, ‘I will govern for all of Victoria’, cannot even remember where we are.

I sit in this place and I often hear the term ‘west’, and my ears prick up because I think they are finally going to start talking about the west of the state. But it is the western suburbs. The member for Broadmeadows has just talked about how much is happening in the west. But the west does go a lot further than the western suburbs of Melbourne. In fact Victoria goes right to the South Australian border on one side and right out past Bairnsdale and Orbost on the east side. When I was out there last week what I saw was a government that certainly did not understand the needs of eastern Victoria from a roads perspective.

I think that is where we do understand how this government really does not prioritise the regions—when we see that $202 million cut to regional and rural roads delivered in this budget yesterday. If the government believes that our roads are fixed, so much so that they can cut the budget, then I think that is an extremely obvious reflection of how little respect this government has for the regions. By their own admission, in the budget papers they talk about how ‘after decades of underinvestment and inattention, we knew our country roads were in need of an overhaul’. They are their words. For the last two decades they have delivered 16 budgets out of 20, and in this budget they have cut $202 million. So by their own admission they need to work harder on getting the country roads up to spec, but they cannot do that when they cut the budget.

Out in the east the federal government had given $132 million towards the completion of the Princes Highway project. Only a small section needs to be done to complete that project, but the state could not even give the small contribution it was asked for towards that project. The same applies in south-west Victoria. State government roads that are the state’s responsibility should be state funded. Our federal government gave $140 million. My colleague the member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, understood how important it is to fund these roads, because they are frankly dangerous now, and put $140 million on the table. We asked respectfully that that be matched or that a contribution be provided at the very least, and we got one big fat zero—no contribution at all from this state government.

There is no mention in the budget, past this year, of the fixing country roads program that they established in 2018, just a year ago—so no commitment to that beyond this year—and that was the program that replaced our country roads and bridges program. Every council I have visited so far across the regions of Victoria, from Gippsland through to the west, has talked about how good that program was and how they were able to get on and address country roads. But when this government axed it as one of their first actions after taking over some four years or five years ago now, what they did was put the fixing country roads program in place—but not before they had actually put bridges in the Premier’s seat of Mulgrave using country roads and bridges funds.

What is more shocking is that we have got a terrible situation with deaths on country roads. We have seen 86 deaths—four last night, 11 in the last two weeks—this year on country roads. That is 80 per cent more than at this time last year. This is a 14-year-high for our Victorian road toll. These are terrible, terrible figures, yet what we saw yesterday was the government take $2.8 billion out of the Transport Accident Commission bucket—the safety bucket. We cannot address safety if we do not prioritise it. If we are not putting the money there, we are not prioritising it.

I went to the museum to visit the commitment that the government made—$80 million towards the crash and research centre that they promised in their last term of government. They only invested $20 million in it. I am sorry, but it did not grab me. If I had been a kid at school, I would have probably not been overly impressed; that would be my impression of it. But maybe if we had have had the research centre, we would not have this statistic that we are so shocked about. It is not something you want to be talking about. The Towards Zero program really is not hitting the mark if we have got these statistics. I think it is 18 to 29-year-olds whose death rate is up over 200 per cent. That is just not okay.

South-west roads in particular are the worst roads in the state. That is supported by VicRoads data. Fifty per cent of roads in the south-west are going to be in a poor state by 2025—that is only six years away. So the worst first policy that the government is using is not working, and as I said, with a cut of $202 million how on earth can they think they are going to get these roads fixed when they are putting less money into them?

We saw virtually no investment in major regional road projects. The project at Barwon Heads Road was promised to be completed by this government by 2023. It is a project worth over $300 million, and they have invested $400 000 this year. It is 2019, and it is to be completed by 2023. I do not reckon that will get done. It is probably similar to the Calder Highway upgrade, which has been delayed by more than two years, or the Forrest-Apollo Bay Road upgrade—another delay of two years for that project as well—or the Western Highway duplication between Ballarat and Stawell, delayed by 18 months.

Western Victorians are not only at risk on the road but at risk because the government has ignored the fact that for five years we have been waiting for our hospital to be funded. This was given $7.5 million for planning two years ago. We are talking about stage 2. The hospital was funded to be done years ago, and stage 1 has been completed. Stage 2 had in it the accident and emergency department and theatre. That is ready and waiting to go. The government did give $7.5 million for planning two years ago. When Minister Mikakos was asked what she thought about the hospital, she said that the budget had delivered on commitments made to Victorians at the last election, being November last year, because it had been funded for some planning. Well, no. We have known for many years that stage 2 is expected to at least include the completion of the accident and emergency department and the theatres, because you cannot have a hospital system in place without a functioning accident and emergency department and theatres. Yes, they are functioning, but they are under enormous pressure. Do not take my word for it. Take the word of the CEO of the hospital, Craig Fraser, who said in February that increasing demand for services was ‘putting pressure on our facilities, especially the ageing infrastructure’.

I know a lot of the staff in the hospital. I worked there for many years. I trained there. I know it fairly intimately. Many of my girlfriends tell me about the enormous pressure they are put under because of the crowded space in accident and emergency. Just last week I heard from a constituent who was saying how amazing the staff were when her daughter was taken to the hospital in an emergency situation but how the staff were consistently apologising to them as a family for the fact that it was just so crowded.

If you are working in a modern health environment, you actually have a lot more equipment available to you than I had when I was training in 1985: your ECG machines and your portable X-ray machines and you have your pathology people that are coming in. Everybody just hits the scene when you have got a motor car accident or some sort of emergency where you have got quite a few people being attended to at one time. It is quite difficult to operate in that environment when you are tripping over each other—let alone in the theatres, where you have got an increasing population, although it is on a fairly steady trajectory since we did the planning in the mid-2000s. What we are seeing is that we—not me anymore but the health staff—are having to make some really challenging decisions. If there is an emergency caesarean that needs to be done in an emergency situation, some fine coordination has to take place. Seriously, you really do not want to muck around with people’s lives like this.

The other thing I would like to add is that it is not only in the Warrnambool Base Hospital where people are suffering. This is part of a medical system. Portland, Hamilton, Heywood, Camperdown—all those systems that work together to make sure their capability and capacity is optimal—start with having a base system, which the Warrnambool Base Hospital is. When you have got the biggest hospital in the region not funded to meet the demand, then you have got a real problem in the outer regional hospitals as well.

The other area which is majorly disappointing is the rail system. The government is seriously dragging the chain. Regional Victoria has so much potential, yet we have trains that were put on that line in the 1980s breaking down. Last week my girlfriend texted me from the train. She was in the middle of a paddock; she was not sure where. They had broken down. They had sat on the train for 2 hours. They had to get ladders to get people down off the train. There was a dairy farm about 200 metres away. They had to walk up the track. They had people in wheelchairs and people on crutches. They had babies in prams. She sent me photo after photo. It was extraordinary, the sight of a train broken down 20 minutes from Warrnambool in the middle of a paddock in this day and age. It is happening all the time. We are seeing that the figures for the reliability of trains being on time are just so bad that it is remarkable.

Why is the government ignoring the opportunities that we have in south-west Victoria, which does have jobs and does have people wanting to move there? We cannot expect people to be in Third World conditions. That train trip that my girlfriend sent me photos of was absolutely extraordinary. So they are dragging the chain. It is time for new locomotives. It is time to put to work the $104 million that the federal government have put in and get that job completed. It is so far behind.

The government’s own business plan said that we needed to have the Portland–Maroona line for the freight route upgraded. Where is the action on that? Where is the action on the port rail shuttle? We put $58 million towards the port rail shuttle in Denis Napthine’s time—nothing in this budget. Last year $33 million was set aside—nothing has been reported to have been done with that. There was $8 million for the next year. What are they doing? Why is this a secret? Why are they not telling us what has happened to that? What about the mode shift incentive scheme? Only one year committed to. That is imperative for freight to stay off roads and stay competitive. How can businesses run with certainty when they are getting year-for-year funding for something so imperative?

The Regional Growth Fund is another area. It does an amazing job for the regions to have jobs created and supported, but it has been cut, completely cut, along with cuts to agriculture. Our region, as I say, is the biggest producer of agricultural products in our state. Cuts to agriculture, especially when they are to research and development, do not reflect to the farming community that this government understands the value that agriculture and the regions bring to our state.

There was nothing for public housing. I have heard many of the people on the other side of the chamber talk about how important addressing homelessness and addressing disadvantage is. Do not forget the regions as well. We got nothing to help in our amazingly challenging time of crisis for public and private rentals in our part of the world, absolutely nothing. But what would I expect from a city-centric government? Nothing other than the country being sacrificed, as we have seen consistently for the last four years. We hear them talk about the regions and they mention Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo—cities. We hear them talk about the west—it is the western suburbs. Well, please get in your cars, come out onto the roads, come to Nelson, come to Portland and see for yourself.