Matters of Public Importance: Employment

I am amused by what I am hearing from those opposite this afternoon, because it is clear that they have no idea what is happening on the other side of the West Gate Bridge. Despite the claims this afternoon that the government has created thousands of jobs since coming into office, in my electorate of South-West Coast unemployment remains high. Since December 2014, the first month of the Andrews government, and compared to May this year, Warrnambool and the south-west have lost 1666 full-time jobs and the unemployment rate has increased by 0.7 percentage points. The government’s jobs program has failed in my region, and the figures show it. The irony is that we have enormous opportunities in South-West Coast and this government cannot see them.

Right now my community is in fear that jobs will disappear because of inaction by this government. The main hospital in my region, the Warrnambool Base Hospital, needs its two epicentres, accident and emergency and the theatres, expanded to cope with the population increase. If we want people to move to the regions and work, we need good, functioning hospitals that can meet demand. The Minister for Health will not even come to visit. I have asked for some planning money at the very least to get the preliminary work done so that we can get on with the job, and I ask here again.

Now let us get onto the other major issue in our region which is impacting on jobs — the roads. I have spoken about this issue many times in this house. The Glenelg Shire Council has put together a document called the Green Triangle Region Freight Action Plan. It is a fantastic, comprehensive plan which calls for around $180 million in road funding to ensure that key freight networks can be built and repaired to improve efficiency and support industry. That means jobs. The Minister for Roads and Road Safety has seen this document — in fact he launched it last week — so he should understand now that he has read the document how important funding roads properly is to local jobs.

The document highlights the timber and forest industry, which supports 18 000 full-time jobs, and estimates suggest that it will have an additional requirement of 550 jobs by the end of this year — but not without good roads. They are the foundation of successful industries and, therefore, jobs. Both agriculture and timber are high-volume industries, but profit margins are thin. Any timber production within 100 kilometres of the port of Portland is considered viable as long as the transport routes are efficient. At the moment that freight network is not efficient, and so far the government has done little to rectify this issue.

Last week the Minister for Roads and Road Safety attempted to hoodwink the good people of my electorate by making it look like he was announcing $44 million worth of new funding for road maintenance and repair. I have continuously called for this city-centric government to give country people the respect of safe roads to travel on. Twelve years of poor Labor government before 2010 has left roads crumbling. Now we have the insult of a road funding announcement which has been revealed as spin. It is mostly old money packaged up to trick the good people of South-West Coast into believing that something is being done.

Too arrogant is this government to take up the offer to match the federal government dollars on the table to really add some substance and address the problem. Road projects started by the Liberal government have been stopped in my electorate, like the country roads and bridges program, and claims that we did nothing are being used to cover up Labor’s total disregard for our roads. Do not play with us, Minister. You have a job to do: fix the roads and keep our communities safe and productive.

At the moment many of our freight roads, like the road leading to the port of Portland, are crumbling. They are costing transport companies thousands of dollars in repairs each week. These added costs further strip the thin profit margins. If things get any worse — and they will with the wet spring predicted — those costs to transport companies carting timber from plantation to port will continue to increase. As costs increase, profit margins fall and those 18 000 full-time jobs this industry supports are put at risk. Yet the government is here trumpeting how wonderful its jobs program is. Clearly it is only concerned about what is happening in the city, and regional areas can be just left to languish.

While in opposition the Minister for Roads and Road Safety announced a $1 billion road infrastructure fund that would support jobs. In a letter to the editor written in 2014 he said:

Regional highways and arterial and local roads are falling apart and are riddled with dangerous cracks and potholes. As part of Project 10 000, Labor will introduce a $1 billion fund for regional roads projects, which is exclusive of, and in addition to, current funding through the TAC and the current roads budget.

That letter was written in 2014, and nothing has changed since; the roads are still cracked and dangerous. We are almost halfway through this government’s term, and we are yet to see any evidence of this $1 billion fund, except for a glossy brochure which promoted lowering speed limits on country roads. This will destroy efficiencies for transport companies, which will in turn destroy jobs.

Poor road conditions are also posing a safety risk for people in my region, people who are just trying to go about their daily lives. Just last night, tragically, a young woman was killed in a collision with a truck on the Portland-Nelson Road, one of the roads which has been identified in the freight action plan as being in severe disrepair. I extend my thoughts and sympathies to the young woman’s family, and my thoughts are with the truck driver.

The safety of people is of utmost importance. This government is talking about jobs, but it continues to disregard its responsibility to people and misses opportunities in regional areas. South-West Coast is set to produce a wealth of agricultural products for international markets desperate for protein, and it needs to support and make this production more efficient. Farmers need cattle underpasses so that stock can safely cross busy roads; the Liberal government money that has funded many cattle underpasses has run out. Labor has promised to put money into this too, from the proceeds of the lease of the port of Melbourne, but we have not heard any more about that. Please get on with this, Minister.

Aside from roads and the impacts they will have on local jobs, there is a genuine fear that a key part of my region’s manufacturing industry is on the brink of closure. Portland aluminium smelter recently shed another 20 jobs, and its employees have agreed to a wage freeze in an effort to secure their jobs. The smelter employs around 500 people directly, but across the region it supports around 2000 people in full-time positions out of Portland’s population of 10 000. At the moment management is in the middle of negotiating a new energy supply contract, yet the government seems to be offering very little assistance. If every job matters, as the Premier so often states, why are those opposite doing nothing to support Portland aluminium? Why are the jobs in regional areas less important than those in the city?

Another large employer in the Portland area has also flagged its intention to move to South Australia because this government is reluctant to assist it to train and attract new employees. This employer employs over 100 people directly and needs to employ an additional 50 employees today. This company has a brilliant in-house training program aimed at giving new staff a comprehensive view of every aspect of the business.

Yet when it asked the government to help it to attract some new employees and support these employees through training, nothing was forthcoming. It is disgraceful that this government has ignored this business.

There are jobs about to be lost from this state, but once again, because the business is not based in the city, the government does not care. A fantastic — you can hear my sarcasm I hope — new trade and investment campaign, ‘state of momentum’, is another example of how little regard this government has for country Victoria. The campaign material focuses on Melbourne and why it is a good idea to invest there. Well, just in case those opposite have forgotten, there is much more to this wonderful state than just Melbourne. The campaign completely ignores the investment opportunities in regional Victoria.

In South-West Coast we have direct access to international export markets through the port of Portland, a brilliant incentive for businesses looking to the global markets, but the new campaign makes absolutely no mention of it and the other opportunities in South-West Coast — once again because it is on the wrong side of the West Gate Bridge. A mayor from my region who was at the campaign launch said he could not believe just how focused on the city the campaign was. He said it completely missed the mark and failed to promote the vast opportunities for growth in regional Victoria. Those opposite are saying how wonderful this job program is, but in reality the government has failed, continues to fail and is failing every day to hit the mark in South-West Coast.