Parliament

Budget Papers 2019-20

June 20, 2019

I rise to speak on the budget reply motion. There are a lot of things in the 2019–20 budget that I would like to refer to, and in doing so many of them are flow‑ons from the previous budget. First of all, just to articulate what we found in the budget that was particularly relevant to my electorate, I was pleased to see $7 million towards a fish hatchery in Shepparton. This is for the development of Murray cod to go back into our rivers and streams to improve our environments, but it is also part of the Target One Million fishing project of the state government. While there are now plans being put together to build this fishery in the area of Shepparton, I am seeing this as also creating an opportunity to expand our tourism, so it is very important that we build into this native fishery project the opportunity for tourists to go through and see it. In Narrandera in New South Wales there is an extraordinary fish hatchery that has been established with a wonderful interpretive centre and other facilities around it that really make great opportunities available for education purposes and for tourism.

In the last Parliament $170 million was allocated to stage 1 of the redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health. Stage 1 is well underway and the top floor of the tower will be going on very shortly. Two million dollars was allocated in this budget for the intensive planning for stage 2 of Goulburn Valley Health’s redevelopment. That is a very important part of the rolling out of health services in our region which will meet the needs of our community into the future, including upgrades to a whole range of the cancer services available to us in Shepparton.

Asbestos in our schools remains a problem, and I was pleased to see that Nathalia Secondary College has been allocated $1.8 million to deal with what is happening in that secondary college. Shepparton will share in a $5 million commitment towards seven regional basketball hubs. In an area where health issues are challenging, particularly obesity in many regional areas—and Shepparton is very much a part of that—anything that promotes sport and opportunities is welcome by way of investment.

We have the Dookie agricultural college located in our area, a very longstanding asset that has been used for many generations for young people to undertake their agricultural college studies. While it had a bit of a downtime, Melbourne University is reinvesting in the Dookie Agricultural College, and it is now seeing more students there all the time. There has been $6 million allocated for Dookie to share with two other regional campuses for accommodation and other developments on its campus. In talking about previous major commitments, a lot of the budgetary announcements of the past are currently being rolled out.

Shepparton rail has achieved $356 million in funding. Stage 1, which was the stabling and some works around the Shepparton railway station, have been completed. We now have our fifth service and numerous additional bus services running between Shepparton and Seymour and in some cases Shepparton and Melbourne. At the moment the planning is well underway to commence stage 2. I have called on the government to roll stages 2 and 3 together. Stage 2 is a whole lot of work that will involve lengthening platforms at a range of stations between Shepparton and Seymour. There are many level crossings that need signalling, removing or addressing in some way. But importantly the track work needs to be done to make these tracks ready for VLocity trains and it looks like that is stage 3. It is why I say to the government: roll stages 2 and 3 together; get them done together so that at that point we will actually be ready to put up to nine VLocity trains a day between Shepparton and Melbourne on that line. 

The Shepparton education plan was allocated $21 million in the previous budget, and that project is now rolling out. Of course it will need substantially more funding because this is seeing a major transformation of secondary education in our region, bringing together the four secondary colleges in Shepparton and Mooroopna onto one campus. It is a model of nine schools, with 300 children in each school, all on one campus, with all other facilities—STEM, performing arts and physical education facilities all on the one campus. So it is three schools in a neighbourhood—each school, 300 students. This has been designed as a way to better attend to the needs of young people in smaller environments but still having them together on a much larger campus where the benefit of having all of the resources on one campus is actually available. There will be a high emphasis on wellbeing for students. Unfortunately there has been a push probably in the last month to six weeks of people pushing back on this. I fear that this is party driven. During the last election campaign the National Party used the notion of our super-school as a negative and alleged that there had not been sufficient consultation and that it was not necessarily the best solution. This was a community-driven project. All school councils were on board. All principles are on board. Families are so excited to see that there is the prospect of an education system with all the physical facilities encompassed in it to really provide for young people into the future. It is also going to be located on the old Shepparton High School site, which is part of an education precinct within walking distance of LaTrobe University and within walking distance of the existing TAFE college. So there is an opportunity for that integration of those educational services to be on that one precinct and to really take advantage of it. It will cut away so much of the bussing that our young students have had to do to get access to facilities. To do specialist maths you had to get a bus to Bendigo. To do physics you had to get on a bus and go to another school. You could not do geography. You could not do Australian history. There was not even agriculture and horticulture being taught at a VCE level in Shepparton, and this is the heart of agriculture and horticulture, a region that is just so well-known for it. So I am really hopeful that the community will get behind seeing that this is an enormous opportunity for young people and will provide outcomes that will be outstanding, particularly given that no other options were ever put forward and those opposing it still have no other plans that might in any way be better. Unfortunately sometimes with consultations people do not bother to take the opportunity to become involved but become concerned once the decision has been made. There are many meetings being held in our region, and I would urge everyone to take their concerns to their schools, to their principals and to the new executive principal so they can have any concerns they might have allayed.

The rollout of three-year-old kindergarten will be a terrific initiative and will eventually come to our area—a major regional area that has significant disadvantage, and there is no doubt that all the studies show investing in early childhood is the best and the most important way to spend your dollar. Part of the Shepparton education plan is the building of an integrated early childhood centre at Mooroopna Primary School. Now, this is in a very disadvantaged area. We have been to visit Doveton College. We have looked at the model there that seems to be working really well. We will be looking at adopting that hub notion, where young families will come for their maternal and child health service, their three-year-old kindergarten and their four-year-old kindergarten playgroups and then flow on into the primary school setting. That will be built within the next 12 months and be underway. So that investment in early childhood is really the first investment that will be up and going and operating under the Shepparton education plan, but it was felt that the investment had to go into the secondary colleges because of the neglect of those colleges for so very long and the deterioration in the outcomes in those four schools.

The further reduction in payroll tax is a really important business initiative in regions, and so many business people in my area have welcomed year after year in the budgets the reductions that have taken place and continue to take place. I believe that while we are seeing a lot of government investment in the Shepparton district and the flow-on benefits from that, it is not only government investments that are happening, because when you get that critical mass of energy and work going on in a town the flow-on effects are that new businesses are opening to support these developments. A range of new commercial enterprises are opening, and people are really talking about the fact that Shepparton is really buzzing.

Unfortunately that leads me to an issue which is not entirely budget-related. It is very distressing to live in a community where your major regional centre is doing well but the community around it—the farming community—is in crisis. The dairy industry is a fundamental part of our community. Since 2000 we have lost 59 per cent of our dairy farmers. We have lost 48 per cent of our milk production. We have some of the major milk processors located in our region, who are now struggling to get the supply that they need to produce the goods that they want to for local consumption but also for export. Nobody has come up with a solution for what to do about the dairy industry, but a very significant part of that in our region relates to access to water. While there has been a drought right along the eastern seaboard, there is something else going on, and it is something more sinister, and it relates to the fact that we have water speculators in our market. At least 7 per cent of water now out there in the free trade in water is owned by speculators, and it is alleged that they are manipulating the market. So if ever we needed transparency it is now, and it is very important that we come to some sort of decision about what that transparency is—what it looks like. We want to know where the farmers are, we want to know what water our neighbours own, when they are selling it and who they are selling it to. We want to know what speculators are there. We want a situation where water in our region is used for food production, not manipulated and used in other ways. So while this is not entirely a budgetary issue, it is certainly a major issue for our whole northern Victoria region.

Just in the last moment I will have right now I want to talk about our Fairley Leadership program, and regional leadership programs are really important. There was no particular line in the budget about the future of funding of these programs, although I am assured Regional Development Victoria will continue funding for the next 12 months and we will be looking to see what funding will be available. They are looking at how they have been operating and what they will do in the future. I cannot commend these organisations enough for the work that they do in developing local leadership. You would not find a board or a committee in my region that did not have a fellow of a leadership program on it, so it is really investing in the public capital of our region to continue these regional leadership programs throughout the region.

The SPEAKER: Order! The time set down for consideration of items on the government business program has arrived and I am required to interrupt business. The member will be able to continue her contribution when the matter is next before the Chair.

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