Motion – Budget Papers 2021–22

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:45): I am pleased to stand up and say a few words about the budget on the take-note budget reply—what are we now?—nearly three months after the budget was actually handed down. It feels a little bit—

Mr Hodgett: We’ve run out of money.

Mr D O’BRIEN: We have run out of money already, says the member for Croydon. Look, I will start with the positives because it will not take long. We have heard all of those opposite wax lyrical about the heaps of projects that they got, but in country Victoria we are sadly getting used to not having very much. I went into this budget with low expectations, and unfortunately they were met.

One thing that we did get, though, was some funding for Sale College. I have been campaigning since 2017 now with Sale College to fund a consolidation of Sale College onto one site. It is currently on two different campuses, junior and senior, and it causes all sorts of issues for the school. And indeed particularly the senior campus, the Macalister campus, is in a pretty ordinary state. We have been campaigning for a long time—we keep getting letters back from the Minister for Education outlining the $7 billion being spent by this government on education capital, all of which is wonderful, if it does not actually happen in Sale or in my electorate—and in this case we finally got somewhere. I have said to the minister several times, and publicly, I was not after $30 million or $40 million to build a school, I just wanted the money to plan it.

And, finally, we did get it in this budget—$3 million allocated to Sale College for a master plan to basically look at how we consolidate onto one site, and in particular that will be a decision, to my understanding, as to whether it is consolidated under the Guthridge campus, where there is a bit of space, or ideally onto a new greenfield site. I think the community probably would prefer the new greenfield site, and there are some options there. And there are some opportunities of course for the government and for the Sale community because the Macalister campus is right in the middle of town, in the CBD, and that would free up some quite valuable and useful land in the CBD of town. The Guthridge campus is in a residential area as well, between two primary schools, so there is an opportunity for the government to potentially sell that land down the track and help finance a brand new school. So that was good. It was nice to hear that. And thanks to Brendan Staple, the principal at Sale College, who has been a really good urger on this particular issue. He has certainly kept in touch with me, and it was his advocacy that started this process. And we had support from Wellington Shire Council and the Committee for Wellington, and as I said, it is so much more valuable to have those community groups on side in a campaign like this than just having the opposition MP badgering the government for it. But we got there eventually.

On the negative side, though, there was very little else for the Gippsland South community in this year’s budget. Speaking of schools, Foster Primary School—the job is about two-thirds done. We got some funding for it a couple of years ago in the budget—still waiting to have that Foster Primary School completed.

But one that really irks me and has irked me for a long time now—indeed since I was elected—is fire brigades. Mirboo North, Foster and Yarram fire stations we have been campaigning for literally since 2015. I think I have written to four different ministers on it now, and we just have not seen any significant capital funding for fire stations from this government. Yes, we get little ones here and there—some of the smaller brigades have had some money—but not for these three, which frankly are not only beyond their use-by date but actually dangerous because they are so narrow it is difficult to get modern trucks into them. It is an occupational health and safety issue, because the volunteers have very little room to actually get changed, to turn out, and they are just not in a good state. It is time that the government actually delivered for the CFA stations and the volunteers.

This government has delivered in spades for the fire services, and we saw that in the paper yesterday. FRV—the new Fire Rescue Victoria that we were told by this government that we had to have, that no-one actually wanted and no-one had ever recommended—senior management is getting $59.13 million.

Mr Hodgett: What?

Mr D O’BRIEN: $59.13 million. If you compare that to Victoria Police, it is $8.9 million for VicPol’s senior management, and if you compare it, more relevantly, to Fire and Rescue NSW—$10.8 million. I wonder why I cannot get a fire station at Foster or Yarram or Mirboo North; it is because it is all going to the senior management in this shiny new Fire Rescue Victoria while the CFA and the volunteers are left behind.

I did mention last year we got funding for the Winnindoo fire brigade, but to this day the government cannot not tell me how much money it is and when it is going to start. After the budget I could not get an answer, so I wrote to the minister. The acting minister wrote back and said, ‘Yes, we’re very pleased to confirm the Winnindoo fire brigade is going to be built’ but still did not answer the question, still did not tell me what was actually happening. The fire services and our volunteers are being let down by this government.

On roads again, the South Gippsland Highway, there are a number of projects on that that I would like to see funded, in particular moving forward with the Leongatha heavy vehicle alternative route or the Leongatha bypass, stage 2. We have done stage 1, which was to get the trucks out of Bair Street. It has left what is known as ‘kamikaze corner’ in Leongatha, one of the most ridiculous, difficult intersections you will come across, where the South Gippsland Highway meets the Strzelecki Highway and the Bass Highway, or Roughead Street, Long Street, Hughes Street and McCartin Street, all in one spot—and a railway line thrown in for good measure, and now a rail trail. That needs to be addressed. If we go to stage 2 and move the intersection further out towards Melbourne, that will address many of the issues, but there is no funding in the budget for this.

We have seen funding in the past for planning for the Coal Creek bends at Korumburra on the South Gippsland Highway, where there have been, sadly, a number of fatalities in recent years, but still it has not progressed any further. I think it was in 2017 that we saw funding for that planning, but there is still no funding for the actual project; likewise for the Grassy Spur between Stony Creek and Foster, another windy, hilly area of the highway, where there are proposals for some straightening of the road but nothing has happened.

There are a number of smaller projects in my electorate that really are not that difficult to do but the government just continues to fail to fund. Agnes Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Victoria. Indeed it is the highest single-span waterfall in Victoria. It is a beautiful spot as the water cascades into a gorge, but it is also on a bend in the river so it is actually a little bit difficult to see the full splendour of the falls. There has been a plan there since the last year we were in government, when we had plans to fund this under regional development, to put a cantilevered viewing platform out into the gorge so that you could actually see the full splendour of the falls. We are talking probably about $750 000, or at least we were—God knows how much it might have gone up now—and we just cannot get this government interested. We write to the minister, we raise it in Parliament and with Parks Victoria, and they say, ‘Oh, we’re doing wonderful things’. Last year I got responses from the minister on Agnes Falls; I got told the government was putting in an all-accessibilities toilet at Wilsons Prom. How that was relevant to Agnes Falls I do not know. Since then, in last year’s budget there was $23 million for Wilsons Prom—that is great—putting that money into one big facility, but we are looking for literally less than $1 million for Agnes Falls. The government could be doing that.

Likewise the government likes to spout off about how much funding it is putting into sporting clubs, but there are plenty in my electorate that are still waiting to get access to funding for upgrades to their change rooms or their facilities, whether it is the Korumburra-Bena Football Netball Club, with their new netball courts and female-friendly facilities, Toora Football Netball Club, likewise, or Nyora Football Netball Club. All have big plans for development of very old and outdated facilities but have not seen funding from this government.

If the Minister for Transport Infrastructure was here, I am sure she would be talking about all the wonderful things happening in regional Victoria, but even with the ones that the government does announce I do not know why it announces them sometimes. In 2017 we had the Regional Rail Revival project announced. The minister at the time said the project was shovel ready. A member for Eastern Victoria, Ms Shing, in the other place, said that they were ready to go. This was in May 2017. Here we are in August 2021, and the project is only barely beginning, leaving aside the fact that 80 per cent of it is funded by the federal government. The reason it has taken so long initially is that the government said it was shovel ready—‘Oh, but by the way, the federal government’s going to pay for it all’. So the things that are happening in regional Victoria mostly are being funded by the federal government, and they are delayed—I mean, four years!

Ms Thomas interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: It is actually very helpful that the Minister for Regional Development has chirped up there now, because talking about things that have been on the go-slow, in 2017 the government very proudly announced $110 million for new plantations in the Latrobe Valley to help drive the future of the timber industry and particularly the Australian Paper mill—$110 million in 2017—and what has happened here? What has happened with that? How many trees have we got on the ground now?

Ms Thomas: Lots of things have been happening.

Mr D O’BRIEN: ‘Lots of things have been happening’, says the minister, but she does not answer how many trees are in the ground. We have had the government take 250 hectares of land that previously was under HVP Plantations and claim that as new plantations. So there are 500 hectares of plantations, a drop in the ocean, since that funding was allocated, and we heard at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee a month ago that it will be winter next year—so 2022; five years after the government announced the funding—before we actually see this funding allocated. Even the things—

Ms Thomas: Yes, it is a very complex process. You know that.

Mr D O’BRIEN: ‘It is a very complex project’, the minister says. A very complex project—well, putting a tree in the ground I would have thought was pretty straightforward. It was very complex, yes, because this government said in 2017 that we should transition to plantations. That was what they said. And now they are finding out it is a very complex project, it is not that simple. Everyone who says we have got to shut down the native timber industry and go to plantations—it is apples and oranges, and the minister is finding that out now. I look forward to her announcement soon on whether these plantations will actually ever go ahead and what will happen with them.

I talk about regional Victoria and Gippsland missing out, and I want to just run through some figures on what I am referring to there. These are the sorts that come to me from my community all the time. I want to run through some of the projects in Melbourne: the Metro Tunnel, $12 billion; the North East Link, $15.8 billion; the Level Crossing Removal Project, according to the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, $14.8 billion, and let us add another $2.5 billion to that with an announcement last week by the Premier, so $17.3 billion; and the West Gate Tunnel. That is another shovel-ready project that the Premier told us in 2014 would be $500 million. Then it went to $6.8 billion, then it went to $9 billion, and according to leaked documents published in the Age last month, on 16 June, it is now $11 billion. So those are four projects in the city at $56 billion—56 thousand million dollars—and I cannot get $750 000 for the viewing platform. I had to wait three years for the Princes Highway duplication between Traralgon and Sale when the federal government had the money on the table—80 per cent of the project was on the table. We had the member for Ripon standing here not 20 minutes ago saying exactly the same thing with the Western Highway. Like I said, federal government money was on the table, but we waited three years. So while there are just four projects for $56 billion, in regional Victoria we are crying out for some of that investment.

Now what are we going to have? We are going to have the Suburban Rail Loop. Now a Suburban Rail Loop is actually not a bad idea. I think it is actually a good idea to not have everything going from a one-spoke-and-hub sort of situation. However, I also think it is a good idea that I have a Pacific island to go live on, but I cannot afford it, and I do not know that this state can afford this. We are going ahead with it; this government is going ahead with it. It has put $2 billion into the early works already. We do not even know how much it is going to be. We do not even know the details. We do not know when it is going to be finished. So it could be $50 billion, it could be $150 billion, it could be $200 billion, and how is that going to help the people of rural and regional Victoria who have still got goat tracks to go on? We are still waiting for our rail lines to be upgraded. We have got three trains a day happening from Sale and Bairnsdale to Melbourne, and yet we are going to spend another $150 billion on the metro. These are the things where regional Victoria is missing out. The balance is not right. Regional Victoria is getting dudded. This government is spending billions and billions and billions of dollars—

Ms Thomas interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: As I have just outlined, Minister—in Melbourne, and we are still dealing with absolute garbage in terms of our roads. We are still crying out for hospitals like the West Gippsland hospital, which has still not been committed to by this government. The government needs to get the balance right. Regional Victoria and Gippsland deserve a fair share, and they are not getting it under the Andrews Labor government.

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