SPEECH

House of Representatives

Appropriation Bills (No. 3, and No. 4) 2019-20

Today I will speak on the priorities for my electorate of Indi in the 2020-21 Budget.

These projects and infrastructure needs were identified in consultation with the nine local government areas in Indi: Alpine, Benalla, Indigo, Mansfield, Murrindindi, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta and Wodonga, and finalised in a round-table discussion I held with them in late January. These hardworking local councils are the part of government most people see. Despite this, their work is often under-appreciated. I am thankful to them for my strong relationships with them, and I look forward to continuing our productive partnerships during my term.

Ahead of the last election, the government announced $14.5 million of funding to Albury Wodonga Health, which included $12m for a mental health rehabilitation unit. The need for mental health specialist services has only grown more urgent in the aftermath of the bushfire emergency. We know that recovery from disaster can bring with it significant emotional and mental health challenges, some transient and some enduring. Albury Wodonga Health provides mental health services across both inpatient and outpatient settings, encompassing all the regions affected by our recent bushfire. Their services include specialist assessment, treatment and ongoing care, including child and adolescent mental health services, adult mental health services, older persons’ mental health services and integrated primary mental health services. The mental health rehab unit is a key plank in the Albury Wodonga Health masterplan, enabling a modern, evidence based mental health recovery philosophy most especially for the missing middle of people with serious and ongoing needs for support in-between emergency department, hospital and GP care. Bringing forward the mental health unit funding to the 2022-23 budget will avoid a three-year delay when there is no time to waste.

The health services of our small rural communities of Corryong and the Alpine Valleys are funded through the Multi-Purpose Services Program. This provides funding for integrated health and aged care in bushfire affected communities in Indi. Both health services are in our two most severely bushfire affected councils. The MPS Program needs to be expanded and strengthened by providing Commonwealth government capital and service funding to reflect the diversity of care. Most especially, the government must ensure that the current Commonwealth aged-care funding contribution matches the complexity of contemporary aged care in regional settings.

The North East tourism industry has been heavily impacted by the fires. Investment in five key projects can help get the sector back on its feet: one, the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing, which would attract both domestic and international visitors and be a hero product for the alpine region; two, cycle tourism priority projects that offer the greatest growth opportunities for the region; three, the ‘Growing Mount Hotham’ project to increase the amenity and pedestrian safety of the Mount Hotham precinct; four, bringing the Ned Kelly story to life through an architecturally-designed tower complex in the centre of Glenrowan overlooking the historical sites from Ned’s life and recognising the as yet unrealised potential of Australia’s most well-known story; and, five, $1.8m of funding to establish a cafe complex in the Mount Buffalo Chalet to unlock the tourism potential of the national park and a truly unique tourism icon.

While much has been done to improve telecommunications access in North East Victoria, when disaster strikes communities are often let down by mobile phone black spots. An additional $20 million allocation to the Mobile Black Spot Program will ensure those communities most at risk of communications outages during bushfires can remain safe and connected.

The recent fires highlighted pressing infrastructure needs in my electorate—infrastructure so that we can be better prepared for the next bushfires and can build our resilience in recovery. We need $15 million for a renewable energy microgrid in Corryong to allow this community to be self-sustainable in emergency situations and to significantly increase the reliability of telecommunications and power infrastructure of this town that was so profoundly affected in the fires. The technology and expertise are ready to go to safeguard Corryong in the future. We need $2.8 million for an upgrade to the Kiewa Valley community relief centre and $3.2 million to upgrade the Mount Beauty Airport runway to allow emergency services access to the Kiewa Valley for decades to come. The Kiewa Valley is surrounded by magnificent national parks and rugged alpine terrain and it is highly susceptible to bushfire.

We need a new incident control centre at Ovens to co-ordinate emergency responses to protect the major population centres of Myrtleford and Bright. This summer has highlighted the vulnerability of this region and the key role this centre plays in bushfire response coordination. This former horticultural research centre is no longer fit for purpose. An automated weather station at Corryong to assist bushfire response and suppression, air transport of critically ill patients, search and rescue activities, stock and crop management, and domestic aircraft is long overdue. Two hundred thousand dollars is all that is needed, and it will make a major difference. We need $2.1 million to urgently connect the Tawonga Caravan Park to reticulated sewerage to prevent an important tourism destination and business in the Kiewa Valley being lost.

Regional councils face unique challenges. Since 1996 council costs have increased more than 400 per cent, yet over the same period of time the value of the financial assistance grants from the federal government has fallen from one per cent of Commonwealth tax revenue to just 0.55 per cent in 2019. It’s getting harder for rural councils to make up the difference on their own. Their rate base is small and the demand on their services is challenged by geography, changing economic circumstances in traditional rural industries and more frequent catastrophic weather events. The Commonwealth government can do more. Restoring the value of financial assistance grants to one per cent is a start.

Round 4 of the Building Better Regions Fund was available only to drought-affected councils. While the need in drought affected communities is unquestionable, this meant that many of the Indi councils were ineligible to receive a crucial source of funding for infrastructure and community investment. The need remains in all councils for investment to drive economic growth and build stronger regional communities. Indi LGAs have requested that the next round of the Building Better Regions Fund be brought forward and made available to all councils; and, in light of the recent bushfires and their devastating effect on infrastructure, economies and community spirit, it’s proposed that another BBRF round, exclusively for fire impacted councils, be introduced.

Aged care is of particular importance to my electorate. People in regional areas use residential care less than those in cities and face higher costs in travelling to services. I encourage the government to approve more home-care packages to reduce the waiting list, particularly for those people with the highest level of need.

In my submission to the Tune NDIS Review last year, I made eight recommendations, based on the feedback from hundreds of people who’ve contacted my office. In line with my submission, I call on the government to implement all of the recommendations of the Tune review and ensure our NDIS participants are treated with the utmost dignity. The NDIS will expand significantly over the coming years, with estimates of an additional 90,000 new workers in the disability sector. Many of these will be needed in regional areas, and the government should invest in creating a skilled NDIS workforce to meet this need. There is no better place to do that than in regional Australia.

The Napthine review has provided an a blueprint for improving educational outcomes for rural students and has the backing of regional universities in my electorate, such as La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University. I have written to the Minister for Education, asking him to fund the Napthine review recommendations in the upcoming budget, and I hope so sincerely that this comes to fruition. And, if the Treasurer is listening right now, I urge him to make his place in history by truly improving the outcomes for regional students in education and fully funding the Napthine review recommendations.

The first round of the Local Schools Community Fund identified a huge demand for funding for small capital projects in my accurate. The $200,000 funding in this round did not come close to meeting the $1.1 million worth of applications. A second round could help address the need for vital services and infrastructure—things as basic as air conditioning, computer or ICT facilities—and counselling for youth mental health support. The Mansfield community has waited many years for an upgrade to its single kindergarten. The current infrastructure is over 35 years old and is no longer fit for purpose. An investment of $2 million from the Commonwealth would complement the Victorian government’s funding, leading to a better learning environment for Mansfield kids. We know that a good start to education has the strongest impact on long-term educational outcomes.

The Wangaratta Aerodrome supports emergency services, charter services, recreational aviation, pilot training, heritage conservation, and tourism for Wangaratta and the region beyond. The $14 million revitalisation of this aerodrome is well overdue and is needed to meet commercial, recreational and emergency services for the next 20 years. This new development, when combined with the current employment onsite, would lead to an aviation cluster, with a total of 40 direct jobs and a further six indirect jobs by 2024.

The McKoy Street intersection in Wodonga is one of the hottest topics in my electorate. Slowing down to 80 kilometres per hour on a major freeway as vehicles run the gauntlet of a difficult intersection is dangerous, as well as inconvenient. Everyone can agree on that. I urge the government to ensure this funding is delivered on time and in full so that we can remedy this situation that affects many, many people on a daily basis.

Passenger rail services between Albury and Melbourne cause headaches for residents and businesses. With the recent tragic derailment at Wallan, my constituents are asking me: is it safe? And is the upgrade the government promised enough to raise the quality of the rail service? The government has committed $235 million to this upgrade, with completion scheduled for 2021, and construction on the line has now begun. I call upon the government to ensure that this project delivers the upgrade to the standard and within the time lines promised; and, importantly, to commit to recurrent maintenance funding to ensure the line remains at class 2 passenger standard and we can finally have confidence in this train line.

In Indi, local councils maintain tens of thousands of kilometres of sealed and unsealed roads, annually renewing sections of the road network to improve access, connections and safety. Continuing long-term funding for local infrastructure, under programs such as the Bridges Renewal Program, the Roads to Recovery Program and the Black Spot Program, will allow councils to proactively identify renewal and upgrade needs of the community.

The recent drought has hurt the agriculture industry. Funding research into sustainable and regenerative agriculture ecoservices remuneration for farmers undertaking vital biodiversity work and carbon sequestration is a smart investment. This can help farmers to grow their business and adapt to a changing climate.

There is significant potential for regional producers to capitalise on growth in the agricultural and tourism sectors in my electorate of Indi. To help local growers and producers take their business to the next level, the government could support intensive business development programs for them. This added knowledge would support them to expand into the domestic and international markets, creating long-term job security and driving job creation.

Our community is crying out for catalysing investment in community renewables, to allow the bright sparks in our small towns and connected communities to reach their potential. A $200 million fund for the development of community renewable energy hubs could provide early-stage grants to support technical and social feasibility studies and capital construction. By supporting local power generation, this fund could promote energy security and cut the cost of electricity. Upgrading electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure will increase the possibilities for renewable energy generation in my electorate and investment in distributed energy resources technology.

Finally, a $2 million Commonwealth government co-investment for a new gas city-gate at Logic industrial estate in Wodonga, also funded by the Wodonga council, would open up possibilities for the Logic industrial estate site including a new manufacturing facility, extending the gas supply to the nearby township of Barnawartha and creating up to 34 jobs injecting $2.5 million into the local economy.

Regional Australia faces significant challenges with ageing infrastructure, changing economic drivers and a changing climate, but it is alive with opportunity. I look forward to the government realising this opportunity in its forthcoming budget.

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