House of Representatives

Dr HAINES (Indi) (19:40): For my last speech of 2020, I will highlight the outstanding work of my constituents on what matters to them in this most difficult year. Not for one second have I forgotten the honour of advancing their interests in this place or taken for granted the trust they’ve placed in me.

This year started with the bushfires in Towong and Alpine. Those bushfires incinerated 580,000 hectares of land, decimated our summer trade and smothered us in smoke for months. In each relief centre I witnessed the compassion and solidarity of rural communities. I thank and admire our CFA volunteers, our community groups, our police and our ADF. In the aftermath, I’ve fought for the government to back in this support. As a result, our electorate has received over $34.4 million in bushfire relief grant payments, and more than 6,370 payments have been made to individuals and to local businesses. Working with tourism, small business, the softwood forestry sector and wine grape growers, I have advocated for them with ministers and the National Bushfire Recovery Coordinator. The road to recovery is long, and I will continue to walk beside these communities.

Hot on the heels of the bushfire crisis came the sports rorts saga. It engulfed two sporting clubs from my electorate. The frustration and disappointment in the status quo drove 200 people to the launch of the Beechworth Principles in the same historic courthouse where Ned Kelly faced the law. Over 1,800 people—many of them my constituents—went on to sign a petition calling for a robust integrity commission. Last month, I was proud to present my first private member’s bill to establish it. Integrity is what people stop me in the street to talk about. In the last fortnight, 13 full-page ads signed by 417 of my constituents ran in newspapers across the country supporting my integrity commission model. To those constituents I say, ‘I hear you and I’ll keep fighting to bring back trust in politics.’

Regional development affects every aspect of our lives in Indi, and this year the Albury-Wodonga regional deal was signed, an historic moment for our two cities and one border community. After many years of sustained advocacy, the North East Rail Line Upgrade is proceeding ahead of schedule. Maintenance funding still needs a commitment from government, which I’ll continue to pursue. And the Better Rail offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for transformation of our rail precincts in Euroa, Glenrowan, Wangaratta and Benalla. I’ll work with these communities to secure a legacy they can be proud of.

Grant funding helps us to innovate, care, educate and celebrate. Since June, over $10 million in grant funding to small groups has flowed into our electorate. Over 880 people attended my online grants workshop to increase their success in securing grant funding. This was an extraordinary turnout and shows the level of interest in strengthening our community. Local councils know what their communities need best, and I worked closely with them to identify priority projects. I’ve shared in their delight that many have been funded. There was a regional tourism fund, the Prosecco Road development, more home-care packages, the Mount Buffalo Chalet and the implementation of some of the NDIS Tune review and the Napthine review recommendations. We’ll keep working together to tick more of these things off our list.

Working with small business in one of the most difficult years in living memory has been a highlight for me. Six thousand and sixteen Indi businesses have applied for JobKeeper, and I was proud to support this and the government’s other coronavirus stimulus measures because I’ve seen how they’ve worked to keep the sector afloat. They’ve shown great resilience and innovation this year in adapting to this new world order. And, throughout, the frontline workers in our hospitals, our GP practices and community health workers have kept us safe while our teachers, our truckies, our cleaners and our supermarket workers have kept us going.

My electorate has led the country on community-driven renewable energy for the last decade, and, with extensive input from local renewable energy groups, this year we launched the Local Power Plan, a blueprint for our region to capitalise on the coming boom in renewable energy. Now a $13 million ARENA investment to Indi will develop the region’s first marketplace for locally generated renewables. It is a huge step forward. This year will go down in history as a year to forget, but, away from the global pandemonium, on a local level, the spring rains have provided the best crops in a generation, and the electorate of Indi has continued to grow and strengthen, aspire and achieve. I am proud to represent this electorate and I can’t wait to see what we do together in 2021.

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