Budget Reply for Polwarth

September 25, 2017


Budget papers 2017-18

Mr RIORDAN (Polwarth) — I rise with a melancholy gloominess compared to those speakers before me. I have been sitting here listening to the excited rantings of the member for Niddrie and the joyful whoopees from the member for Shepparton, who has spouted about all the goodness that the government has thrown her way. I think there has been more money thrown at kindergartens in Niddrie than at the whole of my electorate. We have heard of bridges being built and air wings. I think there have been lollies for children. At the rate they are going they are probably funding overseas holidays for schools in some of those Labor seats. But not down in the good seat of Polwarth, not in the seat that produces 80 per cent of the state’s dairy product, not in the seat that now has more tourists visiting it than the Great Barrier Reef, not in the area that was devastated most recently by bushfires, not in the seat that carries the can for the production of grain and all sorts of agriculture, not in the seat that supplies 80 per cent of Australia’s ice cream and cream products, not in the seat that produces all the lamb and other meat products that go into our supermarkets around Australia — no, not from this government.

No, they have just thrown us titbits. Absolute titbits is what we have had in Polwarth. In fact I have had my whole staff sitting down for days trawling through the documents to find any reference to Polwarth. We did find a couple of little things. I think they have replaced some windows in a school, which I am sure the school is most grateful for, but they probably needed whole classrooms rather than glass.

We had a long discussion in our community and in the state generally about the need to coordinate what is going on with the Great Ocean Road, the need to combine the government resources that are going into maintaining such an iconic piece of Victorian real estate and Victorian infrastructure. But no, what did this budget do? This budget found $1.3 million. And that is not even a printing bill for some of these Labor backbenchers — and we know what they do with their printing bills. We saw a small amount of money thrown across three shires and across numerous government departments to try to coordinate that — not nearly enough. That was a great disappointment to the Shipwreck Coast master plan. It has been a great disappointment to the three shires who to date have not only not been invited to be part of that but have not been asked to contribute to it, have not been briefed on it and do not know what it is about. And yet the government told us in this budget that they were spending that money to help coordinate and make a more concerted effort on the Great Ocean Road. Sadly that is not the case.

We have seen an announcement about doctors in schools, and I guess that was one thing that came our way, but of course the government did not deal with the central issue, which is doctors in communities. In an electorate like Polwarth we have got seven hospitals, and all of them struggle on a day-to-day basis to get doctors. I toured the Camperdown College only last week and saw that the largesse from this budget has decked out a wonderful new consulting room at the school, and they are rightly very proud of it, but actually no-one knows where the doctor is, no-one knows when the doctor is coming and no-one knows if there is going to be a doctor. We have whole communities that cannot get a doctor to look after the sick, the frail, the elderly and those who need urgent care. Of course in country towns we do not have accident and emergency departments; we have urgent care facilities. The largesse that is thrown around health services in inner-city seats is something that we do not see in the country; we do not have that advantage. We have funded rooms in schools for doctors but not the doctors. Of course that is something that we are going to have to keep a close eye on as this budget unfolds.

This government is prepared to alter the budget and change direction as it goes along, and we have seen that with the Victorian renewable energy target discussions over the past days. An electorate like mine is going to be greatly affected by this policy, and we are seeing state money thrown predominantly at overseas companies to run around my electorate spending taxpayers money on the whim of providing energy. We do not know how much energy they are going to provide, we do not know where they are going to provide it and we do not know when they are going to provide it.

In fact I had a very distressing phone call only an hour or so before speaking today from a constituent who had retired from Melbourne, moved to a quieter life in the country, bought an old church and converted it, and only found out last week that he is shortly to be surrounded by literally tens of wind turbines 200-odd metres tall. For those who want to translate that, that is roughly the size of the Rialto building and twice the height of the West Gate Bridge. He is going to be surrounded by these. He has not been told about them. He does not get compensated. His quiet country retirement has been thrown into turmoil. That is being funded by this budget.

The government has been quick to appease inner-city seats and inner-city voters who think it is marvellous that their trams will be solar powered or wind powered. That is great, but we have not seen too much of an incentive in this budget for putting wind turbines along the St Kilda foreshore. I am sure the wind blows down at St Kilda just as much as it does at Berrybank, Dundonald, Mortlake South or Mount Gellibrand, so there is no shortage of places we could identify here in Melbourne that would be just as suitable for wind turbines. In fact there seems to be a lot of green space around the MCG and no shortage of pocket parks in Fitzroy, Brunswick, Richmond and other inner-city suburbs that cherish these things.

I think that many in my electorate would be glad if the government were to divert some of its sponsoring of overseas companies to build wind turbines if they actually spent some of that money in Melbourne and popped wind turbines up there. I am sure some of these apartment blocks in Collingwood and other spots would look rather grand with a big wind turbine popped on top. Let us see how people like their televisions, internet and other things being interfered with and whether they find that there is nothing wrong with them and that they are all lovely, quiet and, as many people will say, beautiful things on the horizon. So that is one of the concerns we have.

Another thing that happened in this budget is the government made a grand announcement of paying hospital board members. The government also trumpeted in recent weeks the fact that they have now got over 50 per cent of women on boards. That is a great achievement, but it has come at the expense of country communities. I know, having served 16 years on my health board in Colac at Colac Area Health, that in that time we had a band of local committed people who had a great understanding of the health needs of their community and were prepared to volunteer their time.

I do not really have an objection to funding health boards, but I do have an objection to the thrust, in order to meet the government’s objectives, of bussing people in from Melbourne and beyond. They have decided now to pay people who, by and large, have CVs and live outside of the communities they are serving. They are quite happy to pay them. It might be interesting to see where some of the allegiances lie for some of these people being nominated on to many of these country health boards. The distressing thing of course is for the already very stressed health services —

Ms Thomas — What about skills? Skills are good on boards.

Mr RIORDAN — Yes, there are skilled people in the country. It might come as a surprise to the member for Macedon to realise that we do actually have competent, capable country board members and in that time they have been able to run very successful health services without doctors employed and other things. They have done quite a good job actually for about 150 years, so we thank those volunteer local community health services very much. Now that we are seeing a clear attempt by the government to sort of use them as another nesting place for their future operatives, that is something we can look forward to.

The issue of course arises that these health boards are already under a lot of financial stress. We have seen, in this current round, new enterprise bargaining agreements that are costing health budgets at least 3.5 to 5 per cent and that are unfunded.

Ms Thomas — Why do you hate workers?

Mr RIORDAN — It is not that we hate workers at all, but we do want our hospitals to stay open. We certainly want our hospitals to provide services that the community expects. Hospitals in my electorate will be coming to me with power bills that are not budgeted for and have not been provided for in this budget.

We have a situation in Cobden with the indoor swimming pool that the community paid for; they raised the money themselves. It did not come from government handouts; they worked hard to do that. The community has paid for that through their health service, and now they are under real threat of having to close that service because they just cannot afford the rising energy costs, which have doubled in the last six months. On top of that, they are now going to be footing the bill for paying board members to drive up from Melbourne and other far-flung places rather than using local resources to man the board. With these authorities we will probably be looking at costs of at least $500 000 extra for administering hospitals because of this change that the government has not yet funded.

Last year’s budget, the 2016–17 budget, announced what was seen as a long overdue decision by the government, and that was to look at closing the Colanda Centre in Colac. I think most people welcomed that change in government policy, but we still have not yet had funded or announced how the government plans to rehouse and support those people. It was after a prolonged discussion that the workers and the staff at that institution were at last given a decent payout and a relocation allowance, which we must be grateful for. At the same time the government still have not announced to the community more generally where these people will call home in the future. That is something that definitely needs to be sorted and announced.

Of course roads are often the most important thing in a country community. Once again, while we have heard today of multiple bridges built in Shepparton and all sorts of overpasses and sky rails and heaven knows what funded in Niddrie and other places, we have still got many, many well-known and dangerous intersections in our area for which there has not been any improvement flagged.

Ms Thomas interjected.

Mr RIORDAN — He effectively advocates very well and the community knows about it, but I guess when the government has its other objectives they do not fund them. So my community has made very well known the need for work on areas of the Cape Otway Road and the Princes Highway, and of course there is the much-talked about need for funding for a bypass study for Colac.

It is handy to have the Minister for Roads and Road Safety sitting here; I am sure he is listening to me. His reply to my office and the local paper and the local media was that we did not need a bypass around Colac because 80 per cent of vehicles stopped in the town. Well, that was one of the most laughable documents ever produced to the public to explain why a bypass was not required. It is clearly not the case, and until we can get some change there the community will not be satisfied with where the issue is going.

The government trumpeted much about increasing police numbers. That is certainly not the case in western Victoria, where most stations are either closed, non-existent or down to part-time hours.

With crime rates across Corangamite shire rising by many tens of per cents — close to 100 per cent in the case of Corangamite shire and others — it is a real issue. That is combined with the fact that we still have not got a full understanding of the funding and the allowance made for the Colac police station redevelopment. Early reports have seen that blow out in its budget by some 50 per cent, which has led to the clear decision by the powers that be that they will be cutting back what they have provided for the planned Colac police station and courthouse precinct redevelopment.

This is a great disappointment because one of the well-known facts in the Western District at the moment is that many criminal activities happen in multiple figures because criminals know that when the police are tied up in one area they will be gone for hours. If an arrest or a bail application is required, the one or two police who are on board at the 24-hour station in Colac will be tied up indefinitely, providing free rein for anyone else who wants to commit a crime or go on a crazed spree. We have seen that on many, many occasions. That is because police numbers and the police rostering have just not been sufficient.

There was also talk in the last budget, which we welcomed in our area, of an increase in the Warrnambool train line service, but sadly there is still much to be done there, with rail crossings listed in the tens that are still not properly lit with either warning bells or boom gates. What comes as a surprise is the priority that the public transport sector has given to some of the roads they have decided to make safe. There are some dead-end gravel roads with full bells and boom gates, while other busy asphalt roads on the way to football clubs and other things are still completely unguarded. We look forward to further funding for that.

In concluding, while there may be joy and whoopeeing going on in some of the pork-barrelled seats the government wants to save around Melbourne and in Shepparton, it is disappointing that seats that contribute, do their bit and pay their fair share to this state have been sadly neglected in this rather dull and uninteresting budget.