Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — The cat is out of the bag. I am pleased to rise today to speak on the matter of public importance, a matter of public importance that is deficient and self-adulating. But the Minister for Tourism and Major Events has just let the cat out of the bag: we are not a state of mining. I will refer to some of those comments within my contribution.
The matter of public importance also refers to Victoria being the state of momentum, but I can certainly say that within the Morwell electorate the only momentum in terms of employment is backwards momentum. You have only got to look at the job statistics that have come out over recent months to verify that. The facts are that in December 2014 the unemployment rate for the Latrobe region was 7.3 per cent; it is now 9.3 per cent. We have had unemployment rise by about 2 per cent in the short space of 18 months. That is a fact; they are statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In that time across the whole Latrobe-Gippsland region we have had a staggering loss of nearly 12 000 full-time jobs, so if the state government and the ministers want to come out and espouse the virtues of what they are doing with employment or unemployment, I encourage them to make mention of the Latrobe-Gippsland region, because our region has been neglected and the statistics on unemployment absolutely verify that. Youth unemployment is around 12.8 per cent for the Gippsland region, and there have been many local articles referring to the concerns of the local community with respect to unemployment. Indeed in the Latrobe Valley Express of 2 June under the heading ‘Where are the jobs?’, an article made reference to some comments that were made by the Treasurer, and what it states is:
In a release the state government sent to media outlets last week, Treasurer Tim Pallas described the unemployment rates as ‘great news for regional Victoria’.
The release highlighted Bendigo, Ballarat and Shepparton’s falling unemployment rates, but did not mention Latrobe.
That is what I have raised in Parliament on many occasions. It is all good and well for the Treasurer to get up and talk about unemployment figures, but he should do it in a manner that talks about what the government is going to do to address unemployment rates in the Latrobe-Gippsland region. The fact is there is absolutely nothing there.
My belief and the belief of many local people within our community is that we have seen the abolishment or discontinuation of a number of specific local economic development programs. The coalition had in place the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund, a $15 million program to help businesses grow and expand and create employment. That fund supported more than 40 businesses, providing employment for approximately 1100 people, and was able to elicit around $93 million of investment — so, private investment on top of state government support. It was a very successful program.
Since that has been discontinued there has simply been a vacuum of economic development programs for our region. Further to that, the Putting Locals First Fund, a very important fund in helping develop community projects in consort with council in many cases, also provided employment as well. As well as enhancing community development, it provided local employment. We have seen that particular program abolished as well.
The Minister for Industry and Employment, in his opening remarks, talked about how the coalition could not put their hat on any particular project or projects, assuming we did nothing. I would need an extension of time to go through all of the projects and businesses the coalition supported in government and through our Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund. We provided funding to the Latrobe Regional Airport; Hydro Australia; Lion Dairy & Drinks; Fisher’s pallet manufacturers in Morwell; Sage Technology in Morwell, which, by the way, was entered into the hall of fame in the Gippsland business awards on Friday evening, so well done Sage Technology; Victorian American Imports; the Narkoojee Winery in Glengarry; Morwell Shopfitters; STR Inspection Services in Traralgon; Pinegro Products in Morwell; and Steeline in Gippsland — a $4.4 million project. They are all prime examples of businesses we supported when we were in government and which put in their own hard-earnt money not only to grow and expand their businesses but to create jobs in our local economy. And there were more and more. I cannot point to any one business in the Latrobe region since that time — since the change of government in 2014 — that has been financially supported by this government, not one.
As I mentioned before, through that particular program there were in excess of 40 businesses that were supported across a whole range of different sectors and industries to help diversify our economy. If you look at the Putting Locals First Fund, you get a sense of some of the community projects we supported that not only enhanced community development but provided employment opportunities for local people. We had funding for upgrades of Victory Park in Traralgon; for the Gippsland Heritage Walk in Morwell; for the Morwell skate park; for the Tyers Hall upgrade; for the Maryvale Reserve plan; for Re-Activate: Latrobe Valley; for the Yinnar Fiddlehead Music Festival and Country Fair — and the member for Bundoora over there would like this one as he could have been there with Garth Brooks; the Yallourn North town hall upgrade of $340 000; and the Churchill Art and Culture Pathway. These were all projects supported through the Putting Locals First Fund, which as I say provided local employment.
One of the other important things too is that the coalition had a program in place that really provided a pathway for local students to enter into some of the unique vocations we have in the Latrobe Valley. Through our Regional Partnerships Facilitation Fund there were a number of projects that were supported to help people find that pathway for local jobs. Some of those related to unique vocations, such as that relating to Lion Dairy & Drinks in the food manufacturing sector. Safetech in Moe were partners in that as well. There were also allied health services — so in community welfare, nursing and allied health we had a partnership with Monash University, now Federation University, where students could go through a pathway and find local employment. That is now gone. We had the Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program. It was supported by the previous federal Labor government and the former coalition state government: funding was provided for coal-related projects to find new ways to use the resource. What has the current government done with that particular program? It is on the backburner. We do not know what the hell is happening with it at the moment. Again that is not helping business development within our community.
As the shadow Treasurer mentioned in his contribution, despite the abolition of all these local specific programs, which not only created but were able to retain jobs, what we have seen is the current government impose enormous taxes — breaking a promise — on some of our larger employers. It has imposed a $252 million electricity tax on generators within the Latrobe Valley. In the Latrobe Valley Express of 28 April under the heading ‘Government’s royal rumble’ is an article replete with comments from industry figures who are very critical of the government in relation to what it has done with respect to that. There was a lack of consultation. The comments coming back from the generators talk about the prospect of additional prices for consumers and about the impact on local jobs. It does not instil business confidence when a government breaks its promise, imposes a tax of that particular magnitude and does nothing about it.
You have the renewable energy target. Again, if the government wants to put a target in place, that is fine, but there is no detail about what the impact will be upon the Latrobe Valley community — the business community — directly or indirectly. There is absolutely nothing. Business confidence has taken a battering as a result of those particular decisions made by the government. There is no detail on what might happen. Look at the situations that have occurred in South Australia and Tasmania, for heaven’s sake, over the course of the summer period. It is of great concern, but we have no detail from the government about what the impact will be upon jobs, the cost to consumers or indeed security of supply. Even in relation to our other major industries, such as the timber industry, there is a great threat and concern at the moment in our community about what this government might do with respect to the Great Forest National Park. It would probably be the death knell for Australian Paper, one of our largest employers within the region, and there is this air of uncertainty about what might happen with that. In addition there is the decision the government made yesterday about onshore gas. Australian Paper is Victoria’s largest user of gas. Is there support for Australian Paper to get through the next period of time? I doubt it.
This matter of public importance certainly does not do anything to increase any confidence in the Gippsland and Latrobe community.