Member for Morwell Russell Northe has described the State Budget, handed down in Parliament today as a “mixed bag” for the Morwell electorate.
“Whilst there is some positive news in the 2019/2020 State Budget for our community, there are still some shortfalls of areas that need to be addressed”, Mr Northe said, speaking from Spring Street today.
“I was relieved to see $7 million allocated by the Andrews Government towards its Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) development commitment – but this was only to begin the planning phase. I will be keeping a close eye on future budgets to ensure the Government delivers on their promise of a $217 million expansion of LRH”.
“I was also pleased to see the Government honour their commitment by providing funding for upgrades at Churchill Primary School and at Kosciuszko Street Primary School in Traralgon. But to see state-wide an investment of $3.4 million to provide special development education for children with a disability, but no additional funds allocated towards a stand-alone Latrobe Special Development School was disappointing”, Mr Northe said.
“Also the absence of a mention of this and the redevelopment of Traralgon Secondary College is concerning, especially given $6 million was announced in last years’ budget, but that money is insufficient to upgrade both these schools”.
“Local business owners would be pleased to see a further reduction in regional payroll tax and also the increase of the threshold for this same tax”, Mr Northe continued, “however, there are no other reductions in red tape evident, meaning existing barriers to infrastructure costs remain firmly in place. For example, our local quarry industry have limited opportunities for expansion despite demand and development projects sit idle, stifled by bureaucracy”.
“In addition, as someone who lives in a regional area, I’m very concerned that the Government seems to have discontinued the former Regional Growth Fund which evolved into this Governments Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund”.
“If this fund has been abolished as it seems, then one has to ask what impacts this might have upon the Latrobe Valley Authority and the programs it administers?” Mr Northe added.
“This fund provided $1 billion over eight years to Regional Victoria and was critical to promoting regional infrastructure improvements and economic growth. Many local businesses, councils and communities have benefitted from this fund over the years, and its demise would pose a number of questions on how regional growth will be supported going forward”.
“Also in reviewing the Budget papers, there is no evidence that the SEA electric vehicle plant is a focus in this year’s budget as one would have thought this was a priority for the Latrobe Valley”, said Mr Northe.
“This project was announced with much fanfare in 2018 and rightly so, but the Government needs to communicate specific details of the project so our community knows when, how and what this project is all about”.
“Incorporated into this Budget are extra taxes which will be a blow to all Victorians, including an increase of land taxes – which are now up close to 110% under this Government – a vehicle tax increase, and there is a huge increase in minerals taxes which threatens jobs and industry”.
“As we’ve experienced all too well in the Latrobe Valley mineral royalty increases can decimate an industry – one only has to look at Hazelwood’s closure following the Andrews Governments tripling of coal royalties in 2016, as well as the Mining sector employment downturn which is evident in today’s budget papers”.
“Gippsland V/Line commuters in particular would be fuming to see the disparity in funding of rail infrastructure across the State”, Mr Northe continued.
“Whilst Western Victoria received $100 million to deliver dedicated railway lines to Geelong and Ballarat, the Gippsland rail line will have to continue to make do with ongoing disrupted travel, for absolutely no long-term travel benefits it seems”.
“In addition, this Budget delivers eighteen new VLocity trains for the Geelong and Ballarat services – increasing commuter comfort and capacity, but Gippsland misses out again. And this is on top of Gippsland commuters already paying higher travel fares and in particular for students and seniors”.
“The inequity of Public transport services is a very important issue for Gippslanders – and whilst I know the Government is listening, it is not acting which is clearly extremely disappointing”.
“$4 million has been allocated to ensure farmers receive health care, however no specific funds have been provided to Latrobe famers in the form of drought relief”, Mr Northe lamented.
“I’m bitterly disappointed that Latrobe City based farmers have still not been recognised throughout this prolonged drought and that our calls for municipal rate relief and access to Victorian Government drought programs have been ignored”.
“Another disappointment for our community is the complete disregard for the Hazelwood Pondage, as a key piece of infrastructure in our area”, Mr Northe said.
“I’m in regular contact with so many people who are completely baffled as to why the Government have not allocated funding for this recreational asset. To not invest in retaining this body of water for our community and for future generations to enjoy, simply defies belief”.
“One thing I was pleased to see funded was more emergency accommodation for victims of domestic violence in Gippsland, as we know how important it is to provide support to those in crisis”, Mr Northe said.
“However, I was disappointed to see that whilst Ballarat and Geelong received funding towards building crisis accommodation and community housing to address homelessness, it appears Gippsland has missed out in this regard”.
“There’s no good news in energy either – no guarantees have been provided that the Governments’ irresponsible Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET), will not force an early closure of yet another local power station”.
“Whilst I was pleased to see the Government honour the commitment to funding the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail and some other recreational projects, notable was the absence of support for a new Newborough CFA station which is desperately needed”, Mr Northe.
“Overall, this mixed bag Budget does show a few wins on the board for the Morwell electorate, but I was hoping that a few more worthy projects and organisations would have been supported by the Government”, Mr Northe said.
“I will continue to do what I can in advocating for the best outcomes for my community in our local areas of need to the Government now and into the future”.