Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate on the Regional Development Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015. We have heard many contributions from both sides. Unfortunately those opposite have sought to rewrite history on many fronts with respect to investment in regional Victoria, and so much so that it defies logic.
I remind the house of the time when the previous Labor government constituted its Regional Infrastructure Development Fund. When that fund ceased, it was found that the money that government stated it had expended through that program was not there. There was a significant shortfall. When the coalition came to government, it established the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund over eight years. I can say to those opposite who have sought to rewrite history on the basis that the fund did not create jobs, that that is simply not true. I will give many examples of that during my contribution. I also refer to comments made by the member for Melbourne. Her comments about investment in regional Victoria show that she lives in a fairyland — a dreamland. It seems to me she does not understand what is contained in the bill and what it seeks to do.
I am really proud of what the coalition government was able to achieve in the Morwell electorate through the Regional Growth Fund. I could give example after example of practical outcomes. Other members on this side have spoken not only about the job creation component of the fund but also about the delivery of community assets through community-driven projects. These are community-driven projects with local community organisations — with the local council on many occasions — and I can direct people to a litany of examples of where we made investments.
The Morwell Centenary Rose Garden is a beautiful part of Morwell. I digress slightly to commend the volunteers who do such a marvellous job with that rose garden. The coalition government helped with an investment of $28 600, which has been used for garden beautification works. Through the Regional Growth Fund $250 000 was committed to the Morwell Town Common project. There has been a magnificent upgrade and beautification of the park, including the installation of new playground equipment. People from both Morwell and across the whole region visit that very impressive town common. The coalition government also assisted with an upgrade of infrastructure at Railway Park, Boolarra, with a commitment of $140 000.
Given your recent visit to our region, Acting Speaker, you may be aware that ReActivate: Latrobe Valley is doing work to the tune of $113 000 through the Regional Growth Fund. We know that some of our communities are doing it tough, and there is some really good work being undertaken by ReActivate Latrobe Valley and our local business groups. We have had an upgrade to the Tyers public hall, and Victory Park in Traralgon has received significant investment. There is a $680 000 project to reinvigorate the Yallourn North town hall. There is also Crinigan Bushland Reserve in Morwell and the Gippsland heritage walk around Kernot Lake in Morwell. The list goes on and on.
In terms of support for businesses and job creation, I want to refer to an initiative under the Regional Growth Fund that we had in place in the Latrobe Valley, which was called the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund. Initially this was a $10 million program. We increased the funding to the tune of $15 million, with the sole purpose of making sure we could support local businesses which sought an opportunity to grow, expand and, most critically important, create new jobs.
Overall that fund has delivered, and it has delivered well. In excess of 40 businesses were successful through that program. Around 1100 jobs were created, and — this must not be forgotten — the companies’ own investments in these projects leveraged about $93 million worth of additional investment in the region. Unfortunately the new government has not seen fit to adopt a similar program. Maybe it will — and I hope it will, because it has been a great outcome for our local community. Our local business community certainly wants to see a program such as that continue into the future.
I will give some quick examples of that type of investment. Steeline Gippsland, which set up a new plant in Traralgon, received $250 000 towards that project from the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund. This was a $4.5 million project, so the company itself invested substantially, and this created around 15 new jobs. I visited the premises recently, and it is doing very well. I know the company was very thankful for the opportunity to access funding through the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund.
Victorian American Imports is a unique business that is based in Traralgon. The company imports vehicles from the US and converts them to Australian and Victorian standards. It has grown and expanded substantially, and we were able to help that company with around $173 000 to grow and expand its business onto additional premises, creating around 10 jobs.
Morwell Shopfitters is a well-recognised local business in Morwell. It received $150 000 towards a $450 000 project, which meant it was able to buy new, modern equipment to ensure that it continues to be unique in its field. Again, this also created employment.
In the quarry industry, we were able to help Latrobe Valley Sands and KR & G Matthews Quarries with funding through the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund. Matthews Quarries has a project at the back of Tyers. Whilst we committed $100 000 for that project, the company itself — —
Mr Donnellan interjected.
Mr NORTHE — Yes. Build a bridge, and the company will be able to get its trucks across it.
Matthews Quarries contributed $1.5 million to that project, which is a very significant project. The Minister for Roads and Road Safety is sitting at the table, and importantly Matthews Quarries uses its material for road upgrades and road surfacing. We would like to see more investment in road maintenance in Gippsland so that companies like Matthews Quarries can use its materials for that purpose.
There is a range of other initiatives that we have across a whole range of sectors. That is the important part for the Latrobe Valley and wider Gippsland region. Over time there has been a significant focus on the importance of the energy industry. This fund has sought to diversify our local economy. There has been a lot of investment in agriculture and the timber industry. I just mentioned the quarry industry and the vehicle industry. We want to make sure we are providing opportunities across a diverse range of sectors through that fund.
Latrobe Valley Bus Lines was another company we were able to provide some support to. Whilst it received a $50 000 grant through the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund, this was a $1.2 million project it was investing in. People and businesses are prepared to invest where the government provides support and shows confidence in the local business community. This particular fund has been very important to our region. We hope that the government in its wisdom will look at continuing that program — or at least something similar — to be able to support our local business community.
I want to conclude by saying that it was really pleasing for me over those four years — and hopefully it will continue — to deal with the staff, particularly in the Gippsland region of Regional Development Victoria, because they are fantastic people. In many cases they are long-term locals who have been there for a long time. They understand the local lie of the land, and they did a great job in supporting the programs that we initiated at the time. So whilst we have some reservations with what is being proposed under this bill, we certainly do not deny the fact that we require further programs and investment in regional Victoria. From my perspective I look forward to the Latrobe Valley and the Morwell electorate continuing to receive support from the government under these types of programs.