Member for Morwell Russell Northe said today’s State Budget had missed an opportunity to provide jobs and certainty for the Latrobe Valley community.
Mr Northe said the 2021/2022 budget was crucial in assisting many regional communities recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions, in addition to understanding how the Latrobe Valley is expected to transition following major interruptions to traditional local industries including electricity generation and timber industries.
“We know State Governments and the Federal Government have had to spend largesse to support those who have been impacted by COVID related restrictions, but at the same time debt levels, massive budget blowouts on projects, and the imposition of new and increasing taxes on businesses are very concerning” Mr Northe commenced.
Mr Northe said it wasn’t all bad news for the Morwell electorate and he was pleased that the State Government had made some commitments that would hopefully benefit the local community.
“I am pleased to learn of the Governments mental health investment that seeks to enhance services that are much needed for individuals and families contending with the challenges of mental illness. I really hope that we eventually see the practical assistance that is desperately required to ensure people receive an appropriate level of care when they most need it” Mr Northe said.
“It was also good news for Stockdale Road Primary School in Traralgon with the Government announcing $10 million to assist with the development of their existing facilities. I was pleased to be able to work with the school community in advocating for these much needed upgrades to a school which has grown markedly in terms of student enrolments in recent years” Mr Northe continued.
“There however appears to be no reference in the Budget as to the future of the Latrobe Valley Authority and if it will continue its operations in the Valley. Subsequently it remains unclear what role they will play in our community and what programs will exist under their remit” Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe said he was also disappointed that a specific local jobs program had not been announced, nor funding provided for a number of worthy projects and organisations.
“The State Government is acutely aware that its policies have contributed to the closure of one power station in the Valley already and the early closure of Yallourn in 2028. Yet it has once again failed to announce a commitment to develop a transition plan for our community when it is so desperately needed. It defies belief that the community that will be most impacted by the State Governments own energy and environmental policies is still being ignored when it comes to understanding the impacts of these same policies” Mr Northe said.
“The State Government has essentially backed out of its commitment in 2018 to develop an electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Morwell that was supposed to create 500 jobs which was supposed to assist with our transition. The question quite rightly being asked by so many community members is, where are the jobs and projects that are going to replace those jobs already lost in the electricity generation and timber industries and those that are likely to be lost in the future?” Mr Northe continued.
“Unfortunately our community is already subject to relatively high unemployment rates and I was hopeful the Government might re-introduce the Latrobe Valley Back to Work Scheme that they had abolished in June 2020. This scheme was initially set up to incentivise local businesses to employ local people but it is with great disappointment that the Government overlooked the scheme again in this year’s budget” Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe said he was looking for a commitment in the Budget that would indicate the Government’s commitment to support local businesses and contractors by ensuring their Departments and agencies utilised local services where possible.
“Unfortunately we have a seen a raft of services withdrawn from local regional communities by this Government and the situation appears to be worsening. We know the Government has recently centralised dry-cleaning services for Fire Rescue Victoria and Ambulance Victoria staff meaning regional dry-cleaners have been hung out to dry. I’m also advised that builders and contractors have missed out on local Housing projects which is a real kick in the guts for the local business community and it just doesn’t make any sense that the Government continues this approach when there are capable and able local businesses willing, ready and able to do much of this work. From my perspective the Government’s procurement policy is failing Regional Victoria and nothing in the Budget gives me confidence that this will change” Mr Northe lamented.
Mr Northe said a range of other projects had unfortunately missed out on funding including the Latrobe City Sports & Entertainment Centre, Latrobe Valley Drug Court, a dedicated hospice for the region, and the Lake Narracan Housing project.
“The Latrobe City Sports & Entertainment Centre already has an approved master plan that contains shovel ready projects which will make the precinct a Football Centre of Excellence. However, we urgently need the State Government, Football Federation Victoria (FFV) and Latrobe City Council to work together to deliver this project. With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup coming to Australia and Victoria, there is a real opportunity for the Latrobe City Sports & Entertainment Centre to be utilised in some capacity, which would be a sensational boom for the region and for the sport. With no funding announced in this budget it’s now time critical for the Government to partner with FFV and other levels of Government to invest in and develop the Centre of Excellence to realise these extraordinary opportunities” Mr Northe said.
“I do commend the Government for committing to establish Drug Courts in Ballarat and Shepparton but at the same time a Drug Court for the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland region is desperately required. Unfortunately every statistic verifies this need and the concept of a Drug Court is supported by many local organisations who work with people and families afflicted with drug and alcohol challenges. Drug Courts have been found to be very successful with results showing a reduction in reoffending, improving community safety and decreasing the burden on the courts and corrections system and the sooner the Latrobe Valley has such a Court the better” Mr Northe said.
“And in the health space we are pleased of the Government’s continued commitment to develop stage 3A at Latrobe Regional Hospital which is very much welcomed, but there are growing calls for improved local palliative care services and for a hospice to be constructed in the region. In fact the Latrobe Health Advocate has recommended to the Government that a hospice be built in Gippsland and I support those same calls as do many local families who have been through such difficult experiences with loved ones at their end of life. It is disappointing that funding couldn’t be found to at least explore this important initiative” Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe said it was imperative that the State Government continued to support local developments that had already been through the approval process.
“We had some really positive news earlier this week with the announcement of funding to build infrastructure and services such as roads, water and sewerage to the site of the Morwell Food Manufacturing Hub. Unfortunately there was a great opportunity missed in this Budget when the Government failed to support the Lake Narracan precinct structure plan which was approved back in 2016 and would provide for thousands of jobs and new homes to be constructed in and around Lake Narracan. I ask rhetorically, what is the point of declaring the Latrobe Valley as an economic growth zone if the Government can’t or won’t support already approved local projects” Mr Northe continued.
Mr Northe said “Despite being funded in previous budgets there is still no commitment as to when the Moe and Morwell ambulance stations will be constructed and that’s despite signs being erected in 2019 stating these same stations would be open in that year”.
“And a safe pedestrian crossing is desperately needed at the McNairn Road, Traralgon railway crossing as are promised upgrades to the Bank Street/Princes Highway, Traralgon intersection with local residents and motorists already waiting a number of years for works to commence” Mr Northe said.
“We also have many wonderful services and charitable organisations who continue to deliver critical and important services in our community and the calls for additional funding for Lifeline Gippsland, Barrier Breakers, Life Education Gippsland and Gippsland Carers Association will have to continue as unfortunately these and other worthy groups have not been supported in this budget” Mr Northe concluded.
For further information on the Victorian 2021/2022 budget please see the following link: https://www.budget.vic.gov.au/