Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (16:29): I rise to speak on the state budget 2023–24. This budget has axed millions of dollars from roads, agriculture, health and infrastructure, and regional communities continue to miss out on critical funding. Let us start with the roads. Victoria’s regional roads will continue to decay further, with maintenance funding in this budget having been slashed by millions of dollars. Since 2020 this funding has been axed by 45 per cent, yet sadly, 179 lives have been lost on roads in Victoria, up from 144 last year. More than 100 of those lives lost were on regional roads, an increase of 27 per cent from last year. I have never seen the roads in such a dangerous and unkempt condition, and this is a safety crisis. The recent report that no contracts for road resurfacing have gone to tender this year is shocking.
The need to address the condition of our roads is urgent. It is also noted that there have been over 5000 new potholes reported statewide, an increase of 272 per cent. I am sure everyone in this chamber has a story to tell when it comes to potholes.
Agricultural funding is down 34 per cent on last year, from $687.3 million to $454.8 million. This directly impacts regional hubs like Shepparton. The Goulburn Valley is the nation’s food bowl, something I am incredibly proud of. Our farmers and growers are still struggling to recover from COVID and last year’s floods and weather events, yet the budget cuts critical agricultural funding. Trade and global development was cut by $60.3 million – almost 60 per cent since 2020 – despite Victorian farmers and businesses continuing to face uncertain times. Regional development has been halved, from $211.5 million to $106.6 million. Since 2020 this funding has been slashed by 80 per cent. This is at a time when my region is trying to recover and rebuild. We were the most locked down regional city during the pandemic.
Flood recovery remains a major issue, with many still not getting the support they need. The budget overview says additional flood recovery support is yet to be agreed by the Commonwealth government, yet the Andrews Labor government failed to declare a state of disaster. While every other state will receive a share of the federal government’s $1.8 billion advance disaster recovery payments for declared natural disaster areas, Victorians miss out due to the Premier’s refusal to declare the October 2022 floods as such.
There is also no funding commitment to critical infrastructure priority projects. Stage 1 of the Shepparton bypass will play a critical role in the progress and the safety of my region. Twenty-five per cent of the state’s trucks are registered in the Shepparton district. Think of that number: 25 per cent of Victoria’s trucks. This is a testament to the many successful and growing industries in my region, and many of you would know many of those brands: SPC, Campbell’s soup, Huggies, White King. You will see these brands on supermarket shelves not only locally, not only across the state but also internationally, and we are very proud of that. We are a major transport route, and we have a continuous convoy of trucks going through the CBD of Shepparton and Mooroopna. This has a significant impact on the local businesses in the CBD, other vehicles and the safety of pedestrians. We need more efficient and safer movement of transport that caters for the significant growth and progress of our region. Stage 1 of the Shepparton bypass also includes a second river crossing between Shepparton and Mooroopna. We had significant safety challenges during the floods when the only river crossing between these two towns was closed.
The Victorian government allocated $10.2 million in the 2017–18 budget for the finalisation of the business case for stage 1 of the Shepparton bypass. The federal government committed $208 million in construction funding in the 2018–19 budget. This is an active project that must be committed to, yet it continues to be ignored. We are experiencing a primitive road network and transport movement. This has gone on for over 30 years.
We have been calling for investment in the Shepparton sports stadium and events centre for many years. Built in the 1970s, the building is deteriorating at a fast rate and the community has outgrown the stadium, with both Basketball Victoria and the local council nominating this project as one of their highest priorities. The current seating capacity is limited, and fans and event holders are being turned away. When the floods hit my electorate last year this venue was unable to be used as an evacuation centre due to the building leaking, and it was the first priority to be used at that emergency time. The redevelopment includes a brand new facility with a 3000-seat show court catering to a diverse range of indoor events, something that we do not have the capacity to hold in Shepparton now. This multipurpose venue would also offer significant economic opportunities for the region by hosting major sporting tournaments and other major events, which are now being missed out on. We offer a lot of diverse opportunities through the clubs at this facility, including badminton and others, with many using the facility for sport. At the moment when we talk about sport and the Matildas – you know, that aspiration of getting young people into sport – we want that to happen in our region, but this facility is not fit for purpose and is limiting that opportunity.
With the completion of stage 1 of GV Health, we are left with an incomplete hospital redevelopment, with no funding committed in the budget for stage 2. Stage 2 works include construction of an integrated cancer centre on the GV Health site.
I have consulted with an organisation who are looking to expand services to Shepparton to provide support and accommodation to cancer patients and their carers, but without a commitment from the state government this will be another lost opportunity to provide complete services to cancer patients. The new PET scanners for GV Health to assess cancers have been funded, yet an integral part of that care, the integrated cancer centre to support the cancer patients whilst they go through their cancer journey, is not being committed to. Stage 2 works also include increased acute and subacute inpatient capacity, additional care services for specialist clinics, additional car spaces, a helipad and clinical support and diagnostic services. GV Health service’s primary catchment is forecast to grow by 17.5 per cent from 2022 to 2036. Seventy per cent of GV Health’s primary catchment live in Shepparton, but a significant number of patients come from further away for treatment and are in need of ongoing treatment that they cannot access locally. Regional Victorians are made to travel to receive medical care and treatment away from home. This puts enormous pressure and stress on both the patients and their families. This government has said that health care is a priority. Make it a priority for all Victorians, including those who need critical health care in my electorate. You cannot leave a hospital unfinished without the facilities needed to provide the very best of health care. We have had stage 1, but stage 2 is not committed to. We have a three-quarter-finished hospital. It is a disgrace.
The five regional Growing Regional Opportunities for Work programs have been discontinued due to lack of funding. GROW Greater Shepparton has driven inclusive employment outcomes at a time when there are unprecedented workforce shortages. This program has worked closely with local high schools to offer students with disabilities the opportunity to combine school with part-time employment and training. The program had made a significant difference, yet now funding has been cut. The local community connector program is another example, supporting over 100 local businesses and 500 professionals and key workers to relocate to Greater Shepparton. The community connector program assisted businesses to retain new talent by supporting the employee and their family to more rapidly connect to the community. It is a simple concept that masks a very sophisticated service. Fortunately, stakeholders indicate there is an appetite to continue the program; however, this would not be sustainable, and there is uncertainty whether this will happen. This is yet another example of Victoria footing the bill for the government when critical services for the prosperity of the region are taken away.
Under Labor, Victoria is broke and life keeps getting harder. The state’s debt is costing Victorians over $10 million per day, and we are yet to know the cost of cancelling the Commonwealth Games, which will add another significant cost to our state. Victoria’s debt is projected to climb to $171.4 billion by 2026–27 and interest payments will more than double, to $22 million a day. Imagine the roads that we could be fixing with the taxpayers money and the housing that we could provide, which are being neglected due to cost blowouts and out-of-control debt.
The Andrews Labor government is raising taxes in a cost-of-living crisis. People are struggling to pay their rent or their bills or to get a roof over their head. The Labor government have forced up the cost of electricity and gas by over 35 per cent. This is impacting on both households in Victoria and particularly businesses and our food manufacturing sector. This is one of the reasons that grocery bills for the average family have now risen by nearly $1700 per year. Since being elected in 2014 the Andrews government is now on the cusp of having introduced or increased 50 taxes. Life has become so much harder for Victorians under this government. The budget is another example of the Andrews government’s financial mismanagement, and regional Victorians continue to miss out under this government.