When I made my inaugural speech one of the points I wanted to make was that I was so pleased to be part of a government that has an enormous commitment to regional Victoria. That view has been solidified during my term of office over the past six months as I have travelled throughout the electorate of Western Victoria Region. On reading the budget papers one can see that they testify to the Bracks government’s commitment to regional Victoria. Of key interest to me is that this is nothing new. It was a commitment made by the government when it was first elected. The government has provided good grounding in a whole range of areas affecting rural Victoria, whether it be through the Department for Victorian Communities, health, education, the Department of Primary Industries or the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development.
I refer to the dreadful bushfires over the past two summer seasons and the advent of the drought that has been with us for some time but the real impact and effect of which have been felt in the past couple of years. They have wreaked havoc on regional Victoria. We have had a government that has had clear, purposeful programs in place and has brought networks of people together to build a resilience that sustains those communities during horrific times. The government has been out there, has had its finger on the pulse and has been able to respond to emergency situations and to chronic or long-term situations as well. I make those initial comments on the basis that they are the overlay of what I have experienced in regional Victoria.
It is important to mention also that, whilst all members feel the need, for good reason, to go through each and every line item of the budget to find what it provides for our own electorates, we must be mindful of the fact that each portfolio has a number of commitments that are not necessarily specific to every electorate; they are much more wide ranging than that. As an illustration of that, before I go to the areas that have been successful in the electorate of Western Victoria, I refer to the education portfolio.
In respect of education it is important that we remind ourselves that there is an additional $35 million over four years to employ teacher assistants in secondary schools. That will assist teachers in a whole range of ways so that they can concentrate and be focused on actually delivering the education and doing the one-to-one work that is often necessary between a teacher and a student.
The teacher assistants will be able to do things like help with organising school functions and excursions and photocopying — a whole range of tasks that are important but at the same time should not be done by teachers who are actually employed to teach. That is an excellent initiative of the government.
A further allocation of $80 million is for the employment of 256 welfare officers at 450 needy primary schools across Victoria. That needs to be highlighted in so many ways, because a theme throughout the budget is that the government is doing as much as it can to protect the most disadvantaged and where possible to deal with the issues at the earliest possible stages. By having welfare officers in primary schools instead of just in secondary schools we will reap the benefits for generations to come.
There is $1.8 million over six years to continue the successful career change program and $1.4 million over six years for science graduate scholarships.
There is also $49 million over three years to continue the Schools for Innovation and Excellence program, and I think most members are fairly familiar with that program. It is holding traction in not just the schools but also the community of schools in each region. There is also $32 million over two years to support teaching and learning, and, of course, we all know that teachers need supporting not only on a daily basis but also on a professional basis in order to keep up with the changing needs in the educational area as well as gaining individual satisfaction by being able to grow further in their careers.
There is $11 million for maths and science equipment grants and $5.4 million to promote diversity, and that will be done in a number of ways. Funds will be allocated to provide ongoing support to continue the work of five Victorian schools of languages in regional Victoria. Of the five, two are in the electorate of Western Victoria: one is Warrnambool College and the second is Horsham College. I can assure members that the money allocated to those schools will be well spent, and I already know that it is highly appreciated by the people involved in those schools. In a general sense we can all get carried away with what is in the budget for our electorates, but there is also a substantial allocation right across this state in a whole range of portfolios.
In respect to education, and continuing with that theme, I will go now to the specifics of what has been allocated to Western Victoria Region because it is important to record a fairly comprehensive yet succinct contribution. I will go straight to a number of primary schools. In Ballarat there is $3.3 million for the Grevillea Park Primary School replacement. At Stawell we have a $5 million allocation for the Skene Street special school replacement.
Again in Ballarat there is a $5.633 million allocation for the east campus modernisation of the Ballarat Secondary College. In Geelong there is a $2.12 million allocation for the Geelong South Primary School modernisation, and $2.91 million has been allocated for the North Shore Primary School modernisation. In Ballarat there is $3.01 million for the Black Hill Primary School modernisation program.
I also want to make special mention of the Inverleigh and Lethbridge primary schools. They are quite small schools in fairly remote areas in my electorate. I know firsthand that they have been absolutely ecstatic about the announcement contained in the budget, because it means a future for those schools, for the children and for the local community. So it is $1.15 million for the Inverleigh Primary School and $2 million for the Lethbridge Primary School to replace relocatable facilities with new permanent buildings. Members can imagine what the local township is like at the moment with respect to that.
The Point Lonsdale Primary School modernisation program brings with it $4.03 million. At Torquay there is a major modernisation program going on at the Torquay Primary School which will receive $6.613 million. There is a major regeneration program at the Western Heights Secondary College in Geelong where there will be an amalgamation of three campuses, and nearly $14 million has been allocated for that. As I previously mentioned in a members statement, Colac is going through a major regeneration program where a number of campuses are coming together to have an education precinct with a new single secondary college. It has an allocation of $5 million.
There have also been other allocations in the education portfolio that do not necessarily go to schools, and an example of that is $3 million for wool classing at the Gordon Institute of TAFE. There is a substantial amount of money over a four-year period — $1.2 million — for the Marine Discovery Centre at Queenscliff to provide educational opportunities for students from kindergarten right through to tertiary, as well as providing an information service for community groups, stakeholders and the public about marine ecology and the importance of conservation.
We also have $1.7 million allocated to the Oberon High School modernisation program at South Barwon. Brauer College at Warrnambool will receive money for a new science and technology centre amounting to $1.593 million. There is an additional $1.5 million for the Tate Street Primary School modernisation program in Geelong.
In a nutshell that is an enormous financial and, dare I say, educational commitment to regional Victoria in any guise regardless of which side of the chamber you sit. You cannot ignore the fact that these allocations go to rebuilding education in a way that no other government in this state has done, and I think those involved need to be congratulated.
In respect to emergency services, again there is genuine recognition of the need to replace and upgrade a number of facilities. In Daylesford there is $1.35 million to construct VicSES units. There is $22.4 million over four years for ambulance services, including a new station at Lara, as well as new crews and upgrades to other regional stations. There is also in the order of $1.125 million to upgrade emergency services units at Geelong. At Penshurst there is $150 000 for the upgrade of its units. The areas of Belmont, Daylesford, Geelong and Stawell are all part of the $7.5 million package for the upgrade of rural ambulance stations.
Then at Ararat, Kyneton, Melton and Bacchus Marsh there is funding that will result in new police stations. Daylesford, Fiskville and Ararat are part of the package of 18 Country Fire Authority stations that will be replaced or upgraded. At Halls Gap we have a $470 00 allocation for the upgrade of CFA stations, and at Geelong there is $8.4 million to upgrade its CFA stations.
Moving on to the environment, the Grampians are part of the five national parks package which has received an allocation of $12 million to fund the upgrade of camping and recreational facilities. At Queenscliff there is $1.5 million to protect piers and jetties and heritage elements of the Queenscliff pier. There is $500 000 for the small towns water quality fund at Avoca and a number of allocations to places like Lara and Tarneit to continue the program called the Werribee Vision. There is a shotgun education course, which is a priority for the lower house seat of Ripon, and 15 extra rangers for the Grampians. A Water Smart Farms initiative will be offered through all rural irrigation areas, and Geelong will be part of a $4.6 million initiative aimed at tackling four-wheel driving.
A number of key initiatives cover a number of townships in western Victoria in respect to justice. There will be a number of measures to support the communities of Ballarat, Warrnambool, Colac, Geelong and Werribee. There will be an expansion of legal services in Ballarat, Warrnambool and Colac, and there will be five lawyers to serve each community as well as the six surrounding communities. Geelong, Warrnambool, Colac and Werribee will receive funding for a network of seven family violence community lawyers and increased assistance for people attending family violence hearings. Obviously much of that is very much needed, as are the commitments to health, which involve significant amounts of money.
Most of us are familiar with the commitment to the Warrnambool hospital, with $16 million going towards the new intensive care unit, 20 new beds and new obstetric, paediatric, medical and surgical rehabilitation wards. There is $20 million for Stawell health services, including community health services, a GP clinic, physiotherapy and primary care services. All of these will be expanded within the $20 million expansion. In Ballarat $4.5 million has been allocated for an extra operating theatre and to develop a medi-hotel at Ballarat hospital to accommodate patients from rural towns who require day-of-surgery admission. I know from talking to people throughout western Victoria that those sorts of initiatives have not gone unnoticed. Indeed they are needed in a very real sense. As we all know, when we are not feeling particularly well most of us prefer to be either at home or close to home and these sorts of initiatives are basically the closest we can come to that in situations where people have significant illnesses.
In respect to public transport, Portland, Colac, Geelong and Ballarat are all part of a $30 million package that will deliver a total of 23 bus improvement projects in rural Victoria. In respect to roads and ports, $63 million — not an insubstantial amount; in fact a very significant amount — has been allocated to fund the state government’s share of the next stage of the Geelong ring-road, the Anglesea overpass. There is an allocation of $3 million for the new passing lanes on the Glenelg Highway between Scarsdale and Linton.
There is also a significant contribution in respect of tourism. There is $5 million to establish a regional aviation fund to provide infrastructure to upgrade the state’s regional airports. There is a $66 million allocation for tourism and major events, which of course western Victoria is part of. The majority of that will go to regional Victoria.
There is also $5 million in funding for the Ballarat Eureka Centre for its stage 2 redevelopment, which will extend the centre and emphasise its importance as the focal point for democratic change. There are a number of other initiatives such as the fly-drive holidays program, the regional community tourist events and $1.2 million for promoting regional wineries and food and to build the interstate connections that are required to get more people coming across the borders into Victoria and sampling the delights of our regional produce.
The regional and rural development portfolio has been allocated money to put towards festivals and a number of other initiatives that are particularly aimed at trying to assist townships through the winter or cooler months when they struggle a bit to get that tourist trade. Money has been allocated towards that. In fact as recently as this week the Treasurer has announced $8000 for winter weekends in Port Fairy.
That will assist in terms of the comedy, music and art festival to be held from 8 to 10 June and the food and wine of the great south coast festival to be held from 6 to 8 July. Of course the local history and cultural heritage weekend is from 11 to 12 August. Each week we are seeing additional contributions and layer upon layer of building what is required to sustain regional Victoria, in partnership with local councils and local community organisations.
There are many other areas I could cover. Issues such as skills and employment, planning, children, justice and multicultural affairs will be addressed in a newsletter my office is developing. However, I want to mention the $2.7 million over two years that has been allocated for the Otways. That will provide transition programs to assist timber workers to retrain for other jobs when timber harvesting in the Otways ceases in 2008.
Those sorts of programs are absolutely critical, not only in terms of those workers finding other employment but also in providing a cushioning to the surrounding towns in respect of local economies and ongoing employment.
I mentioned at the beginning that I was pleased about the ongoing commitment to regional Victoria, particularly given the devastation, essentially, that we have seen as a result of the bushfires and the drought. That has been underpinned by things like a commitment to eradicating weeds and a pest control program. In fact $30 million has been allocated to that. In addition there is $13 million for the Our Rural Landscape program to develop scientific solutions to threats posed to regional industries and communities by climate change.
I could go on to talk more about how the government, through this budget, is initiating a program to tackle disadvantage, and I could talk substantially about the very proud initiative that all of us on this side of the chamber are more than happy with and still very excited about — that is, the commitment to the boost in funding for public housing. But leaving those to one side, I believe this is a popular budget. By and large it has general support. It has been well accepted by a number of stakeholders and community groups as well as the business community. In saying that and taking the house through some of the specifics that relate to the electorate of Western Victoria, I have purposely tried to talk about what has been delivered in this budget as opposed to what some members on the other side of the chamber have tried to do today and indeed tried to do yesterday.
They have essentially assumed to promulgate some log of claims instead of talking about the budget and getting on with the business of getting this bill through so we can get on with the business — get the money to where it is needed and get on with the job.
Having said that, I look forward to working with communities in Western Victoria Region on their proposals for advancing their cities, their towns and their areas and working up proposals that will be supported in future budgets.