MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I am pleased to rise this morning to speak on the Land (Revocation of Reservations — Regional Victoria Land) Bill 2016. Permanent reservations can only be revoked by an act of Parliament, and for this reason we are proposing the revocation of permanent reservations over four areas of Crown land in regional Victoria, which will enable the land to be used for other purposes or to be sold. All four were reserved for specific purposes in either the distant past or in the early 20th century, and all four related to purposes which tell us a good deal about the history of Australia and in particular Victoria.
Two were designated sites for education for working Australians, one was for watering of stock and the fourth was a farming research facility in a difficult environment. Those original designated purposes are now redundant. On the face of it revocation of reservations is a routine aspect of government administration — dealing with areas of public land in regional Victoria which are no longer appropriate for the uses to which they were originally assigned. Times change, and as economic activity moves into different phases, the needs of communities change too.
The four sites affected by this bill are in the electorates of Northern Victoria Region and Western Victoria Region, of course the latter being an electorate that I represent along with Ms Pulford, Mr Morris, Mr Ramsay and Mr Purcell. Two relatively small pieces of land — Burkes Flat, approximately 30 kilometres east of St Arnaud, and Lake Charm, about 15 kilometres north-west of Kerang — were designated sites for mechanics institutes. Mechanics institutes originated from a Scottish movement in the 1830s which had the goal of educating those who were termed ‘workingmen’. It was a movement of its day and one which was enthusiastically adopted in Australia and especially in Victoria following the heady days of the 1850s gold rush. ‘Mechanic’ was a general term meaning a workingman, a tradesman or an artisan.
The institutes did have a vision for the future, as they offered adult education classes, often free lending libraries and also the use of their community halls. In Victoria the movement took on strongly, and we had more institutes than anywhere else in Australia. Indeed we had over 1000 towns with a mechanics institute. But after playing an important role in communities in the mid-19th century the task of raising funds took its toll, and from the 1950s, a century later, many institutes had closed their doors, overtaken by rates-supported council libraries and eventually technical schools and of course TAFEs.
At Burkes Flat the institute was not built on the designated site but nearby, and that building was demolished in 1994. At Lake Charm the hall fell victim to decay and was pulled down in 1946. The third site, land originally reserved for watering of stock in an era when stock were driven to market, is at Campbelltown, 20 kilometres north-west of Daylesford. As with Burkes Flat and Lake Charm, it is most likely that the land will ultimately be sold.
The land at Burkes Flat and Campbelltown has some native title considerations. In these cases the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has engaged with the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Both lie in the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation recognition and settlement area. The land at Lake Charm is part of the area that was the subject of an unsuccessful native title claim in 2000 by the Wamba Wamba, Barapa Barapa and Wadi Wadi peoples. This does not equate to the extinguishment of native title, and if there is a future decision to sell the land, further appropriate consultation will be undertaken with the prospective claimants.
The fourth site is the land of the Walpeup agricultural research station, also known as the Mallee Research Station, comprising three permanent reservations totalling 1034 hectares about 30 kilometres west of Ouyen. Established from the 1930s at a time when the Mallee was regarded as marginal land suitable only for dryland farming, the research station operated for 75 years until its activities were relocated elsewhere, and the station closed in 2009. In the five years which followed, several uses were tried or proposed until the previous government included the station in the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. This bill, which would have revoked the permanent reservations that formed the Walpeup agricultural research station, was not debated, and the 2014 state election intervened before the bill could be dealt with.
This is a large area of land with diverse values on the site, including built infrastructure, vegetation of high significance and other land that is suitable for agriculture. It is anticipated that the land with higher environmental values will be retained as Crown land and subject to greater protection as wildlife corridors, while the land better suited to farming may be sold. Some of the land and built infrastructure may be suitable for community use. This land has not been subject to a native title claim, but the government guarantees that it will engage in consultation with any known prospective claimants under the Native Title Act 1994 to ensure no loss of potential interest.
The revocation of land associated with the decline of these activities might be seen as a sign of regional decline, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Andrews Labor government is committed to revitalising and extending regional and rural education as part of a very positive agenda for regional Victoria, and of course $200 million will be shared across 61 projects for upgrades, planning and land acquisition to give students modern facilities in country Victorian schools. Of course there is the $320 million TAFE Rescue Fund that has saved campuses across Victoria, and 10 new tech schools will be built from a $110 million investment.
This spending will ultimately translate into jobs in regional Victoria. Jobs start with skills. This government is addressing the problem of regional unemployment. In June the unemployment rate in regional Victoria was 6.1 per cent, down from 6.6 per cent under the Liberals. Labor has created close to 25 000 regional jobs to date in contrast to only 5400 during the entire coalition term. While there is still a lot of work to be done, we are reversing the trend. The 2016–17 budget delivered $1.3 million to regional rail for upgraded carriages and increased services.
The bill before us this morning provides for the revocation of four Crown land reservations. As Minister Neville said in May, this will enable future and appropriate uses of those lands, providing certainty to communities and affected individuals. I am pleased to note that there has been no opposition expressed to the revocation of these reservations. I commend the bill to the house.