I will start by saying that we have here today a motion that has been moved by the government, seconded by the government, supported by the government and is essentially a pat on the back for the government. It has tied up this house for some hours today. One would have thought, particularly given that this is a regional sitting, there would have been an attempt by the government to act in a more bipartisan way. It is an opportunity to put its best foot forward and shine in the community.
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms TIERNEY — Judging by that level of interjection, you clearly are not shining in this community. No, you have chosen not to shine, and you have decided to move this motion which is so bereft that Labor had to move an amendment to it to provide a reality check on the issues that confront regional communities.
In turning to the amendment, many previous speakers on the Labor side have gone into detail about issues specific to Bendigo, particularly health provision issues in the area. It is evident that there are two realities, and I know which reality I identify with — that is, the reality that does not wear a blindfold. I did not wear a blindfold at 1 o’clock today when we walked down to the luncheon that was provided and found a TAFE rally had been organised by TAFE4All. There were teachers and students who live in this community and are very angry about the funding cuts to the Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE and the associated job cuts. Again, clearly the government just does not want to listen.
I want to talk about the aspect of Labor’s amendment that goes to the issue of regional jobs and services. One does not have to go very far; one need only pick up a copy of yesterday’s Weekly Times editorial, which went through a range of problems that this government is facing. The heading of the editorial is ‘Frontline jobs will face cuts’. The editorial says:
“Employees who thought their jobs were safe are now faced with the prospect that they might be on the chopping block as the government seeks to reach its target of 200 redundancies at DPI and 400 at the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
“The cuts come on top of office closures and staff relocations in some of the most remote parts of Victoria and rumours of another 120 jobs to go from Parks Victoria.
“The decision devalues the vital role DPI and DSE staff play in rural and regional Victoria.”
I have seen further media headings that say ‘Axe fear for –front-line– staff’ and ‘Hundreds face the axe — safe jobs a front’, which was a front-page heading.
Then we have the situation where the government has announced a further 4200 public sector job cuts that are obviously going to affect this region as well as other regions. This government has also completely changed the role of Regional Development Victoria, and instead of having a dedicated job creation component, it has abolished that section of the department, which worked so well in attracting investment and jobs into Victoria under the Bracks and Brumby governments.
Not only that; we have also seen cuts to services in regional Victoria. Regional bus services have been cut. The $10 000 first farm grant program has been cut by this government. We have seen cuts to rural midwife consultants. We have seen cuts to the Transport Connections program that many people in our regional communities are reliant upon, such as those who are elderly and young people who want to access education and medical services; they just cannot do that anymore — all because they do not have a car or a drivers licence.
In rural communities people are particularly reliant on being able to get to their regional centres, such as Bendigo, and that is just not happening anymore.
There has also been a significant reduction in funds for the food bank, and all members know that there are many people in regional Victoria who regularly use the food bank program for backup. We have also seen the shutdown of the 24-hour mental health advice line. Because it was a telephone service, rural and regional Victorians relied heavily on it. It was absolutely critical. We have seen the scrapping of the road safety experience centre, and let us not forget the increase in V/Line fares of 8.6 per cent with no service improvements. We have seen a school bus subsidy stripped, and we have also seen the scrapping of the Take a Break program, which has really been hurting rural and regional Victorians. We have had the cutting of 200 teaching and learning coaches, 45 literacy experts and 15 specialists helping Koori students.
We are seeing the scrapping of the first home buyer’s program and cuts to the home and community care funding as well.
I mention all this because the fact is that this government has gone out of its way to cut services to rural and regional Victoria, and what I have just listed is the reality of what is missing from the government’s motion before the chamber this afternoon.
I also suggest that this government start listening to what people are saying, not just at TAFE or teachers rallies but also in conversation and in articles in publications like the Weekly Times. It should listen to what people in councils are saying, including the Bendigo mayor, who made comments today about the outrageous cost-shifting that this government has been imposing on rural communities. This cost-shifting means essentially that councils cannot provide the services they would normally provide to their local communities.
My contribution this afternoon aims to more fully illustrate the story of what is happening here in rural and regional Victoria so that the community is not hoodwinked into believing everything is hunky-dory in regional Victoria — it simply is not. The last thing we need is for rural and regional Victoria to go back to being described and treated as the toenails of Victoria, which is the status it got when it had under the previous Kennett government. I implore members of this chamber to support Labor’s amendment, get a reality check and vote against this motion.