I rise to speak on the Regional Development Victoria Amendment (Jobs and Infrastructure) Bill 2015 and state from the outset that the bill before us today fulfils an election commitment. It always gives me great pleasure to speak in this place on election commitments, as they are promises made to the people of Victoria — promises that the Andrews Labor government is, and will continue, delivering. These election commitments arise from the need to get rural and regional Victoria back on track.
Labor’s plan for regional and rural Victoria is desperately needed. We have taken office with unemployment on the up. It was 5.3 per cent when we left office, and now it is 6.8 per cent. Youth unemployment is around 20 per cent and even higher in certain communities in western Victoria. It is a well-known fact that Labor is committed to jobs. That is why we made these election promises and why we will deliver on them. The former government not only sat on its hands while jobs disappeared from rural and regional Victoria but actively facilitated skills destruction by taking the axe to TAFE funding. Its members facilitated jobs destruction with their callous attitude towards regional and rural Victoria, and we could see them sitting by during the demise of manufacturing here in Victoria. That is not the way to drive growth. It is not the way to drive an economy. It is not the way to create jobs. And it is certainly not the way to keep young people in our communities in regional Victoria.
Rural and regional Victoria accounts for 25 per cent of the state’s population and yet receives 4 per cent of the funds for major projects. That is simply not good enough. Regional Victoria deserves better, and that is what is bill all about — giving the support that families, communities and companies in regional Victoria deserve from a state government.
I have read some of the contributions made to the debate on this bill in the other place. It seems there is some sort of misapprehension by colleagues of those opposite that this bill is just a rebranding exercise. It is simply not a rebranding exercise. This bill is about making government work more efficiently for people in rural and regional Victoria. It is aimed at supporting major projects, creating jobs and industries of the future, and building stronger communities. This bill does that by restoring the key economic functions of Regional Development Victoria — creating jobs and investment — and not hiding it away as a sub-function of planning, which was the case under the previous government.
Jobs and growth are front and centre of our promise to regional Victoria, and we intend to keep them there and to keep them alive. The path to access funds is simplified by one unified bill for rural and regional Victoria. This simplified pathway gives access to three separate funds: the $250 million Regional Infrastructure Development Fund, the $200 million Regional Jobs Fund and the $50 million Stronger Regional Communities plan. I will take a minute to outline these machinery changes.
First, the failed Regional Growth Fund is being repealed to enable a transition to new funding arrangements that will allow the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund to operate flexibly under the Regional Development Victoria Act 2002. The Regional Development Victoria (RDV) act is being amended to incorporate provisions for regional development funding previously covered under the Regional Growth Fund Act 2011. The RDV act is being amended to ensure that the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund can be used for better infrastructure, facilities or services, strengthening the economic, social or environmental base of communities, creating jobs and career opportunities for regional Victorians, and supporting the development of local projects or any other project to support the economic or community development that is so sorely needed in regional Victoria. These changes make it easier for RDV to restore its core function of creating jobs and investment in rural and regional Victoria.
Some other minor changes are worth noting not so much for what they do but for the intent of what they deliver. The bill amends the RDV act to replace the Regional Policy Advisory Committee with a Regional Development Advisory Committee. The broad functions are outlined in the bill. Current provisions for membership and meeting arrangements are retained. However, I note the insertion of the word ‘development’ in place of ‘policy’. It was pretty clear from the last government that regional policy consisted of, I would argue, really nothing, except to slash jobs in TAFE and stand idly by whilst unemployment rates soared right across the state. This bill is setting about changing that.
Whilst I am outlining some of the more minor changes in the bill that go to the intent of Labor’s Back on Track plan for rural and regional Victoria, it is probably important to note that ‘rural and regional Victoria’ will be substituted for ‘regional Victoria’. It may be a name change but it is backed up by actions. An amount of $70 million from the Regional Infrastructure Development Fund is reserved for the state’s 38 rural councils. Another $100 million is reserved for the state’s 10 biggest regional cities. All of that is the big picture. But let us look at some of the specifics for my electorate of Western Victoria Region.
From the Regional Infrastructure Development Fund there will be a $31.5 million contribution to redevelop not just Eureka Stadium but the Ballarat sports precinct. On top of funding a new grandstand, AFL-standard lights and a video scoreboard for Eureka Stadium, this money will upgrade the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre, relocate and upgrade the Ballarat showgrounds and provide upgrades to CE Brown Reserve.
Country Victorians deserve first-class facilities, and Labor will deliver them. This fund makes an $8 million contribution to the $12.5 million Blood on the Southern Cross sound and light show at Sovereign Hill. If members opposite want to visit Ballarat and see the wonderful progress being made in regional and rural Victoria under this bill, they need only go and visit the Ballarat railway station, where they will be greeted with a $25 million redevelopment of that station. They can use it as a step off to visit the Grampians and see the completed Grampians Peaks Trail, which I understand the Minister for Regional Development, Ms Jaala Pulford, will officially open on Friday.
The Regional Infrastructure Development Fund will create jobs and make lasting infrastructure improvements that will bring tourist dollars into regional Victoria. There will be new trail infrastructure and hike camps to the value of $19 million. The Geelong Performing Arts Centre will receive $30 million, which will create a cabaret theatre, add two more dance studious and improve disability access. Close to my home, the Leopold Community Hub will receive $3 million for a library, community meeting rooms, multipurpose spaces and a soundproof room for musicians to use.
I refer now to the Regional Jobs Fund. Members opposite make plenty of noise about jobs but they tend to focus on the jobs they like. The former Premier, the member for South-West Coast in the Assembly, gave the nod to the tinfoil hat brigade and destroyed the Victorian wind farm industry. Keppel Prince, in the former Premier’s own electorate, had to let many workers go as he backed former Premier Baillieu’s absurd wind farm policies.
Science is not a strong suit for those opposite, but Labor believes in science. Labor believes in science to the point where it has supported the development of the Stawell particle physics laboratory to the tune of $1.75 million to do groundbreaking research into dark matter. It will be the only site of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and it will create an estimated 41 jobs and put over $40 million into the local economy.
Support for Stawell does not stop there. There is $500 000 for the Frewstal lamb and sheep processing facility that will create a further 30 jobs. This bill is about getting our regions back to work. The wine industry receives $1 million for the Wine Victoria strategy. In Geelong, where the closing of the car industry looms, the Andrews government is taking action. Where the previous government said it was all too hard, Labor recognises that action has to be taken now. Manufacturing is still worth 42 per cent of Geelong’s economic output, or $10 billion.
The Regional Jobs Fund has an extra $7.5 million for the Geelong Regional Innovation and Investment Fund, taking the state’s contribution to $12 million. This money is for projects focused on bringing new jobs to Geelong. There is $5 million for a Victorian defence procurement office in Geelong as well, and this office will be dedicated to marketing the skill and capability of Geelong and Victorian manufacturers to national and international defence contractors.
Once again on the theme of science, the Andrews Labor government will partner with Deakin University, and the Regional Jobs Fund will contribute $3 million towards a $30 million manufacturing hub in Geelong. This is just some of what can be achieved when Regional Development Victoria has jobs and growth as its core function. With all the jobs and investment the Andrews government will put into regional Victoria, life will return to country Victoria. The Stronger Regional Communities plan has $50 million for attracting young people and families. Already we have announced $3.5 million to support Rural Councils Victoria, and $600 000 has been allocated to sponsor the Stawell Gift to secure its future.
In conclusion, this bill simplifies the funding for rural and regional Victoria. It simplifies the bureaucratic path. It also puts jobs and growth at the centre of RDV functions. It involves families. It involves students, companies and communities in their future. It remembers, recognises and responds to the vital contribution that regional and rural Victoria make to this state. It is not just one-off grants; it is a series of investments and seed capital for sustainable growth. Rural and regional Victorians deserve better than the constant cuts and shrugs of ‘all too hard’ that came their way over the last four years. This bill is a first step to getting rural and regional Victoria back on track. This bill is an election promise to the people who live outside of Melbourne. This bill is a promise kept, and I commend this bill to the house.