I rise to make a contribution in statements on reports and papers on the Victorian Auditor-General’s report entitled Local Community Transport Services — the Transport Connections Program. Over the last four and a half years I have got to know this program quite well. I think Transport Connections, along with the Small Towns Development Fund, are two most significant programs which bring about real differences in communities, particularly smaller communities.
Transport Connections is a unique program. It brings together state government departments, local government, private transport providers, schools, community groups and residents to find local solutions to local problems.
Transport Connections helps communities work on projects together to improve local transport. It also provides funding to set up working groups, employ coordinators and develop a range of transport initiatives. But Transport Connections does not just find short-term solutions to transport issues; it also helps create sustainable changes to the way small communities operate their local transport services. Transport Connections is an $18 million program that was set up by the former Labor government specifically to address transport disadvantage.
One of the main reasons Transport Connections works so well is that it is within the hands of the community to develop. The initiative provides a real opportunity for local people to plan their own local solutions. The communities know what they need and the best way to cater for these needs with local Transport Connections programs, and that is why this program works so well.
Transport is consistently rated by people in rural and regional communities as one of the most significant barriers to accessing services, employment and social networks.
That was reinforced and reiterated time and again during the inquiry of the joint parliamentary Rural and Regional Committee, of which I was a member, into regional disadvantage at the end of last year. It was demonstrated by a number of communities that transport connections make a difference in ensuring that those sorts of access issues are reduced.
A person’s ability to access social activities as well as the services they need really depends on the availability of transport to get them to where they need to be. Adequate transport, not just a connection that happens every once in a while, is also critically important so people get into a routine of being able to go about their lives in a meaningful way.
The programs were originally built for smaller rural townships so that members of each community could go into the larger towns to shop, attend medical appointments and do a number of other things.
The success of these programs means we also have town buses. We have town buses that operate in Hamilton and in Colac as well as a number of other regional centres and that connect up with other Transport Connections routes.
There are Transport Connections programs that not only link smaller communities with the next smaller community up the road and then the regional centre but also fit in with the timetable of the regional rail. That means people can make not only short journeys but also longer journeys to places like Warrnambool or Melbourne. During my term we have had a number — from Woodford to Warrnambool, Timboon to Cobden, and to Bannockburn, Teesdale, Shelford, and the list goes on.
My purpose today is to highlight the importance of Transport Connections and to take this opportunity to urge the government to, in its forthcoming budget, maintain and extend this important program which is critical for significant areas of regional Victoria.
I know that everyone involved in Transport Connections in Western Victoria Region has had a very positive experience with all of the programs.