Budget contribution – Regional Development and Leadership Programs

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:09:21): I rise this afternoon to make a contribution and a couple of points in relation to the budget, specifically how it relates to regional and rural Victoria. It has been a disappointing budget in terms of country Victoria and indeed in my patch of Eastern Victoria Region in terms of the loss of a very good, well-respected and well-used grants system with good outcomes called the Regional Growth Fund. Back in the day when Peter Ryan and Ted Baillieu came into government they created a fantastic program that was well received and ran for eight years, finishing only recently. During that period of time there were a number of different programs under the coalition, the Liberals and Nationals. They included the Putting Locals First Fund, the local government infrastructure program infrastructure funding and the Developing Stronger Regions Program, to name a few, and of course they were run and auspiced by Regional Development Victoria, which ran these tremendous grant programs. In terms of some stats and some numbers, during our period in office the state government invested $500 million, so half of that, supporting almost 1800 projects but leveraging more than $2 billion worth of investment. In effect, as such, it secured $3 for every $1 that was invested by the government. It created 23 000 jobs across rural and regional Victoria, including 6000 direct and full-time jobs and almost 12 000 indirect and part-time jobs, and 5000 construction jobs. When I first came into this role in the upper house in 2015 I had the pleasure of going around and being part of the opening ceremonies of a number of those projects and enhancements to rural and regional Victoria that we had funded. It always ends up being something that sticks in your throat a little bit when the incoming government gets to cut the ribbon and take the accolades in relation to those funding projects. That is immaterial, as such, the effect was that the communities had benefited so greatly from these particular outcomes. I remember going to the Great Southern Rail Trail, not far from my home, when that was opened, and what a tremendous asset that is. I remember going to the Arc Yinnar, where they had upgraded their kitchen, and what a tremendous asset that is for the community of Yinnar. I remember going to the heritage cultural walk down there near Kernot Hall. What a tremendous asset and embodiment of the culture and history of the people and communities that came into the Latrobe Valley. What we are so very disappointed with today is that the government has decided in its lack of wisdom to remove this funding channel and to remove a direct and proper grants stream that can be used by councils very effectively to empower, encourage, enhance and capacity-build our small country towns. Indeed what we know is that under our government and, using the second part, under the previous term of the Labor government, long-term jobs and industry were created, but in small and localised contexts. This is highly important for those small regional communities—to be able to employ people and to be able to encourage and enhance our tourism industry along the way. What we also know, unfortunately, is that with that contraction, with that axing of this program, there are great programs that will struggle for funding and may not even have any funding going into the future. I raise the issue in terms of the youth and leadership progarms that have occurred right across this state. They have not had their funding renewed, except for one year. The minister very embarrassingly had to retract what was issued in the budget papers to give them a reprieve for one year. These are very important long-term ways of enabling our youth and our leaders to support country Victoria, and they have only got a reprieve of one year. This is an indictment of this government, and we need to see direct and proper funding into the regions.