As I was saying, for many Victorians the state’s debt position is not something they are thinking about on a daily basis, but it is certainly something they are feeling on a daily basis. There is an ever-growing cost-of-living crisis, inflation is still not under control and Victorians are having more of their own earnings taken by this government than anywhere else in the entire country, despite some previous claims of the Premier. This out-of-control debt is not just numbers on a piece of paper. It is $16 million a day down the gurgler just to pay off interest. As we have learned this week, the state debt is now approaching $200 billion, money the government has borrowed in the name of every Victorian, including our children. Sixteen million dollars would make an incredible difference to so many communities across my electorate, starved of funding from this government for too long.
I would like to congratulate my community for their passionate advocacy in securing funding for a couple of projects after we made a commitment to funding them in the lead-up to the election. The people of Benalla have made their voices heard in securing funding for a new Benalla indoor recreation centre. The current venue was not only flooded in October but is not even close to fit for purpose for the incredible number of sporting groups and athletes who use the facilities every week. Thanks to a petition tabled in Parliament bearing more than 400 signatures and the support of user groups, the community will receive a new stadium to ensure everyone, young and old, can enjoy staying fit and active close to home.
The invaluable work of Tomorrow Today will also continue, with more funding provided to ensure the Education Benalla program can be delivered and their transformative work addressing intergenerational disadvantage and complex social and economic factors continue. The foundation has clearly demonstrated a strong return on investment and has been rewarded with a continuation of funding that will make a continued difference for youth and families across our entire region. While Tomorrow Today received funding for it this financial year, it is imperative the foundation receives funding that is recurrent to maintain this exceptional program.
Our emergency services workers in Heathcote will also receive funding for a new co-located CFA and SES site. This new site needs to be located away from flood zones, with the SES having to constantly negotiate the challenges of turning out in flash flooding events while their own facilities are threatened. Likewise, in Kilmore the SES has been hampered by their existing facilities due to the significant growth along the Hume, which has seen their call-outs exponentially increase despite having to turn away new members due to their capacity constraints. New funding to build an upgraded shed on the existing site owned by the SES will alleviate some of this pressure and support their amazing work in the community and south all the way to Beveridge. All this funding came off the back of commitments from the Nationals.
While this government has been dragged to the table on some local projects, there is still a desperate need for funding across the region. While the Suburban Rail Loop, the great lemon that is neither supported by a business case nor appropriate for the current economic circumstances rolls on, there is growing concern around the future of the Kilmore bypass. No business case has been completed, the land acquisition process has blown out over the years and funding for this is set to expire with its completion by the end of the new financial year. Several questions I have raised about this to the minister remain months overdue and unanswered, and we do not seem to be getting any closer to a resolution.
Next year’s budget needs to see more money on the books for the actual construction of this vital piece of infrastructure that will transform Kilmore and greatly enhance the livability of the town. While the government is happy to throw tens of billions of dollars down the drain because of their inability to manage major infrastructure, perhaps it should get back to basics and invest in regional bypasses that will have a significant benefit to communities, ones like ours in Kilmore and other places like Shepparton.
While on the topic of roads, let us take a look at this government’s senseless cuts to road asset management. They cut funding to roads when they first got into government, did a little bit of backtracking a few years ago and now in the wake of extensive damage to the state’s network after last year’s floods have cut another 25 per cent of the budget. We have a backlog of billions in terms of road maintenance. Now we have seen even more cuts to the roads resurfacing budget, and all the while our regional roads crumble and our devastating road toll continues to rise. The government are very good at claiming black is white and saying they have boosted road funding over the decade, but it is categorically not true. The resilience of the road network is something that has a disproportionate impact on regional Victorians and our economy, two of the favourite whipping boys of the Premier.
In the health sector we continue to see failure after failure. It could be the management of the 000 system, failures which have led to Victorians losing their lives under this government, or it could be the tens of thousands of Victorians languishing on elective surgery waitlists. The Premier and the Minister for Health blame COVID for all the issues in the health system, but at the risk of repeating myself, Victorians faced the longest lockdowns in the world while also having the worst health outcomes during the pandemic. The common denominator between the failures in the health system, the mismanagement of the pandemic and the record lockdowns is an incompetent government and nothing else. Our local hospitals are crying out for investment, and while I love fishing as much as the next person – you can ask my husband how patient I am waiting while he catches a fish – handing out free fishing rods to children rather than fixing our broken health system is a kick in the guts to our local health services. Our community health providers are facing cuts. Most importantly, people in my electorate cannot get the care they need close to home or even at all because of the failure to invest in life-saving services.
Just this week more news has come out about attacks on sick people and more pressure being put on our GPs and emergency departments. This 4.85 per cent payroll tax is estimated to cost patients an extra $20 per appointment, and despite the spin we just heard, Victorians can see this is a health tax. Most GPs in regional towns like Benalla are already completely at capacity, having to turn away patients or place them on a six-month waitlist – six months. Why are we making life more difficult for the patient, the GP and our emergency departments all in one move?
My electorate is experiencing population growth at extreme levels. We desperately need investment in local services like education. While Broadford Primary will be receiving an upgrade, we have Broadford Secondary College bursting at the seams. The Minister for Education has no idea what is going on. She started by saying there was no enrolment pressure, then said growth will be monitored and now says there is an enrolment plan in place. All the while our children are being turned away from the school. Despite all of this, there is no investment in the budget for Broadford Secondary College. Compounding this is the rapid growth of Kilmore, one of the biggest towns in the state, which does not even have a public secondary school. Families from this part of my electorate are travelling to communities their children are unfamiliar with so they can get an education or feeling forced to pay private school fees just to keep their children in town. These are issues that will only worsen, with projections for the Mitchell shire showing exponential growth.
While many projects in my electorate missed out on funding, others have had their existing funding gutted. Our visiting teacher program was set for massive job losses before a last-minute backflip by this government, thanks to outstanding community advocacy and pressure from the Nationals. To me this was a heartless and distressing decision with no thought or care for our most vulnerable children. This is just one area of education that has been massively slashed under this government. We already know several hundred other jobs are in the firing line.
Our one-person police stations are also under threat – something that will be a huge detriment to our smaller regional towns, something the Premier is clearly unaware of. There are already four on the chopping block just in my electorate of Euroa. These are just some of the examples of the government failing to understand the needs of my electorate and the entire regional Victoria.
Life continues to get harder under Labor with rising WorkCover premiums now looming as a serious threat to Victoria’s horseracing industry too. The horse industry’s rate for WorkCover contribution has surged by an astounding 65 per cent in the past year with absolutely no warning and after stud service fees were already set for the season. In the 2021–22 financial year the rate was 5.859 per cent, in 2022–23 it was 5.75 per cent and this year it has jumped dramatically to 9.487 per cent. It is simply unacceptable that local breeders are being put under financial risk due to this government’s mishandling of the WorkCover system. Having spoken with several thoroughbred stud breeders, farmers and equine service providers, the rising cost of WorkCover premiums is suffocating the growth of the industry. The fact nearly 10 per cent of farm pay is allocated towards WorkCover is absolutely ridiculous. Many of these businesses I spoke to have yet to even file a WorkCover claim, and these breeders are not facing the same risks as jockeys and track riders. It is completely unfair they are saddled by the same premium rates due to another example of this government’s financial mismanagement. Training fees are increasing to cover costs, raising fears horse owners will be priced out of the sport and driven interstate unless they receive more support from this state government.
Leading trainers have announced significant hikes in fees to cover WorkCover premiums, including daily surcharges, which is a painful hit to owners, who are the lifeblood of racing. Coupled with inflation, the overall costs for owners and trainers are soaring as Victoria buckles under financial pressure. The current, broken WorkCover system means less jobs and increased prices and is adding to the cost-of-living crisis we are in the middle of. It has already been such a struggle for these businesses to find staff, and now they are weighing up if it is worth keeping them at all. This is an industry that contributes almost $5 billion a year to the economy and helps sustain 35,000 jobs across Victoria. We need to foster that, not make things harder for industry participants. I implore the Minister for Racing and the minister for finance to work together to fix this absolute mess before our horse industry moves to New South Wales.
Day after day I bring matters and the concerns of my constituents before ministers. Sometimes problems are acknowledged, but very rarely are solutions offered or is funding put on the table. Regional Victorians are fed up. They are tired of a Premier who loves to gaslight his constituents, is happy to shamelessly tell Victorians black is white, is eager to erode democratic institutions and has created a massive divide between those living in our regions and Melbourne. We deserve so much better than the leadership the state is faced with and those on the other side who continually turn a blind eye to the poor governance that plagues this state.
This government has never been about looking after regional Victorians, but if they are determined to spread this message, it is time to put their money where their mouth is: leave the comfort of the city and the suburbs and speak to regional Victorians in the flesh. After what they have been through under this government, it is the very least they can do. On every metric we are going backwards under this government, and Victorians simply cannot afford to keep paying for Labor’s incompetence.