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Thursday, 6 June 2002
Page: 3404

Mr JENKINS (11:03 AM) —I thank the Main Committee for its indulgence. This is one of the dangers of having two chambers going at the same time. The role of members is to be a legislator, representative, advocate, lobbyist and simply a champion for the community he or she represents. In that context I wish to raise two matters of importance to my constituency.

The first is the continuing need for a Medicare office in the western area of my electorate in the southern suburbs of the city of Whittlesea. I was first involved in raising this issue back in 1986. Since then, governments of different political hues have not satisfied the community's aspirations on this issue. The justification for not opening an office in the growth end of my electorate was that there was an office in Reservoir. In 1997, this government's decision to close the nearest office in Reservoir exacerbated the problem and motivated 3,000 residents to petition the House for the establishment of an office in the suburb of Epping.

The government's justification for closing down the Reservoir Medicare office was that pharmacy based Easyclaim outlets would be established. At the time, no outlet was established, and that remains the position at the moment. Residents are still travelling up to 10 kilometres to the nearest office to lodge their Medicare claim and receive cash refunds. The demand and need expressed by residents for an office closer to their home is greater than that first expressed 15 years ago, and it will only get greater with the forecast population estimated to increase by 16 per cent over the next decade. I call upon the Health Insurance Commission and the government to reconsider that decision and open a Medicare office to properly serve the people living in suburbs such as Epping, Thomastown, Lalor and Mill Park.

The second issue which I wish to raise is the future development of the Janefield land. Janefield was a former—in the quaint terms of the time—`colony' for people with intellectual disabilities. As part of the Building Better Cities program, that institution was closed and people were put out into the community. This then left the opportunity for the further development of that land. At first it was considered that perhaps it had residential opportunities, but over time it was decided that that land should be considered for the employment opportunities that it represented. I raised this matter earlier in this year and, as a result of my remarks in parliament in March, I have now been informed by RMIT that they have decided to cease efforts and activities to develop and implement RMIT Technology Estate as a separate facility on the Janefield site. They did this late last year.

I can only say that this decision was made without fanfare—no consultation with the local community or authorities. This is in sharp contrast to the manner in which the university announced the original decision to commence the development. The development would have allowed for some high technology types of employment in biotechnology, the automotive industry and the like. It was exciting because it would have given a range of employment opportunities that do not exist.

Based on this advice now, I will be seeking further discussions with RMIT to emphasise the need for the wide range of employment opportunities in the local region that this project would have enabled. I will also be looking for assistance from the local community in further discussing the possibilities. I will be writing to the ministers for industry at both federal and state level to seek their assistance. The Janefield development is too important an opportunity to be allowed to fail. If RMIT are not going to go through with their commitments, a further developer must be found, preferably public—a developer that can realise the commercial and industrial potential of the project, while at the same time fulfilling the undoubted potential community benefits that the proper development of the Janefield site could achieve.