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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 8321


Mr ZAHRA (10:50 PM) — Many of us in the Latrobe Valley hoped that in this term of the Howard government we would see the end of the debauched approach to regional development which they had demonstrated in previous terms in office. We had hoped that, in particular, we would see some consistency in the approach they brought to bear in the regional development policies which they put in place. What we have seen, however, is more of the same. Unfortunately, we have seen that the Sustainable Regions program in the Gippsland region has been a continuation of the inconsistent approach which has characterised all of the years of the Howard government administration. All we want on this side is for the Howard government to be fair dinkum about regional development. All we want is for them to allocate money for regional development based on need, not based on any pork-barrelling which the Liberal or National parties might think is politically expedient. In the Latrobe Valley, we have unquestionably gone through a difficult time of restructuring, mostly associated with the privatisation of the electricity industry in Victoria. There have been other factors which have complicated the effect of restructuring in our district: the decline in housing values and the massive loss of jobs in some of the other sectors which have been associated with the electricity industry in the Latrobe Valley.

The government's own report, the Productivity Commission report into the Impact of competition policy reforms on rural and regional Australia, shows that, of the 39 regions that were modelled, the impact on the Latrobe Valley was unquestionably the worst as a result of that policy and other more general restructuring. The impact on our employment, as shown by the Productivity Commission report, was minus 8.1 per cent. The next highest was the East Gippsland region in the electorate that we in this place would know is that of the member for Gippsland, Peter McGauran, and it had an employment impact of minus 1.4 per cent. So in the Latrobe Valley our employment impact was minus 8.5 per cent and in Mr McGauran's electorate of Gippsland it was 1.35 per cent. That means that we have suffered a lot more than that area has.

We had hoped that the Sustainable Regions program that was announced recently would try to address the areas of greatest need in the Gippsland region. That is after all what the government said this program would do. It was supposed to be a funding approach that would see the most resources targeted to the areas most in need. By any account, the area that is most in need in the Gippsland region is the Latrobe Valley. Our unemployment rate in Moe and Morwell is 11½ per cent or 12 per cent, compared to some parts of South and East Gippsland—in the electorate of the member for Gippsland—where it is four or five per cent.

Obviously the Productivity Commission report had identified the Latrobe Valley as an area that had suffered a lot as a result of restructuring, and our unemployment statistics bear that out. So we held out some hope that, when the Sustainable Regions Gippsland package was announced, we would see a good portion of the $4 million for this year and of the $4 million remaining for the following two years. How disappointed we were to see that, of the more than $4 million announced, only around $500,000 has gone towards addressing unemployment in the Latrobe Valley area.

The Latrobe Valley area makes up wholly one-third of what you would call the Gippsland region and is unquestionably the unemployment hot spot and the area that has suffered most from the effects of national competition policy and other restructuring. We should have received the lion's share of that funding. If the government had been serious about targeting the most resources to the areas most in need, they would have made sure that more funding went to the Latrobe Valley. They have obviously based their allocation of the funding on political need, not on the basis of seriously trying to address disadvantage. This means that this program, instead of addressing disadvantage and being remembered for doing a few good things around the place—such as addressing disadvantage in the Latrobe Valley—will be long remembered as just a filth-ridden National Party rort. (Time expired)