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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3359

Mr CHESTER (9:38 AM) —I would like to present two petitions which have been found to be in order by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions.

The petitions read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of citizens of Australia, draws to the attention of the House the overwhelming community support for the Victorian Government’s current trial of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park to help reduce the severity of future bushfires in the high country.

And further, condemns the Private Members’ Bill introduced by the Greens Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt which seeks to ban cattle from the Alpine National Park.

We therefore ask the House to oppose the Greens Private Members’ Bill when it is debated in Federal Parliament.

from 1,063 citizens.

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of citizens of Australia who travel in the Gippsland region, draws to the attention of the House the inadequate condition or the Princes Highway between Sale and the New South Wales border.

In particular we note:

  • Accident rates that indicate the Princes Highway in Gippsland is one of the state’s most dangerous roads. From April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2009, there were 314 crashes reported on the Princes Highway east with 497 people injured and 28 people killed;
  • Insufficient overtaking lanes;
  • Concerns over the poor road surface, lack of shoulders and inadequate rest areas;
  • An RACV assessment of highways in Gippsland found that most sections of road were an unacceptable standard for a national highway.

We therefore ask the House to support the adding of the Princes Highway east of Sale to the National Road Network to give it access to Federal Government funding.

from 613 citizens.

Petitions received.

Mr CHESTER —The first petition refers to the issue of alpine grazing. My time is short today so I would like to refer my constituents to my comments on this issue in the House earlier this week. I certainly support the 1,063 petitioners and it was a great effort to assemble so many signatures in just 10 or so days. This is quite a contentious issue. I acknowledge there is some opposition to this particular move by the Victorian government but the overwhelming support is for the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria and the work they are doing to help reduce the severity of future bushfires.

The second petition refers to another issue that I am particularly passionate about, and that is the inadequate condition of the Princes Highway between Sale and the New South Wales border. In that petition 613 people noted the high accident rates on this section of the highway, which is one of the state’s most dangerous sections of road. From 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2009 there were 314 reported crashes on the Princes Highway East, with 497 people injured and 28 people killed.

The highway between Sale and Traralgon is eligible for federal funding and there are some duplication works underway that I am working with the transport minister on. This has been the subject of bipartisan support over many years. But the section of road between Sale and the New South Wales border is not part of the national road network and is in desperate need for additional funding.

This is not about playing political games; it is about saving people’s lives. I call on the federal minister and the state minister to work in a bipartisan manner with me and the newly elected state member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, to achieve some results on behalf of the travelling public and local residents. This is important from a tourism perspective and for commerce and industry of the East Gippsland region and absolutely vital for saving lives. I call on both ministers to work with us in that regard.

Finally, I want to raise one other issue that concerns me and the people of Gippsland, and that is this government’s failure to guarantee ongoing funding for the Rural Financial Counselling Service. I have received a letter from the Chairman of the Gippsland Division of the RFCS, Lou McArthur, about the fact that the service is coming to the end of a three-year funding agreement on 30 June. The service staff have been told that there will not be any announcement until the federal budget. I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to end the uncertainty and commit to ongoing funding immediately.

At a time when farmers in Gippsland have just received the news that exceptional circumstances funding will not be provided after 30 April this year, we need this service to continue. I believe Lou McArthur makes some very good points in her letter, which I have forwarded to the minister. She indicates that this uncertainty makes the planning and efficient operation of the Rural Financial Counselling Service very difficult and it places the Rural Financial Counselling Service at risk of losing highly skilled employees due to uncertainty of employment at a time when in many parts of the region the need for these services is as great as ever.

This is a desperately needed service. I call on the federal government to commit to ongoing funding to ensure that our farming community receives professional assistance at a time of great need in Gippsland. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member for Gippsland is quite correct. Those two petitions have been approved as being in order by the Petitions Committee. Those petitions are received pursuant to standing order 207(b)(ii).