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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 155


Mr ROB MITCHELL (McEwen) (18:31): Once again, we see the government trying to sugar-coat the massive cuts while hiding the truth behind more and more of their misleading rhetoric. Last year I gave those opposite a lesson in basic mathematics, because they failed that with their so-called school-funding increase, and now it looks like we've got to do the same, because clearly it didn't sink in. So for the member for Mackellar I'll speak slowly in the hope that you can keep up.

This is basic mathematics: if you remove $1 billion over three years with a freeze on indexation of financial assistance grants and then put half of that back, that's still a cut; that's still a negative for our councils, and that's exactly what this government has done nationwide. In Liberal terms, if you have $2, take $1 out and put back 50c, you're still 50c short. And that's the bit they don't understand. They seem to think you can put a little bit of money in and say, 'Oh, look how great we are.' But they're not.

Local governments in our region play a critical role in regional development, improving many streets, towns and suburbs, but something that the member for Mackellar, who is pushing this motion today, doesn't understand is that local governments can't build strong and healthy communities while the Liberal Party and the National Party are diving their hand into local governments' pockets and taking all their cash.

Labor has been a proud partner of local government, and we have been since the beginning. We've shown our support through various programs, such as the financial assistance grants under the Whitlam government. When we were last in government, we worked tirelessly alongside local governments to keep our economy moving and keep tradies in work. We substantially boosted funding to the Roads to Recovery Program, and we listened to the needs of communities. Through the GFC, we partnered with local governments to keep economies moving, keep jobs going and build much needed infrastructure.

This Liberal-National government has put our local governments through brutal cuts and freezes to funding. While the recent budget brought forward half of the funding cut for this year, it's simply not enough. I represent one of the fastest growing regions, the city of Whittlesea, which is amongst the top 10 fastest growing local governments in the whole of Australia, yet somehow this government is pumping money into its own electorates rather than addressing the hard-hitting issues within municipalities like Whittlesea.

Last week I met with representatives from some of the local governments in and around the seat of McEwen. Chatting to representatives from the Murrindindi Shire and the Macedon Ranges, I saw the hard work being undertaken to deliver on infrastructure priorities to keep up with the rapid growth in our region. Wherever we look across McEwen, whether it be Panton Hill, Macedon Ranges, Sunbury to Mernda and all points in between, the roads are not up to scratch with the increased demand being put on them with more and more development and more and more people wanting to move in.

While our councils work day in, day out to enhance liveability, sustainability and efficiency in our region through key infrastructure projects, this government continues to rip much needed funding out of their budgets, and they can't always rely on the Victorian government to fill that void. This federal government has an obligation, and it should meet it. It should meet its commitments and do the right thing. As I said, we have hardworking local governments that are trying to do more and more in trying to keep up with growth while getting less and less in resources through this government.

Some of our smaller councils are doing it really tough, servicing huge geographical areas with disproportionately low resources. Some of our local councils have to fund 80 metres of road per residential property, servicing some of the largest road networks in the country while working with smaller rate bases to spread this cost around. The extra funding pressure on road networks and council services is not sustainable, and the government has to step up and do its job instead of pork-barrelling its own electorates.

We're waiting on black-spot funding programs for Stotts Road and Clonbinane Road in Wandong. There have been six crashes due to dangerous curves in the road. Now more than ever we need equitable Black Spot Program funding not only in Wandong but at Hurstbridge and Panton Hill as well. Meanwhile, this government has committed nothing to Doreen, Mernda, Hurstbridge, St Andrews, Wallan or Kilmore. There isn't one Black Spot Program road or Road of Strategic Importance—nothing. This government has left Victorians high and dry.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18:3 6 to 18:41

Mr DRUM: I want to applaud Mr Falinski's motives for bringing this motion forward. It's a very important role that local governments play in all of our electorates. I have five in my electorate but, in a previous life as a state member, I had a very strong connection to 48 regional councils around the state of Victoria. We were able to work with each of those councils to assist them at a state level with programs that included a Regional Growth Fund. Inside that $500 million, we allocated $100 million for a fund where local governments could leverage their own projects and take up to $2 million each for the 48 regional councils. They were able to then leverage up it themselves and use that $100 million to build a whole range of infrastructure projects. The local government infrastructure fund was another $100 million shelled out to the 48 regional councils. We had a local Country Roads and Bridges Program where we gave each of our regional councils $4 million, so it was a $160 million program in that regard. Again, we were helping these councils with the funding that they need so they can provide the services that they're expected to provide to their people.

All of those programs were immediately taken off the table when the Labor Party came to govern in Victoria in 2014, saving the then government $360 million in that instance. So it was very, very disappointing. But the Andrews government in Victoria at least positioned itself where it was happy to spend money in Melbourne but it was totally disinterested in spending money for infrastructure projects with local governments or partnering up with local government in regional Victoria.

What we have now is one of the best programs that has operated across all federal parties and governments, and that is the Black Spot Program. It is something that every local government that we talk to praises, whichever side of politics is in government at the federal level. It gives our local councils the opportunity to fix up those roads that are in desperate need of attention. In my electorate alone in the last few years, the Shire of Campaspe has had over $18 million allocated through the Roads to Recovery Program. The City of Greater Shepparton has had $13.5 million allocated, the Shire of Loddon has had $15.5 million, the Moira Shire Council has had $16.3 million and the Shire of Strathbogie has had $9.4 million over the last four to five years, so it's a really important program. It gives the councils the autonomy to make the decisions themselves. It provides the money but lets the councils choose where that money can be best spent.

I applaud the City of Greater Shepparton, which was able to keep pushing forward for additional funding for a significant bypass for the city that needed to be funded. Again, they are waiting for the state to do the work that it needs to do in the feasibility studies and in the preworks phase that have to happen before we can actually start building stage 1 of the bypass. That's going to be a very important project in the next few years. The first stage of the Shepparton bypass is going to cost in the vicinity of $260 million. That's going to be a very, very significant project, and it will require some very serious funding from the federal government to proceed. I'm expecting to have the mayor, Kim O'Keeffe, and the CEO, Peter Harriott, in the parliament this week. We all know that we had a lot of local governments in the parliament last week as they came together for their conference, which they do every year.

Whether the funding comes from the federal government or the state government, one way or another, we need to ensure that we fund local councils properly. Certainly, the big city councils can make a lot of money from their parking fines and so forth. However, in the regions, it's very difficult for councils to actually become financially viable. We need to make sure, between the states and the feds, that we fund local government adequately.