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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5158


Mr FORREST (Mallee) (18:49): My reaction to this budget and that of my constituents can only be described as disappointed. They and I are not swayed by smoke and mirrors nor the prospect of a meagre surplus to compensate for four years of irresponsible spending. Nor are they persuaded by handouts: if Labor has not been able to manage a surplus for four years during a mining boom, they very much doubt it can be achieved in the next year. What they have seen from this government is a massive accumulation of debt, and they are very concerned about what debt is doing in Europe—in Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland—and worry about it happening here.

Accumulating debt is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is serviceable and as long as the funds so raised are spent judiciously, wisely and fairly across all regions of the nation. What the past few years have seen, however, is a lack of prudential management and good governance. So many programs, like the Pink Batts program and the prolific BER spending, without good fiscal control have seen so much of these precious borrowed funds wasted. Commonwealth investment can yield enormous benefits if spent wisely.

Tonight I would like to outline some important opportunities in the division of Mallee which I have aspirational hopes could be recognised. Mallee has nine proactive municipalities, including the Horsham, Mildura and Swan Hill rural city councils and the Hindmarsh, West Wimmera, Yarriambiack, Buloke, Northern Grampians and Gannawarra shires. The division of Mallee has recently grown in the redistribution from 70,694 square kilometres to 73,879 square kilometres. This has included a city in Stawell and the surrounding towns of Halls Gap, Great Western, Marnoo and Glenorchy. Mallee is bordered by the Murray River in the north, the South Australian border in the west, the division of Wannon in the south and Bendigo and Murray in the east—an area more than one-third of the geographic area of Victoria.

Our ambitions are similar to many other places outside our capital cities—fair access to age and child care, mobile telephone service and internet broadband access, protection of water users' and irrigators' water rights, a fair deal for irrigators under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, improved transport infrastructure, health, education and a greater emphasis on trades training. But it goes further than that. We have plans that need investment and a system that encourages people to be entrepreneurial and removes bureaucratic barriers to enterprise, none of which has been seen in this budget.

The following are some of the aspirational opportunities in Mallee. Our long-term vision must include a standard rail gauge link from Geelong right up through Mallee to the transcontinental rail line to properly connect Victoria to the national rail grid. The Mildura Development Corporation has welcomed the Victorian government's support in seeking some $5 million of Commonwealth funding for a full feasibility study—not in the budget. There is enormous passenger and freight potential for the whole of Victoria under this proposal, described as a strategic corridor of the AusLink National Network. The project could significantly boost economic development opportunities not just for Mildura but for the nation. It would reduce rail congestion through Adelaide by 50 per cent and save up to 32 hours delay at Dry Creek, Adelaide for trains awaiting reconfiguration. It would access the world's largest mineral sands deposit between Mildura and Broken Hill, which are estimated to be 1.8 million tonnes per annum by 2014. Iluka's richest deposits are in Ivanhoe, New South Wales. It is currently not feasible to deliver to their Hamilton processing plant by rail. In addition, inland Australia would have direct access for produce, livestock and minerals to the ports of Adelaide, and the Riverland region in South Australia could have direct access via Mildura to east coast cities and international markets. It is not just about Mallee. International freight gates at Broken Hill, Ballarat, Geelong, Horsham and Mildura would complete the connectivity configuration of rail freight identical to the successfully implemented projects in France and Saudi Arabia.

Passenger rail opportunities, including a Darwin-Melbourne link, would also be provided and give a significant boost to the tourist industry in Mildura, Broken Hill, Alice Springs and Darwin and would greatly assist the reopening of the Mildura-Melbourne passenger train. And there would be a significant reduction in greenhouse emissions by taking trucks off the road. I have long supported the need for Murray River crossings. The ancient timber bridge at Swan Hill is long overdue for replacement. We are still using the bridge constructed in 1896 more than 100 years later. Swan Hill is a main commercial administrative centre and a popular tourist destination, and a new bridge would enhance economic activity. Horsham and Stawell are on my list of concerns. The Western Highway bypasses have been deferred in this budget until 2014. Budget allocations to be spent this year, next year and the year after have been deferred in preference to spending on the western suburbs of Sydney. That is political and very disappointing to my constituents. The Western Highway is a federal highway and these works would improve interstate traffic flows between Melbourne and Adelaide and reduce congestion and bottlenecks, particularly for the city of Horsham. It is a 6.5 kilometre section of the highway and passes through residential and commercial areas, schools and highly congested pedestrian areas. It is of concern that Horsham will continue to grow as a regional centre, and investment in this highway is due now, not later.

While focused on the Wimmera region of my electorate, can I ask the House to spare a thought for Wimmera irrigators, who want to sell off all their combined 28,000 megalitres to the federal government at a fair price. The Wimmera is in the Murray-Darling Basin. So much of this money could be reinvested in the district's economy and create jobs and opportunities.

Another aspirational project I have supported for decades is improving interpretive weather radar. Such radar exists at Mildura, but there is a huge black hole between Mount Gambier and Yarrawonga. The Wimmera Development Association has proposed that the Bureau of Meteorology establish a new Doppler radar in the centre of the Wimmera-Mallee region which would return an investment of $7.7 million in increased grain productivity. Improved weather resources are a key element in emergency control, aviation, water resource forecasting, flood monitoring, and social and community planning. Such a project is vital for agriculture and horticulture.

Another disappointment in the budget was the lack of commitment for vital upgrading of the Swan Hill District Hospital, despite a very expensive submission. Swan Hill deserves funding for major project works for this hospital. Whilst we are grateful for the small amount of funding for the Warracknabeal Hospital and the Sunraysia health services, the harsh reality is that it was Swan Hill city's turn. The health services face functional issues arising from poor design and old infrastructure. An increasing need for high quality acute and subacute health care, residential aged care and mental health and community health services in the Swan Hill region is exacerbated by depleted infrastructure. It is Swan Hill's turn and we are very disappointed not to have been included in the government's program and in this budget.

Seven of the nine municipalities in Mallee electorate are under enormous cost pressure due to serious flooding in late 2010 and early 2011 when above average seasonal rainfall flooded too many of our towns. This did enormous long-term damage to roads and bridge infrastructure and eroded council assets generally. Work continues to repair and replace patched up assets but this is incurring an excessive level of borrowing from all of my municipalities and they need assistance. I would be grateful if the government would consider extending the Roads to Recovery program to give these councils some confidence. The damage to many local roads is substantial and impedes social and economic activity, especially the carriage of farm produce in good condition to grain terminals and livestock markets.

Also, I have championed the cause for water reform investment. The piping of the Wimmera-Mallee stock and domestic supply system gives me a great deal of satisfaction for the role I played in ensuring its funding. It is a $1 billion project entirely contained within the division of Mallee. I am proud of that. But there is still much more to be done. That project has given water security and confidence to an arid part of western Victoria.

The Robinvale and Woorinen projects—old soldier settlement districts—are now completed and are modern water supply schemes, but the Sunraysia irrigation modernisation project is becoming urgent to bring irrigation water delivery up to acceptable efficiency and environmental standards, and it is long overdue. Full implementation of pressurised irrigation water on demand means less water is required to grow a crop. Less water more often provides reliability and opportunity for investment in alternative crops. Applications can be matched closely to daily plant requirements and the latest irrigation and plant nutrition technology can be utilised with almost zero groundwater discharge. It is good for salt control and good for productivity, resulting in a healthier crop, higher production per megalitre, ability to adjust and manipulate production and reduce production overheads and, as I have mentioned, to reduce salinity—a huge challenge in north-west Victoria.

Such expenditure would help kick-start the regional economy, which has endured a decade of drought and then floods, and low commodity prices for traditional crops for too many years. Most horticultural cropping properties have already invested in an on-farm irrigation system but need a supply system in order to compete with their competitors on international markets. The existing supply system in the Sunraysia of the Mildura region can only be described as primitive.

Long also I have championed the cause to make the Mallee the solar power capital of the nation. The one thing we can offer is reliable sunlight. More reliable sunlight is an issue for this form of renewable energy. Mildura's TRUenergy 180 megawatt Mallee Solar Park project is being facilitated by the Mildura Rural City Council, the Mildura Development Corporation and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries Office of Solar Power. I would like to see that project reach its full fruition. The estimated cost is around $700 million and possibly between $250 million and $300 million support by the Solar Flagships Program is needed to make it a reality. The opportunities provided by such an investment are enormous for an arid, dry and struggling region, which is much of my constituency. At this point the application has been submitted to the Solar Flagships Program for federal funding and we wait patiently.

The items I have mentioned are all headline items. There are so many more I could refer to about the aspirations of this division of Mallee, but the people out there are like me—we just want to create jobs, more opportunity for prosperity, to build the infrastructure we need and deserve, to provide better health and education and to enhance quality of life. We want a tax system that rewards hard work, not one that unfairly penalises those who create wealth, and then to distribute it through employment. That is the way the economy is supposed to work, rather than government interference to adjust wealth. We want a world-class education system and we want secure borders. We want better regional health services and a compassionate welfare system which expects personal responsibility as well as provides a safety net.

It is with a great deal of pride I acknowledge all those in the federal division of Mallee who put enormous energy into ensuring this part of the world achieves its full potential. Far removed from Canberra and federal budgets, it is sometimes forgotten that such communities deliver the nation's wealth. I am proud of their determined resilience and it is a great honour to represent them in this place. They deserve proper recognition so that they can reach the goals they set for themselves in being part of a very productive region of Australia. Their hopes and aspirations deserve to be achieved. I commend them and report to the parliament their disappointment as this budget misses the mark in terms of their interests.