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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4347

Mr WOOD (6:41 PM) —I look forward to speaking on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and associated bills and how events have unfolded in my seat of La Trobe since the election of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Sadly, it has been a tale of rip-offs, rorts and sadness. Everything that the government could probably try to inflict on the residents of La Trobe they have done.

The first thing I will look at is closed-circuit TVs in Boronia. This was an issue I went to the last election about, with a promise of $150,000 for closed-circuit TV—something which is vital to the residents of Boronia as it is a high crime area. Sadly, during the election the then opposition did not actually match this funding. When I again raised it in March 2008 in a lead article by William Jackson in the Knox Leader, we spoke about the need to have cameras in Boronia. There was an urgent need, and we put some pressure on the government.

Subsequently, Will Wright from the Knox Journal spoke to Bob Debus’s office. He then miraculously came out and actually promised $150,000 for closed-circuit TV for Boronia. This was obviously a win for the Boronia residents. Then, lo and behold, Bob Debus’s office said that there had been some ‘amazing confusion’. Instead of Boronia in my electorate getting the closed-circuit TV cameras, in actual fact it would be Berwick.

At this stage Berwick residents and their council had not applied or asked for cameras, but the offer was gladly accepted. Since that time there has been a lot more crime in Berwick. I spoke with shopkeepers recently—and I congratulate Harry Hutchinson and the Berwick Chamber of Commerce—and it is really sad to hear of businesses, having their windows smashed, nearly on a weekly basis. For those who do not know, when a shop window is smashed it is not automatically covered by insurance. You find that after two or three times the expense is so great that the windows are just replaced from normal weekly earnings of the business.

I have here an article by Jade Lawton from the Berwick-Pakenham Gazette entitled ‘Long wait for eye spy’, which refers to the closed-circuit TV cameras because after the Rudd government said the cameras should have been going to Berwick, there have been no cameras, no movement and no action. If we go back to 16 June 2008 there are other articles here—one is entitled ‘Traders still waiting on cameras to deter vandalism’. It is really sad that what was supposed to be some good news for the residents in Berwick and the traders has turned into very bad news. I do not know if the Rudd government has got it in for the residents of Berwick. I do not know what they have done wrong, and I am not sure how they have upset the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Berwick has had bad news after bad news.

Henryk Grossek at the Berwick Lodge Primary School has taken a leading role against the rip-offs and rorts associated with the government’s BER program. I recently took the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, to Berwick Lodge Primary School to meet Henryk. Henryk had all the national media with us in the school gymnasium. They have a fantastic gymnasium with wooden floors and brick walls. With the BER they were told they must spend their money on the gymnasium. They were told to demolish the gymnasium they have—this fantastic gymnasium—so they could construct what he called a Bi-Lo gymnasium. Henryk thought that that would be an absolute waste of money and fought against it.

Henryk eventually met Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister. She agreed that the situation would have to change and that he could spend any money left over on a sister project at the Berwick Lodge Primary School. That sounded fair and reasonable. To this date there has been no movement, apart from they can now build at their school a library and six classrooms.

At the same time this was going on we had the Beaconsfield Upper Primary School, which wanted a gymnasium, being told they needed to have classrooms. Berwick Primary School wanted to extend the gymnasium they currently have but were told they could not. They were not greedy; they did not apply for $3 million in funding. They did not apply to get all the funding they should have been entitled to because of the number of students at that school. Instead, they did the right and honourable thing and applied for $2 million.

They desperately wanted to use any leftover money to upgrade their gymnasium. Do you know what happened? They were told they could not use the leftover money and the project will cost $2 million. I have seen what has been constructed there and it is not a $2 million facility—I think it is a multipurpose area. It was off a template. They have had an independent person value it, and I believe they valued it at $750,000. So $1.25 million is going somewhere.

We must remember that the parents there pay taxes and it is their money. The state schools have never had the opportunity under this government to decide how to spend this money. That is an absolute disgrace. I really feel for the school community because of what has happened there. It is so sad to see so much money being wasted. Oatlands Primary School, which is in the Narre Warren and Berwick area, is also having problems with the BER program.

You would think Berwick has copped enough, but no, there is more. We have some lovely residents in Berwick. Like all of Australia, most of the residents in the community are great and nice people, but no more so than Jacqui and Alex Qureitem. These pensioners approached my office on 1 March. They had previously made representations to have an inspection done on their home insulation. They were a bit worried because of the way events were unfolding nationally. They thought they would get their home insulation inspected. At this stage they were greatly concerned. They approached my office and we made a number of representations to the minister’s office, but at that stage it was to no avail.

I congratulate radio presenter Neil Mitchell and his program. Neil got involved and spoke to Minister Greg Combet, or his office, and they kindly arranged for an inspection. So we had an inspector go out there on 23 March 2010. He confirmed the house was a fire risk, so Alex and Jacqui’s concerns were realised. Their house was a fire risk. It was also confirmed that the installers—and this is just a straight out rip-off—split the insulation in half so they obviously got double the return for the money they spent on it.

So what happened after the inspection? We were not happy at our office about the government’s plan to send the same people who caused this problem out to rectify it, but that is what happened. They got down there and the firm said: ‘No, there’s nothing wrong here. Everything’s fine. There’s no fire danger. The job’s been done well.’ Obviously we complained to the minister’s office, and we believe the boss of the company went down there and did some work and said that it was all safe and everything was fine again. So, again, we went to the minister and said, ‘We want an independent inspection to make sure this house is safe.’ And lo and behold, the government arranges another inspection on 24 May, last Monday, and you would not believe it: the place is again declared a fire risk. Alex and Jacqui, who are pensioners, have gone through so much stress. We have now had two inspections of their property done; both inspections have said it is a fire danger. How many other residents in Australia are in the same boat, where they are living under a time bomb? Our biggest concern is that it will be in winter when these fires come along. This has obviously been happening all over my electorate. I know of cases in Boronia and surrounds. I know of cases where installers have not even had a torch and residents have had to lend them one. Even in Jacqui and Alex’s case, the insulators got there and they had no gloves and no face protection. Alex had to lend them some!

You might think Berwick has had a pretty tough time, but it gets worse. Before the last federal election, when the coalition was in government, I announced a commitment for $30 million to fix the mess at Clyde Road. The other half of the money was to come from the state government. At that stage the Victorian state government would not make a commitment. The Victorian opposition, the Liberal guys, made a commitment. The situation we have at Clyde Road is a bottleneck; it is a nightmare. Clyde Road goes over the Pakenham train line. Every morning and every afternoon, traffic is stuck there. I mentioned before about the traders. I have numerous media articles here about how much they have been hampered due to residents, commuters and shoppers bypassing Berwick because of this mess.

Recently the Premier of Victoria, John Brumby, announced he will commit $25 million to Clyde Road. I was initially pleased because I believed that on the face of it we had $55 million to build an underpass or an overpass. But, no, Kevin Rudd and John Brumby have decided that they have really got it in for Berwick residents. I am not sure what is worse: to never have something, or to have something offered to you which is completely false and completely hopeless. There has been $55 million committed, but it is not to build an overpass or underpass at all. It is not going to have anything to move the traffic over the train line or under the train line. Instead, that $55 million is to duplicate one kilometre of road.

That would have to be one of the country’s most expensive sections of road—$55 million for one kilometre of road, or $5.5 million for every 100 metres. It is a lot of money—roughly $500,000, or half a million dollars, for every metre. The Berwick residents deserve better—in fact, all taxpayers in Australia deserve better than this. Why is this happening? You can only ask the government why they are not committing to this work and are going to give Berwick residents the worst possible outcome. In fact, the Casey council, to its credit, has voted against accepting this money as they believe it is a waste. I believe the chamber of commerce also has a resolution not to accept this money, because it is a waste of taxpayer funds.

For a different example, we just have to go up the road a bit. In 2004, when I was first elected, the Howard government promised $10 million to build the Bryn Mawr Bridge, which is an overpass over the Pakenham train line. We were told at the time that that would not be enough money. My Labor opponent, Susan Davies, announce $25 million for the same project. So we announced $10 million; the Labor candidate announced $25 million. Guess how much they built it for? Casey council built it for $7.5 million, so there was $2.5 million left over. So here we have an overpass on the Pakenham train line in Beaconsfield which cost $7.5 million. You go down to Berwick and there is the Clyde Road project, which the Labor governments at state and federal level say cannot be done for less than $55 million, and yet that is seven times the money that went into the Bryn Mawr Bridge. It is a disgraceful waste of money. I do not know who is going to be paid off; I am not sure whether it is one of those ones where you pay 20 per cent off to union membership or to management. What is happening there is really sad.

Last election we promised $2.5 million for a performing arts centre at the Emerald Secondary College. I congratulate Principal Wayne Burgess and Doug Cordell, the school council president, and all the parents and teachers there. Because of all the blowouts in BER, the Rudd government took so long to sign the contracts that the budget blew out by half a million dollars. What I find irritating is the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, going up to Emerald Secondary College and having his community cabinet meeting and milking it for all it is worth in the local community, announcing that they were going to build this performing arts centre, and spending $80,000 of taxpayers’ money, yet when the school came and said they were short half a million dollars, the government said ‘On your bike, you will be right, we are not going to help you out.’ It was only that the state government tipped in some funds that the mess was resolved.

The BER has been a debacle. The only reason they seem to have got some movement is that we got the local media in—we put out a media release on a Monday morning and the next minute something was going to happen. It is a crying shame that so much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned wages is being wasted. There is a rip-off or a rort associated with just about every project the government is involved with in my electorate. It is hard to imagine that each week the Rudd government is borrowing $700 million—and yet, if you look at my electorate of La Trobe, we are just not getting value for residents’ hard-earned cash. That is a tragedy. The government must immediately address the issues at Berwick Primary School and Berwick Lodge Primary School. They should get every cent promised to them to complete the projects they want to build.

I congratulate the school councils at Berwick Primary School and Berwick Lodge for the fight they have taken up with the government. They realise what is happening is a rip-off and a rort. They will do their bit, and they have—they have been speaking to the national media to make their projects a reality. They want change. I saw a letter from one school council to all the parents letting them know how much the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has let them down. As Deputy Prime Minister she could have easily resolved this issue, but she has decided not to intervene and to just let this mess continue. The only way things can improve is with a change of government, and I can let Prime Minister Rudd know that the residents of Berwick, who seem to have been dudded so badly and so savagely by this government, deserve much better.