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June 3, 2014  |  

State Budget Response

I am pleased to rise to make a contribution with regard to the state budget. It says a lot about a government when it is building more prison beds than providing funding for hospital beds. I note that in the 15-minute contribution from the Premier not once did he find time to mention any initiatives in the Ivanhoe electorate, and not very many at all in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, an area that has been neglected these past three years and certainly in four budgets under this Liberal government. The Austin Hospital is one of many health services that is contributing now to expanding elective surgery waiting lists that have grown by 10 000 patients; that is what it has grown by under this government because of a lack of investment in health services.

I will go to some of the particular capital works issues that will be the basis of my contribution in relation to the Ivanhoe electorate. I note that the $40 million mental health facility on the repatriation site in the Ivanhoe electorate was funded by the Labor government in 2010 and, despite being completed in August last year, sat idle for some seven to eight months. It was only after we brought it to the attention of the media in March that the Minister for Community Services finally went out to Heidelberg on Good Friday eve to officially open the facility. She was embarrassed about the fact that despite this project being funded by Labor in 2010 it had taken some three and a half years for the government to get it constructed. It then sat idle and unopened for seven to eight months, not providing its 22 beds, because the government would not provide the recurrent funding to operate it. An article in the Age of 20 March states:

The community care unit at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital has lain empty since construction finished almost seven months ago.

A much-needed $14.2 million health facility that includes 22 new beds for mentally ill patients has sat idle since construction was completed almost seven months ago.
Even after it was opened it still had no patients, and it is still unclear whether the 22 beds are now in operation.

I also note an article in the Age of 15 March about elective surgery at the Austin Hospital. It is headed ‘Patients suffer for years in surgery queues, say GPs’. The article relates in particular to Barbara Lowe, 76, of Bellfield, who is a resident in my electorate, who points out that she has been waiting much longer than the reported median waiting time of five months for a knee replacement. The article states:

Her GP referred her to Austin Health for an outpatient appointment in May 2011 and her surgery occurred last month — almost three years later.
‘It’s a long time to wait for a new knee’, she said.

I know Mrs Lowe and her husband, Hugh, well — and I wish them well. It is a disgrace that she had to wait that long because elective surgery waiting lists have now grown by 10 000 and are at almost 50 000 patients under this government’s watch. That is a full Docklands Stadium of people on the elective surgery waiting list waiting for their surgery under this government. It has grown by 10 000 patients since the government members began to occupy the Treasury benches some three and a half years ago. It is a disgrace.
I note that the outpatient process is now being investigated by external auditors at the Austin Hospital because patients have either not been getting letters for appointments or have been getting five letters, and that process needs to be investigated immediately or fixed.

In relation to public transport, despite raising an adjournment matter on 13 March seeking from the minister an explanation as to why four extra peak services operating from Eltham to the city have not been provided on the Hurstbridge line — a $60 million capital works investment by the Labor government for stabling and signalling works at Eltham station was made to ensure that there would be four extra peak services on the Hurstbridge line — there has been no response from the minister.

This clearly relates to the provision of capital works from previous budgets for services to people on the forgotten Hurstbridge line.

Despite having raised a point of order on 8 May in relation to the lack of a ministerial response in an appropriate 30-day time frame to an adjournment matter from 13 March 2014 on this subject, I note that the Minister for Public Transport has still not provided a response as to why those four peak services have not been made available at the six train stations in my electorate: Macleod, Darebin, Ivanhoe, Eaglemont, Heidelberg and Rosanna. There is also a critical service from Eltham that runs through the Ivanhoe electorate. Despite its claims that it would provide four extra peak services, I think it is most likely that the government has swiped those services from the Hurstbridge line to prop up its political fortunes in the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and is stabling those trains at Eltham. In the middle of the night and early in the morning those trains are being run across to the south-eastern and eastern suburbs.

I note that after four consecutive years of asking questions about having the Rosanna Road safety issues fixed, the issue has again been ignored by the government in the budget. There is no funding available via VicRoads because the government has cut funding to VicRoads. There is also no funding for speed restrictions on trucks or for the policing of load limits, and no funding to fix the Greensborough Highway-Lower Plenty Road-Rosanna Road dogleg intersection, which is the scene of very many accidents. Again it has been ignored by this government.
Due to cuts to the pedestrian safety program by the government in its budget, I note there is no money for 40-kilometre-per-hour zones in Burgundy Street, Heidelberg, Lower Heidelberg Road, East Ivanhoe, and Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe.

VicRoads has no opportunity to implement 40-kilometre-per-hour speed zones in those shopping strips, which is something that has been sought desperately by all the traders associations, residents, the local schools and Banyule City Council. Again we are being ignored in this budget.

The Chandler Highway bridge duplication has again been ignored by the government. It is described in the In the RACV’s annual reviews as one of the three red-spot areas for congestion. We have collected many hundreds of signatures from people not only in my electorate but from people in the electorate of Northcote and from many people who are seeking additional crossings over the Yarra River. They encounter the congested Fitzsimons Lane or are trying to get across at Burke Road or at the Chandler Highway. The Chandler Highway crossing is a bridge with a single lane each way.

It is a disgrace that this government through its cuts to VicRoads has again ignored people in the northern suburbs and has not provided the ability to duplicate that Chandler Highway Bridge. The costing’s have been done. The RACV continues to lobby, and all its surveys show that this is a priority for the local community.
La Trobe University also expressed disappointment about the budget in a media release headed ‘State budget misses shuttle bus service’. La Trobe University has sought to have a shuttle bus running from the Reservoir train station through to the university campus. It wants a two-year trial of that service. It is offering to fund half of that two-year campaign, yet it cannot get the other half of the necessary funding. Vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar is quoted in the media release as saying:

Bundoora campus students, staff and on-campus partners currently face poor and confusing public transport options and longer travel times than those travelling to other metropolitan Melbourne universities.

There is no doubt that it is a disgrace. It is an indication of the government’s lack of commitment to the northern suburbs and the area’s key university, which provides great employment and educational opportunities for northern suburb residents.

After enduring four coalition budgets I would like to draw attention to one announcement. Finally the government has made an educational announcement of a $5.6 million capital commitment in the Ivanhoe electorate to the Rosanna Golf Links Primary School, which is also a regional deaf facility in the northern suburbs. Although I noted when we finally got the budget papers, as is stated in budget paper 4 at page 24, that only $1.2 million has been allocated next financial year for that $5.6 million project.

We have made it very clear to the local community that it is being dudded by the government. Why come out and announce $5.6 million for a school refurbishment modernisation project but only allocate $1.2 million next financial year, and in that budget paper 4 have a project completion date as the fourth quarter of 2017-18?

What is going on there? Is it because the master plan for the school’s project, which was completed in 2010 but which the government has sat on for four years, is now out of date and the $1.2 million is being spent to redo a modernisation master plan instead of being used to implement the project that was ready to go some four years ago? What a waste of money! On 12 May I wrote to the Minister for Education seeking an explanation from him as to why only $1.2 million of the $5.6 million allocated for this project is being cash-flowed next financial year. What amount of work is going to get done in that time and why is not all that money being allocated in the next financial year?

It is not that complicated to get a primary school project of some $5.6 million built when a master plan already exists to get that work done.

The Heidelberg Leader of 5 May states:

Rosanna Golf Links Primary School is dusting off shelved plans from 2010 to upgrade the junior school building…

Acting principal Kelly Morrow is quoted as saying:

The whole planning began in 2010 but funding cuts meant we were not able to proceed with initial plans.
That is not surprising.

I note that some people in the Ivanhoe area who sought to communicate these matters to local residents, apart from me, have been too embarrassed to include the local media reports on these matters because the headline of that article is ‘State budget pledge will end five-year wait for Rosanna school’. Relief is in sight, but only $1.2 million has actually been committed. We are going to continue to hold the government to account on that matter.

Another extremely important matter is the Olympic Village children’s hub in West Heidelberg. Two years I remember going to the announcement made by Craig Ondarchie, a member for Northern Metropolitan Region in the other place, because I had just left the hospital where my wife had had our daughter, Ava, who had her second birthday on the weekend. Since that announcement not one sod has been turned on that project. Two years later no builder has been appointed. Two years later there has been no action from the government in relation to delivering on the project.

It goes again to show very clearly that West Heidelberg residents are sick of people walking into their community, waving around commitments and promises and then disappearing in a cloud of dust in the big white cars. They never see them again and never see any projects delivered. It has been two years.

I note that in a letter in response to my adjournment debate contribution of 27 November 2013 from the Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Ms Lovell — my adjournment contribution was on 27 November 2013; I got the response on 20 February 2014 — she blames the Banyule City Council. She said:

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has advised me that the project was delayed during negotiation of the funding agreement and lease arrangements between the department and Banyule City Council.

She went on to say:

The council is anticipating awarding the contract by the end of February 2014.

This was in the letter I received on 20 February. She continued:

Construction is anticipated to commence by April 2014 and to be completed by the end of 2014.

This is a project that was announced in May 2012 by this government. It has not appointed a builder, it has not turned a sod, it has not started — and it is still trying to tell us that it is going to deliver the project. Capital works in this budget are clearly not something that the government can be trusted to deliver, because it has not delivered on past projects that it has committed to in the Ivanhoe electorate.

An article of 20 May 2014 headed ‘Work on learning hub now for September start’ states:

Construction of the Olympic Village learning hub is due to start in September after a two-year delay.

Banyule Council will continue to search for a builder this month for the $2 million project in what will be the second tender process so far since the state government money was promised for the learning hub in early 2012.

I can tell you, Deputy Speaker, that children like my daughter will not be able to use the Olympic Village learning hub because, like many other children in the West Heidelberg area, she will be too old to get in by the time this government actually gets the project built. There has been a massive failure by this government in meeting its commitments to the West Heidelberg community.

I turn to public housing in talking about the West Heidelberg community.

In August 2012 the government said that it would sell some 300 public housing dwellings in West Heidelberg as part of its plans to deliver some 600 new public housing dwellings. I go to budget paper 4, page 89.

For the item ‘Heidelberg redevelopment — 600 units/sites (Heidelberg)’ the total estimated investment is $160 million. This project has been going for several years now, yet to June this year only $12 million will actually have been spent.

We are still unable to find out from the housing minister how many public housing properties have been sold in the 3081 postcode and how many public housing dwellings have been commissioned by the government under this Olympia housing initiative that is proving nothing but a dud for the people of West Heidelberg. There will be no net extra public housing for people in West Heidelberg through this project. This is all smoke and mirrors by this government to look busy.

We know quite clearly, and I point out again, that on 7 May Premier Denis Napthine shut the door on some 36 000 Victorians languishing on the state’s public housing list, and for the first time this state will sell more social housing than it will build. This government budget might have a surplus, like every other state budget has had for over a decade, but it lacks a decency surplus. It is in deficit in relation to those matters.