House debates

Tuesday, 20 October 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Second Reading

6:43 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

My electorate of Mallee has had a unique experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the only electorate in Victoria that borders two states. Not only has Mallee endured some of the strictest lockdowns seen anywhere in the world, we have also been barred from our two neighbouring states, despite our extremely low case numbers. Taken together, these two elements have caused huge strains on families, businesses, communities and our economy and we'll have untold impacts for years to come.

The Morrison-McCormack government's economic response to the pandemic has kept hope and businesses alive. The JobKeeper payment has supported 4,300 businesses in Mallee. The cash flow boost has assisted around 6,300 small and medium businesses. Over 10,000 individuals in Mallee have received the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement, and 23,700 aged pensioners in Mallee received support payments of $750 in April and July, and will receive two further $250 payments in December and again in March. This has provided the people of Mallee with hope.

The 2020 Commonwealth budget is a way forward out of this crisis and a return to life as we once knew. Whether it's by putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Australians, encouraging investment and growth in small and medium to large businesses, supporting businesses to bring on new employees and apprentices, or providing for the health and wellbeing of our nation, this budget is working for all Australians as we look towards economic recovery.

Tax relief measures for individuals will provide confidence for families and much-needed stimulus for local businesses and the economy. Around 61,100 taxpayers in Mallee, or over 40 per cent of Mallee's entire population, will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745 this year. This measure will put money into people's pockets at a time when it's desperately needed. I encourage those who can afford it to spend a little more in the coming months and to shop local. Local businesses need our support now more than ever before, and this government understands that. That's why the tax relief measures for business in this budget are so important. I know that many small and large businesses in my electorate have taken advantage of the instant asset write-off scheme. Rod Stuart from the Dunolly Bakery told me that he was able to use the write-off scheme to purchase new mixers, ovens and a bread slicer. The purchase of the new equipment helped to dispel the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, giving his staff a huge morale boost. It showed staff and customers that things were still moving in the right direction. The new equipment has led to greater efficiencies for the business, leading to huge takings in September despite the lack of travellers from Melbourne.

Now that the scheme has been expanded to include over 99 per cent of businesses and the full value of any eligible asset, small and large businesses will continue to benefit and grow. The instant asset write-off provisions will unlock investment, expand the productive capacity of the nation and create tens of thousands of jobs across the country. Purchasing new equipment helps businesses increase efficiency and productivity. Small businesses will buy, sell, deliver, install, and service these purchases, stimulating the economy. It will also be hugely helpful for farmers in Mallee, who will be able to purchase new equipment, whether it's a new truck, tractor or harvester.

I recently spoke to Damien Matthews of GTS Freight, a trucking and transport company based in Mildura that has grown into one of the largest wine and beverage distributors nationwide. GTS Freight is backed by an ever-growing fleet of vehicles and has long-term plans for expansion. Damien told me that he plans to bring forward five years worth of purchases and upgrades of trucks and trailers in the next two years to take advantage of the instant asset write-off scheme. This will mean millions of dollars of accelerated investment and associated economic activity, and it will mean job creation in industries up and down the supply chain. This is just one business.

Growing local industry is instrumental to our nation's economic recovery, and this government knows that apprentices are vital to industry. Giving Australians the skills they need and getting them into a job will lift us out of this recession. Businesses in Mallee who take on apprentices are now eligible for a 50 per cent wage subsidy to help bring on new employees and free up money to cover other costs or make new investments. This measure supports local tradies looking to bring on a new apprentice, and it will also assist bigger businesses like True Foods in Maryborough and Entegra Signature Structures in Swan Hill. Overall, it supports Australian businesses to employ 100,000 new apprentices and trainees. Apprenticeships and traineeships for young people ensure that there are skills in the pipeline to meet the future needs of employers.

The $1.2 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy will feed into other planks of the government's economic recovery plan, including the Modern Manufacturing Strategy and the Technology Investment Roadmap for our energy sector. After having visited many manufacturing businesses across Mallee, including Polymaster, Pumpa Engineering, Global Rotomoulding, Nu-Edge Solutions and many more, I am very excited about the Modern Manufacturing Strategy and for Mallee's prospects to become a leader in 21st-century manufacturing and innovation. I know the $52.8 million for round 2 of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund is also welcomed by businesses in Mallee. This is an important opportunity for Kooka's Country Cookies, in Donald, to apply for funding for their new factory and production line, which will help meet demand for their products.

The 2020 Commonwealth budget has displayed the Morrison-McCormack government's commitment to regional infrastructure and, in turn, job creation and economic development in regional Australia. Local councils in my electorate were elated by the initial Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program funding announced at the height of the pandemic. The $1 billion extension of the program announced in this budget will help councils to prioritise key projects while creating jobs and stimulating economic activity. The 12 local government areas in Mallee received almost $19 million in the first round and will receive another $17 million in the extension. Northern Grampians shire is using part of its money to fund a streetscape and town centre rehabilitation project in St Arnaud, while Gannawarra Shire Council will allocate some of its funding to the Murrabit Stormwater Project. These are shovel-ready projects that will assist the economic recovery of our region and create jobs for locals.

Since coming to office I've made a point of keeping in close contact with the leaders of each of the 12 shires in my electorate. The CEOs and mayors of each shire have made it plain to me just how important the Roads to Recovery and Financial Assistance Grant programs are to their running. For many of the small regional councils, maintaining and upgrading roads is a major expense. That's why I'm glad this budget includes an additional $400 million to support the extension of the Roads to Recovery Program by an additional year.

Of course, I'm also excited for round 5 of the Building Better Regions Fund, which has been hugely successful for key projects in Mallee. In round 4 of the program Mallee secured funding for Woodbine's specialised disability support accommodation, the Birchip streetscape project, upgrades to the Ouyen Livestock Exchange and many other important projects. With half of the $200 million of round 5 allocated for tourism related projects, I hope to see the Mildura Rural City Council reapply for their additional riverfront development project along the Murray River. Infrastructure remains hugely important to the Morrison-McCormack government, and I'm ecstatic that the Albacutya Bridge was funded through the Bridges Renewal Program this year. I will now be directing my efforts to secure funding for the Davis Park grandstand in Nhill for the people of the Hindmarsh shire.

In my very first speech to parliament in August 2019 I spoke of the need for greater access to quality health care. I said a person's postcode should not determine their health status. Since then I have been fighting for health in Mallee, and the 2020 Commonwealth budget has delivered with an $18.6 million program for border oncology research which funds the Mildura Base Public Hospital as a new site for the regional trials network in Victoria. This project will help bridge the metro regional clinical trials gaps by 2025, with the bonus of attracting more specialists into our region. Having research done in clinical trials means people gain access to better treatments. This funding will help put local researchers and doctors at the forefront of global research and will lead to more treatment options for regional patients.

Out of this year's budget, the Mildura Base Public Hospital will also benefit from the coalition government's commitment of $133.6 billion over five years to fund public hospitals in Australia. This is an increase of $33.6 billion on the previous agreement with states and territories, and it's a huge win for hospitals. My expectation is that the state government will allocate funding for the Swan Hill hospital and the Mildura hospital to address the needs of these communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on the mental health of our communities. That's why I'm so glad that mental health and suicide prevention continues to be a national priority. Medicare funded psychological services through the Better Access initiative have been doubled, meaning that patients can now access 20 sessions instead of just 10 under this budget. And more funding is being provided for Lifeline, headspace, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline. These and other initiatives bring the coalition government's commitment to mental health support to $5.7 billion this year.

The Mallee has had a unique experience of the pandemic, and I have firsthand knowledge about how the restrictions on the people in the Mallee have affected the wellbeing of our communities. I recently sent an electorate-wide email to check in on Mallee locals and request their feedback, to which I received over 700 responses, which I read and responded to individually. Only 14 per cent of people supported the restrictions, while 53 per cent opposed them. Almost 200 responses expressed significant concerns about the economy, and the mental health and wellbeing of their community. There were also 129 responses that mentioned words like depression, suicide and anxiety.

I heard from Lisa from Mildura, whose daughter's partner tragically lost his life in a motorbike accident in June in Brisbane. Lisa was not able to travel to Queensland to be with her daughter, despite her willingness to quarantine. She said the ongoing mental and emotional impact is something that will haunt her forever. Allaya from Amphitheatre told me she feels isolated. She feels that she and her family are not important, and that people who have lost everything and who can't see their loved ones have been forgotten. I've also heard from David from Murrayville, who has been running the Cobb & Co Cafe for the past 10 years. His business is nearing closure because of the 80 per cent downturn due to border closures and hospitality restrictions. He supported the South Australian economy by purchasing produce for his store from that state for the past 10 years, but has now been locked out by the South Australian government. On top of this, David can't get to Adelaide for medical appointments. These are just a few of the hundreds of heart-wrenching stories I've heard in the past few months. Some I have had the privilege to assist, but certainly have created no miracles.

The 2020 Commonwealth budget has outlined a path to recovery for Australia through job creation, infrastructure expenditure and tax relief. But Victoria's social and economic recovery cannot truly begin until freedom of movement across state borders is entirely free, and coronavirus restrictions reflect the reality of case numbers in regional areas. The budget contains many important measures that will continue to support individuals and businesses across the country, but the federal government can't provide everything that Victorians need right now. What they need is their freedom back, and they need that urgently.


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