House debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2021


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading

4:01 pm

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. However, in Australia our economy is fighting back, and we are experiencing clear signs of recovery. In the September quarter, real GDP increased by 3.3 per cent, ahead of market expectations. This is the largest quarterly increase since 1976. Over seven months, from May to December, over 784,000 jobs were created. Ninety per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who either lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero are now back at work. Technically, Australia's recession may be over, but our economic recovery is not. There remains a monumental task ahead in rebuilding our economy and supporting jobs.

The 2021 Commonwealth budget will be crucial to our ongoing success as a nation, and the people of Mallee stand to benefit from further investment by the Morrison-McCormack government. Infrastructure investment is crucial to lives, businesses and communities in Mallee. 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. I know that regional councils often don't have cash left over from their budgets to fund every project that their communities need, which is why the federal government's support is so important to them. Local councils in my electorate have achieved great success through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. This program, announced at the height of the pandemic, has provided the stimulus and support that regional councils have needed to do their part in the economic recovery of our regions. This money is funding vital projects right across Mallee. I was pleased to announce almost $90 million to my 12 local government areas in Mallee in the first round and another $17 million in the extension of the program.

The councils have determined how they spend their funds, and it has been creative. Swan Hill Rural City Council is using $350,000 of its funding to build new change rooms for the netball courts at Riverside Park in Robinvale and another $152,000 for competition-standard lighting for the netball courts at Alan Garden Reserve in Swan Hill. Horsham Rural City Council is spending $150,000 to upgrade Horsham Town Hall for live performances and is putting another $150,000 towards a $3 million effort to revitalise the footpaths in town. Mildura Rural City Council is using $1.63 million to upgrade its streetlights with energy-efficient LED bulbs. It has also put a further $1 million towards the Mildura sports precinct, which has previously received $17.5 million from this government through two previous rounds of the Building Better Regions Fund.

These are just a handful of 99 projects that are underway or completed in the 12 local government areas in Mallee. All of my councils still have several high-priority projects that are ready and waiting to be funded. I have sent a detailed list of these projects to the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister for infrastructure to advocate and show just how much potential there is in Mallee for further effective investment. I trust that our local council organisations will continue to be supported through direct funding support, whether that's through another round of the Building Better Regions Fund, a further extension of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program or other financial assistance for regional councils. I'm fighting for more funds in the 2021 budget to support our local communities to deliver their much-needed projects.

Our potential in Mallee is great and it's being matched by investment from the Morrison-McCormack government. In recent months, we've seen huge demand for the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund. In Mallee, I was contacted by several businesses that were excited to lodge their applications. Australian Eatwell has applied for new processing technologies for an all-new innovative product range of tofu products at their Donald facility. True Foods in Maryborough have applied for funding to expand their facilities for a new product line, and Australian Premium Dried Fruits in Sunraysia have applied for new equipment for their Merbein facility to take their processes to highly advanced levels which will enhance their export possibilities. These are exciting projects, but I'm aware of how popular this round of funding has been and how oversubscribed it has been.

Sadly, many worthy projects will miss out. For this reason, I'm calling for another round of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund to be included in the 2021 budget. We need to continue offering support to these expanding innovative industries that will continue to drive jobs into the future. In Mildura, we are benefitting from the Commonwealth government's Recycling Modernisation Fund, part of the Australian government's $1 billion transformation of Australia's waste and recycling industries. Major co-funded investments across Victoria will double the state's domestic glass recycling capacity, increase our plastic recycling by 40 per cent and create 350 jobs. Mildura will see the construction of a million-dollar glass processing and sorting facility, processing 4,900 tonnes of material each year. This is a huge win for my home town and will create jobs and all the flow-on benefits for industry, community and the environment.

In the upcoming budget, I'm fighting for further commitments to Australia's energy security and renewable technologies. The Technology Investment Roadmap, the National Hydrogen Strategy and continued investments in our nation's transmission network are all welcome. We need to expand on these investments to support our growing renewable sector. On several occasions, I have spoken in this House of my desire to see Mallee become a leader in renewables, hydrogen and biofuels, and this dream is quickly becoming a reality. A local research organisation, the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, has received funding to take part in a nationwide hydrogen cluster through National Energy Resources Australia, NERA. This cluster will advance research on new hydrogen technologies to help develop this emerging industry. I am thrilled that my advocacy for the new Interconnector West, VNI West, to go through Kerang was successful. This will allow the solar energy sector in the north Mallee electorate to flourish and expand. It took a lot of lobbying to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, but I'm really glad we were able to get this project over the line. The state government now needs to step up and agree. Private investors in the renewable industry have had their sights set on Mallee for years, but some have lacked confidence due to the lack of transmission capacity. The VNI West project supports investment and increases our capacity to generate renewable energy and create jobs. The VNI project and other key transmission projects, such as Marinus Link, have been backed by a $250 million investment by the Morrison-McCormack government.

A healthy environment is key to commercial success in Mallee, and this is particularly true for the waterways that embody the soul of our region and support our livelihoods. Recently, it was a pleasure to host the minister for water, Keith Pitt, in Mallee on his tour of the Murray River region. From Cohuna to Gunbower and all the way to Mildura, the minister heard the voices of concerned locals, community groups and farmers. The $6 million Murray-Darling Healthy Rivers Program as well as the changes to the Water Efficiency Program—which has made $1.33 billion available for state led off-farm water efficiency projects—means no more water will be taken from our irrigators. This is news that has been widely welcomed. The Morrison-McCormack government is working to protect the health of our vital waterways and delivering on our commitments to the environment while providing farmers and irrigators with certainty that no more water will be taken from the consumptive pool.

With massive levels of investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, recycling and energy and in the environment, we need to ensure our nation has the skills to match our ambitions. I continually hear that the biggest challenge holding back businesses in my electorate is that of appropriately skilled workers. Through several measures, the Morrison-McCormack government is working to ensure we have the skills that our thriving industries need. Speaking to business owners in Mallee, I know that apprentices and trainees are the future of our industries. My favourite days as an MP are getting out in the electorate and hearing from businesses, tradies and apprentices. Recently, I stopped by Casey's Truck & Tractor centre in St Arnaud. I was sorry to miss my good friend Bernie Casey, but it was a pleasure to meet his son Dale and his grandson Dylan. Dylan is a fourth-generation Casey working in the business and one of several apprentices that are on their way to becoming diesel mechanics. Lachie, Ryan and Dylan are all showing the dedication needed to excel at their trade, and Casey's is supporting them to be the best that they can be.

The Morrison-McCormack government's Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements is making a difference to businesses like Casey's with a 50 per cent wage subsidy for all new or recommencing apprentices and trainees. In October 2020, the Morrison-McCormack government announced that it would invest $1.2 billion to support 100,000 new apprentices or trainees through the subsidy. Amazingly, these 100,000 new apprenticeships have been taken up by businesses in less than five months. In Mallee alone there have been 627 apprentices registered. Due to the overwhelming success of the subsidy, the Morrison-McCormack government has lifted the cap on places under the program, extending the subsidy to a full 12-month period for new apprentices and trainees who begin before 30 September this year. The government and Australian businesses are backing opportunities for Australians, particularly for our young people, and I am fighting to see this support continued in the upcoming budget.

But it's not just apprentices and trainees that are desperately needed in Mallee; we also need a focus on higher education opportunities. This year, I've been working on two exciting proposals, with leaders of two universities with a footprint in Mallee. I have worked with Professor John Dewar, Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University, to develop a proposal to extend La Trobe's successful Rural Medical Pathway—currently based in Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton—to Mildura. John and I took this proposal to the ministers of health and regional health. The Rural Medical Pathway is a partnership between La Trobe and Melbourne University and was an initiative of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network. It aims to offer students medical training in regional areas in order to increase student retention, following the 'train local, stay local' mantra. La Trobe is seeking $6.25 million over four years in the 2021 budget, with a commitment of an additional 17 Commonwealth supported medical places from 2025 for postgraduate students. Included in this request is $2.2 million for a new laboratory at the Mildura campus for the new students.

Another proposal has been made by Geoffrey Lord, the head of Wimmera Campus of Federation University, based in Horsham. In conjunction with Wimmera Health Care Group, he aims to construct a new state-of-the-art training facility, to expand Federation University's Bachelor of Nursing offering in Horsham. Geoffrey predicts that this proposal would lead to an ongoing 120 student enrolments at the Horsham campus, which would aid the region to attract and retain a viable nursing workforce.

These proposals have the potential to revolutionise medical training in regions that are lacking qualified medical professionals. Beyond this, they will expand higher education offerings to students in Mildura, Horsham and surrounding communities, giving students more choice and flexibility. In this way, they will support the sustainability of higher education delivery in our regions. Increasing opportunities for training in medicine, allied health, science and engineering will help our regions flourish and go from strength to strength into the future.

On several occasions now, including in my very first speech in parliament, I've spoken of the need for greater access to quality health care in regional areas. My coalition government delivered $18.6 million for border oncology research in last year's budget to add the Mildura Base Public Hospital as a new site for the Regional Trials Network, Victoria, and I know that countless cancer patients and their families were thrilled to learn that a brand-new radiation oncology service will be established in Mildura at the private hospital. Our government committed $6.5 million to purchase state-of-the-art equipment for this vital project. It will mean that cancer patients in Mildura and surrounding areas won't have to travel long hours, far from their homes, in order to receive lifesaving radiation cancer treatment. To complement the new facility, the town needs to invest in accommodation for patients who still need to travel to Mildura. This is something I am fighting for now.

I've been working closely with the local health organisations to better understand the needs of our community and how we can address the maldistribution of our nation's health workforce. That's why I'm fighting for Medicare provider numbers for new graduates to be attached to areas of need, based on the Modified Monash Model. As I have said, local training is key to our long-term success, but more can and should be done to address these challenges. (Time expired)


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