House debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading

4:40 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I rise also to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023. I had some great concerns in my previous role, when I looked after Safer Communities Fund projects, and also in the electorate of La Trobe, where we had what I can say was a severe hit when it came to infrastructure funding. One of the previous programs which was committed to back in 2019 was a $300 million roads package to seal unsealed roads throughout the Dandenong Ranges. This was strongly supported by the local councils, the Cardinia Shire Council and the Yarra Ranges Council. This was pretty much the No. 1 issue up in that area, in suburbs such as Emerald and, in particular, Cockatoo.

It all started with a roads action group called craig21. They approached me about sealing Caroline Avenue, I think it was, behind the Cockatoo Primary School. They said how dangerous it was for parents picking up children in that area. Then we had other suburbs, such as Gembrook, Beaconsfield, Beaconsfield Upper, Avonsleigh, Mount Burnett, Guys Hill, Maryknoll, Clematis and even going over to Menzies Creek in the electorate of Casey, as well as, locally, Pakenham Upper.

There are a number of reasons why this project is very important. As someone who lived on a dirt road many years ago—I actually lived on one for 17 years—I know that it's not only in summer, when there's dust and the annoyance of always having a dirty car or the potholes when you're driving in after a rainy patch. And, obviously, you can imagine how bad it is now, Mr Deputy Speaker Stevens. But there are also issues when it comes to road safety. My background is as a former police officer. If you have a car coming around a corner at speed and you want to get out of the way, it can actually be quite dangerous if, when you get out of the way, you have a gutter beside you.

In particular, the big issue is when it came to bushfires, and this is a point that has been put to me by council and even by the CFA. In the event of needing to evacuate during a bushfire, if you have a road that is sealed, you will have the kerb and channels. At the moment, it has a gutter at each side. If it's smoky or conditions are bad and people are in a panic to get out of there, they will get stuck in the gutter, and this obviously becomes an issue. This actually happened a number of years ago. As an example, Yarra Ranges Council told me about what happened in Mount Evelyn on a dirt track. Fundamentally, Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, who was then the Labor opposition leader, and Simon Curtis, the Labor candidate for La Trobe, matched this funding. They came out and said, 'We will match this funding.' There was a big article in the Star. It was great news that there was bipartisan funding for the unsealed roads project.

The other one which was also matched was Wellington Road. Wellington Road is one of the main thoroughfares if you're going up to, again, Cockatoo, Gembrook and Emerald and also if you're cutting off and going up into the hills and the Dandenong Ranges and into parts of Berwick in my electorate and Officer and Beaconsfield. This is part of the fastest-growing electorate in the country. That work on Wellington Road was vital; it was $110 million. I hear the Labor Party's made a song and dance, saying, 'Hang on, you didn't put enough money into it. It's blown out to $670 million.' The funding we committed was based on advice from, I believe, Cardinia shire, which said the total project would be $210 million. We put half that funding in that project. It is such a vital, dangerous road where we've had fatalities, particularly on the Harkaway Road-Wellington Road intersection, which is such a dangerous road. It's a project that I previously committed to back in 2007. Some residents ask, 'Why hasn't this been fixed before?' We actually did commit funding back in 2007, when we had nowhere near the population living in the electorate. It was a big issue at the time.

I must say I was very annoyed with the Yarra Ranges shire, which diverted the funding after 2010, but it did so with the blessing of the then transport minister, who is now the Prime Minister. The last letter I wrote before I lost my seat in 2010 was to the transport minister at the time, Anthony Albanese, to say, 'Do not allow this funding to be diverted.' Sadly, that's what happened. It got spent elsewhere. There was another election commitment, of $110 million, back in 2019, which was matched. Now it's been scrapped, so we've lost $410 million in that area on what was a bipartisan approach on these two vital road projects. There is a state seat called Monbulk, which covers pretty much all those areas I've spoken about. It wasn't a seat we were targeting in the state election but, boy oh boy, I can tell you now it is right in the race because the residents are furious that they've had $410 million cut from them.

The other project I spoke about earlier was the Safer Communities Fund. The first stream of the Safer Communities Fund was infrastructure funding brought in that awful terrorist attack in Christchurch in New Zealand. It was to make places of worship safer. The biggest beneficiaries in Australia, when I looked after this program were our Jewish community, for obvious reasons, and the Muslim community. There were a number of others, though, who missed out when they applied for funding—for example, Hindu and Buddhist temples and Sikh gurdwaras. I intervened in a number of these projects for the simple reason that if I hadn't intervened they would never have got their funding up. One in particular that greatly concerned me—they came to visit me two or three times in my electorate—was a temple in Tarneit. The abbreviation is SMVS, otherwise known as the Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha. They had, sadly, been firebombed and had had amazing amounts of vandalism occur. I'm just going to quote from an online Indian newspaper. The article's heading is 'Jason Wood calls Joanne Ryan "Lazy Labor member (who) can't be bothered" to visit when Hindu temple attacked.' The member for Lalor made a statement in parliament about this article, when she said she actually visited the temple on two occasions. I make the point, and this will be very interesting for Labor members to listen to, that this is an article from an online Indian newspaper The Australia Today. The author is Jai Bharadwaj, who has written a further article in The Australia Today, in which he says:

SMVS temple's management committee told The Australia Today, "Member for Lalor Ms Joanne Ryan has visited the Temple once 6 years ago and recently once for a Diwali function in the year 2021."

The article states:

The Australia Today is given to understand that Ms Ryan did not visit Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha (SMVS) temple even once after more than 10 attacks in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Each time the attack happened on the temple local Member of the Victorian parliament and Member of the Federal Parliament Joanne Ryan's office was informed and help was sought.

The Australia Today can also reveal that when the Temple management committee approached her for help as a local federal MP, Ms Ryan even refused to write a supporting letter for SMVS Temple's Safer Community Grant application.

The one thing I cannot believe is, obviously, members of parliament not bothering to go to support their local constituents. But, worse still, when they were actually under attack—and they were under attack, as we've heard, 10 times—we had the new Labor government come in and scrap the next round of $50 million for the Safer Communities Fund. There was a second stream of funding, for early intervention for high-risk youth. Going back to my days in the police force, the most important thing to stop young people going down the wrong path is to either keep them in school or, if they've gone into incarceration, provide them with assistance and help when they get out.

In round 6, we initially put $20 million on the table. Incredibly, we had 420 applications, of which I think 370 met the eligibility criteria, so we extended the program to $120 million worth of funding in total. What we were doing was going up the chain. After the first $20 million was used up, we looked at the next projects for $50 million until we got up to the $120 million mark.

That program has been cut, and I make a very valid point. In the first round of this program—I think it was round 5 of the Safer Communities Fund, where we had the $20 million for high-risk youth and the $10 million for infrastructure—there was another $5 million for admin costs. So, when we extended the program by another $100 million, we didn't have to readvertise it. We didn't need to spend any more money on admin costs, because those costs were already covered. The new Labor government are saying they're going to have another program. There are two problems with that. It's going to take at least 12 months to develop and we're going to have to wait till the next budget to see what's in there. And, sadly, it's going to have all the extra admin costs incorporated in it. Sadly, when it comes to keeping places of worship safer and when it comes to supporting youngsters who've been involved in crime or are at high risk—and, can I say, at least 20 per cent of the funding went to Indigenous communities—those communities, in the future, will miss out until something else happens.

Overall, the federal budget has been very disappointing for people of faith in particular multicultural communities when it comes to their temples. It could be a Sikh gurdwara; it could be a Buddhist temple; it could be a Jewish synagogue; it could be a Muslim mosque. They won't be getting any funding from the Safer Communities Fund. There's no funding they can access to make them safer if any sort of incident takes place.

When it comes to the road funding, that $410 million of unsealed roads funding for the hills—when I say 'the hills', I mean the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne's south-east—and the Wellington Road funding, I would like to let everyone know that the Liberal candidate for Monbulk, Gareth Ward, who's doing a mighty job out there, totally supports these projects. He's telling me that people are shocked that the Labor Party has cut this funding, specifically because it was a bipartisan commitment by the Labor Party and, obviously, the Liberal Party.

It's devastating for residents, who are getting phone calls from the Yarra Ranges Council and the Cardinia Shire Council at the moment, saying, 'All those roadworks which were planned for sealing your road in January or February have now been abandoned, and all the construction teams are being put off.' It's devastating for the area. On that note, I'll leave it there. It wasn't a good budget at all for those two groups. For those who care about safety when it comes to road funding in the hills, it was devastating.


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