House debates

Monday, 16 October 2017

Private Members' Business

Victoria: Regional Development Australia

1:02 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the good work of the Northern Melbourne Regional Development Australia (RDA) committee;

(2) condemns the Government for shutting down the Northern Melbourne RDA;

(3) recognises that Melbourne' s northern suburbs are a significant growth area, which has not received its fair share of vital infrastructure support under this Government and that this is adversely impacting on productivity and liveability; and

(4) calls on the Minister to reconsider amalgamating the RDA committees in Victoria.

For the seventh year in a row, Melbourne has been acclaimed as the world's most livable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit, amongst other bodies. But our celebration as proud Melburnians, Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, must be tempered. We must ask ourselves: livable for who and for how long? As you would be well aware, Melbourne is one of the fastest-growing cities, not just in Australia but right across the OECD. While this growth takes place right across Melbourne, it's particularly concentrated in areas of the northern suburbs, including in the electorates of Scullin, Batman and McEwen, and also in the electorate of Calwell, Deputy Speaker! This presents great opportunities for our communities—great opportunities which are being recklessly squandered by the decision-making of this government.

This government's failure to support Melbourne and its failure to consider the needs of Melburnians is presenting a massive handbrake on our productivity as well as our livability. It's impacting on too many lives. We see this in the obscene decision to allocate only a fraction of the necessary Commonwealth infrastructure spends to Melbourne. We see it in the neglect of urban policy from this government generally—no matter what the present Prime Minister might say. But all of these decisions are being compounded by the decision this motion seeks to highlight—that is, to turn the present four Regional Development Australia committees, reflecting the diverse needs of Melbourne, into one. I am particularly concerned about the impact of this in terms of all the communities of the northern suburbs of Melbourne, because it is clear that Melbourne's northern suburbs form a distinct regional economy—and a distinct community at that, comprised of more than a million people, and local government areas, such as Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Mitchell shire, Nillumbik, Yarra, Whittlesea and Moreland. There has been some fantastic work done by the RDA which covers northern Melbourne, recognising the diversity of interests here. I'd like to take this opportunity in this place to acknowledge the great contribution of Tony Coppola, who has done extraordinary work, and that of his committee.

The government has formed a series of views about how urban Australia should be treated. We saw under previous Liberal administrations the dominance of the National Party, through such discredited programs as 'Roads of National Party Importance', when it came to our national government's involvement in infrastructure. More subtly, we see the same thing play out here, under Prime Minister Turnbull, as was the case under his predecessor, the member for Warringah. We saw a series of reviews of our RDAs which really shifted a focus—showed a thinking that regions economically in Australian are defined by this government as those areas which aren't our major cities. This is short-changing millions of Australians and denying the reality that we live in Australia, the world's most urbanised nation and, in particular, the world's most suburbanised nation.

Our communities, particularly those in growing outer-suburban regions, require the active engagement of a national government. A critical part of that is establishing lasting partnerships. That has been the role of the Northern Melbourne RDA. It has drawn together local, state and national government stakeholdings and those policy priorities to build a shared vision for our region in concert with community and private enterprise. We have seen really important work done. I think about the regional plan from last year on to 2019, a framework for balancing the opportunities and meeting the challenges of our region; the Food and Beverage Growth Plan; the future workforce plan; and, of course, the vital Northern Horizons vision, a 50-year vision for infrastructure to sustain our communities and our economy. These are pieces of work that will be lost through the government's reckless decision to turn four Melbourne RDAs into one. It is a government which continues to turn its back on Melbourne—in particular, the northern suburbs. I note that no government speakers proposed to contribute to this debate. This government adds insult to injury when it comes to Melbourne's northern suburbs. It has made a decision, without due process and without due consideration, that will short-change the lives of more than a million Melburnians, for which it should stand condemned. The government needs to reconsider this decision.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

1:08 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. While we've been back in our electorates getting the latest updates on what's happening in the real world, the Minister for Regional Development has been finding more and more ways to snub Victorians, particularly us in the northern suburbs. The latest target is the Regional Development Australia committees in Victoria, which the government is bulldozing. For years, the Northern Melbourne RDA has been a big part of the development in my electorate of McEwen, as it has been in those seats around me, such as Batman, Scullin and Calwell. But, just as with all the good things that come our way, this government is determined to shut it down.

As of December this year, the four Melbourne Regional Development Australia committees will be amalgamated into one big mess. I say it's a mess because, whenever the government puts its hands on something, you can guarantee it's going to turn into a mess. It means shutting down the focus on the northern suburbs and the north of Melbourne and making bureaucratic chaos out of what has been, until now, a prosperous committee achieving for all of our communities. The four RDAs have catered to the diverse needs of the growing Melbourne regional population. Having four separate, concentrated focuses acknowledging the needs of smaller community based projects has been at the forefront of creating a plan for the development of Melbourne's outer peripheries.

The Northern Melbourne RDA specialised in focusing on our own unique region, ranging from rural to semirural to urban communities. The amalgamation is especially dangerous for McEwen, with a shift from focused, critical support for development in our region to a more—so-called—big-picture, blanket approach. By merging the RDAs the new committee will be overstretched and underresourced to manage and deliver such a vast development plan.

We know already that, since the election of the Andrews government, Victoria has become a boom place. Each and every day there are people moving in. Roughly 2,000 people a month move into my electorate alone. This means big stresses on our infrastructure. The state government can't keep up when this federal government is allocating only seven per cent of what we're entitled to on infrastructure. This causes problems day in and day out. Look at what they're doing with cutting manufacturing job support in Victoria. You can see why the issues are coming. The government here is either too blind to see the future or clearly doesn't care.

Projects like The Future Workforce: Melbourne's North report won't be a priority anymore. No longer will the Northern Melbourne RDA run initiatives such as leadership programs for disadvantaged young women or assist us in advocating for the full NBN rollout in Victoria. The RDA has delivered projects that have had a significant impact on my community. I've been really proud to see these projects delivered that shape the region. It has brought in major tourism with projects such as the development at Hanging Rock. It has transformed it into a venue for large events and concerts and has brought in everyone from Leonard Cohen to Bruce Springsteen—and the mighty Oils are coming shortly.

Our region, particularly McEwen, is one of the fastest growing in the country. While we continue to boom, the government again and again denies us vital infrastructure support and funding. This ongoing unequal distribution of infrastructure funding already adversely impacts on our productivity and livability, and this amalgamation is only going to make things worse. The Northern Melbourne RDA's home page states that the region is facing and will continue to face unprecedented growth. The minister could take two seconds and have a look at the page to see how unfair this amalgamation is going to be for our region.

The minister's RDA reform is supposed to grow strong and confident regional communities. Exactly how does that work? Not even she knows. All four RDAs in Melbourne have unique roles to play—something this government is determined to overlook. It's a bit like their citizenship status—they forget these things and pop it to the side.

One project that has been funded is the final stages of the Vietnam veterans walk. This is a national iconic space for our Vietnam veterans. It's something close to my heart and I've been pushing from day one to see it completed. Our deep military history in the northern suburbs is very cherished by all of us. We always remember to honour those who have fallen for our country.

We have benefited from critical infrastructure through the RDA that promotes a healthy lifestyle and provides family facilities in our community. There is the Splash waterpark, with its state-of-the-art aquatic and gym facilities in the booming community of Craigieburn, as well as a synthetic athletics track, a new pavilion and other recreational facilities that enrich our communities. It's time the ministers pulled back and actually thought about communities rather than themselves.

1:13 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I begin by thanking my colleagues the members for Scullin and McEwen for bringing this motion and these important sentiments to the attention of the House. This important motion concerns the Northern Melbourne Regional Development Australia committee. Melbourne is booming faster than ever. It is now one of the 10 fastest-growing large cities in the developed world. It is growing quicker than Mexico City and New York. In the past decade declining affordability of inner-city living and the evolution from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy have driven massive growth and great change in Melbourne's north. We are now facing unprecedented population growth. Recent data has shown that it will become home to more than 300,000 additional persons by 2031. This means that the northern suburbs of Melbourne will soon be the size of Adelaide.

The renowned livability which northern Melbourne has always been proud of—safe, multicultural, cosmopolitan and on the doorstep of the Melbourne CBD—is at risk of being replaced by a decreasing quality of life and productivity. Population growth has placed severe pressure on already strained infrastructure, with services and new infrastructure not keeping up with the demands of new residents. We see this on our roads with traffic congestion and at our train stations.

Population growth, combined with a shift in structural change, and the growth of unemployment and underemployment have become major economic challenges in our parts of Melbourne. Recent research shows that in Melbourne's north there are some of the highest localised unemployment figures in the state, and we're well above the Victorian and national averages. In particular, the level of youth unemployment is pronounced and unacceptable. The unemployment rates of the 15-to-24-year-old cohort in the cities of Hume, Whittlesea and Darebin are three to five percentage points higher than that found in inner Melbourne.

All of the City of Darebin and parts of the City of Whittlesea are in my electorate. Northern Melbourne is a highly diverse region, with residents coming from more than 160 different countries and over 140 different languages being spoken at home. We all know how profound the impact is from long-term unemployment and disengagement from work and learning, and the impacts that can have on young people. In a region as diverse as northern Melbourne, a job is of significant importance, as it is everywhere, to a community's cohesiveness. Melbourne is burgeoning, and northern Melbourne is bearing the brunt of growth and change.

This is why I wholeheartedly welcomed the conception of RDA Northern Melbourne. Funded by the Regional Development Australia program, RDA Northern Melbourne was set up to bring together local leaders, businesses, stakeholders and state, local and federal governments to support economic development in our local community and with programs and ideas tailored to the strengths and compensating for the weaknesses of our local community. It has since carried out many initiatives, tackling issues including youth unemployment and infrastructure. I will name just a few. The Food and Beverage Growth Plan—Melbourne's North, released in 2014, aimed at creating 10,000 new jobs over 10 years. Northern JobReach has assisted over 550 jobseekers and exceeded the targets set by placing 111 people in jobs with local manufacturers. Northern Horizons, a 50-year infrastructure strategy, identified local infrastructure priorities, and in 2016 an updated version was published to ensure that the priorities identified in that document remain a true representation of the needs of our region. By engaging a variety of stakeholders and partners, both public and private, RDA Northern Melbourne was able to mobilise the community behind strategic and targeted responses to issues that affect our communities.

This is why this government's decision to shut down RDA Northern Melbourne, following a review into Regional Development Australia, came as a surprise and an unwelcome shock. But the government's action to downplay Victoria's needs should not, perhaps, surprise us at all. This government has infamously been short-changing Victoria for as long as it's been in power. We know that in the most recent federal budget Victoria received less than eight per cent of federal infrastructure funding despite having a quarter of this nation's population.

It is precisely under such unfavourable circumstances that the importance of retaining RDA Northern Melbourne must not be underestimated. I call on the government to look seriously at northern Melbourne's infrastructure, its needs and its urgent requirements for growth and to reinstate RDA Northern Melbourne. I, along with my Labor colleagues, know that the RDA committee continues to provide tailored solutions for our community, and we're going to keep needing them. We deserve a share in our capital city's growth and prosperity. RDA Northern Melbourne has a track record of delivering results that benefit our region, and we continue to need it.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day the next sitting.

Sitting suspended from 13:18 to 15:59