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Bill Sykes discusses progress on local issues

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Over the past couple of weeks the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) of which I am a member has interviewed the Premier, Treasury and key Ministers regarding the State Budget.
I have used the process to raise a wide range of issues on behalf of country Victorians.
Some of the issues and outcomes are summarised below. Full transcripts are available from

Issue – Insufficient assistance.
Response very disappointing – The Premier and Treasurer both maintain that the Victorian Government has provided very generous drought assistance and dismiss calls for extra measures such as $20,000 cash grants and freight subsidies for fodder.
The Treasurer’s 2007/08 budget is based on a full recovery from the drought within the next few months.
Clearly, they don’t understand that farm dams are still empty, there is no water yet for irrigation next season and many livestock owners are financially and emotionally desperate.
I will raise these issues again when we interview the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Water and the Minister for Mental Health.

Issue – Cost of fences damaged by back burning.
Response – The Treasurer has agreed to ‘look at’ Government policy which pays for the cost of rehabilitation of fire control lines on private land and repairs of fences damaged when making the control lines but which does not pay for the cost of fences destroyed by back burns from the control lines to halt the fires on Crown Land.

Issue – Councils are out of pocket for expenses associated with bushfires in that the salaries of staff transferred to bushfire response activities during normal working hours are not eligible for reimbursement.
I have asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer to request a review of the National Policy on this matter and for the Victorian Government to make a one off payment to bushfire affected Councils to offset these costs which will otherwise be passed onto ratepayers who simply cannot afford the extra costs.

High Country Road Deaths
Issue – Need for increased funding to fix country roads to save country lives.
Response – The Premier, Minister for Roads and Minister for Police are all reluctant to acknowledge the fact that country road deaths now account for approximately 57% of road deaths in Victoria compared with about 37% six years ago.The Premier and Minister for Roads are adamant that the State Government has invested a lot more in country roads than acknowledged by the National Party.The figures presented by the Minister for Roads are being analysed.

Dangerous Intersections
Issue – Black spot funding/Grey spot funding
The Federal Government recently committed around $245m extra for the upgrade of intersections and roadways which had caused deaths.
Grey spot funding – The State Government has allocated $15m to upgrade of intersections about which there are concerns but at which no deaths have been reported.
Local intersections such as Baddaginnie Road/Hume Freeway; Witt Street/Old Sydney Road, Samaria Road/Kilfeera Road are examples of intersections which may qualify for Grey spot funding.
I encourage local councils to liaise with VicRoads about applying for Grey spot funding and Black spot funding.

Issue – Poor retention rate of country Year 12 students
Response – Education Services Minister and Education Minister gloss over the fact that retention rates of Year 12 students in country Victoria is around 69% compared with the State average of 85%.
There appears to be limited commitment to addressing this serious problem.
Claimed relevant Government initiatives need to be fully analysed.

Issue – Low funding of Non Government schools (Victoria’s Non Government schools historically have the lowest level of Government funding per student in Australia).
Response – Government have committed $110m for Non Government schools this year.Government to provide further information on contribution per student.

Issue – Tawonga Primary School – replacement of relocatable buildings with permanent buildings.
Response – Treasurer emphatically confirmed his pre election promise that Tawonga Primary School’s relocatable buildings would be replaced with permanent buildings in the next four years.

Issue – Limited funding of Bush Nursing Hospitals (BNH’s)
Response – Minister for Health – BNH’s are classified as private hospitals therefore State not responsible for funding. However, about $7m has been allocated over the next four years – about the same as last four years.
I requested that this amount be substantially increased as communities who build and operate BNH’s eg Euroa and Nagambie are being discriminated against because they showed initiative and invested in their own hospitals.

Volunteer Police Checks
Issue – Apparent requirement for volunteers working with children to have separate police checks for each organisation with which they work with children.
Response – Secretary, Department of Justice to follow up but the problem appears to be largely a misunderstanding of the legal requirements by volunteer organisations highlighting a need for improved communication.
I also requested that the process be reviewed and if problems are identified they be addressed.

Issue – Community Grants for Water excludes communities not on reticulated water supplies.
Response – Premier agreed to have issue investigated.

Issue – $1,000 tank rebate excludes householders not on reticulated water supplies.
Response – Premier didn’t recognise problem. I will pursue with the Minister for Water.
Public Transport

Issue – Poor train services in Northern and North East Victoria – Reduced train frequency, less convenient timetables, trains running late, poor carriage maintenance eg. Air conditioning failure.
Response – Minister for Public Transport has received many complaints – agreed to investigate problems and work with local MPs to come up with practical solutions.
Dangerous Railway Level Crossings

Issue – Poor maintenance of railway level crossing road surfaces, poor visibility at crossings and insufficient or non functioning signage/warning devices, currently difficult to identify authority responsible for specific problem.
Response – discussions in progress re greater liaison between Local Government and railway management agencies on maintenance issues.
I requested name of one person to contact on problems.

Media contact: Bill Sykes (03) 5762 2100 or 0427 624 989


Written by Greg Naylor

16 May 2007 at 8:08 pm

Posted in media release

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