Few surprises in budget

THIS year’s state budget is great news for the region, according to MLAs Peter Ryan and Tim Bull.

Most of the local initiatives had been announced before the budget was handed down on Tuesday, with $16 million going towards the $32 million first stage of the Macalister Irrigation District upgrade, and $15 million for the new Sale police station.

As revealed in the Gippsland Times on Tuesday, funding has been secured to buy land for a new site for the overcrowded Sale Specialist School, but the amount has not been disclosed for commercial reasons.

The government has allocated $1 million for mental health services specifically for east Gippsland and for more mental health beds at Latrobe Regional Hospital.

Gippsland industry and farmers could also benefit from a $110 million investment for the Port of Hastings’ new container development.

Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the MID commitment was a huge vote of confidence in the region.

“The $1m allocation to mental health services in the region will also allow for improved services in this very important area,” he said.

“Many will also benefit from the reforms to the Fire Services Levy. The property levy replaces the old levy on insurance premiums, leading to a fairer system with all property owners making a contribution, rather than just those who insure.

“The Coalition has removed the unfair tax-on-tax, which charged GST and stamp duty on the FSL. Almost all who have been fully insured and paying the FSL will receive significant savings and for the first time there will be concessions for pensioners.

“The record $6.1 billion infrastructure spend will be welcomed, including the commitment to the East -West Tunnel, that will improve metro traffic conditions for all Victorians.”

Other initiatives expected to benefit Gippslanders include $33.7 million during the next two years to expand the planned burning program, as recommended by the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission; an $8 million tourism campaign to drive regional tourism; $4.7 million over two years to help better protect the livestock industry from serious disease, with a particular focus on foot-and-mouth disease; boosting the First Home Owner Grant to $10,000 for newly constructed properties and reducing stamp duty from July 1.

Mr Bull said the government would also fund 720 additional Individual Support Packages in the disability sector, $62 million for people with high needs in supported accommodation and $26 million for a wage rise for about 13,000 disability workers.

“This $224m funding increase takes the total annual disability budget to $1.6 billion. It comes on the back of Victoria signing up to the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme,” Mr Bull said.

“To me, these are the most important of budget week.

“On top of this there is over $280m in additional funding for the restoration, maintenance and upgrade of the state’s roads, another important announcement for this region.

“It will also allow the continuation of works in addition to the many roads projects that have already been completed and are underway in the electorate as we continue to play catch up after years of neglect.”

Treasurer Michael O’Brien said the state government would deliver an estimated operating surplus of $255 million.

Deputy Premier and Gippsland South MLA Peter Ryan said responsible financial management by the government had enabled it to invest in high-quality regional infrastructure, health, education and tourism.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews pointed out the current government had inherited 11 years of triple A ratings and 11 years of budget surpluses from Labor. However, he said, regional communities suffering from massive job losses and hoping for better health and education services would be bitterly disappointed by the budget.

“This budget clearly shows that you cannot trust Denis Napthine and the Liberal-National Government to govern in the best interests of the state’s regions,” he said.

“An additional $209 million has been slashed from the health budget today, taking the total cuts since the Liberal-National Government was elected to $826 million.

“That is enough money to fund 165,000 elective surgery procedures and there is still no indication where the 800 promised hospital beds are.”

Mr Andrews said other cuts included $69 million to education, $20 million to abolish the trade bonus to apprenticeships, and no major infrastructure project to provide jobs for Victorians, while only two major roads in regional and rural Victoria had been funded.

Victorian Farmers’ Federation president Peter Tuohey said the government had delivered a sound and responsible budget.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur was disappointed with the continued absence of a comprehensive Victorian infrastructure plan.

Environment Victoria’s spokesperson Kelly O’Shanassy declared the budget a slap in the face for the environment.

“If you’re in the business of coal mining, road building or port dredging this budget is for you. If however, you are concerned about the environment and the future we are leaving for our kids this budget lets you down,” she said.

For more read Friday’s Gippsland Times.