Federal Budget 2014: Can the Valley lift its budget burden?

The Federal Government’s budget plan to decrease the burden on the welfare system could be counter productive in the Latrobe Valley, Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has warned, without an effective regional development program.

Mr Chester’s budget observation came when asked how successful his government’s plan to introduce a six-month holding period before unsuccessful job seekers could apply for Newstart would be in an area of high unemployment such as the Valley.

“I would have to agree with the critics of this initiative in that we need to make sure jobs are available (to people) in the communities they grew up in, and this is where we need the government to invest in disadvantaged regional communities like the Valley as much as possible to ensure there is that opportunity there,” Mr Chester said.

Mr Chester said he hoped a budget announcement of a $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund, tailored for regional areas of high unemployment, would be legislated for this purpose.

“Currently in Gippsland it may mean people may need to relocate from time to time; there is a lot of work available in horticulture in this region – individual growers are struggling to find workers, and have to resort to backpackers.

However, Mr Chester said the provisions would not apply to principle carers, people with disabilities unable to work full time, and workers with solid employment records who had been recently retrenched.

“We are targeting directly the people who choose not to work and would rather receive welfare entitlements than actively seek a job.”

Acknowledging a raft of cost cutting measures within the budget would be unpopular with the electorate, Mr Chester said Treasurer Joe Hockey had made a good effort in trying to share the burden.

“Any decisions which make it harder for those on low and fixed incomes are always going to be unpopular, but if we don’t take stress off the budget now, we won’t have any benefits to those systems in the future.”

Defending the decision to deregulate university fees, which he said would bolster the competitiveness of unis and their ability to attract students, Mr Chester said he still had reservations about the disadvantage of regional students pursuing university options.

“I’m still concerned we are not doing enough to get regional students to university, with their living away from home costs country, kids still have a significant disadvantage and it is a desperate argument that we need to continue to pursue,” he said.