State jobs budget win

One hundred and fifty public sector jobs, $110 million for a new timber plantation and $435 million for Gippsland rail upgrades headlined the list of announcements for the Latrobe Valley in this year’s state budget.

A range of statewide initiatives are also set to benefit the region, including a 25 per cent payroll tax for regional businesses, a doubling of the first home-buyer’s grant to $20,000 outside Melbourne and $2 billion to train 2700 extra police officers across Victoria.

State Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing described the Andrews Government’s third budget as a “really significant investment in infrastructure, opportunities for business and industry and education and in making sure we can support Gippsland to grow and prosper with better rail and hospitals and schools”.

“There’s always more work to do but the record investment we’re making in our region from $110 million in new timber plantations, through to a family violence hub for the Latrobe Valley and 150 public sector jobs… will make sure we are growing well and sustainably,” Ms Shing said.

She said decentralisation of public sector jobs was not a “silver bullet” for the region’s post-Hazelwood employment issues but was one part of the region’s transition.

Despite the large number of spending commitments, Treasurer Tim Pallas was also able to announce a projected $1.2 billion surplus for the 2017/18 financial year.

Ms Shing said the plan for a new timber plantation was designed to help end the “boom-bust approach to timber supply” and would be developed in consultation with the industry.

“We need to strike the right balance in terms of the right species for plantations and to manage the asset so that we can avoid the distress and frustration that’s evident in Heyfield and other timber towns as a result of reduced supply and increased uncertainty in the industry,” she said.

A family violence hub will be one of 17 such facilities established across Victoria as part of a $448.1 million package to tackle the issue across the state.

The State Government included the $435 million Gippsland rail upgrade in the budget which it intends to pay for with money it says is owed to it by the Federal Government under the national asset recycling scheme.

The budget also contained $311.1 million for extra V/Line VLocity carriages, with Ms Shing saying she would “be working to get as much of that rolling stock for the Gippsland line as possible”.

A $530.6 million regional roads and buildings package will also benefit the region, with funding earmarked for traffic signals at the intersection of Princes Highway and Bank Street, Traralgon, an off-ramp rest area at Moe and a highway roundabout upgrade at Rosedale.

But the budget failed to win the support of Member for Morwell Russell Northe, who said it did not provide initiatives which would support local jobs growth and employment opportunities.

Mr Northe said he welcomed the government’s initiative to move government jobs to the region but that the plan lacked detail.

“It appears on the surface that there won’t be a great deal of opportunities for local people to be employed under this initiative and in reality that is what is crucial to our community right now,” he said.

He also said there was little detail surrounding the timber plantation announcement.

“There’s scant detail about what it actually means or entails and a lot of curiosity from people within the sector around how this might eventuate or work,” Mr Northe said.

“At the same time… the current State Government is in dispute with ASH (Australian Sustainable Hardwood) at Heyfield.”

He said he would have liked to have seen upgrades to Yallourn North Primary School and Latrobe Special Developmental School included in the budget, in addition to funding for Gippsland Carers Association and mental health advocacy group Barrier Breakers.