Nationals Candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien has called for Greater Government support for Victorian Regional Exporters.
He has called on the State Government to respond to and support the recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry into rural exports that completed its report last year. The Andrews Government is six months overdue in providing its response to the report.
In September 2014 the Rural and Regional Committee of the Victorian Parliament handed down its report on the “Inquiry into the opportunities for increasing exports of goods and services from regional Victoria”. Mr O’Brien as the then Nationals Member for Western Victoria chaired the Committee which had two Nationals MPs, one labor MP and one liberal MP.
The Committee produced a bipartisan report that contained 23 unanimous recommendations designed to assist regional exporters, including those in Polwarth, to effectively compete and grow their businesses.
Key recommendations of the report include:
- That the Victorian Government partner with the Commonwealth Government in assessing the international competitiveness of the regulation and taxation regime faced by Victorian businesses to identify areas of competitive disadvantage.
- That the Victorian Government work with the Commonwealth Government to strengthen the competitiveness of exporters based in rural and regional Victoria with regard to: relative tariff and trade barriers; and gaining greater market access to existing and future export markets.
- That the Victorian Government ensure that regional exporters have adequate access to the Port of Melbourne, including adequate time slots.
- That the Victorian Government continue to invest in road infrastructure on major transport routes and review regulations in relation to high productivity vehicles.
- That the Victorian Government investigate opportunities for Victorian businesses to invest in foreign companies, particularly in our target export markets such as China, India, South East Asia, North America and the European Union. These opportunities should be promoted and facilitated through Export Victoria, the Victorian Government Business Offices and similar services.
“Polwarth exports a wide range of goods and services, including dairy, meat and fibre, tourism, transport and education services. Manufacturing also remains an important component of the regions’ economy, comprising just under one‐quarter of Victoria’s exports,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Growing these regional exports requires identifying and supporting our competitive advantages, reducing our costs of production and increasing efficiencies while seeking greater access to existing and emerging export markets. Victoria’s competitive advantages mean we have a strong economy with a strong export sector and potential for further growth. Much of these advantages are based on our ability to produce high quality products, our natural environment and liveability, and our world‐leading education, manufacturing, medical and scientific sectors.”
The report also found that Victoria’s major competitive disadvantages for exporting include high labour costs, the high Australian dollar, regulations and the comparatively small size of the majority of Victorian regional businesses. However, some of these features are also intrinsic to Victoria’s liveability and standard of living.
“The Andrew’s Government ought to have responded to the report six months ago and I call for them to do so. They have not chosen to stand a candidate in the Polwarth by-election and they are now six months overdue in responding to a bipartisan report containing important recommendations for regional exporters.”
Mr O’Brien has called for the Governments response to be provided as a matter of urgency.
The 2014/15 Food and Fibre Export Performance Report shows Victorian food and fibre exports increased by $282 million.
That is compared to a $1.2 billion increase last year under the Liberal-Nationals Coalition.
Over the past four years under the Coalition, food and fibre exports grew from $8.8 billion to $11.4 billion.
Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:
“These figures reinforce the importance of the food and fibre sector to Victoria’s economy and the jobs it creates in our regional communities.
“It is concerning Labor has cut the agriculture output budget by 12 per cent, the trade output budget by 61.5 per cent and refuses to fully support the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
“If our food and fibre sector is to continue to prosper, it needs a real budget commitment from the Labor Government – not just words.”
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The Nationals candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien attended last night’s China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) forum in Colac.
The forum was hosted by the Victorian Farmers Federation and was part of a regional roadshow highlighting the importance of the ChAFTA, which is yet to be ratified.
Mr O’Brien said it was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the ChAFTA and how it will benefit farmers and local jobs, particularly in the dairy industry.
“The Victorian Nationals fully support the ChAFTA and the jobs, opportunity and investment that it will bring,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Polwarth is renowned for its quality dairy industry and we are home to some major dairy businesses including Camperdown Dairy International, which has recently signed a 15-year deal to export baby formula to China.
“The dairy industry, and the jobs it creates, will benefit from the elimination of tariffs across a range of dairy export products through the ChAFTA.”
Mr O’Brien said Western Victoria produced about 2.1 billion litres of milk a year,accounting for approximately 23% of national milk output.
China is Victoria’s largest export destination and in 2013/14 Victoria exported $369 million worth of dairy products to the country.
“I just hope the Andrews Labor Government and its union friends get on board and start supporting this historic agreement,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Failing to ratify the ChAFTA would cost rural Australia $300 million in lost opportunity next year alone.”
Labor’s bungling of the transition of fruit and vegetable growers to the new Melbourne Market has already caused job losses in the Euroa electorate.
Member for Euroa and Deputy Leader of The Nationals Steph Ryan said Anderson’s Fruit & Veg in Stanhope had closed its doors on Saturday after providing fresh, seasonal produce to the Campaspe Shire for about 50 years.
“Labor bungled the relocation of the Melbourne Market from day dot. When it announced the project in 2004, it was grossly underfunded and poorly designed.
“Now not only are taxpayers footing the bill for the cost blowouts, but Labor has bungled the transition, impacting local growers and retailers.”
Ms Ryan said the opening hours initially planned would have limited access times and made it impossible for many country retailers to get produce back in time to deliver to their buyers.
“Daniel Andrews’ eleventh hour reprieve was too late for some. The owners of Anderson’s Fruit & Veg had to lay off seven staff and notify their customers that they could no longer supply them,” Ms Ryan said.
Benalla’s Fruits N Fare owners Rick and Di Aumann also considered their future after they were initially denied adequate parking at the new site.
Mr Aumann said the problems with the new market space were not limited to opening times or teething problems but were inherent in the flawed design of the space.
“The market is a logistical nightmare. There are limited parking spaces, including a lack of undercover areas, waiting areas and spaces for drivers to sleep,” Mr Aumann said.
“Retailers’ access to the market has been restricted due to the lack of parking which has meant retailers who have previously had five days of access, now only have access for one day of the week.
“Inadequate backing space leaves no room for smooth flowing traffic and does not take into account the needs of B-doubles, refrigerated transport and rear loading and unloading.
“Restricted forklift access will mean retailers cannot pick up produce directly from the supplier and will have to wait for it to be delivered to their truck. If you’re a smaller retailer you will not be priority under this system.
“The whole situation is completely unworkable and will mean many retailers across Victoria will be forced to close their doors,” Mr Aumann said.
The Coalition is calling on the Andrews Labor Government to release its review into regional Victoria immediately.
Former Labor Premier John Brumby has provided the government with his review into ‘regional economic development and services’.
Yet his 61 recommendations will not be made public until Daniel Andrews’ Regional Development Minister, Jaala Pulford, releases her response in October – almost a year into this government.
Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh said the report must be released now.
“Regional Victorians have every right to be very nervous about this review, considering John Brumby was the architect of the north-south pipeline and desal plant disasters,” Mr Walsh said.
“We should not have to wait for the government to now review its own review. Communities deserve to know what Daniel Andrews and Jaala Pulford are considering for their future.
“I already have serious concerns about their Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, which is already almost half-spent and being used to cost-shift money into Melbourne.
“Now it looks like the future growth and prosperity of regional Victoria is being totally stalled until at least October.
“Regional Victorians are quickly growing sick and tired of the Andrews Labor Government’s constant spin and no substance.
“If the government has nothing to hide and regional Victorians have nothing to fear in this report, why can’t it be released?”
The need for funding to rebuild Korumburra Secondary College has been highlighted in Parliament this week with a petition tabled calling on the Melbourne Labor Government to fund the upgrade.
The Nationals Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien said the school was in a state of disrepair and urgently needed to be rebuilt.
“Neglected by previous Labor governments for many years, the former Coalition Government provided $5.6 million for the planning and first stage of works at the college,” Mr O’Brien said.
“The Education Minister James Merlino needs to have the vision of the Coalition Government and provide the necessary funds to complete the job."
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath, who presented the petition to Parliament, said staff did a great job providing a quality education to students, but despite their best efforts, the current condition was not a conducive environment to learn in.
“As a teacher, I know that the environment students are learning in greatly influences their educational outcomes and these students need a facility that is much more contemporary,” Ms Bath said.
“The college services not only Korumburra, but communities such as Loch, Nyora and Poowong, where the population is growing.
These families need to be assured that their children will have access to a facility that caters for their needs now, and into the future.”
Mr O’Brien said the community would know that in addition to the $5.6 million for stage one, the Coalition Government made an election commitment of $9 million to fund the remainder of the rebuild.
“Labor now needs to come to the party and provide the funds to complete a new school,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It’s not fair that the students of Korumburra Secondary College are overlooked by Melbourne Labor just because they live in the country.”
The Liberal-Nationals Coalition cannot support the Melbourne Labor Government’s proposed sale of the Port of Melbourne in its current form.
It is a dud deal for Victorians, particularly country Victorians, and would damage the competitiveness of our export sector.
Victoria is the freight and logistics capital of Australia, with the Port of Melbourne handling around 36 per cent of the country’s container trade.
Victoria’s food and fibre industries, particularly dairy, are some of the biggest users of the port.
Daniel Andrews’ proposal exposes Victorians to a massive compensation payout if a second container port is developed in the next 50 to 70 years.
Creating a monopoly for the next 70 years by restricting the development of a second container port creates a real risk that Victoria will lose trade and jobs to Sydney and Brisbane.
It would also lead to higher costs for exporters, which would be passed straight back to farmers. We have already seen port fees tipped to rise by around 800 per cent in one hit.
This deal would be a noose around the necks of all Victorians and future governments for 70 years.
This is not the proposal that Daniel Andrews took to the election. The only debate before the election was whether Victoria’s second container port should be built at Hastings or Bay West.
The current proposal just adds to Labor’s herd of white elephants and dud deals, including the desalination plant, Myki and north-south pipeline.
In a real shock to regional communities today Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford refused to commit the proceeds from the sale of the Rural Finance Corporation to regional Victorian infrastructure projects.
This was a promise that had been made by the previous Coalition Government.
The sale of the Rural Finance Corporation last year netted a profit of about $460 million, which was earmarked for re-investment in regional Victoria.
During the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearing for the regional development portfolio today, Ms Pulford refused to say whether that commitment would be honoured by the Andrews Labor Government.
$220 million from the proceeds has been committed to the Murray Basin Rail Project but it is not clear where the remainder of around $240 million will be spent.
Comments from Shadow Minister for Regional Development Damian Drum:
“Quite starkly, Ms Pulford would not answer the question following repeated requests by PAEC member and Nationals MP Danny O’Brien.
“Rural Finance Corporation was built on the success of our state’s farming sectors and regional communities rightly expect the money from its sale to be invested back into their communities – not into Melbourne-based projects, such as level crossing removals.
“Given only 2.9 per cent of the state’s major infrastructure projects have been promised outside of Melbourne, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that this money goes back into regional Victoria.
“Yet again we are seeing this government focused on political outcomes in Melbourne at the expense of rural and regional Victoria.”
Daniel Andrews is ripping off regional Victoria to prop up projects in Melbourne, Shadow Minister for Regional Development Damian Drum said today.
Mr Drum said the Andrews Labor Government’s Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund contained no additional money for regional Victoria.
He said it was a grab-bag of regional projects that should have been covered by general departmental budgets – like health, sport and education.
“Today’s announcement from Daniel Andrews is just more spin and no substance,” Mr Drum said.
“Daniel Andrews is using his regional fund to do the essentials, so that he has more money left in department budgets to prop up projects in Melbourne.
“Daniel Andrews is ripping off regional communities while he spends billions of dollars in Melbourne.”
It is illogical that Daniel Andrews is undertaking a costly review of Regional Development Victoria while at the same time slashing funding for regional Victoria itself.
The Andrews Labor Government has appointed a panel, headed by former Labor State Premier John Brumby, to review regional development.
In fact, Regional Development Victoria (RDV) remains an efficient link between all levels of government, the business sector and our communities, and has a track record of delivering fantastic outcomes for regional Victoria.
We don’t know how much this RDV review is going to cost, or what will happen to regional investment programs in the meantime. There is a fear it will put the regional investment on hold completely.
Meanwhile, Premier Andrews is cutting the hugely popular $1 billion Regional Growth Fund, which provided funding to communities for their priority projects such as upgrading recreational facilities, parks and CBDs.
The fund secured $3 worth of investment for every $1 contributed by government and created almost 23,000 jobs right across regional and rural Victoria.
Premier Andrews is also cutting the Country Roads and Bridges Program, which provided $40 million a year to local councils so they could fix their priority roads.
Without this vital funding, those councils must either find that money within their budgets by sacrificing other community programs, or simply abandon local road maintenance projects.
It beggars belief that Daniel Andrews would cut funding for these programs while wasting money on an expensive review of RDV.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Instead of media stunts and endless panels and reviews, the city-centric Andrews Labor Government must step up and actually deliver something for regional Victorians.