There is an old Yiddish definition of ‘chutzpah’, which is that a boy kills his parents and then claims the defence of being an orphan. It is galling to stand here and listen to a lecture from both Mr Ramsay and Mr Drum about a program that did not deliver for regional Victoria. I can only suggest to the Acting President that he find somebody else to replace him in the chair so he has an opportunity to interject, because I remind him that it was the natural gas extension program under the Bracks and Brumby governments that delivered natural gas to a whole suite of country Victorian towns that would never otherwise have got it.
Mr DALIDAKIS — Mr Davis is being unruly by interjecting from somewhere other than his seat. I point out that Bairnsdale is one such town. Bairnsdale received natural gas under the Bracks and Brumby government programs, and as a result Patties Foods managed to put on more people. How do I know that? It is because I was the energy adviser to the energy minister at the time. We delivered natural gas right across Victoria. Mr Davis should hang his head in shame. He should walk out of the chamber embarrassed at the efforts of the previous government in relation to regional Victoria and at its decision to pork-barrel and not to deliver outcomes for regional Victorians.
Mr Drum spent 60 minutes on goodness knows what other than suggesting that it is about jobs. I will give Mr Drum a job. He can apply for the coaching position at Carlton. There is a possible job for him, because unfortunately it has now become available. Thankfully the Victorian government now treats rural and regional Victorians with far greater importance than the opposition did in government, because its fund — —
An honourable member interjected.
Mr DALIDAKIS — We have heard about Cotton On. Each member of the opposition has spoken about Cotton On. Let me tell members that there are far more industries, far more employers, far more families today receiving natural gas throughout Victoria as a direct result of the initiatives of the Bracks and Brumby governments under the natural gas extension program, and Mr Davis would do well to remember history. If he has forgotten it, I am happy to find some time to teach him about the history of the Bracks and Brumby governments delivering for rural and regional Victoria.
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr DALIDAKIS — I was the chief executive of a major rural and regional industry, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, the peak employer representative body. It gave me great pleasure to represent it in rural and regional industries across Victoria during my three and a half years with the association. It is something that Mr Davis has never done. He has never looked after rural and regional constituents — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! I ask Mr Dalidakis to speak through the Chair, and I ask Mr Davis to make any contributions from his place.
Mr DALIDAKIS — Thank you, Acting President, for bringing me back to speaking through the Chair. I remind Mr Davis that if he needs a lesson in how Labor governments deliver for rural and regional Victoria, I am very happy to tell him what we did in that time and about my experience working on behalf of rural and regional members, their employees, the families of their employees and the communities they worked in. It might be an inconvenient truth for Mr Davis and the coalition, but it is nonetheless the truth that under the natural gas extension program, amongst myriad other programs that were rolled out under the previous Regional Infrastructure Development Fund under the then Minister for Regional and Rural Development, John Brumby, we made it a priority to look after rural and regional Victoria. Given my background, it gives me great pleasure to note that the Andrews government is going to deliver for rural and regional Victorians once again. It gives me great pleasure to note that we will continue to look after those that a true coalition government should look after but unfortunately did not look after in the previous Parliament.
This is a $500 million Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund. The Andrews Labor government went to the election last year with it as one of its commitments. As we have shown already in our brief five or six-month period in office, we keep our election commitments. Some may be popular, some may be unpopular. This one should be very popular, because we are delivering $500 million in a Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, which is made up of $250 million for the Regional Infrastructure Development Fund to invest in projects for regional cities and towns that need it. We will have a $200 million Regional Jobs Fund to help companies grow their workforces, expand their markets and obviously create jobs for the future. There will also be a $50 million Stronger Regional Communities plan to strengthen regional communities and help our towns attract families and young people to live in rural and regional settings.
I might add a couple more issues. The first issue is that if the opposition is not opposing this bill, it should just be supportive of the bill, not have the lead speaker spend 60 minutes and every subsequent speaker 15 minutes arguing against the benefit for rural and regional Victoria and then saying at the end, ‘Ah, but we’re going to support the bill’. Come out and have a unity ticket and say, ‘A strong and vibrant rural and regional Victoria is actually good for the state’, because we on this side of the chamber believe it. We will work tirelessly. As the Premier has said, every waking minute of every waking hour of every day we will continue to contribute and work hard so that all Victorians can share in everything that we do and prosper.
I might reflect that if Mr Drum is so opposed to cuts in rural and regional Victoria, I would welcome a contribution or an interjection from him to say how many times he has written to the current Prime Minister and the current federal Treasurer, who have stolen billions of dollars from all Victorians’ services, from health services in the rural and regional areas of Victoria to recreational grants to sporting and community grants to education funding. Where is the outcry from those opposite, now in opposition, who cry crocodile tears about rural and regional Victoria? Where are the mountains of correspondence from all of them to the current Prime Minister and Treasurer, pleading for them to reinstate the billions of dollars of funding taken from our health and education sectors, money which has been cruelly stolen from the families, the children and the communities the opposition claims to represent?
Here we have a $500 million fund for rural and regional Victoria, and all opposition members can do is have a bit of a whinge and say, ‘Oh, but we’ll support the bill’. Those opposite should support the bill and support what the bill is trying to achieve because, as we all know, if we can develop communities in rural and regional Victoria, we develop jobs. Every employer losing jobs in a community affects the State Emergency Service, the local football teams, the local netball teams and the ability of schools to have children attending — you lose that scale for the school to be viable — and as a result the community is diminished. We are trying to ensure that communities are not diminished. We are trying to ensure that communities grow and prosper.
I would welcome those in the opposition, instead of them having a bit of a whingefest over there and trying to find some kind of relevance in the chamber, genuinely joining with us in bipartisan work to help grow regional and rural Victoria, because rural and regional Victoria have dwindled over the last four years. While Ryan fiddled, country Victoria burned as a result of the previous government.
Here we have a positive plan for rural and regional Victoria. We have a number of plans and funds — a $250 million Regional Infrastructure Development Fund, a $200 million Regional Jobs Fund and a $50 million Stronger Regional Communities plan — and this is about growing all of Victoria. It has rural and regional Victoria at its heart. The plan in this bill is all about country Victoria. It is something we should all get onboard with, because we all want a vibrant rural and regional Victoria.
I commend this bill to the house. Instead of using their time to try to rewrite their history in government, I strongly support and encourage those opposite to use the time to say — should this fund be successful in communities in Ballarat for Mr Morris or for Mr Drum’s electorate in country Victoria — ‘This will be good for my communities and we look forward to working with the government to ensure that our employers can employ more people, we can attract more residents to our towns, we can get a bigger football club, a bigger netball club and a bigger State Emergency Service unit, we can attract more services to the region and to the communities, and that way we can actually grow every part of Victoria so that we have a wonderful story to sell across the country and internationally’.
Victoria is a fantastic place. It is a great place to live, it is a great place to work and it is still a great place to raise a family, and country Victoria needs to be at the forefront of that. I love this legislation. As a former chief executive of a rural and regional industry body, I am empowered by this kind of legislation and the funding we are putting into it. I believe this legislation and the $500 million that goes with it is a positive step for rural and regional Victoria. I commend the bill to the house.