June 6, 2013  |  Second reading speech

APPROPRIATION (2013-2014) BILL 2013

I am pleased and privileged to rise on behalf of the Niddrie electorate to speak on the Appropriation (2013-2014) Bill 2013. Following my election on 24 March 2012, I immediately conducted a survey of the Niddrie electorate.

Out of the thousands of responses, education and public transport were the two dominant issues raised by the constituents of Niddrie. People wanted increased investment in our local schools, particularly Essendon Keilor College, and a greater investment in our public transport network with better and more frequent bus services.

I will start specifically with what I identified as one of my major priorities upon becoming the fourth member for Niddrie — that is, funding Essendon Keilor College — and I am pleased that the Minister for Education is at the table. Any conversation about opportunity must include education, the most fundamental building block to success. Niddrie is blessed with a great network of schools; however, some are in urgent need of assistance. It is difficult to inspire students on the relevance and importance of education when the school around them is falling down.

On 24 March this year I celebrated my one-year anniversary as the state member for Niddrie. In the morning I participated in the annual Run for the Kids to raise vital funds for the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal, and in the afternoon I attended a centenary celebration of 100 years of education at Essendon Keilor College, formerly Essendon High School. First and foremost it must be said that Essendon Keilor College does have a rich history and forms an important part of the local community with its three campuses at Essendon, Keilor East and Niddrie.

Like Rosebud Primary School in the Minister for Education’s electorate of Nepean, Essendon Keilor College is in need of vital funds for major infrastructure works and refurbishments. The difference, however, is that Rosebud Primary School received funding in this year’s state budget but Essendon Keilor College did not.

Last night I happened to be in the chamber when the
Minister for Education spoke on the budget. This is what he said:

… there is $2.8 million for the second stage of the rebuild of the Rosebud Primary School. Students there have been in 1950s and 1960s classrooms since that school was built, so it is wonderful to see that happening.

But what about Essendon Keilor College? Students there, too, are in 1950s and 1960s classrooms. Indeed, there are buildings there that are over 100 years old and in urgent need of funding. Another difference is that Essendon Keilor College is in a Labor-held electorate — an electorate that I do not take for granted, an electorate that I do not consider a safe seat, an electorate, I must point out, that the government did not care
enough to run a candidate in at the Niddrie by-election.

If it had had the courage to run a candidate, the first question that would have been asked would have been, ‘Will you fund the previous government’s $10 million commitment to rebuild Essendon Keilor College?’ But at the time Liberal Party elders decided not to run a candidate because it would be a referendum on Ted Baillieu’s leadership.

Look what happened 12 months later: the referendum came, and the Premier was forced to resign.

I must say that as with the Rosebud Primary School, the Minister for Education knows Essendon Keilor College very well. In the Age newspaper of 6 April 2011 the minister said this of Essendon Keilor College:

… the conditions out at that school are disgusting, they are not safe for teachers,
they are not good for those students …

On Thursday, 1 September 2011 my predecessor in the seat of Niddrie, Rob Hulls, tabled a petition of almost 1600 signatures demanding that the Baillieu government honour the former Labor government’s commitment to upgrade Essendon Keilor College. Following that petition and following the minister’s own public comments on Essendon Keilor College, the minister decided to visit Essendon Keilor College for himself, and I give him credit for doing so.

In September 2011 the Minister for Education visited Essendon Keilor College and saw firsthand the need to rebuild the Niddrie campus, which caters for years 7 to 10. The minister’s own department knows the plight of Essendon Keilor College.

On 3 November 2011 the Herald Sun newspaper published a report based on documents obtained by freedom of information that showed that Essendon Keilor College was the state’s most run-down school, with over 1341 items requiring attention.

On 3 May 2012 the principal of Essendon Keilor College, David Adamson, wrote to the Minister. I quote the principal’s letter to the minister:

I am writing to you to seek your support for improved facilities at Essendon Keilor College. The college did not receive funding for facilities in the 2012-13 budget, but you are aware, having visited the school, of the very poor state of the buildings at our Niddrie campus.

Essendon Keilor College is recognised as a leading school in innovative practices…. looking to the 2013-14 budget, I would request your strong support for further funding to bring the Niddrie campus up to the standard required to deliver the excellent programs that we offer.

Three weeks later, on 22 May 2012, having received the correspondence from principal David Adamson, the Minister had this to say about Essendon Keilor College in the Victorian Parliament. He said:

I know the school. It is a good school, and it will certainly be part of our future budget
considerations when we are working up to next year’s budget in terms of capital
commitments.

The state budget has been delivered, and what did Essendon Keilor College get? Not a cracker. Not one cent. Essendon Keilor College did not receive any of the funding it so richly deserves.

This is particularly disappointing for students, teachers and families connected to Essendon Keilor College, given there was an expectation that the Minister for Education understood the severity of the situation and was prepared to do something about it.

It is quite clear that the Napthine government seems to be basing its education priorities on politics rather than need. If it was based on need, Essendon Keilor College was a certainty for funding. In fact, the education minister had previously mentioned in the Parliament that his rebuilding program was based on a political wish list. On 21 December 2010 he told the Victorian Parliament:

Our members and our candidates came up with fantastic projects that are worthy and I will fulfil those priorities. We will … look at all … the other schools once they have been fulfilled.

If there is one message I have for the Napthine government, it is this: I said in my inaugural speech that funding for Essendon Keilor College was an immediate task. That task remains.

Since the election of the Baillieu-Napthine government it is three budgets and three strikes for Essendon Keilor College. But my resolve only grows for each day the school does not get the recognition and the funding it deserves.

As I said in my opening remarks, public transport is another issue that the constituents of Niddrie want action on, particularly in relation to improved bus services. The Niddrie electorate is primarily serviced by buses and trams. However, I wish to confine my remarks to buses.

Professor Roz Hansen, as members opposite will know, has more than three decades of urban and regional planning experience and is chairwoman of the state government’s ministerial advisory committee for the Melbourne metropolitan strategy. This committee’s work will have a huge influence on the health and wellbeing of countless individuals, families and communities in coming decades.

In the Age newspaper of 26 March, Professor Hansen put forward the case for an increased investment in bus services, arguing that buses are the solution because there was insufficient time or money to put in tramlines and train lines. Professor Hansen said this:

… buses give you flexibility. Buses allow you to be able to create short shuttle trips and longer destination trips and link into other transport nodes. Buses are really important … extremely flexible and adaptable …so adaptable that if you find that your patronage
levels are skyrocketing, immediately you can start looking at the rolling stock
and get more buses into the system.

How much money did the Napthine government invest in buses in the 2013-14 state budget? A mere $25 million has been allocated to improve the bus network.

No money has been allocated for a new bus service to Valley Lake estate. This is despite the Brimbank-Hume-Melton-Moonee Valley bus service review recommending a bus service to this estate. This is the old Niddrie Quarry estate, which by the end of 2014 will have a population of 1500 people. In the Moonee Valley Weekly of 20 November 2012, under the heading ‘Bus service to Valley Lake takes a back seat’, it is reported that:

Public Transport Victoria has no plans for a bus to service the booming Valley Lake
housing estate, despite a request from its government-funded developer Places
Victoria and the estate having wide roads to accommodate buses.

A Public Transport Victoria spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying:

Introducing a bus service in Valley Lake will be considered in future budgets

Commenting on the situation at Valley Lake estate, Avondale Heights and East Keilor Residents Association president Frank Di Blasi said he hoped the government would reconsider. He said:

People will be completely isolated there …

There was no funding for a new bus service to the Valley Lake estate. On 16 May I met with representatives of the Bus Association Victoria and local bus operators, including Kastoria Bus Lines and Ryans Bus Service, to find a solution for a new bus service to Valley Lake estate without cuts to existing bus routes. Pleasingly we are continuing to work on this
matter. Finally, both Public Transport Victoria and Places Victoria, the government’s own funded developer, are working to try to improve the situation and provide a bus service to Valley Lake estate.

Valley Lake estate is not the only area in the Niddrie electorate requiring new and improved bus services. I would like to quote an email I received from a constituent on 22 December 2012. Her name is Jennifer Waddell and she lives in Avondale Heights. Jennifer wrote:

My son is starting school at Keilor Heights PS next year. I was shocked to discover that we would need to take two buses to travel just over 2 kilometres to the school. Surely when a local primary school like Milleara PS closes, the bus routes should be altered to make it possible for children who would have attended that school to access the school that it
merged with.

Likewise, we are going to the farmers market at the Centreway today and will have to catch two buses. Although there are many buses in this area there are none that go from one end of Milleara Road to the other.

Perhaps business in the Centreway would improve if people could access it as easily as they can access Milleara Mall by bus. This just seems to be an absurd situation to me. Can it be addressed?

 It can be addressed, but it needs to be addressed through funding, and a mere $25 million is not going to adequately service the Niddrie community, let alone the whole of the Victorian population.

When the government comes out later this year with its metropolitan planning strategy and the noble idea to have a 20-minute city — 20 minutes to a park, 20 minutes to a shopping centre, 20 minutes to a school — it is hoped that that strategy will have some significant funds attached to it for bus services to ensure increased liveability and increased opportunity for people.

Having said that, there was not $1 for the electorate of Niddrie in the recent budget; not $1 for the people of Avondale Heights, Airport West, Kealba, Keilor East, Keilor Park or West Essendon. Community and opportunity are the hallmarks of good public policy. Unfortunately this third budget of the Baillieu and Napthine governments does not address community opportunity, it does not address the people of Niddrie and it certainly does not address the demands and expectations that the people of Niddrie have for better public transport and better schools. Doutta Galla Community Health and Moonee Valley Legal Service, key government agencies in the north-west, are crying out for additional funds, and this government has missed the opportunity to provide the funding that they so richly deserve.

Having said that, I hope in future years — we have one more budget before the next election — the community of the north-west, the people of Niddrie, can get the funding they so richly deserve.

I hope the Minister for Education, who is still at the table and has heard my speech, can come back out to Essendon Keilor College and see that the situation has not improved and that funding is desperately needed for that school.