Monday, 26 October 2009
Gippsland Electorate: Gippsland Rotary Centenary House; Gippsland Electorate: Gippsland Plains Rail Trail
I rise to speak on two issues that certainly grieve me and many hundreds of people in my electorate: the federal government’s failure to provide funding to support the development of the second stage of Gippsland Rotary Centenary House and the upgrade of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. I will get to the specific details of the rail trail in a few moments, but I want to begin on a more positive note.
Earlier tonight in the House I briefly mentioned a fundraising auction which was held on Saturday night in Traralgon, at the Traralgon Vineyard, hosted by Leon and Margaret Hammond. It really was a magnificent setting, and it befitted the occasion given the magnificent generosity shown by Gippslanders on the evening. The generosity of Gippslanders was certainly on show. I believe that in excess of $20,000 was raised for Gippsland Rotary Centenary House on the evening. I commend the members of the fundraising committee for putting in the hard work that goes into arranging such an event, and I also commend the sponsors of the night. It typified the community spirit since the decision was made to build Centenary House.
I have spoken in the House before in relation to the Centenary House facility, and it really is quite extraordinary. It provides a home away from home for patients and their families attending Latrobe Regional Hospital and, primarily, patients of the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre. At the most vulnerable time in their lives, it is very reassuring for people in Gippsland to know that someone cares enough to help them out in this manner. I have visited Rotary Centenary House on several occasions, and it is always being improved, quite often by the partners of the patients, who come in and do odd jobs while their loved ones are receiving treatment and care at the nearby Latrobe Regional Hospital. It has been quite extraordinary to see this community facility developing in the way it has been.
This is the house that love, compassion and empathy have built. Everyone on the committee and all Rotarians in Gippsland should be proud of their achievement. The facility contains six large ensuite units and two smaller self-contained units, along with a communal kitchen, dining room and lounge facilities, a children’s play area and a quiet room for family consultation and privacy. Such a facility did not just happen overnight; it required an enormous amount of work and goodwill from the community and governments at all levels. In the first stage, $500,000 from the Community Support Fund was contributed by the state Labor government, $407,000 was contributed by the federal coalition government through the Sustainable Regions Program and Latrobe city provided the land, while Rotarians across Gippsland provided the people power, with a total of 432,000 coming through philanthropic trusts, including a $100,000 donation by the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The link to McDonald’s is very strong through the local benefactors, Kay and Tony Radford. I know the Radfords will be embarrassed to have their names acknowledged so publicly, but Kay is really a driving force behind the fundraising activities of the committee. Rotary clubs across Gippsland provided $350,000 to the first stage plus a range of in-kind donations. All up, it was a $2 million project that was officially launched by the former federal member for Gippsland, Peter McGauran, and the former state Labor member for Morwell, Brendan Jenkins.
I make the point regarding both the funding sources and the official opening to reflect the bipartisan support that round 1 of the project received and to appeal to the current governments at the state and federal levels to follow that example. There are now plans to build a further stage, and the volunteer board, led by the chairman, Ken Peake, have been successful in raising in the vicinity of $500,000. Federal funding was sought under the Jobs Fund, but the project’s bid for funding was unsuccessful in round 1. I think it is a sad indication that the demand for such a facility is there and growing so quickly that there is such a pressing concern in the community of Gippsland to build another nine units so desperately.
Centenary House is providing comfortable and affordable accommodation for Gippslanders when they are certainly at their most vulnerable. I have no doubt that the friendly and supportive environment which is provided in a safe and secure location is contributing to improved health outcomes for guests while they stay at Centenary House. It is important to note that functions like the fundraiser on Saturday night reflect the overwhelming generosity of Gippslanders, which has been seen right throughout this year, beginning with the fundraising that supported our bushfire victims earlier this year. Although Centenary House is located between Traralgon and Morwell, the main beneficiaries of this project come from further afield, with 82 per cent of the patients travelling from East Gippsland, Wellington and South Gippsland shires. I think it says a lot about the community of the Latrobe Valley and the businesses and residents, who are so willing to support this project, that they are the major sponsors and supporters of the Centenary House facility yet it is their neighbouring communities across Gippsland which actually receive the benefits of their hard work. I strongly urge the federal government ministers to work with their state colleagues in Victoria and support the extension of Centenary House as soon as possible.
I indicated at the outset that I also wanted to raise the issue of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. By way of background, the rail trail covers a distance of 65 kilometres through the towns of Traralgon, Glengarry, Toongabbie, Cowwarr, Heyfield, Tinamba, Maffra and Stratford. The trail follows the path of the disused railway line which connected these towns. This trail is a major tourist icon and a drawcard for touring cyclists and walkers alike. Funding was sought again under the Jobs Fund program to restore the Latrobe River timber trestle rail bridge, which was operational for over 100 years until its closure in 1986. This restoration will enable a seven-kilometre section of the trail between Traralgon and Glengarry to be opened up.
This is another project that has strong support in my community from people who are both passionate and determined to make a difference. In this case, the lady leading the charge is Helen Hoppner. She is a tireless worker for our community and an outstanding advocate of the rail trail. Helen is the current chairperson of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail Committee and, as I said, she has worked tirelessly to promote the opportunities to develop this facility and to encourage state and federal governments to make a contribution to the ongoing upgrades.
The funding proposal that was submitted sought, I think, $340,000. During the construction phase of the project, five jobs are expected to be created on the site and local timbers will be sourced to use in the restoration work. As the application to the Jobs Fund indicated, it is a major tourist icon for the region which would attract some 20,500 touring cyclists, providing an economic benefit to the connected towns estimated at $6 million per annum, thus stimulating development of existing tourist establishments such as cafes, hotels, general stores, the accommodation sector such as the bed and breakfasts, wineries, cheese-making firms and other associated tourism industries.
Obviously some very important observations need to be made about providing opportunities for healthy lifestyles and encouraging people of all ages to exercise in a safe and relaxed environment. I take this opportunity to reflect on the fact that I often worry about the current need for cyclists to exercise on our main road environment right across Gippsland. It is difficult terrain, the visibility is not always that great and our roads have not necessarily been established with cyclists in mind. The broader issue concerning the safety of cyclists in our community needs to be addressed. There have been several tragic accidents in my electorate in the time that I have been a member of parliament, and one occurred quite recently. A local doctor, Heather Hunter, from Sale—a much-loved and well-respected physician in the Sale community—was struck and seriously injured. Heather is still in a critical condition and the thoughts and prayers of all Gippslanders are with Heather and her family and loved ones at this time.
In the context of the need to provide safe opportunities for people to exercise, it is important that the government carefully considers whether there are any opportunities to fund the further stage of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail project in subsequent rounds of the jobs fund. The rail trail has a heritage component associated with it. The trestle bridge, which I referred to earlier, has historical significance. It operated for something in the order of 100 years, until its closure in 1986. It served to develop a resource-rich area, noted for its dairy farming, timber cutting and mining. Aesthetically, the bridge, together with its adjacent flood plain timber bridges, was regarded in the past as a notable and very attractive feature of the Latrobe River. It would be great to see the government in a position to support such a project in future funding rounds. It would obviously add some benefit to the tourism and economic base of the Gippsland region but also to the safety of the cycling community and to the health and wellbeing of the community more generally.
In the time that is left available to me, I also want to reflect briefly that, if such projects do get off the ground, we will be seeking government support to encourage local contractors to tender for any such work. The Gippsland Rotary Centenary House has benefited enormously from local traders undertaking the vast majority of that work. In the time leading up to Christmas, I will be running my own ‘Shopping locally’ campaign in the electorate of Gippsland, with the message of putting locals first. I want to encourage Gippsland mums and dads to seek the opportunity to purchase their Christmas presents wherever they can from the local business sector. We all know that, if you support local businesses in your country communities, you are helping to generate jobs for the future and provide opportunities for young people to remain in your towns. Something we can all do as members of parliament is to promote the benefits of our own regional communities by encouraging such initiatives in our regional areas. Despite the changes to the communications and printing entitlements, I am sure my communication will fit under the new criteria. There will be no disparaging remarks about any government ministers. It will be a very positive newsletter. It will promote the benefits of supporting local communities, putting locals first and creating jobs in the Gippsland region.