Regional Development | October 26, 2015

Labor's snubbing of regional report under investigation

A lazy and contemptuous response from the Andrews Labor Government to a 282-page report of an inquiry chaired by former Nationals MP David O’Brien is under investigation.

Labor has been accused of slapping regional Victoria in the face over its response to a Rural and Regional Committee Report on ways to improve regional exports.

The committee – then chaired by Mr O’Brien – was scrapped by Labor when it came to office.

The inquiry was formally begun in November 2013 and held 10 public hearings and site visits around the state – with special focus on the south and south west. It handed down its 23 recommendations in the major report in September 2014.

Recommendations called for improvement in export market development, infrastructure, government communications and costs.

Many of the submissions and witnesses came from dairy and other agriculture sectors, exporters, local government and the freight industry in the south and south-west Victoria. Hearings and site visits were held in places including Hamilton, Portland, Geelong, Ballarat and Warrnambool.

Under the parliamentary committee system, the Government has six months to formally reply to an inquiry’s recommendations. This meant the Andrews Government should have responded by the end of March this year. Earlier this month, Mr O’Brien, now the Nationals candidate for the Polwarth by-election, called on the Government to make its report public.

Last Thursday, Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford angered State Parliament when she produced just one-and-a-half pages of response, without a single reference to any of the recommendations.

The response drew a blistering attack from Shadow Regional Development Minister, Nationals MP Damian Drum, who slammed the flimsy document as “incredibly disrespectful and lazy”.

Mr Drum, also a former chair of the Regional and Rural Committee, said it was an outrageous cold shoulder to the former committee – made up of MPs from across all parties – and to the more than 130 witnesses who gave evidence, the 51 who made written submissions, to the organisations and companies which offered their insights and to all regional Victoria.

“The government is, in my opinion, walking away from rural and regional Victoria,” he said, listing the inquiry snub alongside the scrapping of the respected Regional and Rural Committee, savage cuts to regional funding and the failure to launch its own regional jobs fund after almost a year in office.

Mr Drum’s comments were echoed by the Legislative Council President, Bruce Atkinson, who said he would investigate the response and would bring it formally to Labor’s attention.

He told Parliament: “It is at the very least discourteous to all those people—to the committee members themselves; to the staff who work so assiduously on these reports, often in their own time as much as in paid time; and certainly to members of the public or stakeholders who contribute to those reports by way of submissions or appearances at hearings—and in some respects it could almost border on a contempt of the committee’s process.”

Mr Drum urged the Andrews Government to rethink its response and provide a fuller and more respectful response to the O’Brien committee’s recommendations.

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