May 28, 2014  |  Grievances

Geelong region services

I put on the record my appreciation for the Deputy Speaker, as opposed to the Acting Speaker, this morning. Today I grieve for the people of Geelong and the Bellarine electorate who have been let down by this Napthine Liberal government when it comes to health, education, jobs and community safety. Communities across the region are suffering. They are suffering as a result of cuts to health, cuts to education and cuts that are about to affect police numbers. As a result of this government’s neglect when it comes to our manufacturing industry and its support for it, many hundreds of workers are about to face the loss of their jobs. This government has lost touch. It has lost touch with our region, and it has lost touch with the communities and what matters most to them.

Just over a week ago it was revealed that the police services on the Bellarine Peninsula are to be significantly changed. In fact the last time this occurred was under the Kennett government, and the communities rose up and fought the decision by that government to make changes. The Portarlington, Drysdale and Queenscliff police stations will basically close. The minister is probably in his office saying, ‘Oh, they’re not going to close, they’re not going to close. That’s not what’s going to happen’.

Let me explain what is about to happen. All the police based at those three stations will be moved to the Bellarine police station in Ocean Grove — all of them — and for a few hours a couple of days a week, a junior police officer will provide a counter service. In my mind and in the minds of the people of the Bellarine electorate that is effectively closing those stations. It is shutting down the community policing role that is so important to the residents of Drysdale, Queenscliff and Portarlington. On top of that, all the police who will be based at Ocean Grove will then form part of the Geelong roster; they will be formally part of it, enabling them to be rostered on in Geelong. I say they will be ‘formally part of’ the Geelong roster because, as we know and as I have raised in this house a number of times and raised in letters to the minister, the Bellarine police have been regularly pulled out of Bellarine to fill gaps in Geelong.

Members should not get me wrong.

There is absolutely no doubt that Geelong is under enormous pressure in relation to the management of the crime rate and the number of prisoners in the cells police are having to oversight. The reason Geelong is under such pressure is that since 2010 police numbers in the Geelong region have gone from 224 to 181, with an increase in crime during that period of 15 per cent. Fewer police, an increased crime rate — there could be a link there. Despite the commitment that was made by the then Opposition leader, Ted Baillieu, before the election that there were going to be 70 new police in Geelong, we have fewer police rather than the 70 additional police.

 Apart from the changes proposed in Bellarine, which are to close three police stations — and I remind those opposite that when former Premier Kennett tried to do this in 1999 it did not go down very well — and to take away Bellarine police and leave our communities underpoliced, another big example of the policing changes being made in order to cope with the pressure in Geelong is that police are no longer going to attend and service the Geelong football matches. They have been doing this forever, and they are no longer going to be there; it is all going to be up to security guards. We have just moved to night games, and I know the community of Geelong will notice those police not being there. It will notice. It knows this is happening because the government has not delivered the police it promised.

It is always good to modernise, but at what cost? This is happening at the expense of community policing. There is room for community policing, and there is a need for it. The community needs and demands it.

Yesterday the Minister for Police and Emergency Services backed in the blue paper, which refers to modernising, new technology, lots of task forces and basically less front-line police. I can tell members that when I stood at the street stall on Saturday in Clifton Springs with the Lions Club and at Safeway with petitions against police closures, aside from expressing their incredible anger about the Liberal federal government cuts, people were lining up to sign those petitions.

I can tell members there was story after story about the importance of community policing. Vicky, the evening shift manager at Safeway, told me many stories, including one in particular which represents what community policing is about. Safeway has a lot of young people aged 15 or 16 who leave Safeway late at night after their casual shifts — these are young girls. We had a man parking in the car park night after night for hours. Ringing 000 resulted in the response, ‘We cannot do anything about this. It is not illegal for someone to park in a car’.

This man in this car, however, was causing great concern for both the Safeway management and the young girls who were leaving. So it was taken up with the local police, who were able to do something. They spoke to the guy. The car was unroadworthy as well. Since that happened, the man has not been seen again. This is, again, about prevention and early intervention. That is what community policing is about.

Let us look at Rodney, from Indented Head, who runs a boat business. He has had some major crime issues, including one very major one that occurred recently. Unfortunately somebody went in — this was vandalism at its extreme — and drilled holes in all his boats, which are now unworkable. Because of the range of crime issues, he had had a few task forces looking at them, but at no point had he been able to get any sense of coherence about what was happening, what was involved and who was doing what. The local police officer in Portarlington, Dave, did a great job in pulling all the information together; the local police played that coordination role. I could go on and on with stories and examples that were raised with me on Saturday at the street stall and that have been raised with me by the local police.

Incident responding is important, but so is having a police presence. I can tell members that our population in the Bellarine electorate triples over summer; there are massive increases. Normally our police numbers double, but last summer that did not occur. The Borough of Queenscliffe had to employ its own security guards because there were no police down there. This is a terrible situation — a situation that communities do not support.

Back in December we committed to returning these stations to being full time — that is, 16 hours a day, with the Ocean Grove Bellarine station operating 24 hours a day.

Let us have a look at what has happened in Geelong in relation to jobs. We are weeks away from hundreds of people losing their jobs at Alcoa — at the Point Henry site. We also have hundreds of people who will lose their jobs later in the year at the Point Henry site and potentially at the Anglesea site. What have we had from the Liberal federal and state governments? Absolutely nothing. We had the Premier and the Prime Minister, who are pretty keen to hang out together, down our way a few weeks ago.

Mr Nardella — They’re besties. Ms Neville — That’s right, besties.

 In fact the Premier drove right past Alcoa, but the workers, who I have met with and who I speak to regularly, said, ‘No sign of the Premier and no sign of the manufacturing minister’. The Premier and the Minister for Manufacturing are happy to see management, but they should talk to the workers who are about to lose their jobs. I can tell members that many of those workers have serious concerns for a number of their co-workers in terms of their mental health and wellbeing, yet what we are seeing from this government is nothing. There is no coordinated skills training and no coordinated recognition of prior learning process to assist these workers to be able to get high-skilled work into the future. They are on the scrap heap.

It is not only that; these workers tell me that many of them cannot get into the TAFE course they want to do because the courses are full. The certificate qualification in aged care is one, for example, that they cannot get into.

Again that is not surprising when you look at what has happened to the Gordon TAFE, with $23 million having been taken out and 136 staff gone. At the end of the 2012-13 financial year some 4000 fewer students were able to attend the Gordon TAFE because of a reduction in classes and increases in fees. The Gordon TAFE is a critical component in being able to deliver the retraining options for workers at Alcoa. It was used with Ford, but such a package is not being provided in relation to the Alcoa workers.

Here we are, weeks away from billions of dollars of payroll being ripped out of the Geelong community, with ongoing impacts not just for those workers and their families but also for the businesses that supply to Alcoa and the contractors, who get nothing. Many of those contractors have worked solely for Alcoa for decades, and many of them have already lost their jobs. Their money is coming out of the economy, as is any money that was going into small businesses, which also rely on wages.

What have we seen from the government? Not only is it driving past the workers and not talking to them but it has also provided no coordinated package as was provided for Ford. That is probably mainly because the federal Labor government coordinated that one; it was not the result of anything the federal Liberal government did. There is no additional money to assist the economy in Geelong to withstand what is going to be a major hit. As I said when I started speaking in this debate, this is about a government that has lost touch with our region, lost touch with the communities and lost touch with what matters to those communities and what those communities need to be able to thrive and grow. Certainly closing your eyes to what is about to happen and what is around the corner in relation to Alcoa is not the way to deal with a major issue.

There is another area I will touch on briefly, and that is the cuts to health. We know that 1700 people are now on the waiting list at the Geelong Hospital as a result of the cuts.

Of course this will get worse with the cuts that are about to occur through the federal government. I think there is another $44 million to be ripped out of the Geelong Hospital. These funding cuts are having an impact. Let me give you as an example Julie Rodger, who unfortunately was told recently that her breast cancer may be back. I know Julie has fought hard against her breast cancer and has done a lot in the community to raise awareness of the disease. She had a mammogram and ultrasound and was told she needed a breast biopsy. She was told by Geelong Hospital that it would be three weeks before she could get a breast biopsy because of cost cutting and funding issues. This is unacceptable. In the end Julie, who is a pensioner, paid $99 out of her own pocket.

These cuts are also having a long-term impact on ambulance services. An article in the Geelong Advertiser of 18 March really sums it up:

Geelong ‘the flashpoint’ of states ambulance crisis.

That headline is exactly right. The communities of Bellarine and Geelong cannot rely on an ambulance actually even being in the region at our peak times. Cuts to Geelong Hospital by both federal and state governments will see this situation continue to worsen.

Perhaps one of the worst things and an illustration of this government’s lack of care about the local community concerns Ann Nichol House, an aged-care facility I have spoken about a number of times. The community has been told that Ann Nichol House, which is run by Bellarine Community Health, is going to be privatised, sold off to a private operator. It sits on Crown land that was donated by the Crown at an earlier time for this purpose. It is funded by the community, not by anyone else, and was built by the local community. All of the money comes from the local community. What does the community ask the Minister for Health to do? Just to step in for a moment and say that the government will not transfer that Crown land until proper consultation has occurred with the community. But he is so out of touch he would not even do that. He would not even allow the community that built the facility to have a say in the future of the centre. He rambles on, plays politics with it and has lost touch with that community.

That community is in fact grieving about that facility, from the Rotary club that put in money to the local individuals, such as the builders, who helped build it. That facility is owned by that community.

As I said at the start of my speech, today I grieve for the people of Bellarine and Geelong who have been let down by this government that neglects our communities and has lost touch with what is important to them.