WHILE there was no change in the lower house seat of Narracan as a result of last November’s state election, the corresponding upper house seats in the sprawling Eastern Victoria Region now feature several new faces.
First published in the 16 January 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
One of those faces is Labor’s Harriet Shing, who earlier this month moved into her new electorate office on Napier Street, Warragul. The office was previously occupied by Labor’s Matt Viney, who retired at the 2014 election having represented the region since 2002.
Ms Shing is not new to the Eastern Victoria Region, but is still settling into her new town of Warragul after moving here a year ago.
The Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen sat down with Ms Shing to discuss her background, what drove her to enter politics and several electorate issues.
WBBC: Although you obviously had enough support to be the second most popular candidate in the region, a lot of people will be wondering who you are and what is your background.
HS: I grew up in the Dandenongs and went to school in the very outer-eastern suburbs at the edge of Melbourne. I studied arts/law at Monash University and also studied overseas, did an honours thesis in German and lived and studied in Germany for a while. And I’ve worked for the Australian Services Union as a lawyer. I’ve worked in private practice as a lawyer as well and was industrial relations manager in the Department of Premier and Cabinet for some time in the Bracks/Brumby government and have also been an associate to a member of the Industrial Relations Commission, which is now called the Fair Work Commission. So employment and industrial relations laws are very much a part of my background.
WBBC: So what made you want to get into parliament?
HS: My background shows pretty clearly I’ve done a fair bit of public service, and I think politics is another version of public service. One of the things that strikes me is the benefit of education. I had the opportunity to access great primary, secondary and tertiary education and a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t have the opportunities that I had not because I did anything spectacular or special but because of where and how I was born and the opportunities my parents had and I think that when you have those opportunities you have an obligation to contribute and pay it forward, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.
WBBC: That brings up an issue which affected this region quite considerably under the previous state government – changes to TAFE funding saw courses dropped by what was then GippsTAFE and the closure of the Wattleseed Training Restaurant. What is Labor going to do about that, can we expect to see funding for more to happen in Warragul?
HS: Absolutely. There was, as part of Labor’s commitment to restore a heartbeat to TAFE, a commitment to provide an initial $300 million in funding after the $1.2 billion in cuts under the coalition. The TAFE review is also a really important part where the Labor government will assess what’s missing from TAFE and where and how we ensure that educational opportunities to young people again.
WBBC: I’m assuming the goal of the review is to put more money in rather than to find efficiencies?
HS: I would really hope so, I think that there’s always room for a system to improve. The Premier has been really really clear about the importance of providing better opportunities to everyone across Victoria to access different courses and training, whether that’s a tech school, one of which will be in Morwell, but also in addition to that, restoring the LLENs and the TAFE sector.
WBBC: What kind of time frame is it until that review comes back?
HS: It will be a process for the review to determine when and how.
WBBC: Oh right, so it could be years down the track?
HS: No no, it’s not going to be something that we drag our heels on. Daniel Andrews has been really really clear about that needing to happen as a priority.
WBBC: Is it daunting to have such a massive electorate?
HS: It’s huge! I’ve got a really wonderful parliamentary colleague in Daniel Mulino, and he and I are working out how we best cover that to ensure people have as much ready access to us as possible.
WBBC: Since moving into this office you’ve already had people drop in. What have been the issues they have been raising?
HS: There are issues and concerns around public housing and around access to improved amenity and services, and also jobs around local jobs and industry – people are really concerned about the future of employment opportunities, and again education. These are all issues that featured very highly as Labor priorities and it’s something which the community was very very strong about in bringing to my attention, and that was across the whole of Gippsland.
WBBC: On the topic of jobs in regional areas, the Regional Growth Fund and the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund were both Liberal party-introduced programs. Will Labor look to continue those programs with a renewal of those programs? Because those did see grants given to a lot of local businesses to help employment.
HS: The Future Industries Fund and regional development is a really key priority for Labor. We need to have a really good, strategic focus on regional growth and development and to identify options and areas for growth. Labor’s identified six areas for focus, which include pulp and paper, food and fibre technology, and also renewable technology. Those are the sorts of things which we can really focus on to create competitive advantage for Gippsland.
WBBC: But the previous funds appear to have been a successful way of supporting growth of businesses, would there be any move to renew funding for those programs too?
HS: There is capacity for funding for business and industry, so there shouldn’t be concern about fearmongering from the Coalition that business isn’t a priority for Labor. Economic growth is a really strong part of Labor’s focus.
WBBC: The focus of the question was whether these programs would be kept.
HS: Programs and funding have been the subject of individual announcements and commitments from Labor, so it comes down not to the name of the scheme in particular but the funding arrangements which have occurred under those umbrellas and the way funding can continue.
WBBC: You mentioned Labor was looking to grow renewable energy. Gippsland has some very windy places and Labor has very different views on wind farms to the Coalition which made the construction of turbines very difficult. What would you like to see in the area?
HS: I am a fan of wind and solar energy. I think the uptake of solar in the domestic market has shown it really can work. I think that renewable energy technology is a really important component of transitioning from finite energy sources.
WBBC: What are Labor’s views on the future of the coal mines in the Latrobe Valley?
HS: The current energy mix can be better, and that’s where the consideration of emerging technologies is important.
WBBC: Is that emerging technologies to replace the coal or to work alongside coal?
HS: I think in the immediate term it is to work alongside. I think when we’re talking about any sort of transition it’s hardly sensible to talk about cutting one source of energy off immediately. It has to be done in a considered way [and] it has to be done in a way that takes into account local jobs.
WBBC: There was also a move under the coalition to look to exporting brown coal from the valley.
HS: Yes. The professional views on the brown coal we have from the valley are not enormously complimentary. The brown coal we have is highly volatile when dried out and inordinately wet when it’s not, and to export that it either needs to be reduced to sludge or transported very carefully. I think export markets should always be examined, but markets also change really quickly. If there are commercial opportunities, and they’re able to deliver productivity, outcomes and economic benefit for the valley, then I think by all means they need to be considered.
More from this interview will be published in future editions of WBBC.
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