CANDIDATES have been battling this election over a number of key issues facing the electorate.
First published in the 14 November 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Click here to get a copy.
Issues of growth and its effects on the environment, public transport and roads are key among the concerns of many in the electorate, and the possibility of coal seam gas mining is a constant concern for people living in regional areas.
Growth has also brought new pressures on Baw Baw’s healthcare and education systems.
This guide looks at the positions of the candidates and parties on four key issues facing Narracan this election.
For more on each of the candidates, please click here.
Coal seam gas
COAL seam gas has received some coverage as the debate over the safety and environmental impact of the unconventional extraction methods required to access it continues.
The most commonly known extraction method is “fracking”, which involves fracturing a coal seam using pressurised water and chemicals, releasing coal seam gas and water.
Exploration licenses have been granted to search for the gas, however no mining permits have been granted in Victoria and a moratorium against the practice of fracking is in place and will remain until at least mid-2015.
But what are the risks? A number of scientists, farmers and other people around the world have expressed concerns about fracking seeing gas and chemicals enter and contaminate underground water systems, as well as causing earthquakes alongside other effects.
The rights of farmers to operate on their land when coal seam gas extraction is underway is another key concern, and one which sparked the “Lock the Gate” movement.
A strong supporter of that movement is Greens candidate Malcolm McKelvie, who said coal seam gas extraction was a key issue for the electorate.
“The coal seam gas, onshore gas mining through Gippsland and western Victoria is a threat that more and more people are seeing it as a danger we ought not to take on,” Dr McKelvie told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen earlier this year.
Above: The Greens’ Malcolm McKelvie supports Lock the Gate. Photos by William PJ Kulich.
The Liberal/National coalition government introduced the present moratorium on fracking with a goal of forming a scientific understanding of the safety of the practice.
“We will never, ever allow onshore gas if it jeopardises our underground water, if it jeopardises our environment, and if it jeopardises our food and agriculture production,” leader Denis Napthine told reporters in November last year.
Labor candidate for Narracan Kate Marten told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen in August she would probably not support fracking if elected.
“My husband is a miner, but not in coal seam gas, so do I like it? The fracking? Probably not, no,” she said.
The Country Alliance “does not support fracking until there is indisputable and independent evidence that it is safe, especially for underground water reserves,” and Rise Up Australia tends not to support fracking.
EDUCATION is one area which has seen a number of campaign announcements from the major parties.
Liberal candidate Gary Blackwood began his campaign with a funding announcement of $7 million for the upgrade of buildings at Warragul Regional College. He also announced yesterday a $3 million upgrade for Neerim District Secondary College for similar upgrades and promised a further $3 million for Trafalgar High.
The last term has not all been smooth sailing for the sitting member though, which changes by his government to TAFE funding seeing the closure of GippsTAFE’s (now Federation Training) Wattleseed Training Restaurant in Warragul and changes to the courses offered.
Above: Liberal MP Gary Blackwood talks to staff and students at Warragul Regional College.
“There’s been some winners and losers in that [funding change],” he told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen in September.
“It hasn’t worked probably as successfully as we would’ve liked in all quarters, but having said that we are putting $1.2 billion into the TAFE sector where the previous Labor government allocated $800 million in their last year.”
Labor has however promised to make Victoria “the education state,” promising improvements to TAFE funding should it win this election.
Also on the cards under a Labor government is a $10 million fund to assist teachers and schools educate students with special needs and the reintroduction of technical schools, including one in Gippsland. Asked to confirm where in Gippsland the school would be located, however, Labor candidate Kate Marten did not respond.
Labor has also announced a fund to help improve access to music education in schools and promised $510 million for government school rebuilding projects state-wide.
Greens candidate Malcolm McKelvie recently signed a pledge from lobby group “TAFE4All” to advocate for improved TAFE funding in Victoria.
THE CONSTRUCTION of a new hospital to replace the ageing Warragul Regional Hospital has been on the wish list of many local groups and people for a long time, and has been identified as a required step by both major parties.
A key question remains whether the new hospital should be built on the present hospital site, or on land secured for a new hospital to the west of Warragul near Lardners Track.
Liberal candidate Gary Blackwood has said if he were re-elected, seeing a new hospital built would be one of his priorities.
“This coming election I’m pushing really really hard for a decision to be made on where the future of the West Gippsland Hospital will be – will it be re-developed on the current site or will it be moved to a new site on the corner of Lardners Track and Warragul-Drouin Road?,” he told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
A new hospital would also be on the cards if Labor’s candidate, Kate Marten, were to be elected.
“I think there needs to be more funding into the hospital. I can’t guarantee it, but I can make sure it’s top of the agenda,” Ms Marten told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“Even though I don’t live in the electorate, [Warragul is] my public hospital from Pakenham, so if I had a baby that’s where I would go.”
Ms Marten has also identified improvements to mental health services as being important across the state, as well as in Narracan.
“I’d like to see what services are currently available in the area and help boost them,” she said.
“There’s a lot of ex-military in the Moe area especially… but I think it’s more that without decent health services you can’t have decent mental health services.
“Making sure the hospitals are getting adequate funding to cope, and education, is important.”
The coalition government has been engaged in a continuing industrial dispute with paramedics looking for pay rises. The coalition recently matched Labor’s offer to the paramedics.
LABOR’S first election announcement in Narracan took aim at rail services across the Gippsland line.
Appearing alongside local candidate Kate Marten at the announcement, Labor’s shadow Minister for Public Transport Jill Hennessy said the recent suspension of rail services east of Moe was indicative of poor maintenance schedules.
“Is it an election issue? I think it’s a symbolic issue,” she said.
“Track maintenance is obviously really important, but [so is] making sure we continue to get a pipeline of really good quality rolling stock,” Ms Hennessy said.
Above: Labor candidate Kate Marten with shadow Public Transport Minister Jill Hennessy at Warragul station.
Labor has promised to purchase 20 new VLocity railcars to help improve capacity on Victoria’s growing regional lines, though later changed her terminology for the planned order to “around 20 new VLocities… across the network.”
Asked by the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen whether any of the additional units would be used to expand or add new services to the Gippsland line in particular, Ms Hennessy said an exact date for additional regional services anywhere in the state could not be given.
“Improving public transport genuinely takes time,” she said.
“We would like to see additional services once we have looked at the regional network development plan
Shortly after the announcement the Liberal party promised 24 new VLocity railcars.
Ms Hennessy said the order for new trains would go in after the first budget of a Labor government, and new stock could be expected 18 to 24 months after that.
Ms Hennessy highlighted the removal of 14 level crossings on the Pakenham and Cranbourne line, planned by Labor, as key to improving Gippsland services.
“The Cranbourne/Pakenham line is really important for having a good Gippsland line because we need to remove those level crossings in order to continue to put more services on the line.
A report into improved bus services in Warragul and Drouin commissioned by the Brumby government and finished in 2010 identified a clear plan to create a commuter bus network.
Asked if Labor would act to improve bus services in Narracan, Ms Hennessy said
“We’ve committed that we will release our bus policy before the next election.
“The other issue is this regional network transport plan that this government has done, so they have this plan around regional buses that has not been released, that there hasn’t been a great deal of consultation on, under the previous government there was consultation.
Labor has however announced a plan to introduce 2am city-to-country bus services that will allow people in Gippsland and other regional areas to return home late.
Asked if local service improvements could be introduced quickly given a review had already been undertaken, Ms Hennessy said she could not commit to that yet.
Liberal candidate Gary Blackwood said he was already acting to improve bus services.
“Improved bus services are on my wish list as well. I’ve been calling for that for quite some time.”
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