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Coalition Government divests Rural Finance Corporation and invests in regional Victoria

Friday, June 06, 2014

  • Rural Finance Corporation divested as part of the 2014-15 State Budget 
  • $400 million return to be invested in infrastructure to build a better regional Victoria

The Victorian Coalition Government has signed a heads of agreement for the sale of Rural Finance Corporation (RFC) business to Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (Bendigo) for a net return of approximately $400 million.

Treasurer Michael O’Brien and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the Victorian Coalition Government was satisfied that the conditions of the agreement, combined with Bendigo’s extensive experience and positive reputation for rural finance, meant that this was the right opportunity for this divestment.

“RFC has a proud history as a government-owned agribusiness specialist lender in Victoria and together with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, have a wonderful cultural fit in terms of community banking that serves rural and regional Victoria,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Following a comprehensive review and a market process, the Coalition Government has determined that RFC customers, and broader regional communities, will benefit from these two organisations joining forces.

“RFC customers will now have access to not only existing products and services, but the broader banking service of one of the country’s most respected, community-based banks.

“In the conditions of this sale we have also ensured that non-commercial programs such as Young Farmers Finance Scheme, Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangement programs will all be maintained on the same terms,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr Ryan said that the announcement was a win for Victoria’s diverse rural and agribusiness sector which would get better and more convenient access to RFC products and services, as well as regional Victoria generally as the proceeds were invested back into regional communities.

“The Coalition Government has made sure customers and staff will be looked after in this change of ownership,” Mr Ryan said.

“RFC staff will be employed by Bendigo on the same or better conditions, and there will be no forced redundancies.

“Customers will also benefit from this decision. RFC currently has 11 shop fronts and when the transition is complete, RFC customers will have access to 276 Bendigo Bank branches right across the state.

“Combining the business’s current products with those of a private bank will create a one-stop shop so regional customers can access more banking products and services.

“Today’s announcement also means that the Coalition Government can boost our investment in job creating infrastructure projects in regional Victoria, such as the historic Murray Basin Rail Project,” Mr Ryan said.

Net proceeds of the RFC divestment will be earmarked for investment in new productive infrastructure in rural and regional Victoria.

Mr O’Brien said the sale is expected to be bolstered by the Commonwealth Government’s asset recycling initiative.

“The Commonwealth’s financial incentives for the recycling of state assets into productive new infrastructure will further support our record infrastructure investment program,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We are about to embark on a significant infrastructure program and the proceeds of this divestment, together with the Commonwealth’s contribution, will be invested directly back into new job-creating infrastructure.

“We welcome the Commonwealth Government’s asset recycling initiative, which has been an influential factor in the decision of the Victorian Coalition Government to divest RFC.

“The most productive use of these funds is not sitting in the State’s books, but to have it invested into productivity enhancing infrastructure in rural Victoria, that will create jobs and boost our regional transport and export capacity.

“The value attributed to RFC by Bendigo and Adelaide Bank reflects the high quality of the RFC business. I wish to thank and pay tribute to the RFC board, led by Chairperson Sonia Petering, and its staff, led by Chief Executive Officer Rob Goudswaard, for their outstanding work which has helped to build the RFC business into what it is today,” said Mr O’Brien.

Key conditions placed on the sale include: there will be no forced redundancies of employees and employees will be offered employment with the new owner for a minimum of three years and on no less favourable terms and conditions; RFC products and brand are to be maintained for a minimum of three years; and offices or branches in the current 11 locations operated by RFC are to be maintained for a minimum of three years, including its head office in Bendigo.

RFC ownership will transition to the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank from early to mid-July 2014, pending APRA approval.

Media contact: Les White 0409 805 122 les.white@minstaff.vic.gov.au (Deputy Premier)

New pipes laid on damaged Fish Creek-Foster Road

Friday, June 06, 2014
More than 25 meters of new concrete pipes have been laid along Fish Creek-Foster Road in preparation of the road re-opening next month.

Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan inspected the washed out section of the road last week and said the Victorian Coalition Government was working with VicRoads to ensure the damage was repaired as quickly as possible.

“Over the past week, the contractor has excavated down nine metres and dug out more than 300 truckloads of earth from the site,” Mr Ryan said.

“New concrete pipes to replace the damaged pipes have been delivered to the site and will be installed within coming days.

“The contractor will start reconstructing the embankment from the first week of December.”

Mr Ryan said the scale of the damage to the road was significant, however VicRoads and contractors were working seven days a week to repair the damaged section.

“Traffic will continue to be diverted along Meeniyan-Promontory Road and Foster-Promontory Road (C446) until the road re-opens,” Mr Ryan said.

“These works are expected to be completed and the road re-opened to traffic around mid-December.”

Mr Ryan urged motorists to take care when travelling on roads that they were unfamiliar with.

Media contact: Stephanie Nicholls 0437 108 870 stephanie.nicholls@parliament.vic.gov.au  

South Gippsland receives $1 million boost from Country Roads and Bridges Fund

Friday, June 06, 2014

 

The Victorian Coalition Government will provide the South Gippsland Shire Council with a further $1 million to fix local roads and bridges, Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan announced today.


Mr Ryan was in South Gippsland today to inspect the damage to local roads following the recent significant rainfall event.

Mr Ryan inspected the washed out section of the Foster-Fish Creek Road.

“Last week more than 120mm of rain fell over parts of South Gippsland in little more than two days, which is more than the entire November rain average of 78.5mm, causing significant damage to the region’s roads.

“The scale of the damage to the Foster-Fish Creek Road is quite significant, however VicRoads and contractors are currently on site working seven days a week until the road is repaired.

“The Coalition Government will continue to work with VicRoads to ensure damaged roads across the region are repaired as quickly as possible, however I urge motorists to proceed with caution when driving on damaged roads.”

Mr Ryan said today’s funding announcement of $1 million for the South Gippsland Shire Council would be provided through the Coalition Government’s Country Roads and Bridges Fund.

“The four year Country Roads and Bridges Fund, now in its third year, provides up to $1 million per year to 40 rural councils, including the South Gippsland Shire Council. “This is a total of $160 million of additional funds to improve the condition of shire managed roads and bridges, and can be used for maintenance and the restoration of existing road or bridge infrastructure in the region.”

Mr Ryan said the funds would be used to carry out the following works:

  • Mount Eccles Road near Mount Eccles- sealed road rehabilitation $214,349;
  •  Summers Road near Fish Creek- bridge rehabilitation $102,248;
  • Goads Road near Dumbalk North- bridge rehabilitation $471,912; and
  • Agnes River Road near Toora- bridge rehabilitation $211,491.

South Gippsland Shire Councillor Kieran Kennedy welcomed the $1 million funding boost.

“The weather conditions of the past few years have created a huge maintenance impost on both local and state government and we appreciate all funding that can assist us to maintain the 2,000 kilometre network of roads managed by the council,” Cr Kennedy said.

Mr Ryan said in addition to the $1 million boost for shire roads and bridges, the Coalition Government had boosted the road maintenance budget by $45 million in October 2012 and then by a further $170 million over three years in May 2013.

"Under the previous Labor Government, underlying issues with the condition of Victorian roads were not exposed due to the lack of rain during nearly a decade of drought,” Mr Ryan said.

"The facts are: we will spend $466 million on road maintenance in 2013-14, which is $83 million more than Labor's last budget for road maintenance, which was $383 million in 2010-11.

"By carrying out a targeted road restoration program, in addition to comprehensive pavement resurfacing, we will ensure the life of these roads is extended for decades to come.

"$4.33 million has already been announced this year to repair and restore South Gippsland roads around Foster, Buffalo, Fish Creek and Middle Tarwin.

“A further $5.4 million will be spent on road safety improvements over a 14 km stretch of the South Gippsland Highway from Lang Lang to Loch. These works will be carried out between November 2013 and April 2014."

Mr Ryan said VicRoads had currently programmed more than $6 million worth of immediate repair and restoration works in the South Gippsland region over the coming months, including pavement strengthening works, rehabilitation and asphalt works, as well as road resurfacing works.

Mr Ryan said pavement strengthening works including rehabilitation and asphalt works programed to be carried out by VicRoads included:

  •  Korumburra-Wonthaggi Road at Bena-Kongwak Road roundabout – scheduled to begin December;
  • Waratah Road near Fish Creek – scheduled to begin December;
  • Meeniyan-Promontory Road at Buffalo – scheduled to begin December;
  • Foster-Promontory Road from Foster to Fish Creek – commenced November;
  • Buffalo-Tarwin Lower Road at Middle Tarwin – scheduled to begin December;
  • Fish Creek-Foster Road near Grady’s Bridge Road Foster – scheduled to begin February; and
  • Barry Road at Agnes – scheduled to begin February.

Mr Ryan said road resurfacing works programmed to be carried out by VicRoads included:

  • Barry Road at Agnes – scheduled to begin February;
  • Drouin-Korumburra Road, three sites between Poowong North and Ranceby– scheduled to begin December;
  • Korumburra-Wonthaggi Road at Korumburra – scheduled to begin January;
  • Lang Lang-Poowong Road between Nyora and Poowong – scheduled to begin January;
  • Meeniyan-Promontory Road between Buffalo and Fish Creek – scheduled to begin February;
  • Nerrena Road near Nerrena – scheduled to begin January;
  • South Gippsland Highway, seven sites between Nyora and Toora – scheduled to begin January;
  • Strzelecki Highway, five sites Delburn and Leongatha – scheduled to begin January; and
  • Wilsons Promontory Road near Darby River – scheduled to begin February.

Media contact: Ben Bulmer 0437 547 731 ben.bulmer@minstaff.vic.gov.au

Funding to support community resilience

Friday, June 06, 2014

Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan is encouraging local councils, community groups and business associations to apply for up to $110,000 through the Victorian Coalition Government‟s Resilient Community Program.

Mr Ryan said the Coalition Government‟s $1.5 million Resilient Community Program would assist regional and rural communities to build their capacity to tackle hazards including bushfires, floods and storm surges.

“Communities throughout Gippsland face unique challenges and a „one-size-fits-all‟ approach is not appropriate – in fact, some communities face multiple hazards throughout the course of a year,” Mr Ryan said.

“The Resilient Community Program, which replaces the Fire Ready Communities Grants program, provides funding for community-led projects to assist residents to better prepare for, withstand and recover from natural disasters and other hazards.

“It is local people who know what it takes to make their communities safer, better informed and more prepared to tackle the impact of these hazards.”

Mr Ryan said the Resilient Community Program would provide funding for:

  • Community-led projects in high risk communities that establish shared responsibility for all hazards;
  • Education and engagement activities – to help the community understand risks and take an active role in emergency management; 
  • Community-led local risk and hazard workshops; and
  • Programs that develop community leadership and support emergent leaders to help build resilience in communities.

Mr Ryan said funded projects would build community confidence to share the responsibility of handling emergencies with the government, community and business sectors.

“The Fire Ready Communities parent program has funded a number of local community projects over the past two years, programs which will continue to be funded under the Resilient Community Program,” Mr Ryan said.

Local councils, community groups and business associations that are interested in applying should contact the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation office on 5174 9233.

Flood recovery funds keep on flowing

Friday, June 06, 2014
The Sale River Heritage and Wetlands Trail, which has been largely unusable since the 2012 floods, will receive a $40,000 boost from the Victorian Coalition Government.

Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan said the funding would support the resurfacing of this important recreational asset for wider use by the local communities and visitors.

“The Sale River Heritage and Wetlands Trail provides access to the internationally listed wetlands of the Sale Common, which host a combination of freshwater marsh and red gum woodlands and support an enormous variety of birdlife,” Mr Ryan said

“The trail begins at the Wellington Visitor Centre in Sale and travels through the Sale Common to the junction of the Thomson and Latrobe Rivers.

“It takes in many historical sites such as the iconic Swing Bridge, the Sale Canal, the restored Sale Powder Magazine, Sale’s two lakes – Guthridge and Guyatt, as well as numerous sections of raised boardwalk and enclosed huts for bird watching.

“The restored River Heritage and Wetlands Trail will attract more tourists, providing an important boost to the local economy.

“It will also contribute to the health and wellbeing of users participating in active recreation, such as walking and cycling along the almost 15 km of trail.”

Mr Ryan said Wellington Shire Council would receive $40,000 from the $2 million 2012 Flood Recovery Community Infrastructure Fund towards the cost of the $45,000 project.

“The Coalition Government is pleased to support the re-establishment and replacement of flood-damaged assets that are important to these regional communities,” Mr Ryan said.

“We have allocated more than $411,000 from the 2012 Flood Recovery Community Infrastructure Fund to six councils across the Gippsland and Hume regions that were affected by last year’s floods.”

Media contact: Stephanie Nicholls 0437 108 870 stephanie.nicholls@parliament.vic.gov.au.

Additional disaster assistance for Victorian farmers

Friday, June 06, 2014
Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Mark Dreyfus and Victorian Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Peter Ryan today announced additional assistance
for farmers hit by severe weather events in Victoria in December 2011, February–March 2012 and June 2012.

Category C Grants of up to $10,000 will be made available to eligible primary producers in those areas of Victoria most impacted under the jointly funded Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery
Arrangements (NDRRA).

“These grants will be in addition to the concessional interest rate loans already available to farmers under the NDRRA,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“This much-needed assistance will provide a boost to our farming sector already facing the long road back to recovery following these devastating events,” Mr Ryan said.

Grants of up to $10,000 will be made available to eligible primary producers affected by the
following severe weather events:

• December 2011 storms and floods – highest impacted areas in the shires of Ararat, Northern
Grampians and Pyrenees.

• February–March 2012 storms and floods – highest impacted areas in the shires of
Campaspe, Wangaratta and Greater Bendigo.

• June 2012 storms and floods – highest impacted areas in the shires of East Gippsland,
Latrobe, South Gippsland and Wellington.

In addition, the Commonwealth and Victorian governments are also making available concessional low interest loans of up to $200,000 to primary producers affected by the December 2011 event in
the most impacted areas of Ararat, Northern Grampians and Pyrenees.

The Commonwealth and Victorian governments remain committed to supporting the recovery of communities affected by natural disasters.

Further information on the Category C grants for primary producers, including eligibility, is available on the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria website at www.ruralfinance.com.au.

Further information on Australian Government assistance is available at www.disasterassist.gov.au.

Sculpture is final milestone for highway project

Friday, June 06, 2014
Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan today unveiled an Aboriginal canoe sculpture to mark the completion of the Sale to Longford South Gippsland Highway upgrade.

The unveiling of the artwork adjacent to the Swing Bridge in Sale recognises the cultural significance of the surrounding wetlands for traditional owners, the Gunaikurnai people.

“This beautiful sculpture acknowledges this, and is a tangible example of the Victorian Coalition Government’s Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2013-2018 in action,” Mr Ryan said.

The sculpture is located adjacent to the heritage-listed Sale Swing Bridge, and features an interpretative plaque which details the cultural significance of the water and its importance to the local people.

Local representatives of the Gunaikurnai people attended the unveiling with a number of them assisting with the canoe sculpture project from the beginning.

Mr Ryan said the launch marked the completion of a 10-year Coalition Government project to upgrade the South Gippsland Highway between Sale and Longford, to improve driver safety and travel efficiency, and protect against flooding.

The sculpture was delivered as part of the Coalition Government’s $56.9 million Cox’s Bridge upgrade project through a $20,000 contribution from VicRoads, in partnership with the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

Mr Ryan said the new sections of the South Gippsland Highway were higher than the old road, meaning fewer closures due to flooding, and the bridges were also designed to withstand large scale floods.

“The South Gippsland Highway is an important regional link which services the Exxon-Mobil gas plant, towns such as Yarram, Longford and Seaspray and also major tourist areas including the 90 Mile Beach and Wilson’s Promontory,” Mr Ryan said.

The first two stages of this major flood protection project involved replacing the Swing Bridge and realigning the highway between Longford and Long Waterhole that were completed in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

The final stage, completed and opened earlier this year, involved the construction of a 450 metre-long bridge to replace the former Cox’s Bridge, a 660 metre-long floodway structure and two kilometres of road works.

Mr Ryan said the project included a new shared path that linked up with existing paths through the wetlands and allowed cyclists and walkers to travel between Sale and Longford without having to use the highway.

“The upgraded road and pathway will provide locals, industry and visitors with a more reliable route between Sale and Longford,” Mr Ryan said.

Media contact: Steph Nicholls 0437 108 870 stephanie.nicholls@parliament.vic.gov.au.  

New bridge means increased safety for cyclists

Friday, June 06, 2014
Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan today announced a new bridge will be built to allow cyclists and pedestrians to travel all the way between Sale and Longford without having to use the highway.

Mr Ryan said the $56.9 million flood protection project along the South Gippsland Highway had now been extended to include a new off-road bridge alongside the Long Waterhole Bridge at Longford.

“The original plan for the off-highway path only went as far as Swing Bridge Drive, which meant those walking or riding had to share the Long Waterhole Bridge with highway traffic to get through to Longford,” Mr Ryan said.

“This new bridge will provide the final link between Sale and Longford and will also connect with the existing scenic paths through the stunning RAMSAR listed Sale Common wetlands and the historic Swing Bridge precinct.

“Families can feel comfortable taking children for a ride or walk between the two towns, safely away from traffic on the busy road.”

Mr Ryan said designs for the new bridge were currently being developed, with works expected to start on this part of the project around the middle of the year.

“Works on the rest of the off-highway path, between Port of Sale and the Thomson River Caravan Park and the old highway between the caravan park and Swing Bridge Drive, are progressing well,” Mr Ryan said.

“The path will be fully sealed and is expected to be finished later this year.”

Media contact: Stephanie Nicholls 0437 108 870 stephanie.nicholls@parliament.vic.gov.au.  

$5 million Flood Support Program announced

Friday, June 06, 2014
The Victorian Coalition Government has today announced a $5 million program to restore flood damaged catchments and improve environmental conditions for tourism businesses and irrigators in flood affected areas.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional and Rural Development Peter Ryan said the 2012 Flood Support Program would provide further assistance for regions impacted by severe flooding in March and June this year, with a focus on waterway restoration projects.

“In March 2012 widespread flooding occurred across the North East, North Central, East Gippsland and Goulburn Broken regions, causing significant damage to waterway assets,” Mr Ryan said.

“In June 2012, large areas across Gippsland and Corangamite experienced significant rainfall causing both short term (flash) and longer duration flooding – causing more than $6 million worth of damage to waterway assets.”

Mr Ryan said funding under the program would be allocated to Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) for a range of projects in each region.

· $2.7 million will go to the West Gippsland CMA to undertake a number of waterway restoration projects;
· $1 million will go to flood restoration projects in the East Gippsland catchment to provide further support following flooding earlier this year;
· $500,000 for flood restoration for projects in the North East catchment including revegetation activities in the Ovens River near Myrtleford;
· $485,000 to the Goulburn Broken CMA to support a range of projects including Whole Farm Planning in affected irrigation areas; and
· $285,000 for restoration projects in the Corangamite catchment for a range projects that focus on fencing, vegetation removal, erosion prevention and revegetation.

Minister for Water Peter Walsh said 15 projects in total would be supported through the 2012 Flood Support Program to deliver environmental, economic and social benefits to flood-affected communities.

“Through these important environmental projects, our waterways will be maintained and improved while also providing a number of employment opportunities for regional Victorians,” Mr Walsh said.

“Funding for the program is from the Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.”

Media contact: Clare Siddins 0429 507 541

Ryan calls for Commonwealth to act on Category C Flood assistance

Friday, June 06, 2014
Deputy Premier and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Peter Ryan has called on the Commonwealth to end delays in decision making around the provision of vital flood assistance for Victorian communities impacted by severe floods in late 2011 and throughout 2012.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Ryan said the Commonwealth had failed to act on repeated submissions from Victoria requesting joint National Disaster Relief Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) Category C funding approval for the state’s flood hit regions.

“Victoria has been hit by severe and repeated flood events in 2012 and so far, the Commonwealth has only approved Category C assistance in four out of 20 local government areas (LGA) (Greater Shepparton, Moira, Indigo and Towong) impacted by the February and March floods,” Mr Ryan said.

“For the remaining 16 shires, the Commonwealth has either refused eligibility or remained silent. These include Wangaratta, Campaspe, Alpine, Ballarat, Benalla, East Gippsland, Greater Bendigo, Macedon Ranges, Mansfield, Mildura, Mitchell, Mount Alexander, Murrindindi, Strathbogie, Whittlesea and Wodonga.

“We are also still waiting for a response in relation to Category C assistance for Grampians and Pyrenees LGAs for December 2011 flooding and East Gippsland, Latrobe, South Gippsland and Wellington which were the most severely affected LGAs from the June 2012 floods.

“The delays and lack of action from the Commonwealth are causing significant uncertainty in these communities, adding to what is already a very difficult and stressful recovery period.”

Mr Ryan said the Victorian Coalition Government had responded to changing requirements from the Commonwealth and moved quickly to submit more detailed information when required and now it was up to the Federal Government to come to the party.

“Literally hundreds of farming families and people in small businesses and other organisations need this help to support ongoing recovery and re-establishment efforts in these communities,” Mr Ryan said.

“NDRRA assistance is jointly funded between State and Commonwealth Governments to provide help to communities following severe disaster events.

“Under the NDRRA eligible primary producers and businesses can receive Category C grants of up to $25,000, pending sign-off from the Commonwealth.

“The Coalition Government stands ready to meet our 50 per cent share of these grants and I implore the Commonwealth Government and the responsible Minister the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to approve these applications,” Mr Ryan said.

Media contact: Clare Siddins 0429 507 541