Roads a priority

The Hamilton Spectator – October 31, 2015

SOUTH-WEST COAST state by-election candidates have all agreed that
local roads are in a terrible state, especially around the Macarthur and
Condah areas that have seen heavy freight use in recent years.
Most of the 10 candidates that spoke to The Spectator about local transport issues this week have advocated for a new system of funding allocation for road works, with many calling for an end to temporary ‘patch ups’.
South-West Coast goes to the polls today, but 42 per cent of voters have already cast their ballot by pre-poll or postal vote.

Liberal candidate Roma Britnell and Nationals candidate Michael Neoh both called for the return of the $160 million ‘Country Roads and Bridges’ program, which provided funds to local governments.

“The community are saying that roads are bad and I agree 100 per cent,” Ms Britnell said.

“But over the last 16 years the Liberals have been in government for four, with Labor in for 12.”

Ms Britnell said the previous Coalition Government had “committed $2.6
million to Myamyn-Macarthur Rd, which Labor pulled.”

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Roads Minister said previously that “two
locations along Myamyn-Macarthur Rd, totalling 1.7km of road, will be
resurfaced in 2015/16.”

Mr Neoh said the Country Roads and Bridges Program should return, but
with $80 million spent over 12 months instead of two years.

“I have asked Jim Cooper from Port of Portland what his priority is and he
said it was the roads outside Portland,” Mr Neoh said.

“Talking to people from those areas, I have also heard the need for emergency repairs.

“I’m calling for half of (Country Roads and Bridges) to be pushed
forward into the first 12 months. There needs to be emergency repairs before we even get to upgrades.”

Independent candidate, Roy Reekie, who has run for Labor in the past, said one of the three key points in his transport plan was “proper investment and repair of roads, not just patch ups”.

Another of his key points was to “get more freight off roads and onto rail”.

“Now we are starting to have B-triples up to 75 tonnes. The roads not designed for this and it’s tearing them apart,” he said.

Greens candidate Thomas Campbell called for a survey of local road quality, combined with consultations with community members and industries, to help direct roads funding.

“Realistically, you have got to find a balance between making our roads safe for cars and trucks, and getting more freight onto rail,” he said.

“We can’t keep building roads endlessly if we can’t maintain all of the ones we have,” Mr Campbell said.

Independent candidate Pete Smith said he had proven and award-winning
experience in securing roads funding, which was needed as local roads were “appalling”.

“I have driven on them myself. They are not just appalling, they are downright dangerous,” he said.

“The situation is exactly the same in many other electorates, but the
marginal areas will get money before we do. The Coalition assumes they
have got it in the bag and Labor is not even trying.”

“Stop treating by-elections like a football game by barracking for your
old team; put your family’s welfare first.”

Mr Smith said that when he was a director of RAC South Australia, he worked on what he called “the largest roads funding campaign in Australia’s history”.

He received a national award for helping boost Victoria’s grant road
share from $2.6m in 1991/92 to $103m in 1994/95.

“I know how to get roads funding. People say ‘I’m going to get more
roads funding’, but I’ve actually done it,” he said.

Independent candidate Rodney Van De Hoef said the speed limit along
the main road at Condah should be reduced from 100 to 80 kilometres per hour as “it’s dangerous for community and those crossing the road”.

“The government will put up 80km/h for a bump in the road, why not this
intersection of major roads?”

Mr Van De Hoef also proposed to get more freight on rail by with an “intermodal/bulk freight hub at Heywood” that could also store shipping containers for the Port of Portland.

Independent candidate Swampy Marsh called for a protest campaign
aimed at the Victorian Premier and Parliament House.

“I’d hold (Premier) Daniel Andrews down by the throat until he promises
to listen,” Mr Marsh said. “You can have all the policies in the world but it won’t matter if people don’t listen.”

Mr Marsh said South-West Coast was in danger of falling behind in
funding because “the government won’t even run a candidate; they haven’t backed Roy Reekie, their losing candidate for the last four elections”.

“If it stays a Liberal seat, they won’t care. It’s got to be independent. You
have got to make them scared,” he said.

“You and I both know that the state of the roads is appalling, but we have
had 26 years of Liberal members, including 10 years in government, and they have done nothing.

“They even had the Roads Minister’s seat in Polwarth, and the Premier’s
seat right next to him, and it didn’t change.”

Mr Marsh said the region “should get a dump truck full of bitumen and
take it to Parliament House” to get media attention because “Labor is too
city-centric, and the Liberals won’t get off their arses”.

Jim Doukas, of the Australian Country Party, said in the local region
“it’s got to the stage where both rods and rail are completely buggered”.

“The State (Government) and Feds, they only fund the big projects like
highways but they should fund everything,” he said.

“The roads in places like Condah, Macarthur and towards Hotspur,
they’ve got to be fixed.

“It’s gotten to the stage where you can’t say we’ll fix some of them because they all need fixing.”

Animal Justice Party candidate Jennifer Gamble said the Princes
Hwy should be duplicated and major works should occur on the Hamilton
Hwy because it was “dangerous” and “the road shoulders are a hazard”.

“I’ve just been to Hamilton and it was a bumpy drive,” she said
She also said the Macarthur area had “too many rough surface signs put
up” and needed road works instead.

Independent Michael McCluskey, said “nearly every single road in the
south west is in a state of disrepair”.

He proposed two things, one of which was “we have to prioritise
funding to get a system for upgrading roads” and the other was “get freight off trucks as part of the solution” as “one 18-wheeler is equivalent to 5000 cars”.

The Australian Christians party has not responded to a request for
comment from its candidate Lillian Len.

Majority on board

The Hamilton Spectator – October 29, 2015

A MAJORITY of candidates for the South-West Coast state by-election
have voiced their support for rail projects, including freight and passenger improvements, but the Coalition frontrunners have placed a greater focus on roads.

Most candidates said they would push for the State Government to honour its commitment to have the $416 million Murray Basin Rail Project completed by 2018, including restoration of the line between Ararat and Maryborough.

Independent candidate Roy Reekie, who has previously run for the Labor
Party, said he would not be a part of the government if elected “so I can’t
speak for them”.

“What I will do is lobby to ensure that project is delivered,” he said.

Mr Reekie said a Federal Government contribution would be “reasonable, as it is a national infrastructure project”.

Liberal candidate Roma Britnell said she would look at the “bigger picture” and fight for western Victoria to get a bigger share of money from the “sale” of the Port of Melbourne.

“The Government is hoping to raise $5 to $7 billion, but country Victoria
is only getting three per cent of that,” she said.

“A lot of the products of Western Victoria have been, and will be, going to the Port of Melbourne, so we need more of a share for this region.”

Nationals candidate Michael Neoh said he was “absolutely” in favour of the Murray Basin project but he was concerned that the State Government’s announcement was “not new money”.

“I think there are games being played,” he said.

“If the Federal Government won’t support it, State Government needs to fund it whole.”

Greens candidate Thomas Campbell also said he “absolutely” supported it.
“The more we do for rail freight, the more it opens up the opportunities
for passenger rail, which is good for business and tourism as well as the
community,” he said.

“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is a link to north-west Victoria.” – Jim Doukas

Jim Doukas, of the Australian Country Party, wanted to see rail networks
improved to link areas both north and south of Hamilton.

“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is
a link to north-west Victoria,” he said.
“Also for tourism: they are getting cruise ships in Portland and some of
them carry up to 3000 plus people.

“If you can get them up to the Grampians, there’s nothing like that in
the world.”

Jennifer Gamble, of the Animal Justice Party, supported the project as
long as roads were the first priority.

Rodney Van De Hoef, independent, said “too often we want to rush things” and called for the government to “do the project but over several years; if we rush can turn out like East West Link and get canned.”

Michael McCluskey, independent, said he would support the project “on
principle, because I support major rail projects.”
“The single most important thing is to improve our rail system,” he said.

“We need to get more freight onto rail. There is a direct link between the
decline of rail freight and damage to our roads.”

Independent Pete Smith was the only candidate to declare opposition to spending money on rail projects for agricultural freight, comparing it to
spending $100,000 on a photography darkroom a few years before digital
cameras came in.

Mr Smith declared he had “a vested interest in freight issues” because
of his involvement in AgChoices but called for “new thinking” from

“Any organisation that is investing millions of dollars in saleyards should
be sued by their shareholders or ratepayers,” he said.

“Moving grain by rail is approaching a horizon. What we need is a sort of
grain tube.

“Agriculture by rail freight: is it the future? My answer is that it’s not.”

Swampy Marsh, independent, said the 2018 deadline could not possibly
be met.

“They haven’t given themselves
enough time. There’s so much work to do.

“If they started right now, they’d be pushing it to get done by 2025.
“All they are doing is saying ‘be nice to us and vote for us again before 2018’. Call me an old cynic, but they’re just weasel words.”

Deaths Report: WDHS says findings ‘not an accurate reflection’

The Hamilton Spectator – October 22, 2015

HAMILTON Base Hospital has achieved one of Victoria’s “poorest results” for its death rate of babies born prematurely but the finding “does not accurately reflect performance over recent years”, according to Western District Health Service.

A Victorian Department of Health analysis of perinatal deaths between 2008 and 2012 found that babies born between 22 and 32 weeks gestation at WDHS were 80 per cent more likely to die than the state average.

The report stated that “in interpreting these ratios, conclusions cannot be drawn about avoidability of any of these deaths”.

The report was published in August but The Age newspaper highlighted some of its data this week in an attempt to link other hospitals with a major investigation into baby deaths in Bacchus Marsh.

A review into 10 baby deaths over two years at Djerriwarrh Health Service,
Bacchus Marsh found that seven of the deaths may have been preventable.

Since the review was released earlier this month a number of women, families and former staff have come forward with allegations of clinical incompetence and bullying at Djerriwarrh.

The Age described WDHS as one of a number of Victorian hospitals “on par with or worse than Bacchus Marsh.”

A statement from the offi ce of Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey said all Victorian perinatal deaths over the past seven years had been reviewed “and no other health service has been identified as being of concern”.

“Sadly, no pregnancy or birth is completely risk free, and complications
sometimes arise unexpectedly during labour or after delivery,” the minister’s statement said.

“However, latest figures show that Victoria’s perinatal mortality rate is
one of the lowest in Australia.

“The Government has put in place a range of new measures across the
state to ensure the safety of maternity

Though the perinatal report concerned the health outcomes for all babies,
WDHS only had a data entry for babies born at between 22 and 32 weeks gestation.

Babies born at this stage of a pregnancy are defined as “very” or “extremely” preterm and babies born at 22 weeks are unlikely to survive.

The Spectator understands that less than five babies born after 32 weeks gestation have died within 28 days  of birth at WDHS between 2008 and 2012.

That low number of deaths is the reason why WDHS did not receive an
analysis for deaths during treatment of routine pregnancies.

A statement from WDHS said it provided “a quality learning environment and has established processes in place to monitor the outcome of all births, including all perinatal deaths”.

“A medical specialist reviewed the perinatal deaths that occurred at WDHS between 2006 and 2011 and made a number of recommendations that have been actioned.”

The report, ‘Victorian perinatal services performance indicators
2012–13’, stated that health services that performed below average with
health outcomes for babies and mothers “must understand the extent
of suboptimal performance issues and address these”.

Pregnancy terminations and “deaths due to congenital anomalies” were not counted in the data, which was adjusted for the size of each hospital.

According to the report, 230 women gave birth to a total of 232 babies at WDHS during 2012.

WDHS chief executive Rohan Fitzgerald said he recognised the importance of the report as a measure over the period, but it did not accurately reflect the Health Service’s performance over recent years.

“The (gestation standardised perinatal mortality ratio) is an internationally recognised measure of perinatal mortality that includes all deaths, including extremely premature babies, still births and newborn deaths. It does not assess the potential avoidability of any of the deaths,” he said.

“I am deeply saddened for any family that goes through the experience of
losing a baby during labour or after a delivery.

“With every birth our aim is to reduce the risks for both mother and baby as far as practical, although we know that in some cases the risks remain high.”

Despite Ms Hennessy’s statement that no health services were a concern
in regards to baby death rates, the Victorian Government will move to
establish new reporting mechanisms and specific targeting of regional
pregnancy outcomes.

A state-wide perinatal autopsy service will be established along with perinatal morbidity and mortality committees in each region.

“This expert committee will review any perinatal death occurring in that
region every three months,” the Health Minister’s statement said.
“The Department of Health and Human Services will review all of the state’s perinatal services to identify if any improvements can be made.”

Australia’s medical practitioner registration board, AHPRA, which is
in charge of handling complaints about doctors and surgeons, will get a new notification service to automatically inform health services about
investigations into their staff.

“Staff at all health services which provide maternity services will
be required to undertake intensive training, including one led by the Royal
Women’s Hospital, to help them better identify, address and alert risks during birth,” the Health minister’s statement

“A new state-wide perinatal plan will
be developed”.

Mr Fitzgerald said he had confi dence in his team to provide high quality
maternity services to the local community.

“I am confident that we have the staff, systems and processes in place
to support the delivery of safe and appropriate obstetric care to women in
our region,” he said.

“I would encourage any women that have concerns about any aspect of their care to contact Western District Health
Service direct.”

The WDHS community liaison phone number for WDHS is 5551 8583 and
AHPRA’s phone number is 1300 419 495.

NBN is on its way

The Hamilton Spectator – October 20, 2015

THE National Broadband Network will be coming to thousands of local homes from early 2017 as part of the infrastructure project’s new three-year plan.

The plan, which was released on Friday, states that construction of wired NBN internet services for 4900 Hamilton premises will begin in the first quarter of 2017, along with 700 premises in Coleraine.

Casterton will see 900 premises begin to be connected from the second half of 2017. All three towns will get the NBN through the ‘Fibre-to-the-Node’ (FTTN) type of connection, which involves running optic fibre cable to each street and then using the existing copper phone lines to deliver
services to each household.

NBNCo’s Victoria spokesperson told The Spectator that the company expected local FTTN projects would be completed in “under a year, in most circumstances” once construction had begun.

FTTN was introduced by the incoming Coalition Government in 2013 as a
replacement for Labor’s original plan to run optic fibre directly to each household.

Then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the alternative technology would be cheaper and faster to roll out across the nation, but has faced claims that the decades-old copper network may
struggle to cope.

According to the report, construction has also begun on Penshurst’s fixed wireless NBN service, which will broadcast 4G-style internet to rooftop antennas.

Fixed wireless should be rolled out to 270 premises around Penshurst within the next 12 months, and is already available at nine locations within about 40 minute’s drive of Hamilton.

More remote users should also benefit from the launch of the new NBN satellite service, which will replace the notoriously slow interim satellite service that is almost unusable for many agricultural subscribers.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the new roll-out plan was “is a huge step forward” and “demonstrates the Coalition’s commitment to rural and regional Australia in closing the digital divide”.

“The Coalition Government understands that internet access is important for our community and will transform education, health care and other critical online services,” he said.

“The Coalition Government recognises that consumers want fast broadband as soon as possible. All services over the NBN will give Wannon businesses, agricultural producers and consumers a brighter future with the potential to be more efficient and productive.

“Families will also benefit from the vastly higher bandwidth available, delivering greater access and choices for educational resources for homework, study and entertainment.”

FTTN promises speeds up to four times faster than what is currently offered by the fastest ADSL2+ connections in Hamilton’s CBD.

Private Push for HILAC

The Hamilton Spectator – October 20, 2015

HAMILTON’S Indoor Leisure and Aquatic Centre could have more of its functions taken over by private businesses as Southern Grampians Shire Council voted unanimously for recommendations designed to stem mounting losses.

Councillors were presented in Wednesday’s meeting with a list of
‘key recommendations’ of a HILAC Enterprise Review, commissioned from external consultants by the Shire late last year.

Shire services director Bronwyn Herbert told councillors that the report had “looked at the governance and management arrangements and identified some operational and financial improvements that can be undertaken over the next several years: a five to 10-year timeframe”.

The report had recommended the shire develop a business unit, business case, and marketing and asset management plans to “substantially increase profitability” and achieve “council’s financial objectives”.

However, Cr Dennis Dawson successfully moved an amendment to delete a number of recommendations that would increase the shire’s involvement in running HILAC, and added recommendations to open up more of the facility to private businesses.

Community members and other stakeholders will now be asked to consider a proposal that the aquatic education programs be run by an external operator.

The report’s authors, Adelaide-based Tredwell Management Services, had already recommended that the Shire seek expressions of interest
for a new gym contract, as well as “additional leisure activities and dry sport provision (with the exception of basketball)”.

Cr Dawson said the amended recommendations were needed to
turn around rising costs and declining expense recovery rates.

“HILAC has 51 individual fees, it’s got a projected net cost of $1.3 million for the shire and if you include it with losses made from the pools it’s $2m all up,” he said.

“The expense recovery for HILAC has deteriorated from 2006/2007 from 82 per cent to 43 per cent in 2014/2015.”

Cr Dawson argued that the Shire, which owns HILAC, would not be able to significantly reduce costs for its own services because of regulatory and wage cost inflexibility, noting that the shire “employs 34 staff at a cost of $1 million” at the centre.

Cr Dawson said the report had provided the Shire with “an alternative structure” which “outlines quite clearly how $350,000 of that can be taken off right now.”

“Council should not be in the business of running HILAC programs,” he said.

“It cannot do so efficiently because of the nature of governments and the control required. And it cannot do so economically because of the wage structures that are in place because of council’s EBA and the number of staff that are there.”

Cr Dawson said HILAC received enough visitors for certain functions to be profitable for private operators that could more easily reduce their costs for staffing and service delivery.

“This centre is particularly well-used and the report tells us that almost a quarter of a million visitors go through per annum,” he said.

“I would suggest that if any business in Hamilton that had an average of 5000 people walking through the door (per week), it would make money.

“We cannot, and have not been able to make money out of this centre for 30 years, and there’s no indication in this report that we would be able to do so in the future, whatever management option was chosen.”

Crs Albert Calvano, Bruach Colliton, Paul Battista and Katrina Rainsford expressed qualified support for the details of Cr Dawson’s amendment.

Cr Dawson said he “agreed on every point” but said the main pool should remain a shire operation because its costs would be too high and it would be better to “subsidise” HILAC’s main facility and use a “hybrid model” of partial privatisation.

“We have gone down the pathway for good reason because this facility is starting to cost more and more in operation each year,” Cr Colliton said.

He also called for short-term improvements to the change rooms and general appearance of HILAC.

Cr Dawson had also moved that the food and beverage vendors at HILAC be put out to tender to increase “availability” as well as presentation and variety.

“With a potential average customer base of 5000 people a week, there must be an arrangement for (the café kiosk) to be run on a more commercial basis than present,” Cr Dawson said.
“It is presently limited in hours, both morning and evening, which are particular times of high use and it’s closed.”

Cr Colliton said “with the right people in there (the canteen) can certainly do quite well.

Cr Calvano said he was “for the motion” but felt “a little uncomfortable” that the shire had made a “break” with the original report and its consultation process with staff and community

“I feel a little uncomfortable that we don’t have the background. We should have more information,” Cr Calvano said.

Cr Dawson responded that his amendments were supported by material
provided in the enterprise review’s report.

Cr Rainsford said she was also in favour of the motion and if the changes were implemented it might result in a “more engaging, more useful experience”.

“I, too, think there should be an entrepreneurial and community ownership and involvement in the centre.”
Cr Rainsford said she was glad to see a recommendation for more vending machines removed and called for the shire to “recognise the significance of the basketball club to the history of the centre”.

Cr Battista backed the amendments and said he would “welcome community feedback on what is being proposed” and there were some short-term improvements to car parking, drop off points for children, and lighting that should be made.

“It is a very complex centre, there are a lot of sports that work out of the centre but I think for a long time we have had reports come to council on improving it and we have come so far with the centre and this is what we have to do for our ratepayers,” he said.

Cr Battista also backed a suggestion from Cr Rainsford that the shire copy other local governments that had slashed season pass fees to $99 to boost attendance.

“It’s important that we work towards making sure that everyone can be involved in (the centre) and it’s not too expensive for lower social economic areas to be able to have their sports and keep up their fitness and health,” Cr Battista said.

Glenelg River to stop flowing this summer

The Hamilton Spectator – October 15, 2015

THE Glenelg River’s upper sections are “quite likely” to stop flowing this summer and create impacts for the environment, agriculture and recreation users.

Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority chief executive Kevin Wood blamed “record low” rainfall for the likely river flow stoppage and said his organisation had reserves of water to help with its environmental responsibilities.

“We have experienced quite low rainfall,” he said.

“The last 12 months have seen record low

The State Government has also been provided with a water ‘snapshot’ report that predicts that the Glenelg and Wimmera rivers will likely stop flowing.

Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers said any lack of Glenelg River water flow would not affect local customers and Hamilton’s reserves were more than double the predicted usage.

“Hamilton system customers are supplied with water from a very secure supply system sourced from streams in the southern Grampians catchment,” he said.

“If required during times of drought, Wannon Water also has an annual entitlement to 2,120 megalitres of water in Rocklands Reservoir, which can be transferred via the Hamilton- Grampians Pipeline to top up Hamilton storages.

“Wannon Water’s Rocklands Reservoir entitlement is also a source of water supply for Balmoral. Currently, Rocklands Reservoir is holding more than 62,000 megalitres of water and in 2014/201515 Wannon Water extracted only 46 megalitres to supply water for Balmoral customers.”

Mr Wood said rainfall rates had been in decline since the 2010 flood and that Rocklands Reservoir has been reduced to 21 per cent of its target level.

In response to lower reservoir levels, GWMWater had released only one per cent of its normal allowance for environmental flows.

Mr Wood said GHCMA had nine gigalitres of water “saved from previous years” and 3000 megalitres could be used to replenish deep pools and deal with water quality issues.

“We will concentrate on maintaining areas of native fish so that we can repopulate other areas when rainfall replenishes them,” he said.

Low rainfall over the long term, combined with a number of recent days with high temperatures, has had a devastating effect on some crops in Victoria, particularly in the Mallee region.

Mr Wood said that fl ow stoppages in the Glenelg River would also affect farmers using the water for livestock and dam replenishment and dry rivers would no longer act as natural barriers for livestock.

“I would advise recreational users to be careful with swimming and boats as water hazards will present larger risk of injury because water level is so low,” he said.

The National Party last week targeted Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville in Parliament, ridiculing a plan to use the $4 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant to help ease water shortages in country Victoria.

“It is astonishing that such a proposal would even be raised as a concept, as there is simply no pipeline that can deliver water from Wonthaggi to western Victoria,” Lowan MP Emma Kealy said.

“The minister has had to hastily backtrack and clarify that she does not want to truck desalinated water hundreds of kilometres across the state.”

Ms Kealy also criticised “the transfer of 5000 megalitres of water into the system’s dried-out secondary storage in Toolondo Reservoir”.

“Farmers downstream on the Glenelg River would love to have this quantity of water available right now to boost a system under stress
after a dry winter,” she said.

“Instead this water appears to be being lost to evaporation, thanks to the water minister’s transfer of it to Toolondo.”

Ms Neville had earlier retaliated by saying that Labor governments had built Victoria’s ‘water grid’ while the Coalition had their “heads in the sand” and were “wasting taxpayers’ money at the Office of Living Victoria.”