Wednesday, 12 October 2016
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2016-2017, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017; Second Reading
In continuum, I start by saying what an honour it was to be re-elected. There were many issues in this election that were highlighted through my area. In particular, saving Medicare was a major issue that we campaigned upon. Locals were very concerned about the government's cuts to Medicare. The government's various versions of the GP tax, their cuts to Medicare rebates, their cuts to funding for pathology and diagnostic imaging and their plans to privatise Medicare were issues that locals were worried about. I heard every day from locals about these issues. They were very pleased about Labor's stance in opposing all these unfair cuts.
Education was another issue that came up many times in the election campaign. Again, locals were very positive about our commitments to fully funding the Gonski reforms on time and in full—and what a difference it would make locally. They were also very concerned about the coalition's plans for $100,000 university degrees. Another issue, of course, was climate change. We were committed to taking effective action on climate change, particularly through our commitment to renewable energy. Again, we had very positive responses to that.
In many parts of the nation—and certainly in my area—there were responses about housing affordability. This was a big issue on the north coast of New South Wales, as it was in many regions and right throughout the nation. Labor's plans for changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax were, again, met very positively in the community as a response to the issues surrounding housing affordability.
Accessing the NBN was, of course, a major issue—the lack of access to the NBN. This government's second-rate plan is an issue that I continue to hear about every day. It was, in particular, an issue that I heard about throughout the campaign. Mobile phone coverage was an issue, as well. In regional areas, it is quite appalling. People are, quite rightly, very angry with the Liberal-National government in relation to this.
Another major issue was marriage equality. Many people just want to see a vote in the parliament. I, like other members of the Labor Party, am very pleased that we are opposing the plebiscite. We believe there should be a vote in the parliament. I have been on the record as voting for marriage equality in 2012. I would like the opportunity to vote again for it in this parliament very soon, because it is very important to have that in place. It was a major issue that came up. Another major issue was that the community was really wanting a banking royal commission. Time and time again we hear about the concerns people have in their dealings with the banks. Still, throughout the community, people are calling for a banking royal commission. There were very positive responses to Labor's plans. Throughout the election, we also heard people's concerns about the Liberal-National plans for expanding harmful coal seam gas in our area. It is always a very big issue for the north coast of New South Wales.
Labor made a range of promises throughout the election campaign. As I said, they were received very positively, particularly the $20 million commitment to the Your Child, Our Future plan. The plan would benefit every child in every school in the electorate of Richmond, with an additional $20 million set to flow to local schools. We also committed $2 million to The Buttery rehabilitation service, which makes a very big difference in the lives of many people seeking rehabilitation. We also made a commitment of $2 million to mobile black spot funding for Lennox Head, Ocean Shores, Pottsville and Uki. We also made a commitment of $1 million for the Kingscliff Sport and Recreation Complex to make sure there was a really good sports complex at Kingscliff. We also announced plans to roll out fibre to the premises for the NBN for up to 20,000 homes. All of our commitments were received very well by the community. These are all important issues that I will continue to pressure the government on.
Throughout the campaign, the National Party made a number of election commitments locally. I will continue to hold the government to account to deliver on each and every one of those in full. I have placed questions on notice to the relevant ministers as to the time frames around these promises. I will pursue these in many forums until each and every one of those commitments is delivered. I will run through those commitments, which I will be fighting for. We had: $3 million committed for the Ballina Airport road; $2.7 million for local roads upgrading; $1 million for the Salt Surf Life Saving Club upgrade; $250,000 for the Ballina weir; $200,000 for a koala habitat restoration on the Tweed Coast; $125,000 for the Tweed art gallery for rooftop solar power; $65,000 for the Bangalow Men's Shed; $65,000 for the Ballina AFL team's change rooms; $62,000 for the Murwillumbah basketball courts; $20,000 for the Casuarina Beach Rugby Club; and $18,000 for the Cudgen Headland Surf Life Saving Club. In all of those issues, I will hold the government to account to make sure that they are all delivered.
I would also like to touch on some of the coalition's comments regarding Tweed Hospital during the election campaign. Just like their state Liberal-National Party counterparts, the coalition really is full of broken promises and, indeed, false promises when it comes to the Tweed Hospital. On the back of the state member for Tweed's broken promise about funding for the Tweed Hospital, during the federal election campaign we had the local Nationals candidate and the then Minister for Rural Health, Senator Nash, visit the hospital and make no commitments at all. Instead, they said the amount needed to fix it was uncertain, with the figure to be finalised in the coming month. I would now like to know what process is in place to ascertain that amount and what action they will be taking. I suspect the answer to both questions is 'none' and 'none'. It really was just a bandaid to get through the election. There never was going to be any study into the hospital's needs. It was just another broken promise.
I note that these particular broken promises were made in our local paper, the Tweed Daily News,on 5 June. The Nationals candidate, in company with the then rural health minister, Fiona Nash, claimed costing on the entire project would take another two months. On 27 June, the Nationals candidate again said that it was uncertain what amount was needed, with the figure to be finalised in the coming months. I do not think anything will happen on that front. As I say, it was just a bit of a bandaid during the election campaign.
I would also like to add we, like all those candidates across the country, had a whole variety of interesting community forums. I think it is great for candidates to be out there talking to individuals and interested groups about their issues. We had others in Banora Point, Ballina, Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Mullumbimby where we canvassed a whole range of issues. It was great to be able to hear first-hand some of the concerns people have. Of course there were many things we agreed on and some things we disagreed on. People did raise some very important issues.
One issue I want to speak about is vaccination, which was raised in a particular forum in Mullumbimby. I have been on the record many times talking about how much I support vaccination. I think it is very important for the overall health needs of individuals, families and communities. I do acknowledge that in Mullumbimby there are people who have differing views. Whilst being understanding and respectful of my views, which I have been clear about, I was asked at that forum to reiterate for the parliament there are some who do have different views, and I am happy to do that whilst acknowledging I do disagree with them. I did make a commitment that I would bring that up.
One the really big issues raised was that of the Tweed Valley Women's Service. This came up a lot in my electorate. I have spoken before here about the devastating impact of the forced closure of the women's service. I continue to call on the New South Wales government to act urgently to restore full funding and open this important service. The service was forced to close after its funding was suddenly cut. It was advised on 17 December 2015 its contract had suddenly been cancelled by its lead agency On Track Community Programs and that meant $580,000 in state government funding along with 13 jobs were suddenly cut just before Christmas. I like, so many in our community, was shocked and outraged that this could actually occur given the vital services it provides. It has in fact for more than 30 years provided counselling, education, mentoring, crisis accommodation, housing and support for women experiencing domestic violence.
The North Coast Nationals MPs and the state government have chosen to completely ignore locals by failing to assist with what is a very desperate situation. The complete inaction by the New South Wales government and local Nationals MPs is, quite frankly, shameful and irresponsible given the circumstances. So I am still calling on those Nationals MPs, particularly the member for Tweed and the member for Lismore, to explain to the community why their government allowed On Track Community Programs to suddenly cut this funding from this important service, because all the anecdotal reports that we hear say the services for those requiring support have decreased since the closure of the Tweed Valley Women's Service and that On Track is just not providing similar services. It keeps promising it is but I keep hearing from people that just simply is not the case. Quite frankly, it is not good enough. The fact is both our state Nationals members have shown they are unwilling and unable to do the job they were elected to do. So I will continue to work with the executive of the Tweed Valley Women's Service and our community to have this service reopened.
A petition has been launched demanding the New South Wales government restore the funding to this service and the community response so far has been overwhelming, more than 7,000 signatures to date. We will get the 10,000 signatures required to force this debate in the state parliament and to force those state Nationals MPs to explain to the community what they will do about this because so far we have just seen inaction.
We have all seen reports that violence against women is at epidemic proportions. As a former police officer, I saw first-hand the devastating impact of domestic violence on women and children within our community. We do have a crisis that needs to be addressed and services like the Tweed Valley Women's Service are desperately needed and their full funding must be restored. This situation can be fixed today, can be fixed right now so I again call upon the New South Wales Premier to listen to our community and again I call on the Nationals to act and to fix this.
There were many issues, as I said, that were raised during the election campaign. When we look at the overall situation, I think we saw in the campaign that it was certainly the case that the Liberal-Nationals parties are for the big end of town—the multimillionaires and big business—and the Labor Party is looking after those everyday people in our community. That was certainly the message I consistently heard from locals when we looked at the range of policies, particularly those related to health care, saving Medicare and education, but a range of issues were raised.
As I said at the beginning, it truly has been an honour to have been re-elected and I again want to thank the people of Richmond. It is indeed a real privilege for all of us to be serving in this House and representing the people within our electorates. I am very fortunate that Richmond, apart from being the most beautiful part of Australia, is an incredibly diverse electorate.
We also, with the redistribution, had some changes. I lost the town of Nimbin and surrounds. Nimbin is a great area. But instead I now have Ballina included in the electorate of Richmond, and it has been wonderful—the people of Ballina and their community have been so incredibly welcoming, and I thank them for that. It is a real privilege to have Ballina as part of the Richmond electorate now.
It is a very interesting and diverse area. And, as I say, they are very warm and welcoming people. It is a very diverse area, from Ballina up to Byron Bay and then up to the Tweed and the border, including Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby, Lennox Head, Ocean Shores—a very diverse area, with a whole range of people from different backgrounds, and we should celebrate and continue to acknowledge that we are fortunate enough to live in such a diverse area.
Having those ranges of community forums, again it was great to listen to the concerns that people had—and they certainly did have them! In particular, a lot of the self-funded retirees' forums raised a lot of concerns about this government, as well as many of the other concerns they have listed.
I would certainly like to thank all those people who assisted us during the campaign, who were out there fighting hard for Labor values and for a Labor government, knowing what a difference it would make to areas like mine on the New South Wales North Coast, but indeed right throughout the country. They certainly knew how important it is. And we will keep fighting for that and keep standing up for those values, making sure that we strive towards equality in my area. We certainly want to see that for the whole region.
In particular we have a large proportion of older Australians. So of course those people, who have particularly complex healthcare needs, were very, very worried about the situation with Medicare and very concerned about the GP tax and how it would impact their healthcare choices. In fact, they said they just could not afford to go to the doctor if it was in place. So one of the things to do moving forward is to make sure we protect Medicare. I spoke in the House this morning about needing a fully-funded Medicare MRI licence for the Tweed Hospital. That is a campaign we will be continuing with, to make sure that we can have those proper health services within the region of the New South Wales North Coast.
But, as I say, in terms of the election, it is an honour to have been returned with an increased margin. As I have said to many locals: whether you voted for me or not, my door is always open to assist everyone. That has always been my approach: to assist all locals, whatever their concerns may be—indeed, even if they may be state or local council concerns. I am here to help them with whatever worries they might have. It is a real honour and a privilege to be in this role, and I do take it very seriously. I thank the people of Richmond for putting their trust and their faith in me, and I will strive to always fight for them and to make sure that we get a fair go for the North Coast.